What an expert government body says about the Trade Union Bill
The government’s Trade Union Bill has taken a bit of a pounding lately. First there were the trade unions themselves, who are uniformly opposed to the bill.
Then there was a joint letter from industrial relations academics, who said “the rationale for the bill is perverse.”
Last week, we heard that the Regulatory Policy Committee – an independent government body which verifies the costs and savings of policies– had examined three aspects of the government’s plans for trade unions. For all three, their rating was the same:
“Red – not fit for purpose”
Needless to say, that’s not a great rating. In fact, of the the thirteen ratings issued since May, the Trade Union Bill’s impact assessments are the only ones to receive a rating as bad. Ouch.
So what was the committee’s problem with the bill?
In a nutshell, the government hasn’t provided sufficient evidence for the claims they make. The government claims that a measure will save X million pounds a year, and the committee generally points out that there’s no real basis for that figure. I’ve quickly summarised what the committee said in each case:
Rating 1: Replacing people on strike with agency workers
Essentially, the estimated costs and benefits rely on the idea that 22% of days lost to strikes will be covered by agency workers. The government seems to have based this number partly on the maximum number of agency workers available at a given time. The rating refers to this as the “central, critical assumption” the government makes. The government also assumes that there’s no productivity lost when using agency workers.
So, for example, if workers with decades of experience have to go on strike, the government assumes that untrained agency workers will be equally good at their jobs. This is obviously not great reasoning, and the committee wasn’t impressed. You can read the full rating for yourself here.
Rating 2: Ballot thresholds
The government has put new thresholds at the centre of their PR campaign on this bill. The basic idea is that – in certain sectors – strike votes must have at least a 50% turnout, with 40% of all members voting in favour. This would mean that a strike could need as high as 80% support to be allowed to proceed.
The committee says a few things on this. First, it says the government hasn’t set out its case in a “logical way”. Second, it says they didn’t look at any alternative possible policies. Third, the government assumes that these new thresholds will have no impact on turnout in strike votes, which is blatantly false. You can read the full rating here.
Rating 3: New regulations on pickets
The government has said it wants to regulate pickets even more to tackle the “intimidation of non-striking workers”. The committee’s main problem with this is there isn’t any evidence that this is actually a problem. The committee concludes that “there is little evidence presented that there will be any significant benefits arising from the proposal.” You can read the full rating here.
What’s really going on?
The government has put forward its economic case for this bill, and an expert committee judged it “not fit for purpose” three-times over. It’s hard to avoid the impression that this bill isn’t really about cost savings, democracy or fears about worker intimidation: the Regulatory Policy Committee has shown how those arguments don’t stack up.
It seems more likely that the government simply doesn’t like the right to strike and wants to restrict it – regardless of the costs to business, workers, and society as a whole.