February 4, 2015


So now Britain's a state union buster like Bahrain (Ellie Mae O'Hagan, 2/03/15, The Guardian)

So farewell then, Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister and "architect of the Whitehall cost-cutting exercise", who announced his intention to step down over the weekend.

Maude will remember his own frugality in government with pride, which he says has saved the taxpayer £14bn over the years. It's fair to say the 90,000 people who have lost their civil service jobs under his watch might see things a little differently. What many others will remember is his parting gesture: sticking it to the unions and thereby discreetly undermining Britain's ability to call itself a free and democratic country.

On 20 December 2013, Maude circulated a letter to all civil service departments advising them to review "check-off" - the system by which employees' trade union subscriptions are automatically taken from payslips. Removing check-off will require employees to sign up proactively to their union and arrange their own payment methods: a change likely to cause a lot of people to drop off the books. In the letter, Maude observes that it is "not desirable for the civil service to provide a service to trade unions". And so, at the end of last year, the Home Office became the first major department to remove check-off. The Department of Work and Pensions follows at the end of March, as will HM Revenue and Customs in April.

In this ostensibly trivial bureaucratic tinkering lies a major threat to democracy: evidence that the state itself has become a union-buster. The Conservative party should know that removing check-off is an enormous problem for the Public and Commercial Services union - PCS, the civil service union - which could lose a significant chunk of its membership. Without urgent action from PCS representatives and employees, the results could cripple the union, leaving government employees unrepresented, and thus vulnerable to exploitation, deteriorating conditions and job losses. As the TUC's Matt Dykes put it: "Our movement represents millions of working people and their families and communities ... That this kind of union-busting can occur at the very heart of the government - which is supposed to serve all citizens' interests - is deeply worrying."

Posted by at February 4, 2015 5:03 PM

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