Government has announced that it is to implement measures contained in the Trade Union Act 2016 concerning the role of the Certification Officer. The measures are the increased investigatory powers of the Certification Officer, the power to impose a levy and the power to impose financial penalties. Consultations on the levy and financial penalties concluded as long ago as 2017.

In their responses to the consultations, unions pointed out that the reforms, in particular the proposal to extend the Certification Officer’s investigatory powers, did not comply with international obligations as it would allow the regulator to operate as complainant, investigator, prosecutor, and judge in contravention of international obligations, such as Article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

With regard to the levy, the government also ignored the responses it received from unions arguing that not only was it appropriate for the state to fund the Certification Officer, but also that passing the cost on to trade unions would deny them funds that could otherwise be spent representing members and tackling unfair employment practices.

Under the measures to be implemented, the Certification Officer’s powers of investigation will no longer be confined to matters of administration, but will penetrate into matters of internal union democracy with powers to appoint investigators and to require the production of documents.

Regulations will set a three–tiered levy on trade unions, with non-exempt unions being subject to a levy which will be capped at 2.5 per cent of declared income. Further regulations will provide the power to order a three-tiered set of financial penalties, ranging from £200 to £20,000, dependent on the type of breach and reduced by 50 per cent for unions with membership of less than 100,000.

In another fanfare of supposed support for workers’ rights, the government has just announced that it is setting up a new watchdog bringing together three separate bodies. The new agency will have responsibility for tackling modern slavery, enforcing the minimum wage and protecting agency workers to ensure that businesses “that break the rules have nowhere to hide”.

The new body will continue the naming and shaming scheme, which calls out companies who fail to pay workers what they are owed and can impose fines of up to £20,000 per worker. The government proposes to achieve this goal by providing guidance on best practice, building links with community and worker groups to spread awareness and support engagement with at-risk groups, including the low-paid and those in sectors like construction and agriculture.

Richard Arthur of Thompsons Solicitors said: “On Sunday, government signed up to the G7 leaders’ Cornwall Communique which called for respect for core ILO and other international labour standards. Yet, just the Tuesday before, it indicated that it intended to implement its controversial Certification Officer reforms – reforms which fail to meet the required level of scrutiny against international labour standards. It’s textbook hypocrisy.”

You can read the government’s response to the consultation on extending the regulator’s enforcement powers in full here.

You can read the government’s response to the consultation on imposing a levy here.