Examination of Witnesses

Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 13 October 2015.

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Shane Enright, Sara Ogilvie and Dave Smith gave evidence.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield 12:00, 13 October 2015

May I thank you for coming in before your time? It is always a bit nerve-racking for anybody. We will move on to the oral evidence session for Amnesty, Liberty and the Blacklisting Support Group. This period runs up to 3.45 pm. I will invite you to come forward and give us a short address, a résumé of your role in this. We will then move on to questions and answers from both sides. If you can make your answers fairly succinct and brief, that would be helpful, because we can get more in if we do it that way. Without further ado, Ms Ogilvie, would you like to introduce yourself?

Sara Ogilvie: My name is Sara Ogilvie. I am a policy officer at Liberty, the human rights organisation. The reason why we care about the Trade Union Bill is that we think that trade union rights are a fundamental part of the human rights framework. They are part of freedom of association, which is article 11 of the European convention on human rights. We also care because we think that membership of a trade union helps individuals to enforce some of their workplace rights and the workplace entitlements conferred on them by Parliament. That is our general interest in this area.

Shane Enright: I am Amnesty International’s trade union campaign manager. I am also the global trade union adviser to Amnesty International. We share the concerns that Liberty has expressed. Amnesty International firmly believes in the right to form and join trade unions, to collectively bargain and to strike. They are universal human rights and critical enabling rights that facilitate people to defend their livelihoods and working conditions and to protect the public services on which the vulnerable are most often dependent.

Dave Smith: I am an ex-construction worker who was blacklisted because of my trade union activities by some of the largest construction companies in the UK. I am now the secretary of the Blacklist Support Group—the justice campaign set up after the blacklist files were discovered in 2009. I am also the co-author of the book, “Blacklisted: The secret war between big business and union activists”, which goes into the detail of the links between the police and big business against trade unions. Because of our experience as blacklisted workers and because of the research I have done for the book, I have grave concerns about some of the elements of the Trade Union Bill.

Q 157

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I have a couple of questions that are more directed towards Sara and Shane, and then I have a question for Dave. I have carefully read what Liberty and Amnesty have had to say on this. The British Institute of Human Rights made some strongly worded statements. I understand that there are particular concerns on the intrusion of the state into freedoms of association and assembly for trade union members; the undermining of the right to a private family life in some  aspects; and the jeopardising of the UK’s history and the precedent of supporting peaceful protest and the right to express views. Could you just take each of those issues briefly and explain where your key concerns lie and which international conventions and UK laws you think we are calling into question with the Bill?

Sara Ogilvie: As I said at the start, article 11 of the European convention on human rights is the right to freedom of association, and that includes an explicit protection for joining trade unions. That is also the article that protects our right to freedom of assembly, which is essentially the right to protest. I am concerned about the proposals in the Bill and the associated consultation because of the impact they will have on the right to picket and protest. For a picket to be lawful, clause 9 of the Bill would require the union to appoint a picket supervisor, to name that person in advance and to give their contact details to the police in advance. It would also require that individual to wear an armband on the day and to carry a letter of authorisation that they would have to show to the police or to anyone else who asked to see it. That is extremely concerning to me.

The thought that we would require a person in 2015 to wear an armband and carry a letter of authorisation at the behest of the state in order to exercise their rights does not seem right. In the particular context of trade union rights, I am sure that colleagues here will be able to talk in more detail about the concerns on blacklisting, but I think that the collaboration of the police in the process of blacklisting gives strength of feeling to why trade union members would not want to provide advance information to the police about who they are and how they can be contacted.

On the one hand, I worry that the provisions are discriminatory. Why would they apply to people on a picket, rather than to anyone attending a protest in general? But when you think about that, it is even more worrying: what if the proposals were applied to everyone who wanted to protest? It is ridiculous that they would have to undergo such processes. It seems to me that that is certainly going to bring us into conflict with the European convention on human rights because it is an absolute violation of the right to peaceful protest.

