Start Your Own Union
One person can buy legal insurance from the
sources below before leaving a bad job.
Even during a sacking, one person seems to be able to join the
700-strong UDW union for
pay-as-you-go representation, or join longer-term at a cheaper
rate: details on youremploymentrights.co.uk
By the way this page repeats itself a bit and is a bit of a jumble
- please just scroll down if it repeats itself.
If you are in the USA, there's another page in a different style
from ueunion.org - on the
"organise" page there's a link to a section on "steps".
Legal insurance seems less of an issue in the US and the laws
are different of course.
Legal insurance is not to be much more help than the Government's
free ACAS helpline until you have been unfairly dismissed (which
is why it's cheap, other than being a bit of a scam in some cases
but less so than union membership) but it's better than nothing
and can be combined with membership of unions. The scam is that
lawyers are nowadays allowed to add their own costs to the claim
on a scale set by the law society, making every lawyer a no-win
no-fee lawyer. It's possible to take insurance premiums from
someone who ticked a box on their home insurance policy for years
and never pay insurance premium tax, because all the money goes
to the broker for the introduction. Part two of the scam is that
lawyers have to pretend to clients that they are being paid by
DAS or whoever, and then forget to bill, or bill and pay "referral
fees" that are bigger. "It's the only source
of income that we have", claims the director of DAS.
Sometimes this scam can be covered-up by using highly efficient
specialist lawyers in a kind of production line, for example
for road traffic accident cases, but the system doesn't work
for employment law where motives are concealed, events are drawn-out,
and their meanings shaded by context known only to two emotionally
Employment law is more like divorce law and criminal law,
except that in criminal law the state pays for a police force
and a crown prosecution service while in employment law the claimant
had hoped their insurer or union would fill that gap.
Union's with their vaguely mutual-looking status, their history
of collective and individual help to members, and their whole
purpose of existing should be better than insurers but they are
also exempt from registering with the financial services authority,
prone to bribing political parties and to manipulating out-dated
electoral systems to get a clique into a power, leading to great
innefficiency and a legitimacy crisis, kept quiet with the use
of power. Much like the councils, health trusts and PLCs that
many of their members work for. The only difference is that union
grandees would call the legitimacy crisis "apathy"
and something to do with "Thatcher's children"
in their own industry while at other employers they would say
nothing but think that things have to get worse before they get
better, increasing centralisation and government control is the
the fate of our generation, and if we mess things up spectacularly
badly then maybe our grandchildren will enjoy a withering-away
of the centralised state to a more generous spontanious world
of small worker-co-operatives.
Unions are even worse than insurers. An insurer can try to make
a legal firm cross-subsidise employment cases from more lucrative
personal injury earnings. A union might vaguely try to do that
but it doesn't even have to have a contract to provide any kind
of service at all and many of its decision-makers may interfere
with no clear knowledge of the process that is going-on. Unite's
T&G section have simple deleted their contract to members.
My MP voted-through a bill allowing the process to continue without
even understanding it. Union committees of activists can simply
say "a union is not about legal insurance but solidarity",
and go-on subsidising the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Marx
Memorial Library, and Ruskin House (a Croyden building which
is landlord to the Communist Party of Britain) out of their local
share of the union dues.
Given the track record of TUC unions,
any member should also have legal insurance and any shop steward
should encourage all colleagues to insure. As an ordinary employee,
it might help just to mention to your boss by accident that you
have legal insurance. This could save her taking risks later.
"Insurance - very interesting..." you could
begin. Well I don't know how you could drop it into the conversation.
Maybe you could have a conversation about a holiday, and travel
insurance, and say that you didn't buy travel insurance because
you were going to a country with free hospitals but you think
you probably vagualy might have legal insurance, as though it
were of no imporatance except as part of the art of conversation.
Two people can remind each other to buy legal insurance and
offer to act witness in disciplinary meetings.
