Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Correction - TUC, Unions & Certification Officer

An earlier post about the unions and their money was a long time in the making, it began as a rant. You know the sort of thing - get it off your chest and never send it. Mrs Rigby wrote according to her own, her friends and family's experiences and also referring to what is most easily available online.

She didn't make anything up, but today she discovered/learned something else - because an un-named somebody has contacted her off-site - hence the 'correction', although it's more of an extension to the earlier post than a simple correction. She's sure you'll see why.

Backtracking to this post and what it says about the "Certification Officer". You see Mrs Rigby had never heard of a Certification Officer before, so she had presumed (it really is dangerous to presume) each union had one, and she didn't even try following the link on the DirectGov site - because links on there tend to either go round in circles or just wander a bit lower down the page.

Today, though, she's discovered that the "Certification Officer" isn't anything to do with any individual union, it's a person in an office in London
The Certification Officer is responsible for :

* maintaining a list of trade unions and employers' associations
* receiving, ensuring compliance with statutory requirements
and keeping available for public inspection
annual returns from trade unions and employers' associations
* determining complaints concerning trade union elections, certain other ballots and certain breaches of trade union rules
* ensuring observance of statutory requirements governing mergers between trade unions and between employers' associations
* overseeing the political funds and the finances of trade unions and employers associations
* certifying the independence of trade unions

More detailed information on the role of the Certification Officer,
and the relevant legislation can be found in the annual report.
Despite digging around on the site for ages Mrs R couldn't find a form that, according to DirectGov, should be there. This one
If you wish to contract out, [of the Political Levy] you must do so in writing. If you ask your trade union’s local office or head office for a form to contract out of political fund payments, they must supply it. You can also ask the Certification Officer for a form.
So she has no idea whether they do provide them or not.

In that post Mrs R mentions the TUC and also unions that have political funds. She's been told she is suggesting that all unions have political funds, and all unions therefore support the Labour Party.

It is not true - not all unions support the Labour Party.

It follows that not all unions are in TUC. As, digging deeper into the site, the TUC itself says
Whilst TUC unions represent the vast majority of trade unionists in Britain there are a number of unions which are not affiliated. Most of these are small organisations representing specialist staff and in many cases employees of a particular organisation, there are however some substantial organisations which are outside the TUC. These include the Police Federation which is barred by law from affiliating to the TUC.
So, back to the "Certification Officer".

Within the Annual Report there is indeed a pdf list of unions, and it's helpfully annotated too.
Italics denotes a trade union first entered in the list during 1 April 2008 to 31 March 2009.
* Denotes a trade union holding a certificate of independence at 31 March 2009.
(P) Denotes a trade union with a political fund resolution in force at 31 March 2009.
There are 166 unions in the main list (at least that's the total reached by we Rigbys his evening, the list covers several pages).There is a further appendix containing 18 names.
"... of those trade unions known to the Certification Officer which are within the statutory definition of a trade union but which have not applied to be entered on the list at 31 March 2009"
So that makes a total of 184 Unions. If the TUC has a membership of 69 unions, it means they represent fewer than half the unions that exist in England, Scotland and Wales - although the TUC does say it speaks for the vast majority of trade unionists in Britain. Mrs R has absolutely no idea whether this is true or not, it must be though, or they wouldn't say it.

Yesterday Mrs Rigby asked
Where is the similarly overt advice relating to 'buying' union membership? - Is there a real choice, or do people get advised which union to join by the local secretary, without realising they all, ultimately, support the Labour Party through the TUC.
So the last bit of that isn't true - repeat - not all unions support the Labour Party.

But let's look at finding a union to join. There is 'advice' on the DirectGov pages - here. It says
How to find a trade union
There are several different ways you can find trade unions.

In your workplace
You may be able to find out which trade union is recognised in your workplace by looking for trade union notices on staff notice boards or your workplace intranet, or by asking your employer.

Some groups which may represent employees in your workplace, such as the Police Federation, will not appear on the Certification Officer or TUC lists because they are not legally considered to be trade unions.

Through the Trades Union Congress (TUC)
The TUC is the largest umbrella organisation representing UK trade unions. It has a list of the trade unions that are its members.
Britain's unions - the TUC website Opens new window

You can also use the TUC's workSMART website, which has an interactive tool to help you find a trade union in your workplace, or one which covers your type of employment.
Find a union on the TUC's workSMART website Opens new window

Through the Certification Officer
The Certification Officer is a public body that holds a list with the details of most trade unions. If you know the name of the trade union you would like to join, you can find its details through the Certification Officer's website.
List of trade unions - the Certification Officer website
Let's be realistic shall we, and imagine somebody starting work for the first time - youngish person.

Somebody strolls up and introduces themselves, and casually wonders if new employee is in a union. If not then this kindly new co-worker will say why it's a good idea, and they know a good one, and happens to have  some forms handy - right there, on the first day.

What do you think most people will do? Will they take the forms and say, "Thanks." or will they risk upsetting a new colleague and tell them they'll find their own union, and do it later when they're at home?

If they get home, look up DirectGov and follow the link to the TUC site they will find an almost closed list - of unions affiliated to the TUC. The same happens on the "WorkSmart" site, that has  TUC. written in tiny letters, the "UnionFinder" gives you a very short list of choices. Try it and see how it works, it's most peculiar.

Try to using the list provided by the Certification Officer that's what you get - an alphabetical list. Choose a name, realise that the globe next to it is a weblink - and go and look it up on your own. The Certification Officer has to be impartial you see, they're a regulator, so they can't give any other information.

Try Googling something like union and 'job description' - what's the betting the top hits would be unions in TUC.

In this country if you buy financial services you are meant to be able to get detailed, impartial advice. If you want to buy car insurance you're advised to carefully shop around. If you want advice about joining a union you're either on your own, join the one everybody else has joined , go through a long list on a truly impartial site - that doesn't tell you what sort of work each union represents, or join the ones recommended by the TUC.

So. Mrs R will end with the same sort of question as yesterday - how does this balance with all the other rules and regulations that relating to other important personal choices?

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