Shane Enright: I would like to expand on that a little. Article 11 of the European convention allows freedom of association and particular trade union rights to be circumscribed only in very particular cases. I am particularly disappointed by the impact assessments associated with the Bill because it seems to me that absolutely no case is made for the legislative provisions. Simply to assert, as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills does, that the provisions are compatible, while providing absolutely no evidence or justification of where in law that compatibility exists, risks opening up a very serious legislative and legal conflict if the measures proceed as intended.

I would like to touch on the collective bargaining implications of the Bill. It seems to me that the provisions to limit facility time and the proposals to ban check-off arrangements in workplaces would be entirely without precedent in peacetime Britain. As you will know, the provision of facility time is governed by collective agreements between unions and employers on behalf of employees in the workplace—such matters are not determined by the state. It seems to me entirely unprecedented for the Government to retain reserve  powers in clause 13 to interfere—it is interference—with what effectively should be a matter for agreement, through collective bargaining, between employers and workers in a workplace, facilitated, of course, by their union.

Facility time is critical. We know from all the evidence—I am sure that the Committee will hear more in due course—that effective industrial relations in the workplace are facilitated by union representatives who can assist in many ways and in many domains. The amount of facility time that is appropriate can vary according to circumstances. For instance, when a workplace is undergoing substantial change—for example, where there is reorganisation, or where redundancies are being faced—it is not unusual for an employer to agree with a union to increase facility time so that representations can be made on behalf of employees in a free and collective way to facilitate that change. It absolutely beggars belief that the Government are making that proposal.

On check-off, I cannot see why it is the Government’s responsibility to interfere, yet again, in a voluntary arrangement between employers and employees. For instance, in my own workplace, we have not only a check-off arrangement that is voluntarily entered into and governed by the collective agreement between the employer and the union, but bicycle loans to encourage staff to travel to work healthily. We also have computer loans—a loan of which I have taken advantage—which of course supports efficiency when I choose to work from home.

Q 158

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

And of course, as MPs we also have the ability to check-off on our own salaries for various purposes. You are obviously both keen observers of the legal framework in other countries around the world. These measures are being described as some of the most restrictive globally. What sort of league would the Bill put us in? With what countries would we be roughly comparable in terms of the level of restriction on basic rights?

Shane Enright: There are no universal comparators by which I can give a simple percentage, but I will refer to the digest of decisions and principles of the Freedom of Association Committee of the governing body of the International Labour Organisation. The jurisprudence of the ILO is absolutely clear and unequivocal in relation to a number of elements in the Bill. On the question of ballot thresholds of 50%, paragraph 556 states:

“The requirement of a decision by over half of all the workers involved in order to declare a strike is excessive and could excessively hinder the possibility of carrying out a strike, particularly in large enterprises.”

In paragraph 592—by the way, these are summaries of the decisions of the supervisory body of the ILO—a really important point is made about the economic impact of strikes. The ILO says:

“By linking restrictions on strike action to interference with trade and commerce, a broad range of legitimate strike action could be impeded. While the economic impact of industrial action and its effect on trade and commerce may be regrettable, such consequences in and of themselves do not render a service ‘essential’, and thus the right to strike should be maintained.”

There is more and more jurisprudence that points to the inadequacy of the legislative proposals.

Sara Ogilvie: From the perspective of the European convention on human rights, the way the court that is responsible for that system looks at the issue is to see whether the essence of the right is infringed and whether  the right is rendered illusory. My concern is that the proposals in the Bill would absolutely render the right illusory, largely by creating a system of bureaucracy and hurdles that people have to overcome. In doing so, that would put us on the side of those countries that have fallen foul of the human rights system, rather than on the side of the people who come up with a system that is effective and that works.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Before you move on, would you like to add anything here, Mr Smith?

