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Trade Union Subscriptions (Civil Service)

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2014

5. What his policy is on the deduction of trade union subscriptions from payroll in the civil service. (906077)

I am interested in the Minister’s response because I understand that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been writing e-mails and letters to other Secretaries of State, asking them not to write off. Will the Minister confirm whether that is correct, and will he make clear all correspondence between him and other Liberal Democrat Ministers concerning their opposition to this Tory attack plan on worker representation?

I can do no better than quote a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union—she is just identified as June—who said that direct debit is

“the easiest way of paying my union subs. You know then that it’s going to get paid because you’re not dependent on your employer taking it from your wages. I think it’s better.”

I agree with June.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the relationship between trade unions and their members ought to be direct and not intermediated by the civil service?

As the PCS said in the document from which I quoted, check-off is an archaic way of operating that pre-dates the existence of bank accounts and direct debits. Most civil service unions use direct debits, not check-off, because they think that is the modern, direct way for an organisation to have a relationship with its members.

The Department for Work and Pensions estimated that the cost of ending check-off across Departments was £1 million. The Minister denies that, so will he tell the House exactly how much it will cost to implement what is a political attack by the Conservative party, rather than a policy worthy of Government?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point and she is completely correct to say that an official produced the figure of £1 million. However, when asked for the workings and calculations that underpinned that number they were unable to produce them, and it turned out to be a completely fictional number. The correct calculation of the cost is more likely to be a negative number and a saving to the taxpayer, as well as being a measure that enables the PCS to do what its members now prefer and have a direct relationship with them.

The Paymaster General has reiterated his support for getting rid of check-off, even though the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has written to Departments saying that there could be legal costs associated with that. A leaked HMRC memo talks about marginalising the unions, which could lead to industrial action among civil service unions. Does that show that Ministers are playing irresponsible party politics with the trade unions, and that the right hon. Gentleman should abandon his plans to get rid of check-off?

It is always reassuring to find that the old truths turn out to be enduring and that Labour speaks for its paymasters, the trade unions.