Update: 2 November 2015
Update: 29 October 2015
Update: 9 October 2015
“Why bill to limit strike action ‘may have opposite effect’” (TES)
In an interview with TES, General Secretary Deborah Lawson predicted ‘a rise in localised action in response to the government’s crackdown on trade unions’. She said:
‘“Workers will still take industrial action but it’s going to be more localised. It wouldn’t take too much organisation to get a few schools in the same area, who share the same national concerns, to take action on the same day.
‘She warned that the bill – which includes allowing employers to use agency workers to replace striking staff and doubling the amount of notice unions have to give for a strike to 14 days – was likely to fuel a more hostile and aggressive response from union members. The government had the potential of “shooting themselves in the foot” if they passed the strongly opposed bill.
She said: “There will be more opportunities to take a militant road.”’
10 September 2015
The Trade Union Bill
Voice has responded to two of BIS’s consultations on the Trade Union Bill: Tackling intimidation of non-striking workers and Hiring agency staff during strike action.
Tackling intimidation of non-striking workers
“Refusal to strike is a cardinal rule of this trade union, so most of our members will, at some point, have faced the prospect of being a non-striking worker when colleagues have chosen to strike. Whilst many of our members report that relations with striking colleagues have remained cordial (largely owing to the fact that, during strike action by other unions, our members are advised to carry out their own duties as normal rather than undertake the work of striking colleagues), over half of our members report that they have either witnessed or experienced intimidation of non-striking staff by striking colleagues.
“Whilst this sometimes takes place on the picket line (for example, through verbal abuse or putting both staff and students at risk by forcing them into the road in an attempt to block their access to school buildings), much of it occurs away from the picket line, either in the staff room or via social media.
“We would like the code of practice to be updated to include banning the taking of photographs of non-strikers crossing picket lines (and posting them online). We also welcome the proposal to seek evidence of what constitutes peaceful picketing.
“However, what concerns many of our members is the more subtle intimidation which occurs mainly in staff rooms (or staff offices), which may take the form of repeated verbal taunts (sometimes expressed ambiguously, so as to be difficult to challenge), strained relationships, whispering campaigns, aloofness, withholding cooperation, unfriendly body language, and generally making life difficult.
“Whilst much of this may be seen as ‘low level’ in comparison with the more extreme cases reported recently in the media, it is, nevertheless, insidious and undermines professional relationships whilst, at the same time, being very difficult to manage. It would be very hard to legislate against such behaviour, and we are concerned that introducing statutory penalties for more explicit intimidation may lead to an escalation of these more subtle behaviours, as striking colleagues may feel that they are left with no other recourse to vent their feelings.
“Whilst we welcome proposals for regulating picket lines, as long as they are proportionate, we would want to avoid any potential backlash, which could affect working relationships for some time after the strike action has taken place. It would be better to encourage meaningful dialogue between employers and employees rather than hastily passing measures which might provoke those who feel that their right to strike is being unfairly curtailed, thus resulting in more non-strike action which could be more disruptive as it would tend to be more protracted.”
New criminal offences?
“Whilst we would like our members to be protected from cyber-bullying and other intimidatory conduct and are, therefore, open to proposals which would seek to tackle intimidation of non-striking workers, we are sceptical about the extent to which this could be implemented in practice. In the education sector, the real threat derives more from insidious subtle intimidation which is difficult to legislate against and which could be exacerbated by too heavy-handed an approach towards more explicit attempts at intimidation. We would find it difficult to justify introducing a criminal offence in relation to intimidation in a trade union context, as this would indicate a weakness of the law in relation to intimidation and harassment in general. It would be better to strengthen the law in relation to anti-social behaviour in general rather than risk damaging good industrial relations.”
“As a moderate, non-striking, union, we are concerned that legislation which provokes the more militant unions could be counter-productive in triggering more industrial unrest, resulting in more action short of strike action. In the education sector, where strike action is quite rare, and is often limited to one-day strikes, other types of industrial action are often more harmful and more protracted and may make it more difficult for moderate unions to engage in constructive dialogue with employers (especially if other, more militant, unions refuse to participate in collective bargaining, or attempt to use this as an opportunity to escalate a trade dispute by engaging in action short of strike action).”
Hiring agency staff during strike action: reforming regulation
“In the education sector, removal of Regulation 7 is likely to have little or no impact, as many agency staff are trade union members and so would either be striking (if their union had called for a strike) or, as a matter of conscience, would refrain from covering for striking colleagues. Strikes in the education sector are, generally, single day events and so there would be insufficient time to induct agency staff to take on the responsibilities of strikers. Also, there is not a large agency workforce waiting for the odd occasion when a strike occurs, so recruitment would be difficult. Current legislation allows employers to recruit staff to cover for strikers, providing such workers are hired directly rather than through agencies, but there is no evidence that schools make use of this option.”
“Work seekers generally want regular work. Very few work seekers are prepared to wait for the odd day when a strike happens to be taking place in the world of education. Many agency staff are members of unions and so would abide by their union’s rules in the event of a strike.”
“If hirers were intent on employing a temporary labour force to cover for strikers, they would be hiring workers directly rather than going through an agency in order to remain within the law, but there is no evidence of such a practice. Most hirers would be cautious about having a large influx of untrained staff on their premises, especially in the education sector, where inexperienced agency staff could only expect to provide a child-minding service rather than know immediately where each child was at in terms of their educational progress so that they could differentiate their teaching appropriately. There is also a risk that inexperienced agency staff could pose a safety risk to themselves and to the children, and no hirer would want to take such a risk.”
“As a non-striking union, we are concerned that removal of Regulation 7 would put pressure on our members to cover for striking colleagues. Our current advice to members is that they should continue with their normal duties but, out of respect for the rights of others, not to take up duties laid down by striking colleagues.
“Many of our members report that they are put under pressure to cover for strikers, and this invariably causes stress, anxiety and general upset, whilst also making it difficult to resume positive working relationships with colleagues once the strike is over. We also have members who are employed as agency staff and, if Regulation 7 is abolished, we would expect their employers to accept that, as a matter of conscience, such members would not want to act as strike-breakers by covering for strikers – and also to understand that they must not suffer unfair discrimination on grounds of their union membership. This point should be made clear in any advice and guidance issued by the DfE and/or BIS.”