Tag Archives: Trade Unions

There is Power in a Union

Michael Reed is a solicitor and principal legal officer for the Free Representation Unit (the FRU). I should say at the outset that I have immense respect for the work of the FRU (and if you can, I would encourage you to support them).

As a union rep I have also referred cases to FRU and always been impressed with their work in securing good results for our members.

All of the above is by way of preamble to introducing a post Michael has posted on power relations in employment. Here’s a taster:

If we’re worried about people being mistreated and exploited in employment, the people we need to be concerned about are those who lack power. That means people working in unskilled and commoditised jobs, who are likely lack the cultural capital and personal characteristics to balance the employer’s power.

The point of employment law, really, is to give those people, without other sources, a bit of power. That, we hope, means they will be treated better than they otherwise would.

That’s what makes things like employment tribunal fees and zero-hours contracts so dangerous. They take power away from people who are already in an unbalanced power relationship with their employer. And the more unbalanced that dynamic becomes, the more likely they are to be badly treated.

There really is nothing in the post itself to disagree with. It is certainly the case that the greater the power differential in employment (as in the rest of society) the greater the extent of exploitative employment practices. Sometimes this is down to plain exploitation (I am thinking here of companies like Sports Direct who keep the majority of their staff on vulnerable employment contracts); but equally, sometimes there dynamic comes from more ‘soft power’ sources such as being from the same social grouping as ‘the bosses’, being a skilled worker (and thus harder to replace), or even just being more erudite.

But what baffles me about Michael Reed’s post is the complete absence of any reference to trade unions. Although trade union membership  has undoubtedly declined in the last three decades it still remains the largest political grouping in the UK, at just under 6 million workers. And although a significant percentage of trade unionism is within the public sector there are signs that the levels of membership private sector are on the rise.

Power in the workplace as it relates to trade unions works in different ways. On one level there there are occasions where a union being present or asking questions reduces inequitable treatment. On a personal level this does sometimes happen in disciplinary and grievance cases. A worker raises a question and they have no joy resolving an issue or are subject to disciplinary proceedings on tenuous grounds but when a union rep is involved the employer takes a different tact – more assiduously complying with fair processes for example.

To give a recent example I was recently approached by a union member who had had about 10 days annual leave from his allowance at the end of a leave year. He had previously tried to book that leave earlier in the year but had been refused and when he tried to book it again he was again refused as ‘he did not give enough notice’ despite giving trying to book over one month in advance. Despite the member escalating the issue through their line management chain they had no joy – however, after coming to PCS a simple question about how their decisions could be consistent with the Working Time Regulations resulted in the decision being overturned. Because of union intervention that member did not have lose 10 days leave and this was done without any need for an unlawful deduction of wages claim using an employment tribunal.

But the advantage is not just personal. One of the problems of modern trade unionism is it has a tendency to follow the individualistic turn or broader society. It is this type of tendency that leads to the the trade union as individual insurance policy type of approach. The main benefit of trade unions is on the collective rather than purely individual level, this is what TUC refer to as the Union Advantage. Trade Unions do deliver benefits to employees. Where a union is recognised for collective bargaining (which can only happen if individual membership reaches a critical density) members do get better pay and conditions of service which themselves minimises the power differential Michael Reed referenced. At it’s most basic that power is itself in the hands of members themselves. Individually an employee can be picked off by an employer and reject their grievances but if each employee stands together – for example, by unanimously taking industrial action together – those same grievances can be remedied. It is the union, therefore, that offers a remedy to the power differential which Reed referred, even more than an employment law system whether access to it is restricted or not.

I will leave you with the Billy Brag classic There is Power in a Union. But before I do so if you are not a trade union member why not join today? Not only is it in your interests but also in the interests of your colleagues.

Unite Union, Labour, and Zero Hour Contracts

milbandIt is certainly not a new tactic: when a politic party makes a proposal with which the other parties are not too enamored they adopt a guilt by association posture. And so it was last week, fresh from the Labour Party launching its Business manifesto cracking down on zero hour contracts, the Tory cheerleaders at the London Evening Standard targeted Unite (and by implication Miliband) on Thursday (on the eve of the leadership debates) for hypocrisy.

