Yesterday I spoke in the debate about the Trade Union Bill. I am absolutely opposed to this bill, which is an ideological attack on the rights of working people, as well as being a partisan attack on the Labour Party.

As so many members wanted to speak, I was limited to just four minutes, so below is the full text of my speech as it would have been without the limit.

You can watch the speech on Parliament TV here.

Jo Stevens MP Speech on Trade Union bill, 14 September 2015

Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker

This Bill is illegal, illiberal and illiterate.

It’s illegal because it contravenes international standards.

It’s illiberal because it takes a hatchet to civil liberties

And it’s illiterate because it is badly drafted and will leave the law in a mess, creating uncertainty and cost not just for trade unions – but for employers too.

And the reason it’s so badly drafted is because it is a crudely partisan measure which the party opposite is seeking to rush through for purely political ends.
Why are we are here debating this Bill today?

Is it because there is urgency to the provisions?
Or demand of the Parliamentary timetable?

No, we all know why we are here today.

We are here today because the government deliberately timetabled the Bill for the first full day of the Trade Union Congress, when those MPs who are proud trade unionists, as I am, would have been in Brighton debating the real issues facing working people:-

  • low pay,
  • zero hours contracts,
  • inequality,
  • insecurity at work.

Instead we are here to discuss this shabby, shameful Bill.

This not only shows the Government’s contempt for trade unions – it shows the Government’s contempt for democracy.

The Bill was published on 16 July.

Consultations were scheduled to take place over the summer recess and only closed 5 days ago.

The Regulatory Policy Committee has condemned the government’s impact assessment as “not fit for purpose”.

And yet the debate is scheduled for today, when the Bill is incomplete – when the government accepts it will be required to move many amendments to the Bill

And the clearest example of that is on deduction of union subscriptions at source; check-off.

On 6 August, the Rt Hon Member for West Suffolk, announced the government’s intention “to abolish the practice of check-off across all public sector organisations”.

He announced that these changes would be in the Trade Union Bill.

Where are those changes?
Where are the proposals?
Where are the draft clauses?

Nowhere. Nowhere to be seen. And no timetable for publication of those clauses, nor any commitment to any period of consultation.

This Bill is a disgraceful attack on the right of employers and unions to freely negotiate arrangements which best secure constructive industrial relations.

Even the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Chief Executive has described it as “an outdated response to the challenges of the modern workplace.”

Before being elected to this House, I was a Director of a significant private sector employer, responsible for our industrial relations with around a thousand members of staff.

We recognised a trade union to represent our staff.

To collectively bargain on their behalf.

To represent their interests.
To make sure that we could discuss with them, any changes necessary for the continued success of the business in the best interests of staff.

And to do this, we had agreed arrangements to deduct union subscriptions from wages – and agreements for time off for union representatives employed by us so they could represent their colleagues and engage with us on key issues.

Deductions from payroll are a common way for employers to assist employees with regular payments, including childcare, season ticket loans and the government’s own auto-enrolment of pensions.

This worked for us as an employer.

It worked for the staff.
It was freely agreed.

And many, many other employers feel the same – in both the private and the public sectors.

Yet the government proposes to ban public sector employers from reaching these agreements.

Check-off will be banned.

And the Bill includes absurd proposals on facility time – which impose hugely bureaucratic requirements on public sector employers.

It gives the government power to scrap facility time in all or parts of the public sector – no matter what employers think or say.

Public employers will be required to publish information on the number of employees who have any facility time, how much is spent on it, the percentage of the total pay bill spent on it, what type of activities or duties were carried out, as well as details of physical facilities provided.

And I thought the Secretary of State’s declared mantra was to deregulate? To cut red tape for employers?

Having been an employer, I know how onerous this will be.

How costly it is.

How absolutely pointless it is.

And the data protection and privacy issues it raises.
As the government itself says in its European Convention of Human Rights Memorandum, the intention is to deter public sector employers from granting facility time.

And, again, the government is not being open with this House.

Because the details of the proposals will be in Regulations.

Regulations which may extend these provisions to private companies providing public services.

Regulations which are to be made subject to the Negative Procedure, depriving this House of a proper opportunity to scrutinise or amend those proposals.

This is all a precursor to the government abolishing facility time, in the same way it proposes to abolish check-off.

And this is despite the fact that the value of facility time is widely recognised by public sector employers and saves money.

A review in 2007 by the predecessor department to BIS (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) concluded that :-

– the work of union representatives on facility time reduced the number of cases proceeding to an employment tribunal, creating savings of between £22m-£43m a year

– reduced working days lost due to workplace injury, saving society between £136m and £371m a year
– and reduced workplace related illness with a saving of £45m-£207m a year

In the foreword to that report, the Director General of the CBI said “Union reps constitute a major resource…we believe that modern representatives have a lot to give to their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them”

In the face of this, the government wants to use the law to scrap collective agreements freely entered into between employers and unions.

This is state interference in the contractual rights of employers, unions and working people.

It is an infringement of fundamental rights.

Even the government recognises this. Their ECHR memorandum states that the regulations “will have effect in relation to existing contractual arrangements and could therefore have retrospective effect”.

Even the government recognises the potential conflict with Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention.

Facility time is a recognised aspect of freedom of association, recognised by the European Court.

The government’s bland assertion that “any limitation placed on facility time would be done in a way that does not substantially undermine the rights guaranteed by Article 11” simply does not stack up.

The government would be taking away existing legal rights, contractual rights – interfering in contracts of employment and collective agreements.

Rights that are protected by Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention.

These proposals also infringe International Labour Organisation Conventions [numbers 87, 98, 135 and 151 – for reference] and EU law requiring employers to consult with elected representatives on health and safety, transfers of undertaking and business information.

The government has come a cropper on this before –when they tried to remove check off in the Department of Communities and Local Government. They lost a case brought to the high court by the Public and Commercial Services union PCS.

I will finish on a point about devolution and the inadequacies of this Bill.

The Bill deals with public services that are devolved to Wales.

This includes the way that public sector bodies in Wales work with trade unions to ensure effective delivery of services to the public – to my constituents in Cardiff Central.

So the Secretary of State should heed the warning from my Labour colleague, the First Minister of Wales, that there are necessary and critically important changes that must be made to this Bill.

But I would go further.

This is an unnecessary Bill. It’s a dangerous Bill and it’s a flawed Bill.
I urge the Government to listen to the widespread criticism – not just here – but from the business community, civil liberties organisations, respected academics, trade unions and most importantly, the public. The public do not want this Bill.

I urge the Government to turn its focus to the real problems this country faces – not the ones of its imagination.


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