The government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, published recently alongside a “discussion paper” proposes to introduce additional statutory obligations on unions to provide an annual membership audit certificate to the Certification Officer (CO) alongside their annual return. It also gives powers to the CO to require production of relevant documents and to appoint inspectors to investigate.

The Bill will amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 by requiring unions to keep fully audited and up-to-date lists of their members. This is despite the fact that section 24(1) already requires unions to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses that is, so far as reasonably practicable, accurate and up-to-date.

The government argues that although union members can currently check the accuracy of their own personal entry on their trade union’s database, they cannot establish the state of the register as a whole. Likewise the CO can only make enquiries about an individual member’s record.

But its motivation is the power of unions to undertake industrial action ballots. The government argues that “those unions that intend to take industrial action must be able to ballot accurately those members who may be affected”. Although it accepts that this general principle is already enshrined in statute, it says it now needs “to ensure that the requirements on unions to fulfil this responsibility are adequate”.

The CO will be able to issue declarations and enforcement orders for non-compliance with duties relating to the register, and may also make orders to require a trade union to cooperate with an inspector’s investigation.

For trade unions with more than 10,000 members, the membership audit certificate will need to be completed by an assurer (who is to be a qualified independent person). Smaller trade unions will be able to self-certify. However, the CO powers will apply to all unions, regardless of size. The new requirements will not apply to newly created trade unions less than one year old.

The changes will extend to England, Scotland and Wales, but not to Northern Ireland. The Bill is expected to have its second reading on 3 September.

Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors said: “Like some other of its employment law reforms, the government might want to beware of what it wishes for. These proposals may have the unintended consequence of helping trade unions prepare for industrial action more quickly and easily than at present.”

To respond to the discussion paper visit the Government website for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

To read the Equality Impact Assessment visit the Government website for the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills