The privacy of seven million trade union members remains under threat as key amendments to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (TU Admin Bill) tabled by a Labour peer were rejected on Monday (13 January).

Part 3 of the Bill gives far-reaching new powers to the government. It will create a new role of ‘assurer’ who will be armed with the power to access union membership records at all ‘reasonable’ times, and it will enable the government’s Certification Officer to require unions to produce documents, including membership records and private correspondence.

A master class in hypocrisy

The amendments put forward by Labour peer Lord Monks sought to place a duty of confidentiality to trade unions on the assurer and for them to commit to working within the Data Protection Act 1998 to protect the sensitive personal data of union members.

The proposed safeguards to privacy were rejected by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in what Thompsons Solicitors, the UK’s largest trade union solicitors, is calling a master class in hypocrisy.

“These were sensible and reasoned amendments seeking only compliance with the law. Whilst the government rushed to rely on Data Protection rules to shield their friends in the banking industry from having to share details of their hefty bonuses, they have refused to ensure the assurer complies when it comes to millions of union members. What hypocrisy!” said Richard Arthur, National Coordinator for Trade Union Law at Thompsons Solicitors.

“A simple clause would have respected the law. Without it, the TU Admin Bill will, if passed into law, be in clear breach of the Data Protection Directive around the processing of sensitive data. It is an obvious and unwarranted attack on the privacy of union members, a group already vulnerable – as we’ve seen recently in the construction industry – to blacklisting and victimisation.”

Further amendments to the Bill were discussed in the House of Lords yesterday (15 January).