Trade Union Bill
Rose to speak at 9.20 pm:
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Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, would like to declare that I am a proud trade unionist and a member of Unite.
To be perfectly honest, I am very disappointed that we have to have this debate. As others have noted, the ability to form a union and carry out industrial action are basic rights in a democratic society. I am very concerned that the Government have introduced a Bill that seeks to undermine such fundamental rights.
As a trade unionist, I know that, if passed, this Bill will make it much more difficult for workers to raise concerns over safety, working conditions and pay. I am particularly concerned about the impact it will have on women in the workplace. We already know that women are systematically discriminated against in the labour market. Women already comprise the majority of those on the minimum wage and are more likely to be in insecure and low-paid jobs such as catering, cleaning and clerical work. Women are, on average, paid less than men and are more likely to be in in-work poverty.
It is also important to remember that women have borne a higher share of the burden of this Government’s austerity policies than men. Women have already suffered more from welfare cuts and pay freezes, and I am concerned that this Bill will make those inequalities much worse. The Government seem to be in denial about that. The Bill’s impact assessment totally fails to account for the disproportionate effect the Bill will have on women workers. The reality is that trade unions are one of the best tools in the struggle for gender equality, and attacks on union rights will damage the struggle for equality in the workplace.
Indeed, Government statistics on trade union membership have found that women workers who are in a trade union have a pay premium of 30%. That is no surprise when one remembers that the very purpose of much industrial action is to achieve gender equality in the workplace. If the Government restrict the rights of workers to organise, that will clearly have a negative effect on the struggle for pay equality.
Unionised workplaces are also more likely to have good policies on flexible working and maternity pay, as well as better support for those returning to work after pregnancy. By making it harder for workers to organise at work, this Bill will have a negative impact on all those areas, leading to further discrimination against women in work.
The Bill’s new strike ballot threshold will also affect women more than men.
Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): On the increased threshold, I am sure my hon. Friend is as concerned as I am that it is not being made easier for workers to cast their votes through electronic balloting. Why does she think the Government will not agree to it?
Kate Osamor: I totally agree with my hon. Friend.
The Bill’s higher ballot threshold for essential services will disproportionately affect women, as they are much more likely to be employed in those sectors. Research by the TUC suggests that nearly three quarters—73%—of the trade union members working in important public services are women. Do the Government not understand that reducing the rights of those women at work will only increase the gender pay gap and worsen discrimination in the workplace?
This is a regressive Bill that threatens to undermine basic civil rights and reverse progress in achieving workplace equality. I urge Members on both sides of the House who do not want to see that progress reversed to vote against the Bill