Insurance is not the most exciting thing in the world. Potted
basil is more exciting, particularly when on special offer. You
may have another favourite. That's why one of the most important
things trades union members should do is remind each other to
It's also much easier to say you will act informal rep to someone
who has formal professional backup and a helpline to ring. This
saves any commitment to get over-involved with someone who -
- you don't have much in common with, or is asking for help
at a bad time
- deserves the sack for something else and maybe even what
she is getting the sack for
- gets things out of proportion (or seems to at first unless
you work very hard to understand what it's all about)
- requires complex thought, skills & knowledge unpaid while
your day job pressures you to learn a lot of stuff and pretend
- need help and have your home number
- while this is making you a target for workplace vicimisation:
they sacked two sensible union reps who had volunteered to go
to recognition-agreement meetings on behalf of the other staff,
given that Transport and General can't be arsed to pay enough
officials for one to be available. Obviously the management were
not people you would want to buy from in ebay. They often aren't
in councils, state-funded voluntary-sector or NHS trusts. They
may ahve recognised a union becuase it looks good on a grant
application or they inherited the contract for that reason; come
the day they cancel the meeting or victimise the messenger. Oh
and Transport and General never organise a strike if a rep is
vicitmised. They wouldn't know how. They have no way of contacting
their members. Their default position is to try and avoid phone
messages passed by their secrataries; for them to take an initiative
is as likely as Harringay Social Services going out and looking
As someone who's job used to be voluntary sector social work,
I guess union rep work is quite similar in that you don't want
to start what you can't end, and that's why reminding people
to keep insured is vital. Like pensions, legal insurance tends
to get bought as a kind of default option because everyone else
does it, rather than because someone thinks "Today I'll
buy insurance". Nobody thinks they'll get old. Nobody
thinks they'll get another unfair dismissal. Not many people
mention their last one to colleagues. The first piece of formality
in a union should be to say that nobody is welcome to discuss
it or ask for help until they have an insurance document with
them, just as some of the old T&G membership cards used to
say "carry this card with you at all times".
Three people can rotate the job of being rep, as happens in
small US unions, or at least tell the manager they've done so
to reduce victimisation.
Four people can ask one to ring-round insurance brokers and
ask for a discount if some buy together. At this stage they might
even write something down what's done. Small charities used to
have to keep minute books with numbered pages by law. The modern
equivalent is a private
yahoo group or this
one - both of which include bulk email systems and voting
systems. Some of the dispersed office software that Google and
others offer is an alternative. And advantage to a remote office
is that it doesn't have the bad name - Group - which suggests
a substitute for meeting when meeting is needed and distance
when preferred. It also has a decent shared word processor so
that a rep can comment on another members' grievance letter.
Email meetings are worse than real meetings because emotion cannot
be put-in to the comunication. They also allow the employer's
site, hacking-in somehow, to note troublemakers. They are also
better than real meetings because emotion cannot be put-in to
the communication: they are quick and boring and businesslike
right from the start. So for both reasons yahoo groups are not
anything to do with a group and everything to do with the dull
detail of approved minutes, accounts of anything paid for jointly,
proof of legal insurance and such.
Another thing they are good for is to keep in contact with
someone has got the sack or is off sick or on maternity leave
and doesn't want to use the boss's phone and email any more than
you want to give your home number and email. (My first T&G
rep insisted that I used the company email. I saw transcripts
in the other side's bundle. If the employer could afford to monitor
phone calls, Class Telecom the provider assured me that it was
easy to do: "we can do that", they said: "it's
all stored on a server in Manchester"). British Airways
even had a team of people eavesdropping on colleagues phone calls.
But for some reason my rep blundered into this dilemma about
whether to do it all on the company email or on her private email,
as though nobody had ever had the same problem before.
Five people might even start calling themselves a union, pay
£150 to register at the Certification Office, get let-off
insurance premium tax by their broker, and even set-up a union
web site. The Twenty
First Aircrew Union of mainly British Midlands pilots buys
legal insurance in just this way, rather than bother with the
usual pilots unions or trust their employer's benefits package.
In the language of airlines, it calls itself a "no frills
virtual union". Airline pilots are well paid. They need
a lot of insurance. They have odd scraps of time to think and
meet - what else do you say to your colleague in the lobby at
Addis Abbaba? Or think about when unable to sleep in the Holiday
Inn or when trying to stay awake above the clouds? But their
example shows what people in lower paid or more intellectually
demanding jobs can do. Even at this point, there's probably no
pressure to leave an existing union: this can simply be a backup
and a large-enough backup union might provide a decent official
who can be persuaded to use any recognition agreement that the
employer has given.
