The Conservative government used the hottest day of the year to sneak out more plans to restrict workers’ rights. And this time, the Tories are attacking trade unions. Again.

Down with the workers

On Sunday 9th April the government released the details of a planned move to impose fines of up to £20,000 on trade unions. The proposals, currently under consultation, could see the Certification Officer (the body responsible for trade unions at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) given the power to fine unions for the following breaches:

  • Failing to ensure senior positions are not held by someone with a criminal record.
  • Breaching requirements for elections to senior positions.
  • Mismanagement of political funds.

But the devil is in the Tories’ detail.

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Hitting trade unions hard

For example, the government would be able to fine trade unions if they breached Section 46 of the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. This area refers specifically to the election of a union’s president or general secretary.

The new proposals would in theory apply to the ongoing ‘Unisongate’ saga, where people claim that paid union officials were working for incumbent General Secretary Dave Prentis’ campaign. Which is a breach of Unison’s rules.

Attacking Labour

But the new propsals also tie-in with the Tories’ latest anti-trade union legislation. Part of the 2016 Trade Union Act says that union members must “opt-in” to the political fund. For example, where a portion of Unite the Union members’ fees goes to the Labour Party.

If trade unions don’t adhere to the Act’s “opt-in” mechanism, these new proposals mean the government could fine them up to £20,000. But for each member that is affected. Because Section 86 of the 1992 legislation it is in conjunction with, is specifically regarding each member, not the membership as a whole. And the 2016 Act will mean Labour could lose up to £6m in funding.

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A “dark day”

Many people saw the Tories 2016 Trade Union Act as an attack on the power of the unions. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said at the time:

[The Act] is a dark day for workers and for those who speak up in their defence when power is misused.

But with the Tories now planning to impose hefty fines upon unions who don’t wish to play by their rules, English employees are going to be even less protected in the workplace. And that’s before Brexit has even begun.

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