06 MAY 2016

Trade Union Bill

Trade unions are valuable institutions in British society and dedicated trade unionists have a strong history of working hard to represent their members and campaigning for improved safety at work. I believe it is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hardworking taxpayers who rely on key public services.

The aim of the Trade Union Bill is to rebalance the interest of employers, employees and the public with the freedom of trade unions to strike. At present, it is the case that a small minority of union members can disrupt the lives of millions of commuters, parents, workers and employers at short notice and without clear support from the unions' members. Because of this high impact on the normal life on a very large group of people, it is completely sensible that such strikes can only take place on the basis of a reasonable turnout and substantial vote in favour by those able to vote. There will be a new 50% participation threshold for all ballots for industrial action and 40% support threshold for important public services. This will ensure that strikes are only ever as a result of a clear, positive decision on which at least half the workforce has voted.

Additionally, the Bill does not propose to stop "Facility Time", or time spent by an organisation's staff on trade union duties and activities during working hours. It will, however, ensure greater transparency by extending the requirements to publish information on the time and money spent on facility time that currently apply to the Civil Service and the wider public sector. I believe it is right that the Government monitor the practice to ensure it is a sensible use of taxpayers' money and this will ensure levels of facility time remains appropriate.

For online balloting, a key challenge is how to be sufficiently confident about both e-security and the confidentiality of the votes. The Electoral Reform Services has acknowledged the challenges of the secrecy of the vote. For instance, it is potentially easier to gain access to huge quantities of electronic votes, which would be much harder to do with postal votes. There are also further issues around security and the significant risk of intimidation in the workplace, possible fraud by trade union officials and the risks of interception of PIN numbers/passwords.

The Open Rights Group have also highlighted these difficulties in the past, stating:

"Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed."

Nevertheless, the Government has agreed to commission an independent review to consider its case again, and to ensure that the latest technology has been assessed in full.

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