4 positive changes the government have made to the Union Bill

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 28th April 2016

It’s taken a lot of campaigning, but this week the government made some major concessions on the Trade Union Reform Bill – which had its Consideration of Lords’ Amendments stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

It’s welcome news that the government have listened and made some much-needed and substantial changes to the Bill.

Here are our four top Union Bill concessions:

1.     The government have agreed that the switch to an ‘opt-in’ approach to union political funds will now be contingent on consultation with the union Certification Officer and trade unions – plus the backing of both Houses of Parliament.

This shows the government has recognised this is a move which would have huge ramifications for opposition party funding – previously estimated to have cost Labour £6m per year in lost donations. The u-turn demonstrates that – even with a topic as politically controversial as party funding – parliamentarians from all sides can work together to achieve consensus. We’d like to see that spirit of consensus sustained into negotiations between all parties on a fair and transparent party funding settlement.

2.     If the consultation and Parliament determine that the switch to ‘opt-in’ should go ahead, unions will now be given at least a year – as opposed to the mere three months outlined in the Bill previously – to transition towards making members ‘opt in’ to their political funds

We think this is a hugely positive step, with the 12-month period 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. The public are sick and tired of party funding scandals, so the government and opposition should use this time to thrash out a genuine cross-party deal. A year is a long time in politics – it shouldn’t be beyond the parties to agree on a fair and transparent funding system in that time.

3.     Ministers have conceded that unions can trial e-voting for their internal elections and strike ballots.

Again, 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. We hope the trial is followed by an opening up of methods of participation to put trade unions in the same position as other civil society organisations.

4.     Members will now be allowed to opt in to union political funds online.

Under the Bill as it stood before, members would only have been able to hand in a form in person or via post – a bizarre anachronism in a digital age.

Yesterday we wrote to all MPs calling on them to get behind the government-backed changes to the Bill – and they passed.

These changes are a big win for democracy campaigners, with the Bill previously representing a one-sided approach to party funding. Let’s hope the parties use the next year to sort out a party finance settlement the public can have faith in.

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