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Unions empowered to ban extremists

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From the beginning of the new year, trade unions are now permitted to exclude “political extremists” from membership. The new rules, part of the Employment Relations Act 2004, “widen the ability of trade unions to exclude and expel individuals for political activities which are contrary to their rules or objectives.”

Previously, unions attempting to exclude extremists (including members of political organisations advocating violence, or with racist agendas), were vulnerable to legal action.

Employment Relations Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said in a statement, “Unions have been unfairly penalised by the law when acting against political agitators who join their ranks and then proceed to undermine their policies. In particular, there have been notable cases where unions have been required to pay large amounts of compensation to political extremists who peddle racist and xenophobic views, which are repugnant to the vast majority of trade union members.”

One such incident involved the union ASLEF, which tried unsuccessfully to withhold membership from a member of the British National Party (BNP).

The new provisions “ensure that unions are free to exclude individuals where the union’s decision was “wholly or mainly” attributable to the political activities of the individuals concerned, and political party membership was a minor contributory factor.”

The government says that the legislation “also gives greater discretion to the employment tribunals setting compensation in cases where an exclusion or expulsion is unlawful. Up until now, trade unions have had to pay such individuals nearly £6000 as a minimum amount of compensation. That minimum payout has now been removed in cases where the union’s decision to exclude or expel was driven in part by the political activities of the individual.”

A spokeswoman for the TGWU, one of the key proponents for the change in legislation, said that it reverses labour laws “introduced during the Thatcher years.” She added that she anticipated unions invoking their new powers to withhold or withdraw membership extremely infrequently, and that all unions were committed to ensuring they represented a “broad church” of opinions.

The Institute of Directors has welcomed the move, a spokesman telling sister site AccountingWEB,”Any attempt to hinder extremist activities in the workplace and promote harmony is a good thing.”



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Annie Hayes

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