On Thursday 26th November, the Students’ Union and campus Trade Unions welcomed Pro-Chancellor of the University and former Labour leader in the House of Lords Baroness Royall; Student Union President Jordan Kenny, UCU President Michael Carley, and UNISON representative Judy Wilson to a panel discussion on the government’s proposed Trade Union Bill.
The Bill has been heavily criticised by MPs, Trade Unions, and other organizations around the country for the draconian measures it outlines. Under the government’s proposals, unions would require a 50% turnout for any ballot calling for industrial action for that action to take place. In certain industries such as health, schools, the fire service, transport, and border security, 40% of all those eligible to vote must vote yes – making it an effective threshold of 80% turnout to obtain a sufficient simple majority.
Beyond that, any union officials on picket lines are forced to wear armbands showing who they are, and would have to carry a letter showing their authorisation to be there. The (already overstretched) police force have to monitor this to ensure their compliance with these arbitrary and potentially harmful regulations. In public sector industries specifically (such as universities), the amount of time union officials can spend on casework is to be restricted as much as possible “to save public expenditure”.
The event was originally planned to be a debate, where both sides of the argument could be presented; however Bath MP Ben Howlett couldn’t be available for any of the month-long period presented to him two months in advance, so it was instead held as a discussion to understand what the issues are, and what could be done.
The first speaker on the panel was Michael Carley, who outlined the history of trade unions and their importance in society, explaining historical attacks on their civil liberties spanning several Conservative governments.
Second, Judy Wilson spoke, emphasising how these restrictions will particularly affect women and the poorest members of society – when they are a group who already have particular need for representation from unions.
Jordan Kenny then expressed the solidarity of the Students’ Union on the issue, agreeing that standing in unity was the most important thing students and workers could do to ensure the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard. He highlighted the need to examine how campaigns and strike action is undertaken to make sure it is as dynamic and effective as possible.
Finally, Jan Royall spoke on the impact the Bill would have on how the Labour party could garner support, and particularly on what could be done next.
The event then moved into a Q&A and a broader discussion on the issues raised.
As the Bill has now passed into the House of Lords, the Trade Unions and Students Unions are currently drafting letters to lobby cross benchers to ask them to support the amendments submitted to attempt to ease the impact of the Bill.