TRADE UNION POLITICAL FUND COMPLAINTS

Publication Date01 Jul 1982
AuthorK. D. Ewing
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8543.1982.tb00099.x
TRADE UNION POLITICAL FUND COMPLAINTS
K.D.
EWING*
IF
a trade union wishes to spend money on the political objects which are regulated by
the Trade Union Act 1913, it must first satisfy the requirements imposed by that Act.’
Briefly, this means that a majority of the members
of
the union must approve the
adoption
of
the regulated political objects in a ballot held for that purpose. The union
must then adopt rules to establish a separate political fund from which expenditure on
the regulated objects must be met. The political fund rules should provide that
members of the union may claim exemption from contributing to the fund and that
such members should not be discriminated against because of their exemption.2
Any member
of
a union who is aggrieved by a breach
of
his union’s political fund
rules may complain to the Certification Officer (C.O.) who, ‘after giving the
complainant and any representative of the union an opportunity of being heard, may,
if he considers that such a breach has been committed, make such order for remedying
the breach as he considers just under the circumstances’.3 This function was originally
performed by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies (R.F.S.) but was transferred
under the terms of the Industrial Relations Act 1971
to
the Chief Registrar of Trade
Unions and Employers’ Associations (R.T.U.).4 On the repeal of the Industrial
Relations Act in 1974, the R.F.S. resumed his duties for a brief spell until 1976 when
jurisdiction was transferred to the Certification Officer, a post which had been created
by the Employment Protection Act 1975.’
The purpose of this article is to consider the origins and aims of this jurisdiction and
to examine whether these aims have been sustained by current practice. The article
also sets out to review the practice and procedure of a tribunal which has attracted
rather less attention that its potentially important work deserves.
I.
THE
ORIGINS
AND
AIMS
OF THE
JURISDICTION
As originally drafted, the Trade Union Bill contained provisions to protect the
individual trade unionist who objected
to
paying the political levy of his union. Thus,
unions were required to establish a separate fund; to allow for the exemption
of
objectors; and
to
ensure that exempt members were not exposed to any discrimination
or
disability. However, the Bill neglected to make any provision for the enforcement
of
these rights.
The intention of the government was that individuals should pursue their rights
through normal judicial channels. But the Conservative Opposition was quick to
realise that access to the courts was complicated by
s.
4 of the Trade Union Act 1871
which prohibited, inter alia, ‘any Court’ from entertaining ‘any legal proceeding
instituted with the object of directly enforcing
...
any agreement for the application of
the funds of a trade union
...
to provide benefits to members’. Notwithstanding this
provision, the Attorney General, Sir Rufus Isaacs, sought to assure the House of
Commons that a judicial remedy would still be available to trade unionists
who
sought
relief under the 1913 Act:
...
as the law stands, a trade union cannot be sued
for
the payment
of
benefits to its members,
and equally
a
trade union cannot sue
a
member
for
refusing to pay his contributions to the
*
Lecturer
in
Law, University
of
Edinburgh
218

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