Page 1

STOP PRESS! Government called to review anti-union law Page 1

Carolyn Jones on workers’ ballots v bosses bonuses’ Pages 2-3

Tory co-ops do they think we’re stupid? Page 4

Join us in the fight for trade union rights Page 4


Issue14 Spring 2010 FREE

Once again anti-union legislation has been used to prevent legitimate industrial action - these laws must be repealed Following the High Court’s decision to halt legitimate industrial action by British Airways cabin crew in December, anti-trade union legislation has once again been used by employers to prevent strike action by Unite members in the Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA). Both the BA and Milford Haven cases saw technicalities exploited under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act (TULRCA) allowing employers to secure injunctions preventing strike action. These cases are not alone. Other unions have seen a flurry of action delayed by challenges using the anti-trade union laws. It was described as a “disastrous day for democracy” by Unite's General Secretaries, when the court granted an injunction to BA to prevent workers taking action to defend their conditions from attacks by the employer. The court judgment overturned a clear mandate by BA cabin crew members who had voted with a 92.5% majority on an

80% turnout and were forced to reballot members. Unite said that the judgment underlined the extent to which the law is tilted against the rights of the ordinary person at work, and how a determined employer with unlimited resources can frustrate the fundamental right of workers to withdraw their labour as a last resort to ensure their voice is heard.

Len McCluskey - Unite’s Assistant general secretary said “only negotiation, not intimidation or litigation can keep BA flying.”

BA exploited a legal loophole concerning the balloting of staff who had applied for voluntary redundancy. The judge, Unite said, had made what was a “clearly political ruling”.

In a second ballot of members, after the High Court ruled that the first was unlawful, 80.7% of those who returned their ballots voted yes to industrial action on a 78.7% turnout.

The Milford Haven case centres on a dispute over pensions involving

Strike dates had not been announced by Unite as we went to press as talks in the longrunning dispute over imposed changes to crew numbers and working practices were continuing.

(Continued on page 4)

Injunctions trebled The Guardian recently reported that the number of injunctions using the TULRCA has nearly trebled over the past year after the 2008 Metrobus case.

ILO committee call on UK government to review anti-union law After reviewing the BALPA case the UN's ILO Committee of Experts has just declared that the decisions in Viking and Laval will have a further significant restrictive effect on the right to strike and that this is contrary to international fundamental freedoms. The Committee has called on the

Government to review the UK's antiunion laws and consider appropriate measures for the protection of workers and their organisations. This call is in light of observations made by the ILO for many years concerning the need to ensure fuller protection of the right of workers in the UK to exercise legitimate industrial action in practice.

BA cabin crew unanimously backed the work of their negotiating team attempting to resolve the dispute. Strike dates will be proposed if it proves impossible to reach agreement through negotiation. Unite Assistant General Secretary Len McCluskey congratulated the cabin crew on having stood firm in the face of sustained management harassment, which has included threats to staff of the removal of employee benefits, and said that: “only negotiation, not intimidation or litigation can keep BA flying.”

Issue 14

Spring 2010


Carolyn Jones, IER Director & United Campaign Steering Committee Member

Feature: workers' ballots v bosses' bonuses

On workers' ballots v bosses' bonuses As we count down to a general election, one thing seems certain - the postelection cuts will fall on the many, not on the few. The working majority seem destined to pay the price of an economic meltdown created by the privileged few. Deregulated during the Thatcher years and encouraged under New Labour, bankers and bosses speculated, asset-stripped and exploited until the whole rotten system stumbled and fell. Now, in an effort to rebuild a meaner, leaner international capitalist structure, it appears

politicians, media moguls, employers and the judicial system are united in their determination to ensure that the workers pay while the capitalists play.

bonuses – despite overseeing a massive loss of £3.6bn. And it’s not just bankers taking from the poor and giving to the rich. British Gas shareholders enjoyed a 58%

And play they are. The system may be discredited and the structure weak. But not so weak as to prevent bosses bonuses and bankers bonanzas re-appearing.

