Another Tory attack on trade unions …
The government recently opened a consultation on how the requirement for trade unions to pay a levy to the Certification Officer (under the Trade Union Act 2016) should be implemented. The whole concept behind the consultation is another example of the Tories’ ongoing attack against the trade union movement.
The principle which underpins this consultation – that a levy on trade unions should be raised at all – is fundamentally objectionable. Why should trade unions be treated in this way when no other comparable organisation is? The government is trying to justify their approach on the basis that other organisations, like the Financial Conduct Authority, are subject to a levy of this kind. But this is a wholly false comparison.
The Financial Conduct Authority regulates profit-making organisations, many of which present major risks to our economy, many of which have routinely defied the spirit – and sometimes the letter – of the law, and some of which have been bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of billions of pounds.
Trade unions on the other hand, are representative, democratic organisations which play a critical role in our democracy. Additionally, they are already tightly regulated by law. This levy demonstrates that trade unions are only seen as opponents to this Tory government’s interests, and so are organisations to be constrained. It is also potentially unlawful for the government to issue a consultation without justification or appropriate discussions with trade unions and ACAS for why this levy should be introduced.
Within this consultation, the government has tried to use its ideological pursuit of austerity as a valid reason for why the taxpayer should not be contributing financially to trade unions. Consequently, unions are being left to financially contribute for themselves. This levy is a political choice dressed up as economic pragmatism. It exposes the Tories’ time-honoured anti-union agenda.
The introduction of this levy not only means extra costs for trade unions, but also further enhances the power of the Certification Officer. As a ‘quasi-judicial body,’ the Certification Officer should be entirely independent from the parties on which it can impose a judgment. The changes being pushed through will result in the Certification Officer being dependent on trade unions for its own funding – a system which undermines the Certification Officer and which leaves unions vulnerable to unfair treatment and exploitation.
Trade unions may now find themselves subjected to a series of references to the Certification Officer by organisations seeking to pursue them for industrial, political or other purposes and who have the motivation and money to put any given situation under a microscope.
It is also deeply worrying to consider that the Certification Officer will become responsible for making a complaint, investigating it, reaching a decision and fixing a punishment: accuser, judge, jury and executioner. This is contrary to all notions of justice and impartiality and raises immediate issues of a fair trial for members as required by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
These changes are anti-worker, unjust and the way they are being imposed is simply undemocratic.
With the government’s attention squarely focused on Brexit – the biggest change to the UK in decades – how can the Tories justify spending time and taxpayers’ money trying to push through changes which are not needed and potentially unlawful?
It is vital that we send a loud and clear message to the government that unions play an essential role in society – and must continue to do so.
You can read Thompsons’ full response to the consultation here.
- Iain Birrell is a partner & practice lead of Thompsons Solicitors’ Trade Union Law Group