At about this point there's the question of wether a rep will
agree to help someone who isn't paying to buy insurance jointly,
and it's hard to think of a reason why not. There is the awkward
question of different circumstances glossed-over at work; one
worker at an old peoples' home may live with a millionarre who
has the best legal insurance thrown-in with household contents
insurance; another worker at the old peoples' home may live in
a bedsit and have no household contents to insure even if she
could afford it. Less awkwardly, there is evan an advantage in
having more than one source of advice, and of members getting
to know the best firms to deal with. Firms are pretty strict
about paying for solicitors after the event or for non-subscribers
but maybe not so strict about use of a telephone helpline, so
at a union meeting each person could agree to ring their own
helpline or Acas and report back. At the last union meeting I
went to, someone had found some old photographs of the employer's
offices as a sort of conversation piece for the awkward silence
before business. Contracts an serve the same purpose: "Are
you covered for this?" "No but I'm covered for
that in Addis Abbaba". It's like discussing potted basil.
For those who enjoy paying standing orders to each other or
ways of buying things together in bulk, Paycare
dental insurance might offer a pound off for people who buy as
a group - the link was on the moneysaving expert site. Apparently
there are also traditions of buying exotic vegetables in season:
I'm a bit unclear about it but am told that a lot of people who
don't usually work as grocers like to do it once in a while,
just do show they can and a union meeting might be a chance to
suggest this while waiting for the last few people to turn-up.
Unions meetings are a bit whingey. Someone goes on about a cloud
over their head and your're not allowed to say "it's
your haircut" but to discuss group buying of vegetables
is a pretty earthy sensible thing to do in the dull moments and
pretty much the same as discussing group buying of legal insurance
of group buying of the employer.
Six people could outvote the Communist Party of Britain at
Branch 1/1148 of Unite-T&G and insist on a proper ballot
to control the £20,000 bank account (or do what they do:
keep up appearances and "donate" some of it to your
landlord). Skim-reading the net I see that even Unite-T&G
is running-down the budgets to its "lay structures",
prone to squatting as they are, rather than install the security
of online democracy and threaten their own status as union grandees.
I have not kept-up since 2007, but your union may just be like
In Unite-T&G, 20 or 50 people can ask to be recognised as
a volunteer branch, get their own share of membership contributions
in their own bank account and protest more convincingly to the
local paid staff that panel lawyer is duff, probably un-paid,
and paying a share of takings to the regional office like the
Beresfords/UDM deal. Branch secretaries can also try to get hold
of the names and addresses of all branch members from the people
who run the central database, and send them each a postcard asking
for an email address. The parliamentary branch of the T&G
have managed to get their membership charge reduced to £9.32
a month, and some branches have had a shot at backing members
of the quarterly national executive committee for election. In
law there is no need to be a union insider, but it does help
if you want to get voted-in and there is a kind freemasons party
which controls who gets some of the 8.7% turnout for election
in the 50% contested seats, keeps the committees private and
decides in advance how they will vote. Any brave person who mentions
events in a blog to truckdrivers or breathes words like "Eugine
Finlay" "Swissport" or "Belfast"
is expelled from the party and not voted-in next time. Just recently
an Amicus National Executive Committee member who dared to publish
minutes of the meeting (no longer public) including questions
as to why the organisation funded the labour party, closed its
training colleges, had started using a special labour-movement
legal text book, and continued an unfair dismissal of a staff
member found herself unable to stand again. The Certification
Officer, a former Pattinson Brewer solicitor, believed that some
mishap had prevented her nomination by enough branches of bogus
branches and that was "reasonable" under the
act, which says something for Pattinson Brewer solicitors.
Given the scandle of current unions and the employers they
don't deal with, it's a surprise that more small unions don't
spring-up. Two reasons people don't found unions every day are
- it's rediculous - like building the first railway station
before the second one and
- the day job and the rest of life are demanding and hopefully
But compared to being without any union, or relying on a feckless
one, this strange informal institution could be the least bad
Nine people can join the TUC, the General
Federation of Trades Unions, the Certification Office registry,
and still be real people who do a day job like skilled metal
work. Whether it makes sense or not depends on the people and
the history but the 117 year-old Sheffield
Wool Shear Workers' Union did just this until 2008 while
still doing skilled metal work jobs at Burgon & Ball, proving
Eleven people out of a bargaining unit of 21 - a majority
among twenty or more - can ask the Central
Arbritration Committee to use court-like powers to make an
employer recognise a new union under Schedule 1 of the 1999 Employment
Relations Act and any other specialised
trades union law. Law emerges about whether all 21 people
need to join the union after voting for recognition, what a bargaining
unit is, and so-on. The Central Arbitration Committee has guidance
pdf leaflets and some some existing unions publicise this right
as well. Asking-around to find out if there is a current half-forgotten
union with a recognition agreement that people are wasting money
on may be a first step. Some of the mechanics of running a free
trial-run of a ballot are at the bottom of the hustings.html
page and ACAS may help confirm to an employer how many members
there are without the employer having to know all their names,
according to the union section on direct.gov.uk.
