Union says government aims to intimidate workers

Bill lawThe most vicious attack on the rights of British workers for a generation is set to create state-sponsored victimisation of trade unionists, says UCATT.

The union says the Tory government’s Trade Union Bill, which is expected to have its second reading in the House of Commons next week, has been deliberately formulated to smash the effectiveness of trade unions across many areas of their work and expose ordinary workers to possible blacklisting.

A key part of the Bill will be to brand picket organisers as troublemakers and open them up to a lifetime of blacklisting by employers. The Bill would single-out picket organisers by forcing them to wear brightly coloured armbands, register with police and carry at all times a letter of authorisation from the union. If unions don’t comply, employers will be able to go to court to bust strike action.

Keith Ewing, Professor of Public Law at King’s College, London, said: “The police are being asked to become agents for the employer; while the employer is being asked to become an agent for the police.

“The police would now be empowered to have picketing stopped by triggering civil liabilities, at the initiative of the employer – even though the picket is peaceful and no offence has been committed. This is an extraordinary provision.

“Here we have the government imposing a duty on picket supervisors to produce their letter of authorisation to anyone who reasonably wants to see it. Presumably this will include employers. The risk is that this information will then be easily distributed in construction and other industries. In the light of the recent scandal and the unresolved business of blacklisting, workers will rightly be cautious about giving any information to employers about picketing.”

UCATT was infiltrated by a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) in the mid-90s and is currently embroiled in a high-profile legal case against some of the largest construction companies in the UK who operated a cartel ruining the lives of thousands of workers by blacklisting them for decades.

UCATT national secretary Brian Rye said: “The clear intent of this right-wing government is to intimidate workers, undermine any action taken to protect workers’ rights and serve the unions up on a plate for the bosses.

“Ordinary workers acting as picket organisers will be targeted and no doubt blacklisted by employers. We’ve seen this before in the construction industry. It’s a reality we deal with every day. This Bill will effectively enforce the restrictions of a police state on the British worker. It’s an unprecedented level of attack on workers, something not applied to the likes of bankers who devastated our economy.

“This highly political Bill aims to hamstring the work of trade unions by making them jump through costly and laborious hoops in order to ballot members for strike action. The Bill is a gift for big business.

“Restrictions on employers hiring agency workers to bust strikes will be lifted and the Certification Officer, who regulates trade unions, will have swingeing new powers to impose crippling fines for any so-called breaches of conduct.

“This Tory government is doing its darndest to crush trade unions and deprive workers of their rights. We must fight this Bill with everything we have. It’s not too strong to say this Bill is the greatest threat to workers, trade unions and workers’ rights for a generation. In a democracy, we let this Bill pass at our peril.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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