In July we reported on the Government’s plans to introduce a Trade Union Bill, and we highlighted some of the significant and wide ranging reforms proposed by it.
Although the full detail of the Bill is yet to be released, last week the Government announced its intention to abolish the practice of ‘check off’. This will overturn the traditional way in which trade unions collect membership fees from public sector employees, including those within the NHS.
‘Check off’ is the arrangement whereby an employer deducts union subscription fees from the salaries of its public sector workers, providing that the worker has given their written authorisation to do so.
The Government’s view is that this “outdated practice” needs to be modernised and replaced by a method whereby union subscriptions are paid directly by the worker through direct debit. The purported aim is to “modernise” the relationship with trade unions by:
- Putting the public sector worker in control of their own union subscription;
- Giving the worker “greater consumer protection” under the Direct Debit Guarantee; and
- Removing the burden of administration from the employer.
These proposals, which will eventually be enacted through the Trade Union Bill, will extend the ban on automatic subscriptions to all public sector organisations, including NHS workers.
Whilst NHS Trusts, as employers, may welcome this new proposal, as it shifts the administrative burden from the Trust to the individual employee, their unionised workers may not view it so positively. Some Trade Unions have already voiced their concern that this is yet another attack on trade unionism in the UK.
We await further information from the Government as to the implementation date of the ban. Until that time, NHS Trusts should continue to operate under its current methods, and ensure that they obtain the written authorisation of the employee before deducting subscription fees