An injunction too far

I was at the first two days of the TUC in Manchester in September, listening to the discussion of the issues facing us and our sister unions. The passion felt by all on the need to campaign and fight was strong, which is good as there are fights ahead.

BECTU’s first motion was composited with five other motions calling for a campaign to repeal the anti-trade union laws left from the Thatcher era. It is pathetic that 13 years of a Labour government allowed the laws and the restrictions they place on trade unions to be still in place. These laws especially attack trade unions abilities to hold legitimate strike actions, giving employers and the courts powers unprecedented in Europe.

You will probably remember the use BA put them to when it twice took injunctions to stop strikes, both times when the ballots questioned would have made no difference to ballot outcome.

The second time, in May of this year, because the union Unite did not use all means to tell members that there were 11 spoilt ballot papers out of a ballot of some 11,600 members.

“It is when we challenge wrongs collectively, with a broad campaign, that we succeed.”

Our colleagues in the NUJ were facing a similar injunction on the same day in May when their strike was halted because the employer’s claim that Johnston Press employed no journalists, despite a Johnston Press stamp on pay slips, the Johnston Press company handbook staff are issued, the JP grievance, disciplinary and health and safety policies that journalists are required to abide by. Johnston Press plc annual report even claims they employ 6,500 staff including journalists.

But when the NUJ challenged pay freezes, pension scheme closures, and the introduction of new technologies, Johnson Press claimed a multitude of subsidiary companies were the employers, not they, even though local managers have no powers to change these decisions.

These laws are allowing employers to overturn the democratic decisions of union members. No member takes the decision to strike lightly but it is an important tool. Especially in these times if the easy option is to change fundamentally the terms and conditions your employees work under, then that is the option employers will take.

We clearly see that the BBC is taking an easier option out of their pension problems but it is an issue with our freelance members too.

Freelance, short term/fixed term contracts all find it all but impossible to confront employers. Our experience is that once a serious dispute is raised for those working on these contracts, the minimum time from initiating an industrial dispute to being able to take action is 3 weeks. When your contract is for a few days or weeks, you have to either quit or just accept the conditions. This means that job after job an employer can impose unfair work practices but the issues can’t faced collectively.

Collective actions are how unions protect members. We work in an industry where all of us are concerned to be viewed as trouble makers. By working together we lesson the impact on all of us. And we need all the tools we have to fight the plans of the Con-Dem Government and its plans for the devastation of the public sector.

It is when we work collectively, it is when we challenge wrongs with as broad a campaign as possible that we can succeed. Hard times are not necessarily bad times if we can work collectively to challenge threats. Good luck to our colleagues in the BBC with their campaign ahead.

Categories: BECTU, Broadcasting

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