The Government’s Trade Union Bill has faced fierce criticism from unions and the Labour Party. Just last month the House of Lords defeated the government in votes on the Bill. Ministers sat down this week to review the proposed changes.
Trade unionists will still be forced to ‘opt in’ to their organisation’s political fund instead of subscribing automatically. Labour believes three million fewer members of the biggest unions would agree to pay into them, costing it £6m.
Despite the backlash, amendments made on Tuesday afternoon mean that these changes will now come into force after a period of 12 months instead of the original proposal of three months, something the Electoral Reform Society is very happy to hear.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “After months of campaigning, it’s welcome news that the Government have listened and made some much-needed and substantial changes to the Trade Union Bill.
“This is a hugely positive step, and the 12 month period is a real window of opportunity for all parties to get around the table and sort out our broken party finance system once and for all.”
Last week the government backed down over plans to end the right of workers to pay union subscriptions by deducting them from their wages.
Ministers have also agreed to trial e-voting for strike ballots – an amendment suggested by the House of Lords when it defeated the government in votes on the bill last month.
Katie Ghose added: “The fact that Ministers are conceding that unions can trial e-voting is also a positive move. Participation in civil society is fundamentally a good thing – it should be encouraged by increasing the ways in which union members can vote, not discouraged by artificially narrowing the space for taking part.
“Finally, it’s good to see the government will now allow members to opt in to union political funds online. Under the Bill as it stood before, they would only have been able to hand in a form in person or via post – a bizarre anachronism in a digital age.”
The unions and the Labour Party have not yet responded to whether these amendments are adequate enough. The Trade Union Bill is likely to be back in the House of Lords next week.