Our response to this legislation must be to increase our visibility, engagement and strength in workplaces.
The Trade Union Bill has now completed the Parliamentary process and is now the Trade Union Act.
The Act includes draconian measures that are designed to weaken the ability of working people to organise through their trade unions. Some of the key changes are:
- Industrial action will be unlawful if fewer than 50% of members take part in a ballot
- In designated public services (including health, education and transport) 40% of all eligible members must vote to support industrial action
- A six-month time limit for industrial action ballot mandates (which can be extended to nine months if agreed by union and employer)
- New members will be required to ‘opt in’ to the union’s political fund
- Costs of DOCAS (check-off) will have to be fully funded by the union
While the main parts of the original Bill have remained in-tact - especially around strike ballots, there have been a number of important concessions. I want to pay tribute to the efforts of members and branches in the region who have taken part in the campaign against the Bill – through meetings, rallies and lobbies.
One of the key Government concessions is that the proposal to outlaw DOCAS in the public sector has been dropped. This relieves the union of the onerous requirement of switching all members to direct debit payments.
In the North West, we had been preparing for this possibility by running switch pilots in a small number of branches. This has involved branch reps and organisers being highly-visible in workplaces and speaking to many workers individually. The primary aim of the pilots was to switch members to direct debit but this activity (almost accidentally) resulted in over 1400 new members joining the union.
The switch pilots anticipated a problem that we now do not have – but they certainly were not a waste of effort. We do not need to switch existing members but we do need to increase our engagement, visibility and strength in workplaces. A higher union profile and more one-to-one conversations with staff will be crucial to keeping our union strong in the post-Trade Union Act world. The Health recruitment fortnight starts next week and that gives us a chance to focus our efforts on the task of building our union.