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Defend the right to strike - #TUbill

13 October 2015

Tackling the UK government's onslaught against unions is a priority for the trade union movement as a whole and the NUJ is encouraging all members to get active and campaign.

TUC week of action

Read NUJ members' stories, as part of the TUC week of action, NUJ members spoke out about why they heart the NUJ.

TU bill weakens ability to protect people at work - that’s why we have to fight it. Even when you don’t need to call on the union, it helps if people know you can and will, says Francis Beckett.

There is (still) power in a union. Phil Turner got his job back as a result of NUJ campaigning and solidarity in 2015. He calls for campaigns for better wages and conditions alongside demands for social justice.

When Cameron talks about 'reforming' union laws, he’s gazing longingly at Qatar and Iran. NEC member Alex MacDonald argues it is crucial people recognize that union membership is more than just about what you can get out of it.

Trade unions are the opposite of the caricatures peddled by politicians. Barbara Gunnell, former NUJ president and first job-share in post with Scarlett MccGwire highlights that having a union agreement in a workplace improves relationships at work.

Volunteering to help an NUJ member is hugely rewarding. Andy Smith joined the NUJ the same year Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister and he believes the 2016 trade union bill represents attitudes formed back then.

The NUJ is the bulwark, challenging those who threaten our freedom to report on the world. James Doherty explains the NUJ is the home for writers, broadcasters, photographers, PR professionals and those involved in editorial content.

We're ordinary workers who are all too often the last defenders of simple dignity & fairness. Irish News chapel rep Bimpe Archer believes our greatest weapon is our solidarity and organisation.

Journalists need to work together to improve working conditions. Chris Frost explains how it’s been tough watching employers and government play on the legitimate fears of journalists but if we can persuade more people to join and build strong chapels, they would feel more secure and happier at work.

The trade union bill threatens not just rights & traditions in trade unionism, it is a threat to good journalism. Pete Murray's essentials for the job when he started work were shorthand, touch typing, microphone techniques and an NUJ membership card.

The reason I first joined a trade union was triggered by Tory anti-union legislation. Anita Halpin looks back over nearly 45 years as a trade union member as part of #heartunions week.

The impact we can have as journalists when we’re at our best. George Morris, an NUJ chapel representative at the Yorkshire Weekly Newspaper Group explains the benefits of the NUJ as part of the TUC #heartunions week.

heart unions tweet

As part of the TUC week of action, NUJ members spoke out about why they heart the NUJ. Read their comments, quotes and stories on the dedicated web page: #heartunions week of action - members' stories.

The TUC week of action started on Monday 8 February 2016 and there are more details about the campaign on the dedicated TUC website:

TU bill debate in the Commons

In the first debate in the commons we weren't able to convince MPs to overturn the bill during the debate in the House of Commons and the government ignored amendments that would reduce the bill's harmful effects. There was a partial climbdown on picketing regulations and on the proposed ban on 'check-off' as the minister agreed to extend the notice period to a year to help unions adjust.

Access the 'for and against' voting lists on the UK parliament website.

TU debate in the Lords

The TU bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday 11 January 2016.

In the debate, NUJ concerns were highlighted by Baroness Bakewell, her speech is copied below and the full transcript of the debate is available online on the parliamentary website:

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): My Lords, I speak from two perspectives on this Bill. My title comes from Stockport, where I grew up and where some of the earliest trade unions were active and powerful. As long ago as 1829, textile industry employers there reduced cotton spinners’ wages and brought in substitute labour, provoking strikes in Stockport that got violent. Troops were called in and there was one hanging and three transportations. I do not believe things are as bad as that today—certainly not in Stockport.

I grew up to study the trade union movement at university and was at one time a member of three unions simultaneously: the ACTT, the NUJ and Equity. The trade union movement in this country has sustained and fought for the interests of working people for over 100 years and will go on doing so. That is the past, but it is also the future.

Today, we see in the Bill a government attack on the trade union movement that is unremitting and partisan. It will, we recognise, strike a deep blow to the funding of the Labour Party, whose roots are deeply entwined since early in the 20th century with those of organised labour. In so doing, it will strike at one of the pillars of our democratic life by which ordinary working people can exercise some control over the forces that shape their lives.

