Plans to modernise the trade unions regulator

  • Government confirms plans to modernise the trade unions regulator to boost transparency and provide reassurance to workers that high standards will be maintained
  • new enforcement powers and levy mechanism will bring the Certification Officer into line with other regulators
  • changes to the regulator, previously approved by Parliament, do not affect unions’ rights to campaign on public policy or individual workers’ rights to join a union and take part in union activities

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

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

The plans are 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.

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 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, or impede the ability of organisations to campaign around public policy.

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

PAYadvice.UK 9/6/2021

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