A large number of my constituents have contacted me recently about the Trade Union Bill which is currently progressing through Parliament.
Please let me assure you that I share my constituents' concerns and I am strongly against this divisive piece of legislation which constitutes one of the most significant attacks on trade union members in a generation. As I said during the debate, I am a proud member of Unite and have been since the miners’ strike. I voted against the Trade Union Bill at the second reading but I am sure you will already be aware that it has now been passed to the committee stage.
This Bill is an attack on people’s rights at work and affects all trade unions, not just unions affiliated to the Labour Party. Around six million trade union members from teachers to office workers, nurses to engineers, will be affected by this attempt to curb worker’s rights and to suppress civil liberties. This demonstrates the Government’s total lack of understanding of ordinary working people’s lives and it risks damaging industrial relations. While I feel that strikes should always be a last resort and that every effort should be made in terms of dispute resolution, I fear that this Bill may result in more, not less, industrial action as it is likely to make reaching settlements more difficult. Added to this, public support for unions is high and the majority of the public believe that we need trade unions as they defend important aspects of workers’ rights.
I am also concerned about the Government’s determination to establish thresholds for strike ballots. If these proposals were applied to elections, half of the current Cabinet would not have even been elected at the General Election earlier this year, including the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid MP. The real agenda here seems to be to prevent public sector workers from expressing concerns about changes to their pay, pensions and working conditions. The Government claims that the recent rail and tube strikes show the need for a change in the thresholds but both the tube strikes and strikes by First Great Western staff would have passed the 50% turnout and 40% support thresholds. The messages they are sending out on this are confused and in some cases simply inaccurate.
In addition to these concerns, the Trade Union Bill is legally unsound and is not compatible with human rights legislation. The Bill undermines our widely recognised right to protest and would suppress workers’ rights to withdraw their labour as a last resort in industrial disputes. The right to withdraw labour is recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the European Social Charter and the International Labour Organisation Convention. The Bill may also conflict with the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and even in local Government in England. I sincerely hope that this is something that will be looked into in greater at the committee stage.
With regard to lifting the restrictions on allowing companies to use agency workers to cover staff on strike. I agree that this is unfair on workers and will place them in an impossible position of having to choose between crossing the picket line or losing out on employment.
This is something that I will be monitoring in my new role as the Shadow Minister for Employment. Please be assured that my Labour Party colleagues and I will continue strongly opposing this Bill and will put as much pressure as possible on the Government to rethink this divisive, ideological policy.