John Monks on the Coalition proposals that could pave the way for union blacklisting
Union membership information is a sensitive matter, and has long been recognised as such by western governments.
It is sensitive because if it falls into the hands of unscrupulous employers, the workers concerned can be victimised. This is not theoretical. 2000 construction workers have recently established that eight of the country’s major construction companies have blacklisted them for their trade union membership and activity.
Part 3 of the Lobbying Bill proposes a major intrusion by public officials into the details of union membership, would, if enacted, increase the risks of the information falling into the wrong hands. Only Malta of all other EU countries has a similar process (and then only to enable a public official to help resolve inter-union disputes).
Union membership in the UK is already regulated by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, Section 24 (1) places a duty on unions to maintain up-to-date register of members’ names and addresses so far as reasonably practicable. This legislation has stood the test of time.
The government has given no justification for its intrusive proposals. The motivation is mysterious. No-one seems to have been pressing for detailed public supervision of union membership. The Business Department, the certification officer and ACAS have all confirmed under FoI requests that they have received no representations on the issue. The Regulatory Policy Committee gave Part 3 a red card, arguing that the case for it was not made. The only horrible motivation is to show union bashing credentials, which seems a right of passage for aspiring Tory ministers.
There are significant costs in all of this – at least £460,000 a year for unions, £400,000 a year for business, and about £150,000 a year for the government. This is unnecessary expenditure. It is red tape gone made.
Additionally, it infringes the Data Protection Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. Some individuals choose not to disclose union membership. Some have joined on the understanding that their membership will be kept confidential. Public bodies do not have a strong track record in protecting confidential information.
Part 2 is not a minor inconvenience. It is a gross intrusion into trade unionism of the kind that if we lived under a dictatorship would be roundly condemned on all sides.
Lord John Monks is a backbench Labour Peer and a former General Secretary of the TUC
Published 13th January 2014