As if by the most fortunate of coincidences – the story having fallen off the radar of the usual anti-union suspects – the Maily Telegraph has joined in the attack on trade union facility time with an article that has clearly been cobbled together without reference to genuine sources or facts. It has, though, caused Astroturf lobby group Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC) much excitement.
The piece, under the by-line of Robert Watts, Deputy Political Editor, proclaims “Taxpayers pay £5 million for union ‘placemen’”. The sub-heading then explains that these are “full-time trade union officials placed inside the civil service”. Readers are then shown photos from the 30th November strike action, with the clear intention that they should subscribe to the idea that facility time pays for strikes.
No source is quoted for any of the material in the article, which tells of Young Dave’s concerns, a supposed Cabinet Office consultation on facility time in the new year, talks about last month’s strike again so as to connect the issues even though there is no link, and then goes on to issue thinly veiled threats. This begins with the automatic deduction of union subs from civil servants’ pay.
Leaving aside the crass use of the term “pay packet” when discussing salaried staff, the assertion “The arrangement comes at a cost to the taxpayer” is risible. What cost? It’s standard practice across both public and private sectors. The clear threat comes as the piece continues “unions fear that their membership and revenues would fall sharply if the system was stopped”.
The threat is compounded as Watts tells “A well-placed Whitehall source said “The Government is looking seriously at ending these automatic deductions. If the unions continue to be unreasonable over pensions, this is a weapon the Government has in the pocket. It is the nuclear option”. Very good Robert, except those decisions don’t come out of Whitehall, but Westminster.
The clumsy barrage of threats concludes with “Although the system does cost taxpayers money [still nothing to back that up], a source within the Coalition said the system has its uses. ‘It allows us to identify who are trade union members and exactly where they work,’ the source said”. As if that information is not known already. They know who you are. Behave yourselves or else.
And all they have so far is a possible “consultation”. Know the difference.