We will no t pay for y ou r crisis. Bac k off and lo ok elsewhere for saving s

Recent payouts include the 5 highest paid employees at HSBC receiving a combined £38 million in bonuses while investment bankers at the 84% state-owned RBS received over £1.3 billion in

Box 1: Recent Injunctions First London Buses: UNITE balloted its members at First London Buses for strike action and action short of a strike. They won a majority for both. Action short of a strike took place but the employer didn’t budge so strike action was planned for 6th January. The Court stopped the strike claiming the strike mandate was out of date because the action didn’t start within the 28 days of the original ballot. Unite and other unions dispute that by asking two questions this represents two separate ballots – they see it as one ballot allowing flexibility in the type of action taken. EDF Energy Power: In December 2009 the High Court ruled that an RMT formal strike notice to EDF Energy did not meet strict balloting requirements. RMT had identified 65 members working in three workplaces but bosses complained they did not have enough information about the categories of workers “to make suitable contingency plans”(ie to break the strike!). BA Cabin Crew: In December 2009, BA cabin crew represented by UNITE voted by a margin of 92.5% on a ballot turnout of 80% to strike against imposed extended working hours and reduced wages for new employees. The Court granted BA an injunction preventing the strike on the basis that the ballot included 811 crew who had since taken voluntary redundancy – despite the fact that had the 811 been excluded, the vote would still have resulted in an 8 to 1 vote in favour of action. Metrobus Workers: In August 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned a 90% UNITE ballot vote in favour of strike action aimed at standardising pay and conditions of bus drivers. Why? The Court claimed UNITE “had not acted as soon as reasonably practicable” in giving bosses the ballot result even though UNITE received the ballot result on the 2nd August and informed Metrobus on 3rd. Second, on the pre-ballot notice UNITE had stated the employer had 766 on check off when in effect they had 776. Two highly technical and outrageously dubious excuses for denying democratic wishes of workers.

rise in profits last year, helped by charging customers top price for gas bought at budget rates. This is war. Class war. And battle lines are being drawn throughout Europe. This year alone has seen a general strike in Greece against austerity programmes and pay freezes. In France, oil refinery workers and air traffic controllers both took their fights against pay cuts and job losses out onto the street. In Germany, Lufthansa Pilots struck against attempts to hold down wages, rejecting a race-to-the-bottom competition across the airline industry. And in Spain, thousands protested against a proposed increase in the pension age from 65-67. Noting and fearing a similar response amongst UK workers facing public sector cuts, attacks on pay and conditions and threats to pensions and benefits, bosses are hiring lawyers to advise on how to use the UK’s anti-union laws to stop democratic decisions of workers.

Issue 14 Spring 2010


And surprise, surprise, the judiciary are falling over themselves to find new ways to interpret the legislation in favour of employers. A quick glance at the injunctions granted against union action (see Box 1) highlights the extent to which the full force of the law is being used to quell worker resistance and undermine union attempts to protect jobs and conditions.

ballots (see Box 2) is a good example. First they came with money to encourage unions to ‘voluntarily’ ballot their members. Then they moved the goalposts - making ballots compulsory, then secret, then compulsory at every workplace. Now, the very complexity of the balloting process provides scope for most of the undemocratic legal challenges and provokes criticism from international labour law enforcement agencies.

hiring high bosses are e on rs to advis e y w la id pa nti the UK’s a how to use p s to sto union law s of c decision ti ra c o m e d workers

Behind all these disputes are the same workers’ sentiments: We will not pay for your crisis. Back off and look elsewhere for savings and income. And those sentiments are correct. The longer the mantra of “make the workers’ pay” goes unchallenged the more it becomes acceptable and the harder it is to change. Workers in the UK learnt that lesson throughout the 80’s and 90’s when Thatcher’s anti trade union agenda become increasingly apparent with every unchallenged step of legislation. The introduction of

In 1984 the Tories claimed “There is evidence that union members increasingly wish and expect to be consulted by voting in secret before they are called out on strike. The need and the scope for unions to respond to that pressure from their members is clear” I couldn’t agree more. So if the law on ballots continues to prevent unions responding to their members then it must go. That’s why the United Campaign continues to support calls for a Trade Union Freedom Bill and why we support John McDonnells EDM 710 on simplifying the balloting procedure. The law will not change until it’s challenged. The time to challenge is now.

