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Controversial law will abolish ‘check-off’ union subs in public sector

The “outdated practice” of automatically deducting trade union subscriptions from the salaries of public sector workers will be abolished under the Trade Union Bill.

The government has announced the move today (6 August) as a way to “modernise the relationship between employees and their preferred trade unions” while removing administration responsibilities from the employer.

Currently the practice of ‘check-off’ across all public sector organisations means workers who are union members have their membership fees taken directly from their salary by employers.

Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock MP said: “In the 21st century era of direct debits and digital payments, public resources should not be used to support the collection of trade union subscriptions.

“It’s time to get rid of this outdated practice and modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. By ending check-off we are bringing greater transparency to employees – making it easier for them to choose whether or not to pay subscriptions and which union to join.”

The check-off process was introduced at a time when many people didn’t have bank accounts and direct debits or digital payments weren’t a convenient and secure way of transferring money.

Now the removal of check-off will give trade members greater control over their subscription, restrict the public cost of ‘facility time’ subsidies and give employees greater consumer protection under the Direct Debit Guarantee, according to the government.

The updated legislation will fall under the Trade Union Bill to facilitate the policy being adopted across the whole public sector.

However several trade union leaders disputed Conservative claims that payroll deductions are outdated, and branded it an attack on their members.

Paul Nowak, assistant general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said check-off would not be popular with “so many of the UK’s biggest and most successful private companies” if it was indeed outdated.

He said: “The public will see this for what it really is – yet another attack on union members from a government that is determined to rebalance power in the workplace so that workers lose their voice and their rights. And it goes hand-in-hand with new proposals that threaten the right to strike.

“Instead of going out of their way to poison industrial relations, the government should work positively with workers and their representatives for the good of public services and the economy.”

Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary, also attacked the move, calling it “another spiteful measure from the Conservatives at a time when working people need unions like never before”.

She added: “It is a crude attempt to starve trade unions of money, money that is then used every day to promote training, workplace safety and hold up decent pay for millions of working people throughout the UK.

“This is nothing other than unnecessary interference by a government that has not got a clue about the reality of working life and the vital role unions have in workers’ lives.”

Cartmail also stated that the Thatcher government failed to bring in the same legislation because workers knew that “unionised workplaces are safer, better paid and better protected against bullying bosses”.

“This government will suffer a backlash from this too for people will see this for what it is – another needless, malicious attack on the people who are the backbone of our public services.

“And for the majority-female low-paid public sector workforce – health visitors, carers, cleaners and cooks – this is now the triple whammy. On top of the pay cap and end of working family tax credit, they now have to contend with this attack on their union.”

The Tory party had already tried to abolish the check-off process in Whitehall during the last Parliament, but were blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

Some central government departments, including the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs and the Ministry of Defence, have already removed check-off.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


H Smith   07/08/2015 at 07:52

Evil, nasty, vindictive tories. I don't agree with many of the policies which they spend my taxes on. Should we therefore abolish automatic deductions of tax and national insurance from wages?

C Brodie   07/08/2015 at 09:16

I don't see why it is an issue - other than the unions having to pay for the transactions between them and their members - as they should. If a Union member sees the true cost of their subscription and decides to end it, that is their right. The unions obviously fear that their members will do just that in their droves. If they are the great boon to all and sundry that they claim to be, then they will have nothing to worry about. And yes, I am a union member.

R. Brown   07/08/2015 at 09:42

There seems to be another option which would be that trade unions actually pay for the service to support direct deductions from pay. There would be income generation for employers as well as a simple way to make union payments. Why aren't the unions campaigning to get this type of amendment into the bill?

M Kirkby   08/08/2015 at 10:02

If this is not an attack on unions then presumably the government will also abolish payroll giving to charities for public sector employees. After all if the admin costs are too high to operate this kind of operation then the tax payer shouldn't be expected to pick up the cost of deductions made to charities either.

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