Is the new Trade Union Bill further oppression of workers?

Surely even this government has to ask the question “are we doing the right thing?” when MPs like Dennis Skinner point out “This Bill is opposed by all the unions affiliated to the Labour movement, it’s opposed by all those that are not affiliated to the Labour movement, and even the Royal College of Nursing has said no to this Bill. It’s a travesty and it’s an intrusion upon the democracy of the workplace. Get rid of it.”

The Bill Dennis Skinner was referring to is the new Trade Union Bill. The government wants to bring in new laws to kerb trade unions and their activity. One has to ask ‘is this a positive way forward or just further oppression of the workers?’.

Research found that trade unions are saving the NHS at least £100m a year across the UK through their work in reducing staff turnover and improving morale. The independent evidence has revealed staff turnover in organisations without trade union representatives is three times higher than those with them.

Having been a steward in the NHS for almost thirty years I know the benefits that can be had in having people to represent staff. Let me throw a few examples out for people to think about.

Two student nurses who were caught when honesty got the better of them faced being thrown off their course. Today both are senior nurses with many years’ experience under their belts and have trained many students. Why? Because a steward argued their case for them.

A female nurse with an appalling sickness record who had been asking for help but declined it by her manager, on the day of her hearing, in front of an all female panel, I had to explain the basics of female biology and how it affect some women more than others. A change to her shift patterns changed her sickness record over night.

A tired night nurse who failed to sign a document in the correct place when before the disciplinary panel was shown the error suddenly realized what she had done. Why did it take the trade union official to point this out. She returned to work and never made a mistake again.

I will readily admit that there are occasional bad apples in the nursing barrel but that is true of every walk of life one only has to look to the House of Common in 2008. As a result of that scandal a number of MPs stood down in 2010. However, as a steward when a bad apple was found in the nursing barrel I would not defend them or their actions.

The reason members elect people like me to represent them is that we are detached enough to be able to look at the situation for a wider angle. We are able to work through a situation with both the member and management. During my time as a steward I would look for a way forward to ensure that patient care was maintained at the highest level and that my member skills and knowledge were improved. By being a practising clinical nurse I was able to draw on my clinical knowledge and as a steward I was able to access trade union information including employment law.

Members also elect us because we are able to speak up for them when management become blinkered and unable to see beyond the end of their desk. Most nurses, and it can be argued most workers in all fields, do not want to “stick their head above the parapet” and rely on their trade union official to look after their interests.

Managers are paid to manage and workers are paid to work, but when managers fail to manage then there has to be someone there for the workers. That someone is the steward, safety or learning representative.

As one HR manager told me once: “David I can put a cross in the wrong box and cost the NHS a million pounds and no one will say anything, your member puts a cross in the wrong box and unless you are there I will sack them.” It is for this very reason local trade union representatives are essential.

The government is wrong to attack the unions. Conservative members would be up in arms if a non-Conservative government were to shut down or kerb the activity of the CBI. Trade unions are the “premier lobbying organisation, providing a voice for employees at a national and international level”. If you do not like that phrase, then you are clearly in favour of trade unions because it comes from the CBI’s website, with a slight amendment.

All I ask is that people continue to elect people like me to represent them and that the government allows us to do our job. Ultimately people like me make a difference because we are there for our members, who are working for patients, school children, clients and so on.

On behalf of all the nurses, thank you for your support. Now is the time to support me. Say no to the government’s Trade Union Bill.