Women at work

Assembly calls for the protection of Londoners’ workplace rights

04 November 2015

The London Assembly believes planned government changes to workplace rights will hurt hardworking Londoners.

A motion agreed by the London Assembly today says the government’s Trade Union Bill will undermine the rights of Londoners at work.

Fiona Twycross AM, who proposed the motion said:

“Trade unions play an extremely important role in ensuring employees - and in particular those on low and middle incomes - receive fair pay and proper working conditions. With London remaining one of the most unequal cities in the world, it is essential that trade unions have a place at the negotiating table with employers.

The Trade Union Bill risks significantly undermining Trade Union membership, which goes against the interests of employees and the general public. If the Mayor truly understood how modern trade unions work with employers to reduce inefficiencies and ensure unofficial and costly strike action is not a feature of industrial relations in London, he would oppose this Bill.”

 

The full text of the Motion is:

Trade unions play an important role in reducing inequality.[1]  Given London’s status as one of the most unequal cities in the industrialised world,[2]  this Assembly believes the Trade Union Bill 2015-16 is an attempt to militate against the economic interests of hardworking Londoners, including officers of the Greater London Authority, by discouraging trade union membership.

This Assembly believes the Trade Union Bill will seek to undermine trade union membership in the following ways:

 

Turnout Restrictions

Strike action is always a last resort, but the Government’s aim that 50% of members must turn out to vote and 40% of the entire membership must vote in favour (that amounts to 80% of those voting, on a 50% turnout) [3] in ‘important public services’, represents an attack on the democratic rights of workers in London, such as those working for TfL and for the London Fire Brigade.

The Government’s refusal to allow secure online balloting[4] of the kind used to select the Conservative Party candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral Election, and which could potentially increase turnout, suggests that the primary motivation for the Trade Union Bill is to reduce the scope for unions to represent the interests of workers.

 

Surveillance of Trade Union Members

The London Assembly believes draconian measures seeking the names of pickets and restrictions on social media usage are an attack on fundamental human rights.[5] Oversight of such matters would place costly demands on the Metropolitan Police Service risk the independence of policing in the capital.

Steve White, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, recently informed MPs that the surveillance of trade unionists proposed by the bill:

“would be such a massively complex operation and from the police point of a view a dangerous road to go down…It would be a travesty if the police went back to the days of the 70s or the 80s when the police were seen as an arm of a state.” [6]

 

Use of Agency Workers

The London Assembly is further concerned that allowing the use of agency workers to ‘break’ strikes[7] will lead to staff carrying out work they are not trained for, potentially lead to unsafe workplaces and services, and undermine good working relationships. Such practices could also have an impact of the effective functioning of London’s transport network.

 

Facility Time and Member Subscriptions

This Assembly believes that facility time arrangements for local trade union representatives and the deduction of subscriptions through payroll are matters for negotiation between employers, such as individual members of the GLA family, and recognised trade unions, which form the basis of good employee relations.

Given the concerns expressed and that, despite the Bill’s potentially negative impact on workers in the capital, the Mayor has expressed ‘passionate support’ for the proposed legislation,[8] this Assembly believes that

  • If enacted, the Trade Union Bill 2015-16 could discourage trade union membership, undermining the important role trade unions play in addressing economic inequality in the capital; and
  • This would impact upon the principle duty of the Greater London Authority to promote economic development and wealth creation in Greater London.

The Assembly requests that the Chair of the Assembly writes to the Mayor of London to convey these concerns.

Notes to editors

1.      Dr Lydia Hayes and Professor Tonia Novitz (2014), Trade Unions and Economic Inequality.

2.      Randeep Ramesh, ‘London's richest people worth 273 times more than the poorest’, Guardian, 21.04.10.

3.      Trades Union Congress, About the Trade Union Bill.

4.      Trades Union Congress, ‘TUC slams Conservative "hypocrisy" over use of online balloting for London Mayoral selection’, 02.10.15.

5.      Article 23(4) of The Universal Declaration Human Rights – “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

6.      Patrick Wintour, ‘Trade union bill: police ‘dread and fear’ social media plan’, Guardian, 15.10.15.

7.      Frances O’Grady, ‘The Trade Union Bill is coming – here's what it threatens’, The Independent, 16.10.15.

8.      Boris Johnson, ‘If Jeremy Corbyn honestly cares about the workers, he’ll back trade union reform’, Daily Telegraph, 13.09.15.

9.      The motion was agreed by 12 votes for and 5 against.

10.  The full webcast is available here.

11.  Fiona Twycross AM who proposed the motion is available for interviews. Please see contact details below. 

12.  As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor.