Good employers value each member of staff as an individual. Each should have their concerns and ideas listened to. Each held responsible for failure, but rewarded for success. Each able to negotiate pay and conditions that suit both their needs and the organisation they work for. Lazy employers find such arrangements rather a nuisance. Much less effort to have collective bargaining with trade unions – where the interests of the individual workers can be brushed aside. Thus the “closed shop”, the arrangement where trade union membership was compulsory, was felt rather convenient by employers – especially in the public sector. While the formal arrangement was abolished over 30 years ago, the mentality continues with the “check off” system – where employees are encouraged to agree to their trade union subscriptions being deducted via their payroll.
In practice it means that trade unions don’t need to worry quite so much about recruiting and maintaining their membership by collecting their own subs – it is done for them “automatically”. That encourages extremism by allowing union leaders to be less accountable to their members. We see examples of this each day – the National Education Union, Unite the Union, the Fire Brigades Union. Ministers lament the damaging impact, while allowing it to be sustained via taxpayer subsidy and official connivance.
The arrangement is thoroughly objectionable. Free independent trade unions should operate independently of the state. It would be healthy for unions to be funded willingly by their members – due to providing good services and representation. The decision of whether or not to join should be an individual choice. The employer should be neutral – not get involved in collecting the subs. Yet that is what the vast majority of local authorities are still doing.
There is no statutory requirement for councils to collect these subs. Yet Freedom of Information requests I have put in identified only five local authorities that do not do so. Well done:
Many councils do charge a fee for the service. Some quite a high sum – Barnsley charges the unions five per cent of the money raised. I am not surprised the unions agree to pay. They know that if the money is absorbed in the payroll many will just shrug it off as an unavoidable expense. If they had to ask for the money it would be more of a conscious decision.
What is even more outrageous is the following list of councils that collect subscriptions without charging for the service:
The law should be changed. Employers should not be involved in this corporatist endeavour – certainly not in the public sector. The spirit of freedom of association should be respected. Subscriptions to private bodies should be a personal matter. The check off system also results in many workers unwittingly funding the Labour Party via the political levy. There should also be an end to “facility time” – the extraordinary arrangement where the salaries of trade union officials are funded by the taxpayer. Then there is the free office accommodation that is often provided.
Some of these abuses were due to be dealt with years ago but were put on hold to secure the support of the trade unions for the Remain campaign in the 2016 EU referendum.
The Government should crack on with the unfinished business. But Conservative councils should not need to wait for these abuses to be outlawed. There is no justification for them to continue.