In launching the Bill, the Government make much of statistics: percentages of the voters, of the workforce, et cetera. Let me offer as a sideline comment some other statistics. In 2014, according to statistics from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there were 6.4 million trade unionists in this country, constituting 25% of the workforce. Membership of the Tory party is currently 150,000, and of the Labour Party 370,000. The Tories won the election by a majority of 12 seats in 2015, the smallest majority since 1974. They did so with less than 24% of registered voters—so let us not play with statistics.

It now seems that the Tory Government are embarked on a policy of redrawing constituency boundaries and the electoral registration rules in a way that is calculated to change the balance in favour of the Tory party. They do that in the name of efficiency, yet resolutely refuse to enter into discussions with trade unions to allow electronic and workplace balloting: a contradiction. In this flawed version of democracy, it is worth adding that 4 million people voted for UKIP and got only one seat in the House of Commons. Things are not fair.

We see in this Trade Union Bill just one part of a strategy that appears to be loading political representation of the people towards one end of the political spectrum. The trade union movement speaks to this crisis in constitutional affairs and calls for serious amendments to this Bill.

I shall now speak to the concerns of the NUJ, a small but important union with some 30,000 members that is not affiliated to any political party and does not have a political fund. Clause 9, on picketing, introduces a number of bureaucratic rules intended to make picketing more difficult and thereby weaken its effect. This impacts on the NUJ because of the known hostility of many employers and the media to trade union membership. To take a small example, only lastyear the

Rotherham Advertiser

targeted the NUJ father of the chapel for compulsory redundancy. He had worked there for 30 years and was the only one of 14 editorial staff to be selected from the consultation. The workforce threatened a 24-hour strike and management rescinded its decision. We can do without this kind of confrontation.

The NUJ is also concerned, as are other unions, about the increasing involvement of the police in matters of picketing, in the giving of names and the ongoing surveillance of NUJ members investigating corporate and state misconduct. There should be no requirement to supply personal details of trade union representatives to the police, who may—who knows?—in some cases be the subject of investigative journalism themselves.

The trade union movement is a strong and vigorous part of our democracy. It is recognised and celebrated as such in our popular culture, in films such as “Pride”, “Brassed Off”, “Made in Dagenham”, in shows such as “Billy Elliot”, and in Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller’s “The Battle of Orgreave”, which is dedicated to the miners’ strike. These and many more celebrate the struggle working people have to live their lives in peace and security. That is why we seek to amend this damaging Bill.

NUJ concerns about the trade union bill

We believe the proposals and associated guidelines will have a severe and detrimental impact on NUJ members' ability to have a collective voice at work, and our ability to provide a robust voice for journalism and journalists.

The NUJ strongly believes that a thriving, independent trade union movement that is rooted in media workplaces is essential to strengthen quality, ethical journalism and press freedom in the UK. That connection between strong union representation and a workplace where ethical journalism can flourish was made clearly in our contribution to the Leveson Inquiry. 

The NUJ has a series of concerns about the bill that are specifically related to our experiences and expertise within the media industry. The TU bill will shift the balance of power in media workplaces and restrict the ability of the NUJ to represent union members in every media workplace.

Public bodies (Clauses 2-3, 12-14)

The BBC is frequently not defined as a 'public body' and is not included in definitions of public bodies set out in existing legislation - for example, the BBC was not included (as a public body) in public sector pay cap provisions. We are therefore concerned that the TU bill includes the BBC specifically as a public body. The TU bill introduces an inconsistency into the existing legislative framework and the proposals will have a detrimental impact on both trade union representation and facility time at the corporation. The BBC is independent of government and governed by a Royal Charter and should be recognised as distinct from other organisations in the public sector.

Information requirements (Clauses 4-6)

Under the existing laws the NUJ has had to re-ballot union members at local and regional newspaper titles in response to legal threats from employers who want to obstruct and challenge the ballot on minor technicalities. We believe that the increased information requirements contained in the TU bill will further expand the opportunities for hostile media companies to sabotage legitimate trade union activities that are organised in order to save newspaper titles, jobs and quality journalism. 

