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Unions react angrily to 'malicious' move to scrap automatic fee payments

The government wants to stop trade unions from collecting membership fees directly from employees' salaries because it says it creates a 'taxpayer-funded administrative burden'

A government proposal to end public sector workers having their trade union subscription fees taken directly from their salaries is a ‘malicious manoeuvre’ to deny staff a voice at work, Unison has said. 

According to the government, stopping the ‘outdated practice’ will remove a ‘taxpayer-funded administrative burden on employers’ and it intends to add the proposal to its Trade Union Bill. 

But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘This latest malicious manoeuvre from ministers shows how far they are prepared to go to deny nurses, care workers, teaching assistants, hospital cleaners and town hall staff a voice at work.

‘Allowing union subs to be taken directly from peoples’ salaries is convenient for employees, their unions and their employers – and it works well in both the public and private sectors of the economy.

‘In much of the public sector, unions pay the hospital trust or the local council the cost of taking the subs at source, so there is no cost to the public purse.’

The Cabinet Office, which is proposing the amendment to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' bill, said taking subscriptions directly from salaries – known as ‘check off’ – was introduced when many people did not have bank accounts and before the existence of direct debits and digital payments. It says union fees could be paid by direct debit. 

Cabinet office minister Matthew Hancock said: ‘It is time to get rid of this outdated practice and modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members.’

The Unite union has also criticised the plans. 

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said it is a ‘crude attempt to starve trade unions of money’.

She added: ‘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 the end of working family tax credit, they now have to contend with this attack on their union.’

The Trade Union Bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons in September. 

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