Trade Union Access to Workplaces — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 4th June 2019.

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Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South 4:30 pm, 4th June 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that brilliant point. It works for all stages in every sector, regardless of the size of the business. If large organisations practise fairly, it will filter down, especially through subcontractors. It is the responsibility of large businesses to show smaller businesses what they are doing. If they follow the right practices, that will filter down to subcontractors. Perhaps larger businesses could have some kind of contract to make sure that their subcontractors look after their employees in the same way as they do. Large businesses have to set a precedent.

Union members are vulnerable and live in fear of reprisals from their employer. Bupa is one of the largest and highest-profile providers of residential social care in the UK and part of an international health group that serves approximately 32 million customers in 190 countries. It consistently refuses to allow Unison officials access to workplaces to speak with staff and members regarding union rights and representation.

During 2017 and 2018, Unison North West regional officers were banned from every Bupa care workplace, despite assurances that visits could be conducted at the employer’s convenience and with due regard to operational and safeguarding concerns and priorities. I have just mentioned what McDonald’s said about disruption, but unions do not want to disrupt the business at all. They give adequate time before they come, and that is all I am asking for in the legislation. Of course I am pro-business and I support great businesses, but not at the cost of poor workplace conditions for employees.

I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister that the UK is a signatory to the European convention on human rights, article 11 of which states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Does he not agree that the examples I have listed constitute a flagrant violation of that right? If so, what does his Department intend to do about it?

I do not want to use this debate simply as an opportunity to criticise existing practices, but to propose a way forward. I hope the Minister will listen to my proposals, because it does not have to be like this. By expanding trade union access to workplaces, we can restore dignity and respect at work and put an end to the exploitation and misery we see on the rise today. As I said, I am pro-business and I want to see our businesses flourish, but that should not come at the cost of dignity and respect at work. An alternative is possible.

We can look to places such as New Zealand for inspiration, as well as for evidence that the legislation that I am proposing works. Under the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, trade unions there have far greater access to workplaces. Workers in New Zealand can speak to union representatives in their place of work, which has led to higher union membership, higher wages, and fairer and more just workplaces.

Under this legislation, all that is required is that the union provide a short period of notice that it will be visiting the workplace, allowing for management to add the extra staff member needed for the duration of the visit. The situation is beneficial for all involved: disruption to the business is kept to an absolute minimum, while workers’ legal and human right to join and form a union is properly adhered to.