Opinion Former Article

Tory attempts to mislead on union representatives a `smokescreen'

Unite, the country's biggest union, today (Wednesday, 11 January) accused the Tory party of having its priorities all wrong with its continued attack on working people and their unions.

The union said that moves today by Tory MP and former Barclays investment banker, Jesse Norman MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire to use parliamentary time to push for reduced facilities for trade union representatives is further evidence of a party that prefers to launch "spurious" attacks on unions than face up to the genuine challenges facing the economy.

Unite points to findings from business itself which show that the work of union representatives actually saves employers around £1.1 billion pounds annually by helping to resolve disputes and preventing illness and injury at work - ten times more that the £113 million that Norman claims union representatives cost the taxpayer.

The union is accusing the Tory party of peddling myths about trade unions in the public sector to divert from the poor economic performance and a deeper desire to block public sector workers' access to justice in the workplace.

Jesse Norman will table a ten minute rule bill today (11 January) after Prime Minister's questions, calling for the end to public funding support for union representatives in the public sector. But, Unite says, this directly contradicts a joint report from the Department for Business, the CBI and the TUC entitled Reps in Action, which states that there are six core ways in which workplace representatives save taxpayers and employers money and stress by:
1. Reducing the number of employment tribunals
2. By preventing work related illnesses
3. Savings on recruitment costs by reducing workers' early exits
4. Reducing workplace injuries
5. Dealing with and reducing dismissals and claims
6. Productivity gains to the UK economy owing to training and education

Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: "This Tory MP and former Barclays investment banker has his priorities all wrong. He would be far better off using his taxpayer-funded salary to campaign for an end to the greed and excess in his former profession rather than targeting workers' access to fairness in the workplace.

"There is no rational reason to target dedicated men and women who spend their days preventing accidents, avoiding tribunals and supporting their colleagues.

"The claims behind this Bill are spurious. If this were genuinely about lowering unemployment or helping business, then why is Norman not suggesting that the government follows the practice of the only country in the EU, where unemployment is falling, Germany? Over there, union facility time is written into the law, or are Norman and his ilk are so blinded by a loathing of organised labour that they cannot see sense?

"Union representatives benefit workplaces to the tune of £1.1 billion every year. Only the ideologically-driven cannot accept that these arrangements benefit staff and employers alike. Even Jesse Norman's former employer, Barclays funds its union reps because it understands the benefits they provide to that business.

"Our message to the Tory party today is drop the smokescreen. Concentrate on fixing the economy, not creating diversions and misleading the public by peddling distortions about trade unions."

Around 200,000 workers carry out representative duties, whether that is checking on health and safety, providing formal or informal advice, helping with training and education, representing members at hearings and also negotiating with managers by acting as a single point of contact.

More Articles by Unite - the union (T&G section) ...

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