Unite the Union is the Labour Party’s largest financial backer which is the basis for the LES to run a story on Thursday that ‘Labour’s biggest union donor used zero hour contracts’. The background is what is assumed to be a Preliminary Hearing at the London South Tribunal for Martyn Reuby who is bringing an unfair dismissal claim against Unite the Union. Mr Reuby had delivered training for Unite at many local colleges; he contended that he was an employee of Unite, whilst Unite contended he was either self-employed or employed directly by the colleges. In order to make that claim Mr Reuby would need to establish he was an employee, hence the reason for the judgement which was not about whether he was on a zero hour contract but whether he was an employee.

In its judgement, which Unite have said it is appealing, the tribunal determined that Mr Reuby was employed on a series of short term contracts. It was Mr Reuby’s solicitor, not the tribunal, that suggested he was ‘effectively’ on a zero hour contract (the use of such an adverb usually in my experience has the same intellectual coherence as ‘I am not a racist, but …’ The Unite response to the LES’s story is pretty unambiguous: “Unite does not use zero-hours contracts and it is misleading to say so”.

On that basis the story is a pretty empty attack piece lacking in substance but of mud slinging. When the politics of employment law apocalypse fail, the next recourse is claims of hypocrisy. But here, it is not even Miliband being accused but a Labour Affiliate.

Still, while the charge of hypocrisy may be technically incorrect and represent some pretty petty political pointscoring the tribunal judgement does again bring into focus the tendency of some parts of the Union movement, when employing staff, to adopt some pretty shoddy employment practices. This is something I have picked up before. Here, even by their own admission, Unite have been procuring the services of a worker who even in the very best designation (the one Unite tried to argue) was a self employed worker who would preferred to have been an employee. In fact, however, the Tribunal’s judgement is that he was an employee in a succession of fixed term appointments – this is precisely the insecure type of employment which the union movement has criticised as being the basis of the ‘economic recovery’, workers with no security of employment. Whether or not the union succeeds in its EAT appeal the fact remains that in a duty core to the union (education) that is not going to diminish any time soon the union has chosen to deprive workers of secure employment. That is not a decision of the Labour party but a decision taken on behalf of the Unite executive.

It is right that questions about this conduct in union recruitment practices are asked. What is unfortunate however is that these question are being asked by right wing press barons (and here, unlike here, the term is appropriate) given the issues are raised by them as a matter of political opportunism and not the rank and file membership itself.

In Mr Reuby’s case Unite are defending the claim of unfair dismissal on the basis that he was not an employee. It is a defense that is certainly open to them to make legally, but the decision to pursue such a defense is morally questionable. A matter of days ago Unite published a review of Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain’s Blacklisted (a review will follow here on Employment Writes soon).

Blacklisted tells the story of the scourge of blacklisting in the construction industry – there is a wealth of evidence that many construction companies sacked trade union representatives when they raised concerns or even when they first became known as a union activist. This affected many workers – when it became known that these companies had sacked their employees for raising concerns many of those affected, understandably, sought to lodge employment tribunal claims. One of the primary defense strategies these companies was to deny that the workers were employed but that they were ‘self employed’ or agency workers, if they are not an employee they do not have a legal remedy for unfair dismissal. It is the reason Dave Smith lost his recent Court of Appeal case of unfair dismissal. Following the outcome Dave Smith commented (and I entirely agree):

What is the point of employment law or the Human Rights Act? Even with mountains of documentary evidence and an admission from the company that they blacklisted me because I was a trade union member who had raised safety concerns, I still cannot win. This might be the law, but it is not justice.

The endemic use of agency workers, zero hours contracts, umbrella companies and bogus self-employment means that millions of workers are being treated as second class citizens.

