UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A travesty of democracy as The Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill falls at second hurdle‏

Not enough Labour MPs turned up in the House of Commons last Friday - October 22 - to support a new law which would have stopped employers using trivial legal loopholes to prevent industrial action. The Bill had been tabled by John McDonnell MP as a private member’s bill to protect union members’ right to strike after a string of court cases in which massive votes for action were overturned on technicalities.

Under parliamentary procedures at least 100 out of the 650 MPs must support a private members' bill for it to survive but only 89 MPs were there to back it when the vote was taken - 85 Labour, one Green, one Plaid Cymru, one Scottish Nationalist Party, and one Conservative.

A fitting indictment of the 170 Labour MP’s who failed to support the bill is recorded for posterity in Hansard’s record of the debate, particularly the rabidly anti union speeches made by filibustering Tory MP’s:

Such as Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (North East Somerset) (Con): ‘I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so graciously and so often and for elucidating so many points in this debate. Does he agree that it is only right that trade unions be held to the highest standard of accuracy in holding these ballots, because they get a special exemption from the contract law to which their members would otherwise be subject? As they are getting an exemption under the law, should they not be required to do things absolutely properly? Perhaps the Bill should be amended to tighten the regulations rather than to loosen them.’

And fellow Tory backwoodsman Andrew Bridgen MP (North West Leicestershire) (Con): ‘Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is in fact a Trojan horse, out of which could spring lots of legislation that could lead to making the UK economy far less competitive, damaging industrial relations and the potential for growth in the economy in the difficult times ahead?’ followed by:

‘Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that Bill seeks to send industrial relations between employees and employers back to the late 1970s should come as no surprise, given that the new Leader of the Opposition seeks to swing the politics of the Labour party back to that time, and that the great consolation for Conservative Members is that Labour will therefore be out of government for a very long time?’

Particularly galling was the intervention of Labour Shadow Minister for Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Nia Griffith MP (Llanelli) (Lab): ‘Although the Opposition recognise the need to restore the original intention of the 1992 Act, we cannot today endorse the particular legal mechanism proposed in this Bill. It would reverse the onus of responsibility to prove that the ballot would not have affected the result by placing the onus on the employer. I am very clear that an alternative would be to ensure that trade unions could establish clearly that minor errors that would not have affected the outcome of the ballot would not be the basis for legal action.’