Dave Smith: My case is actually at the European Court of Human Rights now. During my case, the British Government intervened when it was at the Court of Appeal and admitted in their admission that article 8 and article 11 had been engaged during the process of blacklisting. I am concerned that there are restrictions on trade unions already, and outside of the existing legal framework, we clearly have large multinational companies breaching the human rights of British citizens—hard-working British citizens, I hasten to add. If there are to be restrictions on what is going on—there are scandals in industrial relations that need legislation—it should be primarily on the side of big business that is breaching our human rights, rather than on the side of construction workers who have basically been standing up for bog-standard legal rights.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Can I just point something out to you? I said at the beginning that we need to be succinct in both the questions and the answers, and we have recovered all the time that we had to gain. This is fascinating and interesting stuff, but it is your time and the Committee’s time to ask questions of you. We only have a small amount time remaining, so if you could make your answers a little bit more succinct, that will be helpful to you and the Committee.

Q 159

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Dave, you might be aware that there were a number of debates on blacklisting in the previous Parliament that revealed quite shocking revelations, particularly in the construction sector. We heard about current and former Members of the House who had been blacklisted and their horrific experiences. I know that other Governments across the UK have taken measures to deal with the matter. Is your primary concern that there are a whole series of measures in the Bill that could essentially make it easier to blacklist workers? I am particularly thinking about the provisions around picketing.

Dave Smith: Very specifically, the issue that I am concerned about as a blacklisted worker is the undoubted police collusion in blacklisting. It is not even a question anymore. Peter Francis, the undercover police officer who spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family, has given statements that were read out in Parliament in which he admitted spying on the Fire Brigades Union, Unison, the National Union of Teachers, the Communication Workers Union and a number of unions in the construction industry. Having seen the blacklist files that were seized by the Information Commissioner’s Office, Peter Francis said that some of the information came directly from the special branch registry database.

There is another undercover police officer called Mark Jenner from a section of special branch called the special demonstrations squad. In the 1990s, I stood on picket lines with him and attended meetings with him.  The man actually chaired some union-based meetings when he was an undercover police officer sent to spy on trade union activists. There is a section within the special branch called the industrial division, and its entire purpose is to spy on trade unions and give the information to big business. It is quite open about that; it has been on BBC documentaries. I am not a conspiracy theorist; this stuff has all been published.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Can I just point out that we have a very small window of time—

Dave Smith: Okay. My point—

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Would you just let me finish? You have gone wide of the mark. You have to try to stick to the question in hand, if you can.

Dave Smith: Very quickly, when we put in a complaint the IPCC said that every special branch in the country provided information about prospective employees to businesses and blacklisting organisations. My concern about the Bill is geared around the concept of picket supervisors having to have their names provided to the police. If the names have to be provided, it is inevitable that the police will collate them and that they will appear on some kind of database somewhere. I am very sceptical about the state keeping a list of picket supervisors. Any member of the public is allowed to come and ask for the picket supervisor authorisations as well, so it could be that employers are also coming and picking up the names, and members of the public. Potentially, you have three separate lists of trade union activists being developed by members of the public, employers and the state, and that could clearly be turned into a state-sponsored blacklist.

The reason I am saying that is that once the police information about trade union activists is written on a database or a computer somewhere, give me any possible way that you could exclude special branch from finding the information. There is a section there that gives the information to big businesses; they are quite open about that. That is my fear—that this will turn into a state-sponsored blacklist.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Thank you very much. This is your time and the Committee’s time and we have little of it left, so could you shorten your answers? The Committee members are already in the mood to ask shorter questions.

Q 160

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

I will try my best. I welcome the three of you. We respect your passion for all your principles and none of us here is against the right of people to belong to a union or their right to withdraw their labour. The key concern that we, and the Government, have is that there have been a number of strikes in recent years called on very small turnouts and with small percentages of support, which have caused huge disruption for commuters and for people wanting to take their children to school. It is about that disruption.

You talk about workers’ rights. Do you at least accept that commuters and parents have rights as well and that the rights should be balanced within the legislation that we bring forward?