The result of this tactic was that the overwhelming majority of those who submitted employment tribunal claims lost them because the courts found they were not employees because of their particular working arrangements. How disappointing then that Unite, who have made very positive moves in the anti-blacklisting campaigns and supported many of these claims have adopted the very same strategy and have sought to deprive workers of the right to legal remedy by contesting the fact that those who work for them on a continuous basis are in fact employees. This is especially the case since as a matter of policy (see 2014 Policy Conference motions) Unite are opposed to bogus self-employment. It may be that Mr Reuby’s claim is without merit and that Unite have not subjected him to any detriment for whistleblowing but the decision to seek to deny him a hearing is certainly questionable.

This is something members should be raising with their union executives with some earnestness with or without press coverage at election time.

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.

Trade Unions and Fixed Term Workers

tuc_LogoThe Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations are, undoubtedly, an important protection against unscrupulous employers.But a reading of the preamble to the Council Directive 1999/70/EC, the European Directive the UK regulations implement make clear that fixed term employment should not be seen as the norm.

The parties to this agreement recognise that contracts of an indefinite duration are, and will continue to be, the general form of employment relationship between employers and workers. They also recognise that fixed-term employment contracts respond, in certain circumstances, to the needs of both employers and workers.

This agreement sets out the general principles and minimum requirements relating to fixed-term work, recognising that their detailed application needs to take account of the realities of specific national, sectoral and seasonal situations.

In spite of this I have observed a definite trend in that a significant number (and sometimes a majority) of new trade union vacancies are being advertised as being available on the basis that a would be employee being guaranteed employment for a limited period of time, usually only 12 months.

Certainly, I have no doubt that in certain circumstances a fixed term appointment may be reasonable. For example: if a temporary replacement is needed for an employee on a career break or maternity leave or to work on a time limited campaign. But the majority of posts are not these.

Take today, for example. At the moment the TUC website has the following posts advertised from affiliate unions:

  • NASUWT – 2 Posts – Both Permanent
  • CSP – 3 Posts – One three months FTA “with possibility of permanency”, the others Permanent
  • Unite – 7 Posts – One Permanent, the others one year fixed term appointment.
  • NAHT – 2 Posts – Permanent
  • GMB – 7 Posts – 2 Permanent, the others one year fixed term appointment
  • Prospect – 1 Post – Permanent
  • RCN – 2 Posts – One year fixed term appointment
  • FBU – 1 Post – Permanent

In sum then, of the 25 open vacancies being advertised on TUC Jobs today 10 (40%) are only available on fixed term appointment. There is not any indication in any of the advertisements why the posts are only available on a fixed term basis and nothing in the job descriptions to indicate that they are time limited. And, since all new employees would be required to pass a probationary period it cannot be to determine if they are a ‘good fit’ for the role.

Today’s figures are fairly representative of general trends in trade union recruitment and that concerns me.

Let’s get the personal reason out of the way first: I am not just looking at TUC jobs for entertainment purposes, if a role comes up I would like to and think i would do well do then I’d quite possibly apply for it. And there have been jobs that i think I’d be good at but, normally – and this may just be bad luck – it is those jobs that seem to be available on a fixed term appointment. I am certainly not on a great wage but nonetheless, even if the roles advertised pay a bit more than I am at the moment I am not going to leave a role where I have permanent contract for a fixed term one with no job security.

Second, I think the least we can expect of trade union’s as employers is that it sets a good example for other employers. Just last year the TUC published research that showed that by a significant majority new jobs created lacked security, be that because they were agency, zero hour or fixed term appointments. Whilst I am not suggesting that trade union employment practices are on a par with purveyors of zero hour contractors etc this reliance on temporary contracts to complete ostensibly permanent roles is not good enough. After all,  even the EC acknowledged contracts of “indefinite duration” are the “general form” of employee recruitment.  It seems to me to be bad form that major unions are lagging behind this ideal.

