Category Archives: Trade Union Law

Court of Appeal Restricts Effectiveness of Trade Union Negotiation

In 2002 the European Court of Human Rights decided the case of Wilson v UK and found that UK trade union legislation was contrary the Article 11 of the  European Convention on Human Rights – in particular, at paragraph 48 of Wilson the ECHR found that

by permitting employers to use financial incentives to induce employees to surrender important union rights, the respondent State has failed in its positive obligation to secure the enjoyment of the rights under Article 11 of the Convention. This failure amounted to a violation of Article 11, as regards both the applicant trade unions and the individual applicants.

The UK governments response to the judgement was to introduce new legislation in 2004 which is set out in sections 145A to 145F of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 1992. 

Restrictions on Inducements to Union Members

Section 145B of the Act is the specific section that addresses the prohibition of inducements by an employer to its workers to have terms and conditions directly negotiated with the employer and worker independently of the trade union.

Section 145B introduces a right to individual trade union members of a trade union who is recognised by the employer for collective bargaining purposes (or by a union seeking to be recognised) not to be have a contractual offer be made directly to the worker would when accepted have what is called the ‘prohibited result’ and this result was the employer’s main or sole purpose when making the offer.

The section does however provide some limited circumstances, in section 145D.

The Basic Facts in Kostal

There has been very little caselaw on section 145B. As a union representative there has only been one time I have had occasion to consider it as a possible course of action. It’s prominence however rose with the decision of the EAT in 2017.

The basic facts in Kostal was that Unite was recognised by the employer for collective bargaining purposes and was negotiating with the employer about the pay award. The union and the employer did not reach an agreement but the offer went to a membership ballot and 80% of union members rejected the offer.

Disappointed with the outcome of the union ballot the employer decided that it would make precisely the same offer to each employee directly and that those who accepted, and those only, would receive not only the pay award but a Christmas bonus, those who refused would not.

In the new year the employer also wrote directly to every worker who refused the direct contract change offer and advised that that the employer was considering dismissing those workers who did not agree. The employer in making that offer made no reference to this being a dismissal and re-engagement on new terms dismissal.

The EAT and ET both found the purpose of the employer’s actions was to undermine collective bargaining. The Employment Tribunal itself commented that

it is not permissible for an employer to abandon collective negotiation when it does not like the result of a ballot, approach the employees individually with whom it strikes deals and then seek to show its commitment to collective bargaining by securing a collective agreement which is little more than window dressing – having destroyed the union’s mandate on the point in question in the meantime. In other words, if there is a Recognition Agreement which includes collective bargaining, the employer cannot drop in and out of the collective process as and when that suits its purpose.

Unfortunately, the effect of the Court of Appeal’s judgement in Kostal, independent of the issues in section 145D is that employer’s has been licence to do just that.

In the Court of Appeal the court (45) noted and appear to have accepted that the decision to make individual offers meant that it was “exceptionally improbable that the company did not intend to circumvent the collective bargaining process when it made the offers: in effect (eliminating the double negative) they found, and were entitled to find, that Kostal’s purpose was to circumvent the collective bargaining process.” And yet, even though none of the caveats to this right in section 145D applied, that this was in large part the issue in Wilson, accepted this description but still left open the question of whether the prohibited result was engaged. 

The prohibited reason is set out in 145B(2) and states that prohibited result is “that the workers’ terms of employment, or any of those terms, will not (or will no longer) be determined by collective agreement negotiated by or on behalf of the union.”

One would think that the fact that by reason of the employer’s decision to avoid negotiating any change of contract on the yearly pay settlement with the union, even if they were willing to do so in the future if the union were more ‘compliant’ the “will not” provision would have been met. But the Court of Appeal had other ideas.

Court of Appeal

In it decision last week the Court of Appeal substantially restricted the circumstances in which a union member will be able to allege unlawful inducements to forego collective bargaining when an employer does not like the negotiating position a recognised trade union adopts to two situations in situations where it is not alleged that the employer is not motivated by express anti-union motives.

First, where a union seeks recognition but the employer makes an offer that would mean that their terms and conditions would not be subject to a collective bargaining unit.

Second, where the employer in making the offer intends to to permanently remove the term or condition from collective bargaining.

