There has been little media coverage about the abrupt withdrawal of the check-off system for collecting union subscriptions, which will be pushed through various civil service departments in the coming months.Â
Cabinet Office Minister,Â Francis Maude, declaredÂ â€śit is notÂ desirable for Civil Service employers to provide an unnecessary service on behalf of the trade unionsâ€ťÂ and has signalled his intention aims to withdraw the mechanism. SeevenÂ government departments have already served notice to civil service union PCS to end the arrangements.
This briefing sets out what the check-off system is, why it is being withdrawn and why this rasies cause for concern.
So what is check-off?
Check-off refers to the way in whichÂ union membership subscriptions are collected through salary payments in both private and pubic sector workplaces. Where some organisations have historically collected subscriptions outside of the payroll mechanism, othersÂ have traditionally arranged toÂ have contributions deducted straight from a member’s salary.
The check-off system is an important internationally recognised trade union right. The ability to establish a check-off arrangement can be regarded as a litmus test ofÂ an employerâ€™s commitment to a democratic workplace.
The mechanism is also anÂ importantÂ way of allowing unions toÂ effectively representÂ their members by avoiding theÂ lengthy administrative task of collecting subscriptions individually.
Why change the system?
In December 2013 Conservative Minister Frances MaudeÂ circulated a letterÂ suggesting that government departments should seek to charge unions for the check-off arrangement.
The Conservatives have cited various reasons for removing the system in the civil serviceÂ suggesting that the arrangement is too expensiveÂ or that itÂ “epitomises a cosy and unhealthy relationship between the unions and the state”.
However, PCS, the main union affected,Â has offered to pay the very small amount for maintaining check-offÂ (estimated to be about ÂŁ350 per annum). Even senior Coalition partners have suggested check-off costs very littleÂ toÂ runÂ with Liberal Democrat Minister Danny AlexanderÂ stating that there was â€śno fiscal caseâ€ťÂ for the changes in a letter to various departments.
Incidentally, cost to the public purse did not seem to be a top priority for Conservative Minister Eric Pickles in 2013 whenÂ ÂŁ90,000 legal costs were incurred at the taxpayers expenseÂ whenÂ a High Court ruling foundÂ attempts to withdraw check-off at theÂ Department forÂ Communities and Local Government to be illegal.
When will it come into effect?
The check-off arrangement will be removed for civil service workers in the DWP at the end of March 2015 and for HMRC workers in April 2015.
How many members are affected?
Removing the check-off system will require employees to sign up proactively to their union, arranging their own payment methods, which is likely to cause many to drop off the books.
The changes will impact upon 153,000 workers in the civil service. This predominantly affects the PCS union and represents 66% of their entire membership.
Why does it matter?
The changes will majorly disrupt the PCSâ€™s funding stream and are widely regarded as an ideologically motivated attack to weaken union rights within the public sector ahead of further cuts.
Without the urgent action from PCS representatives, the union could have collapsed, leaving employees unrepresented and vulnerable to job losses and deteriorating terms and conditions.
The removal of check-off is an extraordinary act to undermine workplace democracy and should be regarded as a small but significant step towards shifting power further away from working people.
What action can be taken?
In our blog PCS General Secretary Mark SerwotkaÂ urgesÂ people to circulate information about the check-offÂ reformsÂ and to write to their MPs.
What has Class published?BLOG:Â
A newÂ blog by Mark SerwotkaÂ examinesÂ the motives driving the Cabinet Office’s attempts to weaken the PCS.
- So now Britainâ€™s a state union buster like BahrainÂ â€“ Ellie Oâ€™Hagan finds Francis Maudeâ€™s legacy is a union-busting state.
- Union-busting at the heart of this government?Â – Matt DykesÂ contextualises the PCS check-off battleÂ in Stronger Unions.
- PCS union funding fears as government plans withdrawal ofÂ directÂ paymentÂ – Rajeev SyalÂ outlines the challenge ahead of PCSÂ in the Guardian.
- Read more by clicking hereÂ Â and clicking here.Â
Download this briefing as a pdf by clicking here.Â