Report on PCS website:Triple defeat for the government on trade union bill 17 March 2016
Peers in the House of Lords rebelled against the government on three key issues: electronic balloting, political funds and facility time.
The trade union bill had its first day at report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday 16 March, with a major backlash against the government’s unrelenting persecution of trade unions.
Government minister, Baroness Neville Rolfe, faced enormous criticism from her own party as she attempted to oppose an amendment on electronic balloting, citing security concerns.
The “reasonable amendment” was proposed by a group of peers from all parties and called for an independent review and pilot scheme of electronic balloting for industrial action ballots.
Peers pointed to the hypocrisy of a government that asks people to submit their financial and private health information online yet raises the threat of hacking when it comes to trade union ballots.
The government had its first defeat of the debate when the amendment was carried with 320 votes in favour and 181 against.
The second major government defeat came with an amendment on political funds, which was carried by 320 votes to 172.
It was again proposed by a cross party group of peers, who sought to implement the recommendations of the select committee on political funds and party funding, which PCS had submitted evidence to.
While the controversial new opt-in was kept for new members, a number of crucial changes were made: the opt-in would not extend to existing members, the requirement to opt-in every 5 years would be dropped, opt-in could be done electronically as well as on paper and the transition period to introduce the opt-in would be increased from the proposed 3 months to a minimum of 12 months.
These changes go some way to mitigating the excessive administrative burden on unions and their members which the government is trying to impose with the opt-in, designed to undermine both union and Labour party finances.
Cuts to facility time
The third major blow to the government was on restricting facility time.
The clause, which would have given ministers reserve powers to cap facility time in public sector organisations, was rejected by 248 votes to 160. It was criticised by peers as unnecessary and an abuse of government power by intervening in the agreements between public sector employers and trade unions.
Peers also praised the value of facility time and paid tribute to the benefits it could provide for individuals and employers alike, including health and safety, learning, representing members and dealing with restructuring.
The future of the bill
These defeats by a substantial majority are a crushing blow to the government who faced rebellion from some of their own Conservative peers.
There will be further votes in the remaining stages of the bill in the House of Lords, where it is hoped there will be additional movement on big issues such as the removal of check-off.
In addition to the defeats, the government also made some minor concessions, the most significant of which was to increase the length of time before a ballot mandate expires to 6 months or up to 9 months if the employer agrees – up from 4 months originally proposed in the bill. They also gave flexibility in the notice period for industrial action so that 7 days’ notice will still be possible, but only with consent from the employer.
Once the Bill has passed through the House of Lords it will go back to the Commons where the government could overturn the Lords’ amendments. It is therefore crucial that we keep up the pressure and urge MPs to support the Lords amendments.
Email your MP to tell them opposition to the trade union bill hasn’t gone away.