If inducement is not for one of these situations then the decision is not a prohibited reason, this would even apply where the employer is motivated by a desire to weaken the union’s bargaining position, as on the summary appears to be the motive of the employer in this case.

The rationale of the decision was that although the literal reading of the statute advanced by Unite was possible this cannot have been Parliament’s intention because that would give a veto over any changes and Parliament cannot have intended that. I am unpersuaded that is really the case on the issue of veto, why not? It is surely proper that in bilateral negotiations upon which agreement is necessary   that each party have a veto. And, besides which, as the initial tribunal noted it is not as though the employer is wholly without options, if the terms is truly necessary, it is open on an employer to serve notice on a dismissal and re-engagement basis which so long as the reason is a reasonable one (within the band of reasonable responses) it is unlikely attract compensatory liability to the employer.

Kostal is a dangerous and anti-union decision. It is not hard to see this will be abused and it is not as though there is a swell of tribunal claims on unlawful inducement grounds that the decision is quelling. Instead the Court of Appeal has given licence to employers to intermittent disavowal of collective bargaining to push through changes that are beneficial to the employers and against the interests of workers. This is acceptable so long as this disavowal and avoidance is ‘temporary.

And the Court’s refrain that this is all OK because the workers can always strike (leaving aside that new strike laws make that more and more a hypothetical right only) it is a strange argument that effectively encourages unions to undertake industrial action and increase industrial unrest.

It is certainly welcome that Unite have already announced that they have sought permission to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. It may be that the case is also ripe for a further challenge, if necessary, to the ECHR on Article 11 grounds.

 

 

Facility Time: You need to make a request.

For most employers where a trade union is recognised there will be a recognition agreement which will detail processes and rights to time off for union reps. However, when those agreements fall down a reps right to time off is based on legislation itself, in this case section 168 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 1992.

Because of the prevalence of facility time agreements with employers there has been relatively little caselaw on enforcing the legal rights to time off but my impression since local agreements dealt with disagreements in house. This may well change in the future as employers, especially in the public sector, renege longstanding agreements following the lead from the Cabinet Office’s facility time reviews.

Where this has happened the amount of facility time being taken by reps has drastically decreased, my impression is this is down to uncertainty over how time off must be granted with reps hitherto used to managing time off in concert with the employer (for example, taking every Tuesday off for union activities). The result is that the valuable work that local reps were doing is no longer being done.

This needs to change, and with it a general awareness among reps that time off is not dependent on an agreement with the employer (although that is obviously beneficial) but is a legal obligation.

However, that legal obligation is only engaged when a request is made to the employer which is where many of the current difficulties arise (the requests are not being made in the first place). This was made clear in one of the few judgements on trade union facility time Ryford Ltd v Drinkwater.

Unlike other statutory requests for time off in legislation the legislation does not expressly say that an employee must make a request for time off but in Drinkwater it was found that was implicit in the statute and that a) a request must be made, and b) this request must have come to the attention of the employer:

We have looked at this matter with care and, doing the best we can, we are quite satisfied that the proper construction of s.168, by way of construction of ordinary words of the English language, plainly requires that the employer should know of and be apprised of the request for time off before he can “fail to permit” time off. In our judgment, you can only “permit” or “allow” something if you know what is being asked of you. Similarly, you can only “fail to permit” or “refuse to allow” something if you know what is being asked of you. In our judgment, the concept of permission must import knowledge of a request for permission. We derive assistance from the use of the verb “failed” in the expression “failed to permit”. You can only “fail” to give permission if permission has been sought of you, in our judgment. Similarly, s.172(2) speaks of the employer’s “default” in failing to permit time off.

For those reasons we are satisfied that it is necessary for an employee to establish that his request has come to the notice of the appropriated designated representative of the employers before he can say that the employer has failed to permit him to take time off and, accordingly, that is a necessary prerequisite to his making any claim under s.168(4). We do not think that this question of whether the employer knew of a request for time off can be subsumed under subsection (3) because that subsection is concerned, in our judgment, specifically with the amount, the purpose for which, the occasion on which and the conditions subject to which, time off may be taken. Thus, in our judgment, subsection (3) appears to assume that a request has been made and has come to the notice of the employer so that the employer as well as the employee, can consider the specific matters in subsection (3), namely, questions as to the amount which, the occasions on which, the purposes for which, and the conditions subject to which time off may be taken.

