Today (4 May) the vindictive trade union bill gets Royal Assent after last night the House of Lords agreed to the final changes made by MPs last week.
The bill, which was first introduced in July 2015, has had a troubled journey through parliament, beset by widespread opposition, public protest, ridicule, Lords rebellions and government U-turns.
The determination and unrelenting campaigning of thousands of union members and their supporters, has meant that the bill has changed considerably from how it started out.
Key changes include:
- An independent review of electronic balloting for industrial action must now be conducted with a view to implementing electronic balloting shortly after its conclusion
- Harsh political fund rules scrapped and the opt-in will now only to apply to new members
- U-turn on check-off; it will remain as long as unions pay administrative costs
- Dropping of extreme measures to restrict protesting, including proposals to give employers detailed picket line and social media information two weeks before industrial action
- Safeguards in place before facility time cap can be introduced
- Increasing strike mandates from 4 months originally proposed to 6 months, or 9 months where the employer agrees.
- Watering down of political fund reporting requirements
- Certification officer guaranteed independence from ministerial influence.
However, despite some big campaign successes, the bill remains an unnecessary political attack on trade unions and still contains a number of extremely damaging measures:
- Undemocratic strike ballot thresholds mean a 50% turnout will be required in order for any industrial action ballot to be valid. Some 'important public services' will face an additional hurdle of needing a 40% yes vote from all those eligible to vote
- Worrying requirements to identify picket leaders at each picket line
- Unions must now give 14 days notice (instead of 7) before taking industrial action. 7 days may still be allowed if the employer agrees
- Political fund to go from an opt-out to an opt-in system after a transition period of 12 months
- Facility time reporting (already in place in the civil service) will be required across public sector employers and Minister will be able to cap facility time after 3 years
- Increased role and power of the Certification Officer (the body which regulates unions) with unions now having to pay a levy to cover their running costs
- Costly new reporting and administrative burdens.
These measures will not apply immediately as the secretary of state must first issue a 'commencement order' detailing when different parts of the act will come into force.
We are calling on all PCS members to fight harder than ever to ensure this bill does not damage our ability to campaign and defend our members.
PCS will be issuing a branch briefing giving more detail about the implications of the bill.