Automatic union fee payments ‘to end in public sector’
Plans to stop public sector workers automatically paying subscriptions to trade unions through their salaries have been unveiled by the government.
Ministers say the process is “outdated” and ending it would give workers more control and save more than £6m a year by cutting employers’ administration.
The real intention is designed to cut union organisation.
Unions could lose funds and say it is a “vindictive political attack” that will “poison industrial relations”.
It follows plans for reforms of union laws, including tighter strike rules.
Civil servants, teachers and nurses are among the union members who will have to arrange for the fees to be collected from their bank accounts by direct debit, under the proposals to update legislation in the Trade Union Bill.
The government says the so-called check-off system of taking union dues through wages was introduced at a time when many workers did not have bank accounts.
This is misleading because before the check-off system was introduced it was the Conservatives and the CBI that wanted it. It was pushed through because the employers said that the then system of “Money Stewards” was organising workers into unions. Money stewards in some cases historically contributed to the Shop Steward system. It could easily revert back to this system of collection and responsibility being placed back into the hands of workers and their unions. Employers chose check-off because it gave them an element of control over closed shop situations and membership in highly unionised enterprises.
The Government now switch and say it is a “taxpayer-funded administrative burden” on employers.
Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock said: “In the 21st Century era of direct debits and digital payments, public resources should not be used to support the collection of trade union subscriptions.
Wages are paid through the bank these days of cashless pay anyway and is no cost.
“We are bringing greater transparency to employees – making it easier for them to choose whether or not to pay subscriptions and which union to join.”
It is therefore direct interference in union organisation by employers.
Labour leadership contenders spoke out against the proposal.
Andy Burnham said the move appeared to be “vindictive”, and was “part of an ongoing campaign of demonisation against trade unions”.
Yvette Cooper said many people found the current system “easy to use and convenient”.
She said the government’s “assault on workers’ rights” would lead to more industrial disputes.
Liz Kendall added: “Tory governments always undermine union rights – I’d oppose these attacks and repeal them in government.”
The TUC said the government was “determined to re-balance power in the workplace, so that workers lose their voice and their rights”.
TUC’s assistant general secretary Paul Nowak said: “If payroll payment for union membership was out-dated, it would not be popular with so many of the UK ‘s biggest private companies with positive union relations.
“Instead of going out of their way to poison industrial relations, the government should engage positively with workers and their representatives for the good of public services and the economy.”
The PCS union, which represents workers in Whitehall and around the UK in job centres, tax offices, the courts and immigration, said the plans were “unnecessary and vindictive”.
It represents workers at government departments including the Home Office, HMRC and DWP which have already ended automatic deductions of union subscriptions.
However, a PCS spokesman said the union could end up stronger as a result because it would know its members were absolutely committed to retaining their membership and the union would have more contact with them.