In short, in order to be able to enforce the legal right to time off for trade union duties the rep of a recognised union must be able to show “on the balance of probabilities, that a request was made for time off, that it came to the notice of the employers’ appropriate representative, and that they either refused it, ignored it or failed to respond to it.”

Although a request need not be in writing it is very strongly recommended it should be. The following should be sufficient:

Dear [Appropriate manager]

Request for time off for Trade Union Duties (Section 168 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 1992).

On [insert date] I am required to undertake trade union duties [insert explanation of duties] which will commence at [insert time]. I estimate this will take approximately [how many hours].

This will be conducted at [insert where the time will be taken].

I would be grateful if you could confirm this time off is approved.

 

Yours sincerely

 

A. Rep

 

Cases Cited:

Ryford Ltd v Drinkwater [1995] UKEAT 723_94_2405

So far as may be Lawful

lawIn a recent provocative article for The Guardian the Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey explains the background to a recent Rules change in the Union’s constitution that could pave the way for a major showdown with the the next Government (if Conservative led) over its trade union legislation. It is worth posting in it’s entirety, but readers can view the original version here.

Unions must be able to fight for workers – even if it means breaking bad laws – Len McCluskey

Unite’s rule book sounds just the sort of dusty tome to give employment lawyers headaches. Last week our governing body, Unite’s executive, unanimously agreed to make it shorter. It recommended the deletion from our rules of six little words that have governed our union’s actions: “so far as may be lawful”. So far, so mundane, you would be forgiven for thinking.

But that would be the wrong conclusion: the proposed change in the constitution of the biggest union on these isles marks the sorry place we have reached in our national democracy.

Our executive wants these words gone not because we are anarchists, not because we are suddenly planning a bank robbery, but because we have to ask ourselves the question: can we any longer make that commitment to stick, under any and all circumstances, within the law as it stands? I am aware that this is a dramatic question to raise anywhere, let alone in a room full of lawyers, as I did last night when I addressed the Law Society.

Let me emphasise Unite’s continuing determination to operate ever more effectively within the law, even when that law is an ass and ill-serves our people. Legislation restricting the right to strike, attacking the capacity for trade unions to organise and conduct their own business in line with their own rules, became some warped national consensus last century. Other aspects of that “consensus” – a deregulated financial sector, a flexible labour market, being intensely relaxed about the filthy rich – have been discredited since the global crash. Re-regulation, not deregulation, is the order of the day.

Yet trade union law remains untouched and politically untouchable, the great unmentionable of British politics. It is time it was subjected to the same scrutiny as all the other nostrums and dogmas of the 1980s. Trade unions do not need a change in the law; society as a whole needs a change in trade union law, or little else can change for the better.

The financial crash pulled back the screen on the ugly reality: widening inequality, wealth concentrated at the top, a shrinking percentage of GDP going into the pockets of workers, and governments unable or unwilling to confront vested interests. This is the world in which trade unions now operate. It is not by chance that these trends have accelerated at the same time the role and function of trade unions have been restricted and diminished. As long as companies can make more money by paying their employees less, or by sacking easily and then hiring cheaply, or by cutting corners on safety, then trade unions will need to exist. This was the case at the onset of industrialisation and it remains the case today.

Labour’s victory in 1997 was one of the happiest days of my life, and it brought many achievements to be proud of, not least extending civil rights for minority groups, the minimum wage, the family friendly policies that saw vast improvements for women and children, and significant investment in our public infrastructure and the NHS. But that first Labour government, with its huge parliamentary majority, did nothing to alter the legal superstructure that allows for the skewed accrual of wealth and power in our society. Tony Blair even boasted that Britain’s labour laws were the most restrictive in Europe.

Today, thanks to those laws, it is hard for any employer to fail to get an injunction against a contemplated strike – even a fully balloted and mandated strike. It is no exaggeration to say that the right to strike in this, the first country of free trade unionism, was and is hanging by a thread. Should there be a Conservative majority in May, there will be a new attack on trade union rights and democracy. The bar for a strike ballot will be raised to a level that hardly any MPs would reach in their own constituencies, by a government that has refused our requests to use modern, more effective balloting methods.

Agency labour scabs will be licensed to break strikes. Restrictions imposed on our campaigning role in the Lobbying Act will be followed by laws to make picketing nigh on impossible, too, attacking our ability to put pressure on an abusive employer in defence of our members.