Two former industrial organisers from Unite's T&G section
in Scotland have started their own union just that for Dunfirmline
Council and an assembly factory with their small new United
Independent Union. The Central Arbitration Committee will
only help unions certified as indpenedent, which costs over a
thousand pounds, but somehow UIP managed to get the money together.
Some union work is easier for a large organisation to do.
Small unions could be great at this, where large ones like
Unite-T&G have avoided any clear contract about when they
provide a lawyer and even exclude employment law calls from their
First Direct legal helpline. Their rule
book has a blank for Schedule II where the contract should
be, and an interview with The Lawyer magazine suggests they spend
66p per member per year on employment lawyers, minus the cost
of defending themselves against members who sue for bad service.
No wonder they avoid having a contract.
All that's needed is for everyone in a firm who has got legal
insurance to make this known to each other and use the process
as a reminder to others to get it. Bring the certificates to
meetings. Discuss small economies that offset the cost. Otherwise
it's the sort of thing that everyone wants in theory but nobody
gets around-to in practice.
The people who should be reminding every one else to get legal
insurance are the sacked and the sick, the quite-rightly-sacked
who could have been let-down more gently, the people on gardening
leave pending investigation of the allegations and people on
maternity leave who have just had a surprise letter saying that
their job has gone. And the manager who is bullying because he
has been told to do so before the director sits in judgent of
the inevitable complaint, like Stalin at a funeral. None of these
people are likely to march down the street together with a banner
and remind you to insure.
The only people likely to do
that are the people taking money out of some feckless entryists
society of a union that lingers-on in the public sector out of
sentimentality; people trying to raise national issues to locally-minded
journalists and MPs, but doing it with money that isn't theirs
and without the consultation systems that would make their views
more interesting when offered. If they can't consult colleagues
once a quarter before a recognition-agreement meeting; if they
can't organise a strike after an unfair dismissal or a lawyer
before it, and if they carry on going-through the motions of
being a union when managers simply refuse to meet it under the
recognition agreement and pick-off union reps one-by-one, they
need help from less political people to do their work better.
In an efficient union, it might be OK for such people to form
a politicial society and use the work-based union for consultation,
and they might achieve something that way. To tell an MP or a
journalist "I polled 1,000 people and discovered this statistic
which backs my personal view...", then they might do more
to raise the level of journalism and local politics, just as
they would by promoting staff-owned companies which tend to give
people a stake in society and a reason to read big newspapers.
Under the current system in Unite-T&G, only people who
are committed to evening meetings effect how a fair proportion
of the budget is spent, what complaints have to be answered by
regional staff, and what's made public about union scandles.
The system of three people who like going to evening meetings
controlling all this simply doesn't work.
to act witness
or advocate to colleagues and have a cup of coffee before
and after the meeting.
This is a very practical thing. If Mr Ramsey sacks the chef,
he may be a bit more businesslike if the waiter is sitting-in
as a witness. If not, there are the notes to produce at a tribunal.
And even if the sacking was entirely fair, the person being sacked
has had a chance of a cup of coffee and a conversation about
it which is good for sanity all-round. It takes no degree in
counselling or social work to have a cup of coffee with a sacked
colleague who you have been forced to put-up with, for better
or worse, over the last few months anyway.
A frustration of workplace law is that so much is specific to
the workplace - why it's important not to blow your nose in the
lettuce - which would take ages to explain to a tired citizens
advice bureau volunteer who has never worked in a restaurant
but is obvious to anyone who was on shift there at the time.
Small unions could be good for this because it's hard for
the sacked and the still-employed to get in touch with each other
after the event. It's hard to ask for help. There isn't often
a physical way of communicating unless the sacked person has
colleagues' home email address, and if you're still employed
it's not good for your career to say "I'm a friend of
the chef you fired, Mr Ramsey"; better to say "the
staff have an arrangement to appoint reps: we swap emails strictly
for that reason only", which is risky enough, but probably
better than using the "union" word which sounds
daft for five people. The consolation to reps in good times is
that if you get sacked for being a rep then it wasn't worth working
there anyway and it it ever came to a head in a tribunal, this
would be a point in your favour. Another consolation of a formal
union system is that you can limit commitment to a colleague
who's case is too bad, too difficult, or too not-at-the-right-time-and-didn't-like-her-anyway.