Third, we know that this government has made legal remedy much harder for employees, restricting the right of employees to claim unfair dismissal after over two years service. With the huge increase of those workers on insecure contracts of employments there are huge swathes of the current workforce who are deprived any legal redress as a result of Conservative and Lib Dem policies (and, Labour has not exactly been forthcoming in committing to rescind these changes). To be sure, the TUC have been critical of these laws but let’s be under no illusion TUC HR managers in setting these contracts at a length below that which enables employees to challenge their dismissals in a meaningful way don’t know exactly what they are doing. And, since next to none of these fixed term advertisements show no indication that they are in fact genuinely time limited the effect is that these union HR departments have knowingly pitched their adverts to ensure any successful applicant has no recourse if their ‘face does not fit’ once in post.  Unenforceable ‘promises’ such as ‘with possibility of leading to permanent contract” only reinforce this cynicism. If you get a post don’t for the sake of your career ask any difficult questions or volunteer to be a union rep, or magistrate, or army reservist etc as you may find a contract is not renewed for ‘business’ reasons.

There is nothing unlawful about the advertisements from these TUC unions, but am I alone in thinking this is bad form and a bad example?

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.

Mark Serwotka Responds on Suspension of PCS Union Elections

Serwotka's response to legitimate questions of union members leaves a lot to be desired.
Serwotka’s response to legitimate questions of union members leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

The decision of the PCS Union’s National Executive Committee to suspend the union’s internal democracy as it relates to elections for the NEC and group committee is understandably a very contentious one; it is also one I disagree with as I have set out before.

One PCS branch, the Bootle HMRC branch (I am sure there have also been many others) wrote to the Union’s General Secretary asking a number of questions about the decision. The letter send can be read here, but the letter begins with a comment criticising the decision on the basis of the lack of consultation and then proceeds to ask two questions:

  1. The branch asked, noting that legislation requires only the NEC election to be conducted by means of a postal ballot why the NEC felt there were no alternatives to reduce the costs of the election in the other ballots (for example, by holding an electronic ballot); and
  2. The branch also asked why the NEC had relied on a supplementary rule of the union to suspend elections that are required by a Principal Rule of the union when these Rules require that in the case of any conflict it shall be the Principal Rule of the Union that shall take precedence.

These are not unreasonable questions.

On 27 February Mark Serwotka responded to the branch, the letter is available to read here. Readers can have of course make their own minds up on Serwotka’s response but to me it fails to really grapple with the questions that were posed to him. No one is going to disagree that the attack is an ideological one, particularly given the PCS’ offer to fund the running costs of check-off, a point reinforced by Danny Alexander’s “no fiscal case” letter to Permanent Secretaries sent from the Treasury.

But Serwotka’s response, in detailing the time line doesn’t answer the question why the NEC felt it had no alternative but to suspend elections with no consultation. He has said clearly that the decision was not a surprise and that this issue was a constant one through the last year; it was surely right for the union to politically campaign to avert the possibility of check off being removed but his answer seems to come down to the following: we couldn’t consult because we didn’t know how many people would switch and so, and I infer this (it is not set out clearly) therefore the union did not know what the financial implications would be for the union until we had gone through the process in one department, namely the Home Office. With that information the union could set a benchmark for what kind of income loss the union could reasonably expect. An accurate assessment was always difficult but, as Serwotka has said elsewhere, this was always a “herculean task” and other union’s faced with such a threat have consistently fared less well than PCS have in retaining over 70% of its membership. Therefore, it seems to me that with the real prospect of a withdrawal of check off there were good reasons for believing the financial pressures on the union would be worse than they actually now are. Consulting members earlier on the financial situation and actions the NEC would consider as a result of this would then seem to have been a more responsible course of action.

There may be a reason why earlier consultation with branches was not practical, even though there was a clear financial threat to the union that was known for a long time (e.g., negotiations behind the scenes in confidence). However, if there was it is not one Serwotka has explained here. I am also conscious that I am criticising Serwotka’s reply but in fact he was for significant periods – quite reasonably due to ill-health – not available to lead the union and so the blame for this failure to consult does not rest with Serwotka himself.

On the question of what other thoughts were given to other forms of elections which would be less costly there is, as far as I can see, no response given.

In respect of the second question what is noticeable is that there is no real attempt to answer the question at all. It would have been quite easy to answer to say this is a complex matter but the union sought legal advice who advised that their proposed actions were lawful and while regrettable felt the NEC had to take the course of action it did. Instead, it failed to engage on the question of the Union Rules at all – that failure to address the point at issue is itself quite telling.

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.