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MPs on the Commons Public Bill Committee were greeted with a chorus of opposition to the government’s Trade Union Bill when they convened their initial hearing on 15th October.
The legislation, which passed its first parliamentary hurdle on Monday 14th September, is being opposed by trade unions including HCSA.
It includes rules allowing the drafting in of agency workers to replace those taking industrial action, and, until an amended version released at the start of November, a requirement to give advance notice to the police of whether Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites will be used during action and what they will say.
Other constraints would see a legal threshold placed on public-sector action so that at least 50 per cent of members must vote, with at least 40 per cent of an entire membership voting for an outcome.
That amounts to 80 per cent of those voting on a 50 per cent turnout.
At the same time, tellingly, ministers have steadfastly refused to endorse trade union calls for electronic balloting – something that for hard-pressed hospital doctors would be a logical option rather than the current system which dictates postal voting.
HCSA has always maintained that industrial action should only ever be used as a last resort – an option that allows negotiations and discussions to take place with both sides aware that failure to agree amicably could ultimately have a highly undesirable result.
But NHS managers have also now spoken out publicly on their fears over the legislation. Dozens of NHS human resources directors have written to Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock to express their concern that staff motivation would be negatively hit in return for a “very limited cost benefit.”
A separate letter jointly written by HR directors and regional trade union representatives highlighted the benefits of co-operation between the employers and employees – not least given the challenges contained within the NHS Five-Year Forward Plan.
Former NHS Employers chief executive Dean Royles told the Financial Times: “We get so much more, day-in day-out, from working with trade unions and I’m anxious we don’t damage the largely constructive relationships we enjoy.”
The Chartered Institute of Professional Development shares these concerns but goes further.
Its Chief Executive Peter Cheese said: “It’s time to start talking about prevention rather than cure when it comes to strike action and the public sector’s workforce challenges in particular.
“Taxpayers’ interests are best served by an efficient, engaged and productive public sector workforce.
“We need to see more consultation and ongoing dialogue, and engagement with, the workforce, rather than the introduction of mechanisms that reflect the industrial relations challenges of the 1980s.
“To jump straight to legislating strike activity without considering this seems to be a significant step back.”
The government has recently altered its stance slightly, offering some concessions in the face of widespread opposition.
• More information on all the implications of the new legislation and the campaign against it are available at www.tuc.org.uk/TUbill.
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© Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association 2013
The Hospital Consultants & Specialists Association is a professional association and trade union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.