Shane Enright: Let me first say that strikes are technically a matter of absolute last resort. They tend to represent a breakdown in good industrial relations in workplaces and to that extent it is clearly regrettable when situations reach that point. But I have cited ILO jurisprudence  and international law and, under the provisions of ILO convention 87 in particular, inconvenience to the public is not a legitimate basis upon which a state can restrict the right to strike.

I also make the point that the numbers of strike days that have taken place annually in the past decade are the lowest for many years. The number is currently at 0.8 million per year, which equates, across the entire workforce, to each worker taking strike action for one day every 15 years. That is a historically low level. If we compare that to the benefits that trade unions can add through effective collective bargaining in the workplace, I would say that the public are convenienced by having strong and effective trade unions.

Q 161

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

I shall try to be concise, by taking one fact. In 2011, 62% of England’s schools were closed by an ATL teachers union ballot with a 25% turnout. Do you think that that is fair on the parents and pupils?

Shane Enright: Absolutely. We have a democratic arrangement in this country whereby people in the political sphere are elected by a majority of those taking part in a ballot. We do not have an arrangement in this country, in this sphere or in any other sphere, where absentee voters—people who choose not to vote—are counted as voting against, which is precisely the proposal in this Bill.

Sara Ogilvie: Focusing on the issue of thresholds in particular, it is important to remember that, regardless of what the turnout is in a vote, trade union members are entirely entitled under law not to participate in strike action if they do not support it. So they can exercise their discretion to choose at the moment of the strike. Similarly, they cannot be penalised by their union if they do choose to strike. I worry that if we focus on the issue of thresholds and then say, “Actually, that doesn’t show whether people wanted to strike or not,” that is not really an accurate reflection of what is going on.

I support what has been said here: strikes absolutely cause disruption. That has always been the case and will always be the case, but—

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk

You do not have a problem with that.

Sara Ogilvie: Of course I have a problem with it. I have to experience it, but, actually, human rights cause a bit of disruption. They are not always enforced in situations in which the whole of society would want that to happen. But I am trying to think of other human rights and I cannot think of another situation whereby if I wanted to exercise my right, I would have to go to a vote and all of my peers would also have to vote to exercise their right and that would be the system you would have to go through. This seems to be something that we would not accept for other human rights and it is not clear to me why we would impose it in this situation and not others.

Dave Smith: My concern about the thresholds and the turnouts that people are talking about is that a 50% threshold is being asked for in order to have a strike action, which might be about unpaid wages or asbestos. Of course, with a 50% threshold most of the people sitting in this room asking questions would not have got elected into Parliament, because most of you have not got more than 50%.

Dave Smith: Some have—I did say most.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

May I stop you for a minute, Mr Smith? It is not really your duty to question the role of the Committee and Members of Parliament. We have decided and agreed to invite you in to give evidence to the Committee. You cannot then criticise the whole process of allowing you to do so.

Dave Smith: I do apologise. My point really was this question about why it is that the trade unions exercising a democratic right—a human right under the European convention on human rights—are penalised to such an extent, exactly as Sara said. Nobody else in any other circumstances in the country is being given this. If there is disruption because of strikes about asbestos or unpaid wages, the people responsible for it are the employers, not the trade unions.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Can I just help you? We have got a lot of names down to ask questions and you have got a very short period of time to answer. If you feel that you want to give a fuller answer than you can on the floor, it is open for the Committee to receive written documentation. If, on any of the questions put to you, you do not think that you fully replied, you are more than entitled to submit more evidence in writing to the Members of the Committee, who will read that and take it into account in their deliberations.

Q 162

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West

I want to ask Amnesty and Liberty if they have done any analysis on the basis of thresholds and the impact that would have on gender equality issues. For example, female workers are probably more affected by shift changes than male workers. Have you done any analysis on the democratic mandate of the devolved Administrations and other public bodies in terms of check-off and facility time as proposed by the Government?

Mr Smith, a lot of people watching these proceedings will wonder what a blacklist is. What are the consequences for a picket supervisor who is put on a blacklist?

