Unions welcome partial roll-back on workplace reforms

No cap on time off for rep duties, as opt-in membership rules are delayed; concessions seen as sweeteners ahead of EU referendum

A partial climbdown over elements of the trade union bill has been welcomed, amid speculation that the government is trying to keep unions on side ahead of the EU referendum.

A debate in the House of Commons yesterday saw the government accept changes to the bill proposed by the House of Lords, including backing away from imposing a cap on union ‘facility time’ across the UK’s public services – time off from an individual’s job that enables a trade union representative to carry out their union responsibilities. Employers will still have to make public details of the amount of facility time they allow their staff, however.

The Commons also accepted a proposed delay to controversial changes to union political funds, and a trial of e-voting for strike ballots.

In its original incarnation, the trade union bill would have forced union members to opt in to their union’s political fund, rather than opting out – many commentators expected this would lead to major constraints on unions’ funding and their ability to campaign. While the opt-in rule is still expected to be introduced over a 12-month period, rather than the proposed three months, current union members will be exempt.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said he welcomed the changes, but added that there was still “much wrong” with the bill. “Ministers have sensibly listened to many of the arguments put to them. They have rowed back from many of the proposals that would have placed unbearable restrictions on unions’ ability to function in public sector workplaces across the country,” he said.

“These measures would have stopped unions from collecting members’ subs via their pay packets. They would also have prevented reps from taking time away from their jobs to represent colleagues, and made it much harder for unions to campaign against unfairness at work.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady also welcomed the concessions, but said the TUC continued to “oppose the trade union bill in its entirety”.

“Paid time off for public sector union reps to represent their members is granted by employers because it is good for staff wellbeing, improves communication and stops problems escalating into disputes. We are pleased ministers have listened to reason and committed to holding a review of electronic voting for strike ballots,” she said.

The concessions follow last week’s climbdown over ‘check-off reforms’ – the system by which workers can be signed up as members in public sector workplaces. The planned legislation would have stopped trade unions collecting members’ subs through their pay packets.

During the debate, Tommy Sheppard, shadow SNP spokesperson for the cabinet office, questioned the government’s motivations. “I must speculate about whether this is a genuine change of heart on behalf of the government, or whether other factors may be involved in their consideration of how many fronts they can fight on at once,” he said.

“I wonder whether the proximity of 23 June and the referendum has persuaded the government that they should try not to engage in too large a conflict with the trade unions of this land, because they need their support to secure the government’s position of staying in the EU.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) said the bill should receive Royal Assent before 18 May. Once this happens, it is expected most elements of the bill will come into force within three months.

Some parts of the bill, such as the requirement for 40 per cent or more eligible voters to back industrial action for it to be classed as legal, require secondary legislation to be passed. BIS said this should happen by the end of the year.

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/04/28/unions-welcome-partial-roll-back-on-workplace-reforms.aspx

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