Box 2: Chronology of Ballots 1980 Employment Act: • Tories provided money to run ballots (carrot before the stick!) 1982 Employment Act: • Unions made liable (up to £250,000) if an officer endorsed a strike without ballot 1984 Trade Union Act: • All ballots had to be in “secret” (though not yet by post!). • Union now liable for ANY “act done without the support of a ballot” • Act specified required wording on ballot paper 1988 Employment Act: • Strike ballots to be done at each separate workplace (isolate weak spots) • New Code of Practice on ballots allowed for further state control • Members (not just employers and customers) could take injunction against un-balloted action • Introduced new state official (CROTUM) to support and pay for member complaints against union • Removed union’s right to discipline strike breakers and introduced substantial financial compensation for those disciplined by union. 1990 Employment Act: • All secondary action –with or without ballot - now unlawful • Unions liable for all un-balloted action unless written repudiation sent to all members • Dismissal of strikers taking unofficial (i.e. repudiated) action now allowed • Any member of union could sue union for unballoted action with support of CROTUM - even if member not involved in the strike. 1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act: • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action specified • Union to identify those members balloted to boss • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots demanded • All industrial action ballots to be postal. Find out more at or

Feature: workers' ballots v bosses' bonuses

it appears politicians and employers are united in their determination to ensure that the workers pay while the capitalists play

Issue 14

Spring 2010


Action & Events Fringe Meetings - ’Election Issues: Trade Union Rights’ The United Campaign will be participating in a number of fringe meetings and having stalls at affiliated conferences this year! Make sure you come along and pick up some materials. So far we will be at: TUC Women's, NUT, STUC, PCS, FBU, UCU, GMB, CWU and UNISON with more to be announced. Article/Poster - Why Trade Union Freedom Matters We have produced an article on the importance of trade union rights in the run up to the election. If you would like some to pass out to contacts email

Tory co-op pledge - just another attempt to undermine trade union rights David Cameron's announcement last month that the Conservative party would encourage the establishment of workers co-operatives in the public sector was exposed by unions to be nothing more than Tory spin. Saying the proposal would "unleash a new culture of public sector enterprise and innovation" David Cameron has been accused of masking his attempts to side step trade unions and pursue the break up of essential public sector services. The real consequences of Tory proposals could see an end to national agreements on pay and conditions and instead a more 'competitive' arrangement where various sectors compete to undercut each other. A Thatcherite emphasis on efficiency would mean employee's needs come secondary and could see some public sector jobs driven out of existence.

Early Day Motion 710 Please write to your MP asking them to sign EDM 710 in support of simplifying balloting procedures

In a calculated attempt to win votes from disillusioned Labour supporters, the Tory pledge was described as 'clueless' by the Co-operative Party. Unite argued "national agreements

for pay, employment conditions and pensions will have to be disbanded" and said "David Cameron is using the language of socialism to mask a b r e a k - u p o f p u b l i c services" (Guardian 15.2.10). Rather than reinforce the positive work of trade unions in protecting the employment conditions of their members, Tory plans are intended to undermine the position of unions within the public sector making it easier for them to dismantle services.

What About the right to strike? (Continued from page 1)

Harbour Pilots and Launch Crews and what must go into any notice of industrial action. MHPA sought an injunction to stop industrial action on the basis that notices informing the employer of the planned action did not comply with TULRCA. The High Court initially granted MHPA’s application for an injunction, agreeing with the employer that the notices were in the wrong form and that the pilots and launch crews should be prevented from taking strike action. Al t h o ugh t h e i n jun c t i on w a s discharged by the Court of Appeal as no longer necessary, after Unite said it would not rely on the notices, and the strike itself was not deemed unlawful, the original injunction illustrates how easy it is for employers to pursue and win rulings over how notices of continuous and discontinuous action must be given.

A New Year - so Join the campaign for trade union freedom! The United Campaign is financed solely by supporters fees from trade union bodies and individuals. By becoming a supporter you or your organisation show your agreement with the call to repeal the anti trade union laws, and aid the Campaign’s fight. Our affiliation year runs from 28 March - 27 March, please make cheques payable to United Campaign, and send to the United Campaign Secretary, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD. Donations are gratefully received. National Unions - 100,000 or more



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The United Campaign is supported by 25 National Unions and over 200 branches, trades councils and individuals.

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UC UPDATE issue 14 Spring 2010  

This edition of the newsletter features a piece from Carolyn Jones, Director of the IER on workers' ballots v bosses' bonuses. There are als...

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