Trade Unions

Department for Communities and Local Government written question – answered on 12th September 2014.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, if he will publish the representations he has received on his proposal to end check-off for trade union subscriptions for staff working in his Department.

Photo of Kris Hopkins Kris Hopkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

As was the case under previous Administrations, we do not publish internal correspondence with our trade unions.

Notwithstanding, as my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), stated in his answer to the rt. hon. Member of 13 September 2013, Official Report, Column 882W, the subsidies and support given to the trade unions by the public sector are poor value for money and represent an unhealthy relationship between the state and voluntary sector. Trade union activities and campaigning in local government, and indeed our Department, should be funded by members' subscriptions, not bankrolled by the taxpayer. Greater freedom from state dependency will help ensure that trade union bosses better reflect and respond to the wishes and views of the grassroots members who pay the bill.

As the previous answer stated, our reforms to trade union facility time are estimated to save up to £400,000 a year of taxpayers’ money.

In the age of direct debits, it is not appropriate or necessary for public resources to be used to support the collection and administration of trade union membership subscriptions. It is also unsatisfactory that trade unions like PCS continue to collect a political levy, but make no attempt to inform would-be members that the political levy exists, that it is optional or mention the right to opt out on their membership forms. This is a misleading and dubious marketing practice through omission.

The decision by the last Labour Government to embed check-off in contracts has acted as an obstacle to ending this outdated practice. But I can confirm that my Department has ended the check off facility to new employees as the first step in phasing it out.

We have also recently suspended check-off for all staff during the current industrial action by PCS. In turn, PCS have asked their union members to switch to Direct Debit noting in their literature “the process takes less than five minutes” and is “very simple”. This somewhat proves our point.

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