Bridget Phillipson Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South
This week in Parliament we will be debating the government’s Trade Union Bill. Thanks to cross-party working in the House of Lords some of the worst elements of the Bill have been changed. But it still represents a major attack on workers’ rights and is anti-democratic.
No-one wants to see strikes – such action is difficult and should always be a last resort. However, levels of industrial action are at an historic low. Trade unions play an important role working with employers and businesses to protect jobs, increase productivity and promote better working relations. The government’s proposals aren’t just bad for workers, they’re bad for business too.
Bridget speaks out about the Trade Union Bill on Facebook
The Bill will introduce for the first time a threshold on the minimum turnout required to make a ballot legal. Government ministers say this will mean that strikes will only take place when there is sufficient support. But they have consistently rejected the suggestion that trade unions should be allowed to modernise the process and introduce e-balloting. This would increase turnout and make ballots more representative. In a world where so many services are moving online – from tax returns to applying for a driving licence or registering to vote – it seems illogical to oppose this. However, at the time of writing it appears that the government may now be willing to pilot online voting.
Ministers’ plans will also make it far more difficult for unions to run political campaigns to protect the interests and wellbeing of their members. Recently, together with many of my colleagues I voted to reject extending Sunday opening hours in big stores. Usdaw, the union that represents shop workers, ran an effective ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign. We heard the voices of shop workers and their concerns about the impact of these changes on family life and the government was defeated. For me, that is the sign of a healthy democracy.
At a very late stage in this Bill’s journey through Parliament, it looks like we may have secured further concessions. It is disappointing that ministers have spent so long fighting and attacking trade unions, rather than working with them to support our economy and improve productivity and skills.
Over many years, trade unions have helped to secure paid holidays for workers, the minimum wage, reasonable working hours and proper parental leave. Let’s not forget their role in making workplaces safer with better working conditions for everyone. The right of trade unions to exist and organise is a key liberty in our democracy. What the government has been attempting to do goes against long-standing British traditions and undermines the rights of all working people. We’ve come a long way and we can’t stand by as hard won rights are chipped away by this Tory government.
This article was originally published by the Sunderland Echo on 28th April 2016. You can read the online version here.