TUC co-ordinates 'positive' campaign by unions over Trade Union Bill

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is co-ordinating trade unions' response to the Government's new Trade Union Bill, saying the campaign will focus on "promoting our positive agenda".

The TUC: Will meet comms teams at member unions in the coming days (Credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)
The TUC: Will meet comms teams at member unions in the coming days (Credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)

Having announced in the Queen’s Speech that the Government would "bring forward legislation to reform trade unions", it yesterday published the Trade Union Bill.

The bill, which among other measures increases "scrutiny and controls over taxpayer-funded subsidies to trade unions", and will make strike ballots void unless 50 per cent of membership turn out to vote, has been created to "balance the right to strike with the right of millions of people to go about their daily lives without undue disruption", according to the Government.

This comes the week after unions were considering their comms tactics during a London Underground strike - and the same day a fourth union announced it would join a second strike called for 5 August.

PRWeek was directed by several unions to talk to the TUC about the union movement’s response. Pauline Doyle, director of campaigns and comms at Unite the Union, the UK’s largest union, described the TUC as a "door-opener to government", and said: "We’ll be working through the TUC on this, on matters like this the TUC takes the lead; we’ll be working on one message."

The TUC, which has 52 member unions representing a total of six million workers, is organising a meeting of unions in the coming days to "finalise our campaign plans", according to a spokesman.

"Our messages are clear," he added. "This is an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights to organise together, which will disrupt the balance of power in the workplace."

The spokesman also said: "Throughout this campaign, unions will be promoting our positive agenda to increase democracy at work.

"Strike laws currently restrict unions to outdated postal ballots. We want to modernise voting with safe and secure electronic balloting. And instead of rules that will make it harder to resolve disputes before they escalate, we want the Government to work positively with unions to deal with the UK’s huge productivity problem – focusing on skills, infrastructure and innovation. That would bring us a stronger economy, higher wages, modern public services and stable public finances."

However, some individual unions are working on a more individual basis in addition to the TUC-led campaign, with one union’s press officer, who asked not to be named, saying it was important for unions to emphasise their diversity.

"All trade unions work very differently," he said, adding that the "untold story" of the bill, and therefore something unions will be likely to want to highlight, is the measures he said were designed to increase unions’ operating costs and compliance burden.

Keith Richmond, press officer at train drivers’ union Aslef, said the union would be running its own campaign beyond the TUC-coordinated campaign, which he said was "complementary to what the TUC is doing".

He also said unions had not expected the bill to be announced so soon, saying Downing Street officials "had clearly been leaking heavily to the newspapers", meaning news coverage of the bill had begun even before unions were aware of its content.

Richmond had released a press statement with comments from Mike Whelan, general secretary of the union. Whelan's comment that the Tory plan "smacks of Germany in the 1930s", and his comparison of the Conservative Government to the Nazis, caused controversy, with two Conservative MPs telling The Daily Telegraph that Whelan should resign.

While Richmond said they had not taken that comparison lightly, he said Whelan was keen to make it. "Mick’s view was that it is historically accurate and that we should speak truth to power," Richmond said.

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