A Trade Union is a membership-based organisation of workers with legally defined rules relating to political resolution and political fund. One of its main objectives must include the regulation of relations between workers and employers or employers’ associations. An employers’ association is a body of employers, generally from the same sector of the economy, whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers in that sector and workers or trade unions. Trade unions have duties and obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TURLCA 1992) and case law.
A resolution to adopt political objects must be passed by postal ballot, in accordance with rules that have been approved by the Certification Officer. An independent scrutineer must be appointed to oversee the ballot. If political objects are adopted, the union must also adopt political fund rules which will govern the expenditure of funds on those objects. These political fund rules must also be approved by the Certification Officer.The law does not require a ballot on how the political fund is to be used, only on the use of union funds for political, as opposed to industrial, purposes.
Under sections 75 to 78 TULRCA 1992, there are detailed statutory requirements about a ballot on a political resolution, which a union must adhere to. Further rules are provided under the Trade Union Ballots and Elections (Independent Scrutineer Qualifications Order) 1993
A political resolution can be rescinded in the same way as the union’s rules and expires after ten years – section 73 TULRCA 1992
Under section 84 TULRCA 1992, where a union adopts a political resolution, all members of the union must be notified:
- That they have a right to be exempt from contributing to the union’s political fund
- Signposted to where they can obtain a form of exemption notice to exercise that right
Trade unions that want to contribute to political parties or engage in other political activities must establish a political fund. Under legislation introduced in 1984, unions must ballot their members every ten years on the continuance of these funds. Individual union members in Great Britain can contract-out of paying the political levy. Those who remain contracted-in cannot decide on the use of their individual contribution. The use of political funds (including whether to contribute to a political party) is a matter of union policy, subject to approval at the union’s annual conference.
The legislation on trade union political funds is contained in sections 71-96 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA).
If a trade union wants to spend money on one of the specified political objects the following conditions must be met;
- A political resolution must be passed, by a majority of those voting, on a ballot of the union’s members.
- The ballot must be held in accordance with rules of the union, approved by the Certification Officer.
- The relevant rules must be approved by the Certification Officer each time there is to be a ballot on a political resolution
Opting in by Union Members to Contribute to Political Funds
Where a union sets up a new political fund after commencement of the Trade Union Act 2016 all members of that union must give their express consent to opt in, in order to make contributions to the political fund [s84 TULRCA 1992].
After opting in, a member may give notice at any time, to cancel their contribution. That notice must take effect at the end of the period of one month of it being given. Notices to contribute or to cease contributing to the political fund may be given in person, by agent or by post. They can also be given by e-mail or by using an electronic form provided by the union. The e-mail and the electronic form are to be sent to an address that the union has told members that they can use.
Unions must send information to all new members about their right to withdraw their opt in decision. This information must be sent every year, not later than eight weeks after the annual return is sent to the Certification Officer [s84A TULRCA 1992] . Unions can send individual copies of the information to members or they can choose to publish it by whatever means the union uses to communicate with its members. The union may also provide the information as part of the section 32A statement which is provided every year, eight weeks after the annual report is sent. The Certification Officer will monitor compliance with this requirement.
The union must either collect a separate amount for the political fund from members, or provide a rebate for those members who are not contributing [s85 TULRCA 1992].
Any form (including an electronic form) that a member has to complete to join the union must contain information that they can opt to contribute to a political fund and that if they decide not to contribute, they will not suffer any disadvantage [s82 TULRCA 1992].
If you joined a trade union before commencement of section 11, you will continue to be subject to the automatic opt in provisions of the 1992 Act.
Annual Returns Must Include Details of Political Expenditure
Unions must provide information about their political expenditure in their annual return which is sent to the Certification Officer. This information must be provided where a union spends more than £2,000 per annum from its political fund [s32ZB TULRCA 1992].
A union is required to provide particular information in relation to each category of spending as set out in section 72(1) (a) to (f) TULRCA 1992. In addition, unions are required to provide information for expenditure from the political fund, not falling within section 72(1). The information should provide the total amount paid to each party, organisation or candidate within each category.