It’s tempting to see this as simply a reversion to type by the Tories but that’s only half the story. The attack on trade unions is Tory core practice because they are well aware that they can get away with their desired assault on our national fabric only if they neuter any potential opposition, and the trade unions above all. They want to reduce us to the role of concerned spectators while they tear to bits every advance that working people have secured, every protection we have built up. Against that background, should the law, when made by an elected parliament rather than a despot or a dictatorship, be respected under all circumstances?

To take a stark example, before 1967 any man who slept with another man was breaking the law, as made by an elected parliament. Who, today, would dare to say that they were criminals, or that they should have been obliged to obey a law that, however democratically sanctioned, represented no more than the prejudice of ages? A more recent example: when Margaret Thatcher criminalised trade unionism at GCHQ, would any employee there who, in secret, maintained his or her trade union membership, be a criminal? Were they not right to break that law while it was in force?

It was, of course, a Tory, and eminent lawyer, Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham) who first warned of “elective dictatorship”, of a majority imposing its views – ignorant ones in the case of both gay rights and trade unionists as a security risk – on a vulnerable minority. People have intrinsic rights that can sometimes be violated, even by democratically elected legislatures. The right of working people to combine, to organise, is one of them.

If partisan legislation designed to push the legitimate democratic work of trade unions outside of the law is driven through parliament then we, in Unite, will not go gently into the night. We will rage against the dying of the light. We will drive forward with modern technology and use it to increase turnouts in our ballots without being shackled by prescriptions – such as postal ballots – imposed in another age. We are not going to let the Tories destroy our democracy by shackling us to archaic procedures.

A union’s job is to fight for working people’s rights. If, in the year in which we mark the anniversary of Magna Carta, the government wants to challenge fundamental rights of the citizen, then I believe they will be facing not just the trade union movement, but a huge section of our civil society. When the law is misguided, when it oppresses the people and removes their freedoms, can we respect it? I am not really posing the question. I’m giving you the answer. It ain’t going to happen.

Viral Voting and Union Barons

McLuskey: Because nothing says Union Baron like subjecting yourself to regular elections.
McCluskey: Because nothing says Union Baron like subjecting yourself to regular elections.

Whenever there is any critical comment on trade unions in the UK mainstream express two words will inexorably find their way into the headline: “Union” and “baron”; especially by titles such The Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mail and even the BBC.

It is an unfair term designed to present unions as run by unaccountable leaders. Barry Gibson summarises the absurdity of the designation well:

“Union barons!” … I’m only aware of two other types of baron, and neither of them has much in common with the people debating composite motions in Brighton this week.

The first is the medieval baron, who gets his kicks out of riding round the parish on his horse terrifying the serfs and pillaging their food.

And then there is the drugs baron, who does much the same thing, except in a flashy car rather than a trusty steed … The only thing that unites the three types of baron – medieval, narcotic and union – is that they all wield some sort of power.

But here’s the difference, and it really is a crucial one: a union baron can be toppled if enough serfs vote for someone else when Mr Scary Boss is up for re-election.

As a way of changing leader, it’s simple, peaceful and democratic.

Try asking either of the other types of baron when they plan to submit themselves to the will of the people and see how far you get.

The use of adjectives is most likely more than just lazy journalism and designed to promote negative stereotypes. What the criticisms fail to acknowledge is that far more than political parties trade unions are from top to bottom democratic – at regular intervals every single member of a trade union has the chance to elect who will represent them, and conversely, who they are so thoroughly disappointed with their representatives that they vote them out of office.

But that is not to say there is not a democratic deficit. I have personally been elected to positions when less than 15% of eligible voters bother to cast a vote. Every member had the opportunity to vote and I have no doubt about the validity of those elections but, nonetheless, that c 85% of members chose not to is a matter of deep concern to me.

Part of the reason for those low turnouts – and there are certainly other reasons – is the nature of how elections in many unions take place. As I have set out before, trade union elections are not only far more expensive than they need to be but, in addition, the requirement for postal ballots drastically reduces voter turnout. For that reason it is good, as TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady points out,  to see WebRoots Democracy’s report on online voting in political elections, which has received cross party endorsement has as one of 10 recommendations suggested that

The Government should overturn legislation blocking online voting in Trade Union ballots and introduce online voting for Trade Union strike ballots by 2016.
Such a move is certainly not a panacea on the matter of member engagement in union democracy and, even with such a change, there would be much to do but it is certainly a step in the right directions. Here’s waiting to see how the report will be received.