Sara Ogilvie: On the issue of gender inequality, this was a surprising statistic to me: there are more female trade union members than male trade union members. So it seems likely that reducing the right to strike of trade unionists will impact more on women. Certainly, when we look at low-paid jobs across society, many more women are employed in them than men.

I am ashamed to say that I do not know a huge amount about how much it will impact on the devolution settlement. I am aware, however, that the proposals in the Bill do not seem to reflect adequately the make-up of government, local authorities and other public bodies in Scotland and Wales. If the proposals are to be introduced—I hope that they will not be—there will need to be much further thought about how they will work in practice.

Shane Enright: Briefly, I have seen figures—I do not have them in front of me—from the TUC that indicate that 72% of those who will be affected by these public sector strike thresholds are women. Women represent a greater proportion of employees in the public sector and, as mentioned, are now a majority of trade unionists overall in our economy. Inevitably, there will be a  disproportionate impact on women workers and their ability to defend their interests, pay and conditions in the public sector.

Dave Smith: Blacklisting is not a myth. When we talk about this, people sometimes think we are making it up. The impact on the 3,213 people whose files were found in the construction industry has been that every time they applied for a job, because their name was on this list—this is the key thing for us: the police are going to be holding a list, and the police have been complicit in the blacklisting that has been going on in the building industry. The building industry will not be something special; it will happen everywhere. The impact was that every time we applied for a job, our name was checked to see if it was on this list. If it was, you were dismissed or not given a job in the first place. It means that people had massive periods of unemployment, even though they were very skilled workers, and, prior to becoming involved in a union, had unblemished unemployment records. It means that people lost their houses. It means family breakdowns and divorces, and in some cases, we have reported that there have been suicides.

To be crystal clear about this, I would like to quote something put out last week by Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O'Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska and VINCI. They changed their defence to say that they were actually involved in blacklisting and have produced new documents. The statement from their PR people says that the new documents

“contain a full and unreserved apology for our part in a vetting information system run in the construction industry first through the Economic League and subsequently through The Consulting Association; we recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.”

My fear, which I keep repeating, is that blacklisting exists and that police involvement in blacklisting is a fact. Last week, I was at the High Court. Theresa May has set up the Pitchford inquiry—

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Mr Smith, I have been really quite kind. You went very wide of the mark. If you get the documentation you refer to and wish to submit a new written piece to the Committee, I will more than willingly distribute it, but I am going to move the Committee on at this stage. We need to get more questions in, because we have little time left.

Q 163

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Amnesty and Liberty are both doughty defenders of human rights around the world in terms of abuses such as torture and execution, particularly in the case of Amnesty. I do not know if you have the Bill in front of you, but subsection (8) of new section 220A, inserted by clause 8, states:

“While present where the picketing is taking place, the picket supervisor must wear a badge, armband or other item that readily identifies the picket supervisor as such.”

Are you telling me that the wearing of an armband really concerns you?

Shane Enright: Absolutely. It is a way of singling people out. It is a requirement that is absolutely unique to this group of protesters. Why should trade unionists be required to undertake a process of identification when they are protesting that others are not required to? It is discriminatory.

Q 164

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I understand that the current code of practice says that everybody should wear an armband. That is not normally enforced, of course. Normally, the organisers of protests do wear an armband, but that has not caused particular difficulty.

Sara Ogilvie: There is quite a clear distinction that it is important we draw between when something is in a code of practice or when we do it because it is good practice and we think it will make things easier, and when there is a legal requirement for something to happen. When there is a legal requirement, there are legal consequences. The consequences of this would be not only the person identifying themselves and all the concerns we have heard about blacklisting, but also, if that requirement is not complied with, it is a reason to void the entire strike. That is a secondary consequence of this. It seems a very disproportionate response. It is those two elements.

Q 165

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

I am glad you used the word “proportionate”, because the Government could, of course, have carried on from the code and said that everybody had to wear a badge or an armband.

Sara Ogilvie: And that is in the consultation document.

