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Government confirms plans to modernise trade union regulator

The regulator for trade unions and employers’ associations is to be modernised to uphold high standards across the sector and provide reassurance to union members, the government has confirmed.

The reforms, which have previously been approved by Parliament, will bring the functions of the Certification Officer into line with other regulators, like the Pensions Regulator, Financial Reporting Council and Electoral Commission.

Under the plans, which aim to reassure union members by ensuring unions uphold high standards, the Certification Officer will be able to respond when a third party raises concerns that a union or employers’ association may have breached its statutory duties. The Certification Officer will also be able to begin an investigation where they suspect a breach themselves.

Breaches of statutory duties include allowing someone with a criminal record to hold a senior position, mismanaging political funds, failing to hold elections where required, refusing to allow access to accounting records when requested, and refusing to comply during investigations by the regulator into potential wrongdoing.

Business Minister Paul Scully said: “Trade unions can play a key role in helping workers understand their rights, which is why it is so important that the regulator is able to ensure they are complying with the law. Ensuring unions fulfil their statutory duties is to everyone’s benefit, including union members.

“These measures put the Certification Officer on a par with other regulators, and will ensure organisations are fully transparent and maintain high standards, while providing reassurance to union members.”

Like other regulators, such as the Electoral Commission, the Officer will have the ability to apply financial penalties to employers’ associations or trade unions of up to £20,000 where the most serious breaches are found to have occurred.

The Officer will be funded by a levy on the organisations it oversees, in line with other regulators such as the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Reporting Council. To ensure the levy, which is set to come into force in April 2022, is affordable, the government plans for it to be capped at 2.5% of a union or employers’ association’s annual income, while organisations with the lowest income will be exempt entirely, and the government is engaging

with relevant organisations to finalise the detail prior to implementation.

The changes do not affect the rights and functions of trade unions and will in no way impede the ability of organisations to campaign around public policy.

Details of the changes are set out in the response documents to two government consultations on how the changes should be implemented:

  • Trade Union Act 2016: Consultation on the Certification Officer’s Levy

  • Trade Union Act 2016: Consultation on the Certification Officer’s Enforcement Powers.

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy June 2021


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