ACAS Code of Practice after Toal v GB Oils

In 2013 the Employment Appeal Tribunal delivered its important judgement on trade union rights in Toal v GB Oils.

The case was in the interpretation of the right of a worker to be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance meeting by a trade union representative of their choosing. Section 10(2) of the Employment Relations Act 1999 sets out that:

(2)Where this section applies the employer must permit the worker to be accompanied at the hearing by a single companion who— (a)is chosen by the worker and is within subsection (3),

In the case an employee was called to a disciplinary meeting and requested that he be accompanied by a named representative of his trade union (Unite), who was based some distance away. The employer refused the request because it did not consider the request reasonable, but did allow the employee to be represented by another worker.

In the ACAS Code of Practice then extant the reasonableness of the request included the choice of the companion, hence if the choice of accompanying union rep was ‘unreasonable’ it could be read as being capable of refusal:

To exercise the right to be accompanied a worker must first make a reasonable request. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. However it would not normally be reasonable for workers to insist on being accompanied by a companion whose presence would prejudice the hearing nor would it be reasonable for a worker to ask to be accompanied by a companion from a remote geographical location if someone suitable and willing was available on site.

The last sentence was clearly apposite here.

However, Toal, at paragraph 20 of the judgement, found the ACAS Code to be in breach of the text of the 1999 Act: “there is, in our view, no lacuna to be filled. Section 10 of the 1999 Act works perfectly well read and understood in accordance with its straightforward language.” The result of this is that if a trade union rep meets is a properly accredited representative then an employee may request accompaniment by the representative and this must be allowed by the employer (it does not in fact matter if the employee is even a member of that trade union or whether the rep is a employee of the employer) – it is necessarily reasonable.

In the PCS context it seems likely to me that it was on the basis of Toal that PCS rep Lee Rock was able to win the reportable out of court settlement on representation rights after DWP refused permission for a PCS member to represent a PCS member.

In light of the embarrassing exposure that the ACAS Code of Practice was in fact incompatible with the legislation it was giving guidance from it has this week issued new guidance on the right to accompaniment of workers.

Why trade union elections are expensive

The reason the PCS Union NEC cancelled suspended elections this year is because of the financial cost. The figure given is that the cost to the Union is £590,000, it is not known how much of that comprises the cost of the NEC elections. Let us say however, that it is £300,000 (half the total).

In this post I want to set out why these union elections are expensive. It is PCS policy that all lay posts shall be elected annually, this includes the entire NEC, including the Union President. That is not a statutory requirement, which requires that these posts must be subject to election only once every five years (as the Union’s General Secretary and Assistant General Secretary are). The requirement for the Union’s President to be elected at least every five years is set out in section 119  of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidated) Act 1992. This requirement applies irrespective of any requirement in the Union’s rules.

In addition, each member of the Union’s executive, meaning “the principal executive committee of the union” (and, like Highlander, there can be only one) which in PCS is the NEC must also be elected once every five years.

It is of course right that unions should hold elections and holding elections five years seems a reasonable maximum period, particularly given it now concurs with the interval between General Elections. But the 1992 Act does not just require elections but requires that these elections (namely, the election of the NEC) shall be conducted by means of a postal ballot (Section 53, TULRCA 1992) and be subject to independent scrutineers (Section 49, TULRCA 1992).

When enacted trade unions (in the Trade Union Act 1984) were able to receive a partial refund on the costs of these undoubtedly expensive elections. In 1993 that partial refund was abolished by the Conservative government.  So, since 1993 trade unions have had to bear the full cost of all statutory ballots it is required to take.

Although the requirement to hold statutory elections only requires five-yearly elections (which would require an outlay of c. £300,000 on the above figures, or by my reckoning £0.73 per member) because PCS’ constitution requires annual election that outlay increases to £1.5m over five years.