Q 166

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

Which would have been difficult if someone had left them at home; it would not have been proportionate to have voided the whole strike. But surely for the organiser of a particular event, it is not too much to ask them to identify themselves.

Sara Ogilvie: I think we have to be honest about the fact that it is quite a big issue. There are so many human rights issues that we think, “Maybe these are trivial”; there is quite a lot of talk about that at the moment. But for individuals who have wanted, for example, to wear a chain with a crucifix on, that is something that the courts have said is not a trivial human rights issue. When Rosa Parks was asked to sit at the back of a bus, some people then would have said that that was a trivial human rights issue. I absolutely think that asking people to identify themselves, to risk going on a public list, as a result of which they might be discriminated against, and to jump through lots of hoops in order to exercise their rights, that really concerns me; it is not me feigning affectation.

Q 167

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury

And you feel that this is completely different from a code?

Sara Ogilvie: When people choose to do something, and when people are required to do something and there are very strong consequences because of that requirement, I think that is a difference, yes, and it is a significant one.

Q 168

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

I want to go back to this picket supervisor code. If you have large public assemblies—even on things such as school trips, which I have supervised, I have to wear an orange tabard. Is it the actual armband that is causing the great objection? You might have thousands of people on the streets. Surely, just for public order, somebody needs to be able to identify who is in charge.

Sara Ogilvie: If we want to compare it, there are rules in place that govern marches and other kinds of protest. There are not rules about demonstrations; there are rules about marches. If you have a rule about a march,  then the organiser must be known to the police. But that organiser could be, if you take the union example, Frances O'Grady; everybody knows who she is. If you have someone who is in a local trade union, they might not want to be known; as we have heard, there are really serious consequences. It is not so much about the organisation; it is about the identification, and the fact that that can then be used to void a whole strike.

Q 169

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

Nobody wants to condone blacklisting—absolutely not—and it is very much to be welcomed that in the building industry we are moving away from that. [ Interruption. ] I sense some scepticism, looking at the Benches. But of course we want to move away from that; people should have the right to strike. I wonder whether there is an objection to the use of an armband particularly.

Dave Smith: What there is an objection to is that if you are on a school trip, you are not being asked by the police to provide your name, and if I am on a picket line, I am not breaking any laws. I have not done anything illegal, and without any suspicion, or due suspicion that I have broken laws, the police will come and take my name.

A number of people have mentioned the London underground during this debate. For the London underground, you might need a picket supervisor on every single station; on large stations, you might need a picket supervisor on different entrances. And for the RMT or whichever union, they would have to provide a list of possibly hundreds—literally—of picket supervisors to the police, and they have not committed any crime. That information will be collated and will be put on a police database, and we have fears where that goes. How can you stop it being given to special branch?

Q 170

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

I understand that, but this is a side issue of blacklisting, which the Government are consulting on—[ Interruption ]—they are.

Just on the school trips issue, there are checks that one would have to go through; you need Disclosure and Barring Service checks, and things like that. Okay, perhaps it was not the best analogy. All I am saying is that in terms of public order—

Sara Ogilvie: In terms of public order, the usual rules that would apply to public demonstrations or public protests already apply. These are specific additional requirements that are being placed on pickets, and pickets tend to be pretty small as well, so the requirements seem disproportionate. As I say, the normal rules apply; these are additional ones.

Shane Enright: Can I add something, and I will do it in one sentence? I do not understand what problems this Bill is seeking to solve. I simply do not see the evidence before me of disruptive pickets, of intimidation or violence on picket lines; there is simply very little evidence of it. Twenty million days a year are lost through workplace injury or workplace illness; 0.8 million days a year are lost through strikes.

Q 171

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

The thing is, we want to get rid of all days lost. Yes, of course it is a small proportion and getting smaller, and we want to tackle days lost through workplace injury and things like that as well, but even though it is a small proportion, it is still having an effect on our economy and it is still disrupting  people’s lives, the way they organise their families and their travel. That and the idea of threshold is the whole thrust of the Bill. I know that Liberty has spoken about the balance between employers and employees, but we go back to the people whose lives are disrupted and who have not taken part in that ballot. They cannot say whether their schools or trains are not running on that day.

