Boost the power of trade unions
Stronger unions will counter the UK’s low pay, low productivity economy.
Weakened trade unions is an underlying reason for declining living standards and stalling progress towards more leisure time. Government must restore and extend the powers of trade unions, ensuring that most workers in the UK benefit from union membership and collective bargaining rights. Only through this route can we embed a future in which there is sustained progress in improving living standards and reducing inequality.
- Existing processes by which unions gain recognition in firms should be shortened and simplified: all employers of over 50 workers, agency staff or employees across one or more multiple sites should be legally required to recognise at least one union, and smaller workplaces would be able to gain recognition under a shorter, simplified process.
- Where there is no existing union recognition agreement in place, the new measures should oblige firms to allow elected representatives from the workforce to lead the process of determining representation, which could include the formation of new unions and new divisions with existing unions as long as they offered the same level of representation and protection, independent from employers.
- To ensure all workers are able to participate, new legislation should require all employers to afford the equivalent of one hour per week per employee to be spent on democratic activities at work such as attending board meetings, holding union meetings and attending negotiations.
- Legislation must also reinstate the right to strike, ensuring all workers can take legitimate industrial action. This would involve fully repealing existing anti-strike laws to ensure that a positive right to take industrial action over any issue which a workforce sees fit is enabled. This should include equity for outsourced workers meaning that they can negotiate directly with and, if necessary, take legitimate industrial action against their de-facto employer.
- Legislation is also needed so employees have access to necessary information and the freedom to engage each other. Employers must share appropriate and accessible information pertaining to salaries and organisational finances, offer personal access to performance data, and provide reasonable means for employees to meet together without surveillance. This requirement should be met through the provision of physical spaces, eg a staff room or on-site meeting room, and/or digitally, ensuring that organisational intranet or other online communication tools enable direct communication between workers.
- Trade union power. New Economics Foundation, 2019 (forthcoming)
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