This is a very high cost for elections, and much higher than necessary. It is entirely possible, as the TUC have argued in the context of strike ballots which operate on similar restrictions, to run independent scrutineered ballots and much lower costs than that required by the 1992 Act that would also increase turnouts. So, although Jon Rogers may be right that the PCS NEC’s decision is a gift to the Tories, it remains the case that they could have made legislative changes that would have increased worker’s engagement in workplace democracy but have chosen not to.

There is certainly a question of procedural injustice here – a union, like PCS, that has an explicit policy to be far more democratic than the statutory minimum (5 elections held where only one is required by legislation) is given a significant financial obligation (in PCS’ case approximately and additional £1.2m over five years) by needing every NEC election to be conducted by postal ballot. Any political party professing to support workplace democracy needs to address that.

In short, none of the above alters the fact that PCS’ rules require annual elections and the NEC have made a decision to not abide by that requirement this year but the pleadings that the elections are a significant financial burden certainly has merit. And that requirement is required by the UK’s industrial law – the NEC could have made a decision to run an election on a non-statutory basis but that would, in all likelihood, have caused even more of a financial burden and, possibly, have spelt the end of the Union.

However, as others have pointed out these onerous requirements only apply to the principle executive body of the union, and not subsidiary bodies such as Group Executive Committees. Here, there is no legal requirement for any election to be postal. It is unclear why the NEC did not decide that group elections could not be made by workplace balloting or by much more cost effective digital voting platforms.

PCS Elections: Round Up

UPDATE – 07 Feb

Since the last post the following articles have been posted:

If I’ve missed any posts please let me know in the comments.


So it is about three weeks since the NEC’s decision to cancel PCS elections in 2015. It seems an opportune moment to post some links on the reaction to the decision to update this earlier round up.

The decision was announced in the run up to Christmas, in a posting on the main union website in the not especially transparent title “Government steps up political attack on PCS”.

To date the only solidly supportive source is Left Unity’s Left Unity on attacks on PCS and the National Elections. The article itself add little to the official PCS article, citing the need to save resources (the c. £590,000 annual group and national elections are said to cost the union) and focus resources on countering the direct debit challenge.

The central thrust of the of article is that in the context of the harsh political climate the union means the decision was a ‘difficult but necessary’ one but, somewhat ingeniously suggesting that opposition to the NEC decision is ‘right wing’:

Left Unity is absolutely clear that the decision was the only one that could have been taken in the circumstances. The highest possible standards that have been set by the Democracy Alliance national executive has its roots in many decades of struggle to secure the greatest possible democracy for our union. On merger PCS had two-yearly elections and conferences. It was Left Unity, including all the members of the current PCS leadership active at the time, that fought against the right wing to secure annual elections and conferences. Securing national elections was not just won by votes at conference alone. Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich went to exceptional personal risk in fighting for the right in the High Court, including risking the loss of their own homes.

PCS members will understand and support this decision when it is honestly explained – so too will PCS activists. Right wing opponents of the national executive will attack the decision. Their history in resisting the democratisation of our union and its predecessors will expose their criticism for what it is – shameless hypocrisy.

I have to say how a decision to resist a decision to move away from an ostensibly ‘left’ position is now is a ‘right wing’ attack is a mystery and seems to be a particularly unrefined form of doublespeak. If David Cameron were to come out and oppose all NHS privatisation whilst his opponents were seeking to outsource it I would rejoice, that he’d supported a socialist policy not label it as a ‘right wing’ reaction. As it is, however, although there are complaints from right-wingers with the aforementioned Howie Fuller being a case in point it looks like the majority of the complaints against the decision are from the left (although characterised as ‘non-factional’).

The Alliance for Workers Liberty’s (AWL) article of 30 December PCS leadership suspend elections criticizes PCS for a lack of transparency, considering it is unlikely that the financial report of ADC 2014 had already highlighted the risk to the Union and said it was factored into the considerations:

Thus members and Conference were assured that the continuing decline in membership had been taken account of.

However, just in case a branch or conference delegate might nevertheless have worried about the future post 2014 the report – signed off by Chris Baugh (National Treasurer), Kevin McHugh (Deputy President) and Stella Dennis (Director of Finance) – stated,

“There is no doubt that the union faces serious challenges going forward. The scale of the government attacks is having a significant impact on our income which [is] largely derived from members subscriptions.” So delegates were under no illusion as to the pressures on the union but the Annual report continued, “We believe the further measures set out in this report will ensure we continue to consolidate our financial base whilst protecting the organising, bargaining and campaigning activities that PCS members expect.”