Shane Enright: I appreciate that there is disruption, but what is entirely absent from the Bill is any recognition or acknowledgement of the positive roles that trade unions play in the delivery of effective and efficient public and private services for the common good. I understand that the Royal College of Nursing has done an impact analysis of the role of trade unions in the health sector that comes to the conclusion that effective industrial relations involving trade unions has substantial positive impacts on safety, on the levels and quality of workplace training and across a range of key issues. So rather than talking about trade unions as necessarily being civil actors that have negative economic consequences—

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

I do not think that that has been said.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Sorry, can I stop you? We have very little time left and this is not the place for a conversation; it is a question and answer session for Members to ask questions of the witnesses. I am going to draw this section to a close and move on.

Q 172

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I want to go back to the beginning. Obviously, Liberty and Amnesty have outlined a whole range of issues with the Bill that they are not happy with. In terms of the potential for legal challenge, do you think it is inevitable, given the concerns we heard from Thompsons Solicitors earlier today, that aspects of the Bill, if not its entirety, are going to be subject to legal challenge?

Shane Enright: I think it is utterly inevitable. The European convention and the European Court exist for a reason, and I cannot see that the rights holders concerned would not challenge this at the European Court. Let us be clear here: trade unions are effectively the voice of workers and workers have universal human rights.

Q 173

Sara Ogilvie: Yes, I share that view in terms of the protesting and picketing elements we have discussed. I also think that when we look, perhaps not at individual elements of the Bill—we have spoken about thresholds; we could talk about a lot more if we had the time, but we obviously do not—but the cumulative impact of those proposals will create so many bureaucratic obstacles and hurdles that you have to get through to call a strike that the right to strike will be illusory. That is a key area on which there will be challenge to the legislation. I should also just say that even if we ignore human rights arguments, the fact of the matter is that when we create lots of rules and laws, the people involved—trade unions and employers—who want to get these enforced will go to court. That is going to be expensive for them.

Q 174

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

So in that way it is very similar to the gagging Bill and other measures that have been taken by the Government?

Sara Ogilvie: Certainly, we have seen a number of trends whereby the previous Government had different pieces of legislation that looked like they were trying to shut down various parts of civil society from engaging in public debate. What I am concerned about with the Bill is that it attacks freedom of association from a number of angles, but it will just create a lot of cost and a lot of regulation for the whole spectrum of actors involved.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

In the couple of minutes we have left, we have two Members still to go, so I ask them to make it very short. If we run out of time and the witnesses want to reply to the Committee, they can certainly email us.

Q 175

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I am very grateful, Sir Alan, and very happy to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon. I apologise for being late: I was on the Backbench Business Committee. The Bill covers the whole of industry, but we have heard from Government Members this afternoon that they are particularly concerned about measures impacting on public transport and schools. What impact on public transport, on the closure of a school or on families would the closure of a factory in Gateshead have, for instance?

Sara Ogilvie: Perhaps I can interpret your question to mean, what advantages do trade unions and the right to strike bring to society? I think we get a lot of advantages. The right to strike is perhaps the most vilified and obvious tool in the trade union toolkit, but it is just the stick in the carrot-and-stick analogy. Actually, the substantial part of trade union work is helping to resolve workplace disputes, which keeps our industries up and running, helping people deal with their problems and helping to ensure that we do not escalate to a strike. Those activities can be undertaken only if there is a reason for recalcitrant employers to participate in debates. Without strikes, they will not.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

I am afraid we have run out of time. We have to stop here because there are more witnesses to come in the next session. We thank you all for your attendance. If there is any other matter that you want to raise with members of the Committee, please put it in writing to the Clerks and we will certainly distribute it. Thank you very much for your attendance.