Timing (Clauses 7-8)

The new proposals state a trade union must give 14 days' rather than 7 days' notice to the employer before taking industrial action. The NUJ is particularly concerned about this measure because we have relied upon the existing 7 days' notice in order to avert compulsory redundancies, and propose workable alternatives, in the private sector. The statutory minimum for collective redundancy consultation is 19 days. To restrict the balloting notification to 14 days poses a severe threat to the union's ability to negotiate with media employers in order to minimise compulsory job losses and redundancies.

Picketing (Clause 9)

The TU bill specifies that unions must issue picket supervisors with letters to confirm that the picketing activity has been authorised by the union and the letter has to be shown to the employer or the employers' representatives including private security firms and lawyers. In addition, picketing will only be lawful if unions appoint a picket supervisor and notify the police of their name and contact details.

The NUJ is extremely concerned about the proposals on picketing because of the existing levels of hostility towards trade union members exhibited by some employers. There has been numerous cases of NUJ representatives experiencing victimisation as a result of their trade union activity and the proposals in the TU bill will expand the opportunities available for media employers to target legitimate trade union activity and NUJ representatives. 

Earlier this year the Rotherham Advertiser targeted the NUJ Father of Chapel (FoC) for compulsory redundancy. The NUJ's FoC Phil Turner has worked for the company for more than 30 years and has been the NUJ rep for most of his time working for the newspaper. In March 2015 the company organised a redundancy selection process among the 14 editorial staff and Phil was the only person selected. Phil was presented with a letter giving him notice of dismissal. In response the union organised a widespread campaign for his reinstatement, including notification of a 24-hour strike in protest at the redundancy. The strike was called off after management rescinded its decision. We are alarmed by and opposed to the proposals to compel trade unions to supply employers (and their representatives) with details of trade union representatives and members who have volunteered to be picket supervisors.

The NUJ is also extremely alarmed by the proposals to compel trade unions to supply the police with the names and contact details of trade union representatives and members who will be organising picketing.  The NUJ has been supporting members who we have discovered were having their lawful journalistic and union activities monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police. The union is currently taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.

All of the NUJ members involved in the legal challenge have worked on media reports that have exposed corporate and state misconduct and they have each also previously pursued litigation or complaints arising from police misconduct. In many of those cases, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been forced to pay damages, apologise and admit liability to them after their journalistic rights were curtailed by his officers at public events.

The surveillance was revealed as part of an ongoing campaign, which began in 2008, during which NUJ members have been encouraged to obtain data held about them by the authorities including the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit'. The supposed purpose of the unit is to monitor and police so called 'domestic extremism'. In the course of the campaign, a number of NUJ members have obtained data held about them and the union fears there are many more journalists and union members being monitored.

We are therefore entirely opposed to supplying personal details of trade union representatives to the police.

Certification Officer (Clauses 15-18)

We are particularly concerned at the lack of general awareness about elements of the TU bill which will give a vast range of increased powers for the Certification Officer. These new measures include:

  • issuing financial penalties to unions ranging from £200-2,000
  • new investigatory powers triggered by non-union members
  • the ability to initiate investigations and appoint inspectors
  • forcing lawyers to identify their trade union clients
  • new levies that can be imposed on trade unions to make them pay for certification officer expenses and investigations (for example, if the certification officer employs an accountancy firm then the costs to trade unions are likely to increase significantly).

There is already the capacity for members of trade unions to pursue complaints via the Certification Officer. Under these new powers, anyone can bring such a complaint – individuals philosophically opposed to trade unions, disgruntled members of the public, third parties with a vested interest. For small unions such as the NUJ, merely dealing with the administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities involved in what is an onerous process could divert resources of both time and money away from our ability to service and support our members. No case has been made to justify such a move, and the changes have the potential to significantly interfere with the legitimate operations of an independent, democratic voluntary organisation. 

Agency workers

The proposals accompanying the bill will also permit media employers to use agency workers indefinitely. This means hostile and anti-trade union media companies will be able to replace and undercut NUJ members who raise legitimate work-related issues. In an industry that is rife with bullying, casualisation, free labour and an extensive reliance on internships, these new measures provide additional scope for further exploitation in which agency workers will be pitted against existing employees.