There was no hint that just seven/eight months later, far from continuing to consolidate the financial base, PCS would be confronted with an apparent existential threat.

A similar view is set out  in Howie’s Corner (knowing how much Howie loves the far-left type I am sure that will delight him).

The Way I See Things ties the news in with the apparent hope of certain segments of the PCS leadership to keep alight the hope of a takeover of PCS by Unite and, a simultaneous takeover of the Unite Left by Left Unity.

It’s Spirit Cries in the Wilderness offers an anarcho-syndicalist view of the decision.

Paul Williams and Marianne Owens, two of three NEC members at the meeting who voted against the proposal write for the Socialist Worker in Undermining democracy won’t help union beat the Tories’ attacks. Williams and Owens write:

We have to cut costs, but this is a three-year budget. That should mean asking members and reps for their views how money could be saved.

But above all else we believe that in a democratic union it must be the right of members to decide when the national executive gets elected.

It cannot be for the executive to decide. We believe that this decision should have been taken by conference. At that point we will also know the financial situation we face.

So we voted for the union’s headquarters to be sold and for the financial decisions to be put to conference.

We did not vote for a budget that included proposals to suspend elections or for the suspension of elections themselves.

PFLCPSA devotes its most recent edition to the NEC decision.

The Revenue and Customs Bootle branch, together with the DWP East London Branch established a campaign which thus far has been joined by the DfT London and South East branch uniting around the following statement:

The decision by the emergency NEC in late December 2014 to suspend NEC and group elections was wrong.

  • We will work together in a campaign to seek to get that decision overturned and for NEC and group elections to be held at the usual time. If that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.
  • We will agree motions or a motion for the ADC that will achieve elections as soon as possible after the conference.
  • We will seek to get as many branches as possible to agree this statement.
  • We will use social media (be it a blog, Facebook page etc.) to gather support for our campaign in the union and in the wider labour movement
  • We accept and respect that each branch will have differing views on who to support in elections. The sole purpose of this campaign is for NEC and GEC elections to be held at the usual time or if that does not happen then they must be held as soon as possible.

The IL faction have been especially vociferous in opposing the decision in the following postings:

Many of the Independent Left’s criticisms are valid but it must be said the suggestion that the reason for the decision is fear of an IL election victory against the LU is not credible at all. You need only look at recent IL election results, together with their inability to field a left GS candidate to challenge Mark Serwotka to see through that suggestion.

The Democracy Deferred website remains the most important of the responses and includes a copy of the NEC briefing which was given NEC members, or rather, those NEC members able to attend shortly before the meeting.

Your Voice describes the decision as defeatist saying “Facing off the attacks on our union from this government mean not only standing our ground but advancing forward. If we take a single step backwards, in terms of democracy or organisation, then that is a concession too many to our foes”

Jon Rogers, a Unison NEC member characterises PCS’ decision as “An Early Xmas present for the Tories” and comments that “The General Secretary himself is not above the Rule Book.” This is a post upon which (in the comments) the author is described as passive aggressive by PCS President Janice Godrich.

Socialist Resistance comments that cancelling “elections will mean that the opponents of the current leadership will be prevented from standing and putting forward their arguments in elections and leave the existing leadership in place.”

Penultimately, there is the three posts I have penned Why trade union elections are expensive, Cancelling Elections and the PCS Union’s suspension of elections.

Last, and most certainly least, the R&C staff association and darlings of HMRC management the Revenue and Customs Trade Union have used the NEC decision for a bit of politicking; strangely despite being ‘bored’ by PCS they need to talk about them at length. I have no problem criticizing the decision or actively campaigning against the decision and the leadership – that is entirely legitimate. It was perfectly possible, it this were a point of principle, for the RCTUers to campaign and stand for election and defeat the policies it opposed through electoral means in the R&C group and PCS. And if PCS dissatisfaction is as widespread in HMRC as it suggests then it would take only a little organising to win those elections since they, allegedly, stand for the silent majority. That they have chosen to ‘take their ball and go home’ speaks volumes on the political principles and respect for democracy of RCTU ‘leaders’. If you want to change the union because it has gone off track then get involved, get elected, and change things. If you choose not to do that then all opinions expressed should, rightfully, be viewed with suspicion.