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Trade union bill heading for Lords report stage

The Government’s controversial trade union bill is getting ready for its next stages in the House of Lords. The first day of report stage has been set for 16 March and we expect the second day to be in mid-April.

We’re working hard behind the scenes to make sure members of the House have as much information about the implications of this divisive bill as they need. And we’re hearing continued concerns from all sides that suggest the government are going to have a hard time getting all they want passed.

No amendments to the bill have been voted on yet in the Lords, but there are a series of major battles lining up on a number of key issues.

On the issue of online voting for trade union ballots for industrial action, which the bill could easily (but won’t) permit, many Peers have been very vocal, unable to see why the Government should claim it’s not secure enough for unions, whilst the Conservative Party themselves feel able to use it to select their candidate for Mayor of London. Crossbencher Lord Adebowale spoke for many when he said: “If ever there was some evidence the intention of this Bill was perhaps not entirely honourable, it’s in the refusal to allow electronic balloting.”

The plan to end the payroll union subs collection system (check-off) in the public sector has proven unpopular with Peers who see it as undermining the government’s own localism agenda, by telling employers centrally what they can and can’t agree with their unions. These proposals attracted outspoken comments from a number of Conservative Peers in particular, with former Minister John Gummer (now Lord Deben) saying: “I do not think this is a proper way to behave. We ought to make it easy and simple for people to belong to a trade union.”

There was also great concern over plans to limit the time union reps can be given in the public sector to do their jobs. Former head of the civil service, now crossbencher Lord Kerslake drew on his experience at the top of public service management, saying the proposals “…seem to be quite extraordinarily centralising, and completely disproportionate.”

And Liberal Democrat and Labour Peers have been concerned that attacks on union political funds amounted to the Conservative Party breaking the truce agreed to tackle difficult issues around party funding across the board, rather than opportunistically attacking one party in particular. Not all unions with political funds support Labour of course, but the issue has hit a real nerve.

Amendments on all these proposals and more will be brought in the coming weeks. Ministers have already made a series of concessions to head off opposition – abandoning their more draconian regulations of pickets and social media campaigns, increasing notice periods for check-off changes, and removing the new double thresholds for strike ballots amongst ancillary public service workers in both the public and private sectors.

So we’ll need to be alert to any further concessions offered by the Government to distract opposition at report stage, and we will have to help stiffen Politicians’ resolve to get this bill and its damaging proposals defeated. There’s a lot to play for yet.

We’ll be back with more that we can do in the run up to the debates and after. The biggest thing at the moment is probably to keep the spotlight trained on the bill by getting it exposed in the media and on social media channels. The government would like things to go quiet until after the next debates, but we aren’t going to let that happen.

09 Mar 16

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