Things you can do:

Protect the right to strike TUC model poster
Download and print the A4 poster

TUC week of action - heart unions: 8-14 February 2016

The TUC week of action 8-14 February will centre on three key initiatives -

1. The ‘big workplace meeting’ on Tuesday 9 February. The NUJ is encouraging reps and members to take part.

2. A day of action to promote trade unions in the UK on Thursday 11 February.

3. Ask colleagues, family and friends to help strengthen the trade union movement by joining a trade union.

On Tuesday 9 February at lunchtime, the TUC are running ‘The Big Workplace Meeting’. The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady will be broadcasting a short Q&A live into workplace meetings around the country. It’s your chance to join thousands of other trade union members in hearing more about the trade union bill and our plans to campaign against it together.

On Thursday 11 February, we will be asking every trade union member to do something to make trade unions visible in your workplace and community. Chapels and branches are encouraged to organise local activities and share the reasons you joined a trade union on social media.

Use the hashtag #heartunions

And don’t forget, you’ve got all week – so if you’d like to do more to raise the profile of unions, fight against the TU bill or ask people to join a union, it’s up to you. All week, we want you to tell stories of the great work done by trade unions and reps.

Visit the TUC week of action website:

Lobbying your MP

You can lobby your MP either in parliament or at their constituency surgery that most MPs will organise on a regular basis. If they don't have regular surgeries, they will usually list a phone number on their website where you can make an appointment to see them.

Every MP should recognise that their constituents have a right to lobby them and has nothing to do with whether or not you voted for your MP in the last general election.

The TUC rally and lobby on 2 November saw hundreds on the streets as trade union members filled Westminster's Central Hall.

Contacting your MP

The best way to contact your MP is to write to them at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. Most MPs also use email, and should treat emails in the same manner as a letter.

You can find out your MP's email address on the UK parliament website.

Tips for writing to your MP

Keep your letter simple and polite, perhaps just asking for a meeting. It is always useful to make it clear in the letter that you are a constituent of the MP. It is also worth giving your MP your mobile telephone number, if you have one.

The NUJ has produced a model letter to send to MPs.

Protect the right to strike ©TUC
Protect the Right to Strike ©TUC

The government wants to push these draconian changes through parliament without proper scrutiny and consultation. If the bill becomes law the NUJ and other unions believe it will fundamentally undermine workers' ability to organise together to protect jobs, wages, pensions and conditions at work.

The TUC has compiled stories of people who explain why they had no option but to go on strike on the Protect the Right to Strike page.

If the #TUbill becomes law:

  1. Defend the right to strike
    TUC activist's guide

    Your union membership will no longer be confidential
    The union regulator can investigate unions and access membership lists even if no-one has complained about a union's activities.
  2. Your civil liberties will be eroded as it hampers your basic right to protest
    Details of protest activities will have to be given to the police 14 days in advance.
  3. Unqualified temporary staff can be employed to do your job whilst you're on strike
    Striking Workers can be replaced by agency workers with less or no experience. This could also have serious health and safety implications.
  4. You may need up to an 80 per cent vote for strike action for it to be legal
    In 'Important public services' 50 per cent of members must vote and 40 per cent of the entire membership must vote in favour of action.

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, explains the campaign –

The government has dropped plans to make unions give two weeks' notice of their social media during a strike.

TUC video: Workers explain why we need the right to strike -

Organise local campaign activity

Ask members in your area to contact their MP, sign the online petitions, raise awareness about the bill, get in touch with your local trades council and participate in the different campaigning activities available.

Sign the TUC petitions:

Print out the TUC protect the right to strike A4 model petition and collect signatures locally to send to your MP.

The TUC petition: Allow unions to ballot members online has now closed and has been handed in to Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

More information

Details of the bill and the parliamentary timetable are available on the UK parliament website.

Associated documents on the Trade union bill.

Video by the Institute of Employment Rights where Professor Keith Ewing and John Hendy QC talk about the dangers contained in the TU bill -

Tags: , trade union freedom, trade union rights, strike, ballot, trade unions, industrial action, government uk, legislation, parliament uk, parliamentary group


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