Government to repeal check-off ballots

The UK's new Labour Government announced in July 1997 that it will repeal legislation forcing trade unions to ballot their members over the automatic deduction of membership subscriptions.

The Government announced on 8 July 1997 that it is to end balloting over the check-off system for trade union members, whereby members can have their union subscriptions deducted directly from their wages by the employer, who then passes them on to the union.

In 1993 the Conservative Government introduced legislation which meant that unions were required to ballot their members every three years to obtain written consent authorising the automatic deduction of subscriptions from their pay. This system not only cost the unions millions of pounds in administration, but also involved costs for some employers which have funded facilities for unions to mount pre-ballot campaigns, in order to maintain stable industrial relations within the workplace. The unions have recently been lobbying ministers to have the legislation changed, before they spend large sums of money on the next round of campaigns.

Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, said that the requirement to reauthorise check-off arrangements every three years was "unnecessary and burdensome for employers and unions". However, the Government wants to retain those parts of the legislation which provide freedoms for individuals to choose whether they want to pay their subscription directly or not. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary, John Monks: "Of course union members should give their written consent before subscriptions are deducted from their pay, but there was never any justification for making them reauthorise those deduction every three years"

The new arrangements are not likely to come into force until some time in 1998. Interested parties will be consulted during summer 1997, and the parliamentary stages for the repeal should then begin in the autumn.

According to a report in the Financial Times, the Confederation of British Industry said that it thought the repeal was an helpful development, as it did not support the legislation when it was introduced. John Monks of the TUC, added that "the employers will welcome this news as much as the unions do."

There are benefits to the check-off system - which was operated in 47% of workplaces with more than 25 employees in 1990, according to Department of Trade and Industry figures - for both unions and employers. For employers, as well as the savings they make on campaigns, the system cuts down on the need for union representatives to take time off for collecting subscriptions. For the unions, the check-off ensures that subscriptions are paid regularly and on time.

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