The required information for each category is different depending on the category. So for section 72(1) (a), (b) or (c), which covers the provision of funds or the provision of a service or property to a political party or the holding of a conference or a meeting which is connected to a political party, the information to be given is the name of each political party to which money is paid and the total amount for the year. Therefore if, in one year, a union pays for its members to attend a Labour Party conference and then also pays for members to attend a different Labour Party meeting, then the union should provide the total expenditure on all conferences and meetings and say that the monies were paid to the Labour Party. If, in the same year, a union also pays for members to attend conferences or meeting for another political party, then the union must provide the name of that political party and the total annual spend on conferences and meetings for that party.
Expenditure under section 72(1) (c) TULRCA 1992 relates to spending on elections to a political office and in particular on the registration of electors, the candidature of a person or the holding of any ballot. The information unions should provide here is the information about the election concerned (for example, the local council elections in May 2016) and the name of each political party or organisation to which monies are paid. So, for example, for the registration of voters, payment may be made to an organisation which campaigns to increase electoral registration. In those circumstances the unions must provide the name of the organisation and the total amount per annum paid to that organisation. If money is given directly to a candidates’ office, then the name of the candidate should be provided (see new section 32ZB (4) (iii)).
Where under section 72(1)(c) TULRCA 1992 money is spent in general on candidates of a particular party, for example in a General Election, there will be no need to provide the names of all the candidates, but rather just the name of the political party or organisation, and again the total amount spent on each political party or organisation. That information may have already been provided under subsection 32ZB (4) (i) or (ii), in which case, it need not be provided again. The union must provide the total amount of any other expenditure under this category not already covered.
The category of spending in section 72(1) (d) relates to spending on the maintenance of a political office. For this category, unions should provide details of the names of the holders of the office and the total amount spent on each per annum.
For spending under section 72(1)(f) – the production and distribution of materials etc. which seek to persuade people to vote or not to vote for a political party or candidate, unions must provide the details of the organisation which may have received monies for these purposes and the total amount paid to each one (section 32ZB(6)(a)). Where money is not paid to an organisation, but monies are spend to persuade people to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate or party, then unions should give the details of each party or candidate being supported or not being supported as the case may be, and again, the total spend on each per annum. If that information has already been provided under section 32ZB (6) (a) then it does not need to be provided again.
Finally unions should also provide details of any other expenditure from the political fund which falls outside the categories in section 72(1). The union must provide information about the nature of each cause or campaign which is being funded and the total amount paid to each one per annum. The union must also provide details of any organisation to which monies were paid (if not already covered by details of the cause or campaign), and the total amount paid to each one. The total of any other expenditure not already covered must be provided. Therefore, if a union provides money to a charitable organisation, that donation would be covered under this category.
The amount of £2,000 can be increased to a higher threshold by regulations to be made by the Secretary of State and these will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. However, having raised the threshold above £2,000, if the decision is taken to lower it again to a figure not less than £2,000, (making the threshold more onerous for trade unions) then the Secretary of State must make regulations which will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
Where the Certification Officer has directed that the annual reporting period is changed in accordance with section 32(4)(a) of the 1992 Act, then references to “calendar year” in this clause are changed to refer to that amended period. For example, if that reporting period is for 9 months, the amount is three-quarters of £2000 (i.e. £1500).
These requirements also apply to employers’ associations, but not federated employers’ associations (who are not required to submit annual returns under the the Act).
Complaining About the Political Fund
A member of a trade union can complain about political expenditure to the Certification Officer (or a court) for a declaration that the union has applied its funds in furtherance of political objects in a way that is not permitted by law. The Certification Officer can also order the union to take remedial action – section 72A TULRCA 1992
A member of a trade union can complain to the Certification Officer (or a court) that the union has failed to comply with its political ballot rules. An enforcement order can be made in addition to a declaration – section 80 TULRCA 1992
A member of a trade union can complain to the Certification Officer that the union has failed to comply with its political fund rules. The Certification Officer can make any remedial order that he thinks just – section 82 TULRCA 1992
A member of a trade union can complain to the employment tribunal if an employer pays a contribution to the political fund after informing the employer about the exemption from, or objection to contributing to the union’s political fund. The employment tribunal can make a declaration, and order payment of any sum wrongly deducted. It can also order the employer to take specified steps to prevent a repeat – section 87 TULRCA 1992
Last Updated: [11/09/2021]