HC Deb 10 December 1992 vol 215 cc791-2W
Mr. Ottaway

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if she will make a statement about the future of the schemes which subsidise trade union ballots and training for trade union officials.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

I have reviewed the operation of the trade union ballot funding scheme, which allows unions to reclaim certain costs associated with secret postal ballots, and the trade union education and training grant, which supports training for trade union officials and representatives.

The ballot funding scheme was set up in 1980 to encourage the voluntary practice of secret balloting at a time when there were no statutory requirements for unions to ballot their members before calling strikes or when electing their leaders. Since then, there have been major changes in industrial relations law and practice.

Secret ballots of union members on the major issues affecting their interests are now generally accepted and in the most important respects are required by law. The scheme now operates largely as a public subsidy for ballots which unions are required to carry out to meet their obligations under the law. The Government therefore believe that the time has come to bring the scheme to an end.

The trade union education and training grant was first paid in 1976 and has subsequently been renewed on an annual basis. It was intended to provide training for union officials to ensure that they were well qualified to carry out their collective bargaining duties, with a view to improving industrial relations and reducing strikes. Industrial relations have improved greatly, and strikes are now at their lowest level since records began. At the same time, fewer than 50 per cent. of employees now have their pay determined, directly or indirectly, by negotiations between employers and trade unions. More and more employees negotiate their pay directly with their employer on an individual basis, taking account of performance and skills. In these circumstances, the Government believe that there is now no justification for continuing to support this training from public funds.

However, I have decided against immediate abolition of these schemes. Funding for both schemes will therefore be phased out over three years to allow trade unions time to find alternative sources of finance for these activities.

In 1993–94, the Government will meet the cost of 75 per cent. of each qualifying claim under the ballot funding scheme, and the trade union education and training grant will be set at 75 per cent. of the 1992–93 per capita figure. In 1994–95 these levels of support will be reduced to 50 per cent. and in 1995–96 they will be reduced to 25 per cent. Both schemes will cease to operate from 1 April 1996.

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