Branch Secretary Writes to All Bham MPs on Anti Trade Union Bill

Birmingham Branch Secretary Caroline Johnson has written to all Birmingham MPs asking them how they intend to vote on the new anti Trade Union bill.

She issued an invitation to them to come to our branch office to see the extremely valuable work we do for members who are facing critical problems at work.

30th July 2015

Dear Member of Parliament

I am writing to you following a meeting of our Branch Committee where a motion was passed outlining our concerns with regard to the Government’s proposed Trade Union Bill.  As you are one of Birmingham’s members of parliament I am writing to ask you whether you intend to vote for or against this Bill.

As a trade union branch that represents over 12,000 workers both in the City Council and in the private sector we have grave concerns about the proposed Bill which I will outline for you below. 

As John Hendy QC has quite rightly said, collective bargaining without the right to strike is collective begging. By demanding a 50% turnout threshold in a ballot and an additional 40% yes vote requirement in “core public services” the Government hope to make it impossible for unions to organise lawful industrial action. With the new time limitations on ballot mandates it could also be seen as an invitation to employers and courts to use the law to significantly delay legitimate industrial disputes.

The Bill also strives to allow employers to use agency staff during official industrial action, abandoning a law that’s been in place since 1973. If workers do go on strike then the Bill attempts to crinminalise workplace picketing which is being backed up by new and intrusive surveillance legislation. 

Workers in unionised workplaces enjoy better terms and conditions because trained trade union representatives are active in the workplace negotiating, representing and promoting the wellbeing of the workforce. This role is ever more important as inequality in power and wealth increases.

According to a recent report from the OECD “We have reached a tipping point. Inequality in OECD countries is at its highest since records began.”

Trade unions help to rebalance power relations in the workplace – a fact commonly recognised by 70% of respondents in MORI polls who say unions are “essential to protect workers’ interests”.

To undermine that fundamental role of trade unions, the Bill will also seek to determine how much time can be spent on trade union facility time, restrict the number of union reps given full time release and ban paid time off for trade union activities. If passed this would have a devastating affect on our ability to continue to protect members while at work.  We keep a record of all of the case work and representation that we do on behalf of members and would be very happy for you to visit us in our offices so that we can talk you through and show you evidence of the type of cases and the sort of issues that we deal with on a daily basis.

The Bill also wishes to change the way that unions collect their membership fees – both through individual payments and through check-off arrangements and how any money is given to the political parties.  Attacking our ability to collect trade union subscriptions makes protection for workers at work almost impossible as how can organisations function with no money and if we have to continually work on collecting subscriptions this eats into the time we should be spending supporting people at work.  

This government appear to be determined to deregulate the workplace. They want a labour market free from what they have termed “red tape” and what trade unions call rights at work. They want cheap workers, unable to withdraw their labour, unprotected by either trade unions or employment rights and threatened with destitution if they refuse to accept low-standard work. As a branch we represent many members that have moved from the public to the private sector where their wages and terms and conditions have been decimated.

However we are not just against this Bill because of the attacks to workers’ rights to organise but also because we do not think that this approach is sensible.  Having a largely unorganised workforce with inferior working conditions and pay does not help the economy to recover.  While it may put more profits in the bosses hands many companies have been shown to cleverly hide their profits in tax havens and pay little or no tax in the UK.  Bad working conditions lead to instability and less money being spent by workers in the local economy having a knock on effect on wider businesses.

We believe that without effective collective bargaining we could actually see an increase in the number of unlawful strikes and walk outs as workers would be more likely to take matters into their own hands rather than speak to their union.

For all these reasons we are asking you to vote against this Bill.  We would be grateful if you can inform us of your voting intentions as we plan to publicise this on our website so that our members that vote in the elections will be able to see how their MP’s intend to vote on such an important issue.

I would like to repeat my invitation to you to come and visit our offices so that we can show you what we do as we are very proud of the huge amount of support that we give to our members.

Yours sincerely,

Caroline Johnson
Branch secretary
UNISON Birmingham Branch


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