Union member privacy is still under threat from the lobbying bill

The only conclusion is that this part has a hidden agenda to do with union affiliation to the Labour Party.

Nigel Stanley is head of campaigns and communications at the TUC

Progressives are  celebrating a pause in the government’s lobbying bill. If only it were true.

What the government has done is simply change the order in which the Lords will debate the Bill. They have postponed part two – the section that has led to this being called the gagging bill – until December.

In its place they have brought forward part three – which threatens the confidentiality of union membership records – from December to next Monday. This makes it far harder to lobby against, especially against a backdrop of premature victory celebrations.

Part three is as objectionable and partisan as part two. It requires unions to appoint assessors of their membership and opens up complaints about union membership systems to third parties.

Unions are worried about opening up confidential membership data at both national and branch level:

  • The Certification Officer (CO) – a state appointee – will be given new rights to investigate  membership.

  • Unions have to appoint an assurer from a state approved list.

  •  Investigators appointed after a complaint by the (CO) will have access to union membership records.

There are only a few days before the House of Lords considers the Committee stage of Part 3. The TUC has launched an urgent campaign to allow union members and anyone concerned about data privacy to adopt a peer and email them personal appeal to protect union member privacy.

Ministers have struggled to explain why this section of the Bill is needed. They assure us that it has nothing to do with industrial action ballots – though that won’t stop lawyers and bad employers trying.

Unions already have a strong self-interest in maintaining up to date records. If they don’t, the courts will strike out any industrial action ballot. Existing law already puts a duty – enforceable by the CO – to maintain accurate membership systems. But there have been no complaints since 2004, and only a trickle before that.

The only conclusion is that this part has a hidden agenda to do with union affiliation to the Labour Party. You can imagine complaints after any contested selection.

Yet the state has never dared interfere in the internal affairs of political parties. Not only Labour has controversial selections.

And what is worse is that out of the 166 unions registered by the CO only 15 affiliate to the Labour Party, yet all are to face this bureaucratic privacy threatening burden.

There is evidence that the blacklisting run by construction companies was fed by information provided by parts of the state. This is why unions will not accept government assurances of confidentiality, especially when ministers have failed to explain why even on their own terms this part of this awful Bill is needed.

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