The head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors has said the Tories have wasted little time since the general election in revealing their contempt for the trade union movement.
In an article written for PCS Commercial Break magazine, Richard Arthur said: “Eroding workers’ rights, slashing public services and tax cuts for the rich have always been Tory policies. But the trade union bill is the most vindictive, spiteful attack on unions, and those they represent, for decades and goes further than even Mrs Thatcher dared to go.
“Conservative MP David Davis has stated his opposition saying that the Bill is like something from a Franco-style dictatorship. When Tory MPs are defending unions and are worried about civil liberties, warning bells should be ringing in all our heads.
“The first part of the Bill attacks the power of trade unions requiring any ballot on strike action to not only need a 50% majority in favour, but also requiring a turnout of at least 50%. Any ballot will be required to receive a 40% majority among all eligible voters in some public services, including health and education.
“Despite the fact that nearly half of the cabinet, including education secretary Nicky Morgan and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith, would not have been elected had the general election been fought on these terms, they are quite happy to impose it on workers who are driven to take action against an employer who has treated them with disdain and unfairness.
“Some of the most malicious aspects of this Bill are the new provisions on picketing. With no regard to civil liberties the government seeks in the Bill to undermine the democratic right to protest. Trade unions organising pickets will now have to nominate a ‘picket supervisor’ who is familiar with the statutory code of practice and is seen as a mediator between the picketers and police. And social media surrounding the strike will have to be disclosed (in advance) to the police.
“The moves are not just an invasion of civil liberties and go to the heart of the right to protest, they are also a massive waste of police time in a period where police budgets are being cut left, right and centre.
“The Tories are also seeking to abolish the policy of ‘automatic opt-in’ to the political fund and check-off of union dues from salary at source. Both moves will damage the power and finances of all trade unions. There is already a requirement to vote on the political fund every 10 years and any members can already opt out of paying it at any time, meaning that these new restrictions are both unnecessary and vindictive.
“It’s OK for the Tories to be bankrolled by a few select members of the super-rich whose money is salted away in off shore bank accounts but a transparent system that members have chosen to be part of apparently isn’t. This is a thinly-veiled attack on the funding of the official opposition to the government and is a clear example of playing party politics with workers’ rights.
“Alongside the Bill, the government is putting forward proposals that will allow employers to hire temporary agency staff during a strike. Arming bosses with the ability to simply recruit a temporary workforce encourages allows them to treat their hard-working and professional permanent employees with contempt, safe in the knowledge that the strategic effects of any withdrawal of labour can be radically diminished.
“What the government fails to take heed of – in its headlong rush to neuter workers’ rights – is that agency workers usually live in close proximity to permanent workers and they can very often be migrants. Pitching worker against worker and neighbour against neighbour and hang the social consequences is cynical in the extreme and agency worker representatives have already spoken of their opposition to this policy seeing it as increasing social divisions and civil unrest.
“This Bill is calculatingly divisive and immoral. It will attack the rights of ordinary workers across the country, yet again with this government, putting the interests of big business ahead of the employee.
“Since our foundation, Thompsons has been committed to the labour movement and we remain dedicated to championing the rights of working people. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow trade unionists as they oppose even more attacks from the Tory government. We are working closely with PCS and all our union partners to build a comprehensive opposition to the Bill and fight its passage through parliament at every stage.”