Just as most people who have got embedded into a job would want
to volunteer to have a cup of coffee with a colleague who has
just got the sack and witness a disciplinary meeting, most people
wouldn't want to volunteer for a second cup of coffee, or any
other open-ended commitment like being a rep in a union that
doesn't provide legal help.
This would be some sort of agreement to meet a rep or the
union's human resources freelancer quarterly. You could pass
comments and suggestions to bosses and by-pass the management
line. This is as important for positive and negative feedback:
- "we could get hankies"
- "Mr Ramsey bullies. He increases staff turnover which
is expensive and if a case comes to a tribunal they might award
damages against you, costing you even more money. When he shouted
at someone for blowing their nose in the lettice that was an
example of the problem"
Either point is hard to pass via the usual channels. This
isn't something a small amateur union can do well either. A volunteer
rep at the Catering Manager's office is still a waiter in the
manager's eyes who's comments will be reported straight back
to Mr Ramsey after the meeting; a paid official is seen differently
and is more difficult in practice to associate with any one troublemaker.
When Mr Ramsey asks how it went, the catering manager can say
"He did point out a few legal points, Gordon, which
I wasn't up-to-date on. Is there any kleenex in the kitchen?"
Unite-T&G did nothing to provide paid officials for recognition-agreement
meetings at my old employer. Their web site says they have only
400 staff for 750,000 working members and use no-win no-fee lawyers,
leaving over three quarters of members' subscriptions going into
a black hole. Each team of secretary and official would have
several thousand members to cover, so they couldn't possibly
do a good job if they tried. The union's own documents suggest
sweat heart deals: "we
began to increasingly view recruiting the employer as a key tool
in achieving growth and sustaining the future of trade unionism",
and there has probably been stiff competition from other feckless
Mr Catering Manager: I work for Unison.
Rest assured that we are the most incompetent feckless
bunch of unionists on earth.
I don't want to do my fellow unionists down - we are part
of the Trades Union Cartel - but if the T&G want a fight
I'll take them on. They have an easy ride in proving their fecklessness.
I know they pay a lot of volunteer branches to help them look
silly and they no longer "prioritise" legal insurance,
but look at Unison v Jervis
on the employment appeal tribunal web site. We paid good money
to lawyers to argue against our own member and that's
not the only time employers have called us as witnesses. It wasn't
a one-off high-profile case either. Right from the start our
volunteers and officials shafted Mr Jervis and the Employment
Appeals Trubunal (hired by ministoers from a union-funded political
party) agreed with us that this is standard pracice. If you're
employing Mr Ramsey and are not sure whether to get rid of him
or get rid of the staff who he bullies, we make it simple: we
help you get rid of the junior staff every time by pretending
to be a union, taking the junior staff's money and then letting-down
the members who try to sue you or Mr Ramsey.
What better proof could you need that we are the union to recognise?
To be fair the article suggests that this sort of thing usually
happens by an un-stated lowering of expectations about what a
big union can achieve, rather than a kind of dutch auction to
the employer, but if a big union isn't getting recognised and
then passing comments and suggestions to management, maybe a
small one can.
After all the above about big unions being bad at recognition
agreements, it has to be said that small ones are bad too: if
they hire someone from Croner Human Resources for a day to be
their paid official, it will be an unfamiliar role; if volunteer
reps go as volunteers, they will be seen as volunteers and prone
to victimisation later. If they scour Google and neighbouring
small unions for officials who will do half a day's work, the
market will be unclear and momentum may be lost after an enthusiastic
first meeting delagates someone to do the work. Some human resources
workers tout for trade by the day as "mediators"
and these could be the ones who are willing to work for the employee's
is sponsored by one such.
An unusual small union is the United
and Independent Union, which won a case in an obscure tribunal
called the Central Arbitration
Committee to be recognised whether the management liked it
or not at a first-aid-kit supplier in Scotland and have won voluntary
recognition at Dunfermline Council. It is unusual for small quangos
with legal powers to exist in this area of life. The one which
could fund member's cases against dodgy unions was quickly abolished
when a union-funded party got into power. But this quango survives.
The union is unsuual too. They are unusual for a small union
because they are run by two ex-industrial organisers for the
T&G, so they know how these obscure tribunals and negotiations
work but for the rest recognition is even harder. Another small
union that hasn't won recognition is the Society
of Union Employees, 292 members of Unison's staff who have
decided they can do a better job themselves than the recogonised
If your employer is so bad as to victimise reps, then you
need a reminder to change jobs. Help your employer to help you
change by being a rep, and, if they force you to change jobs
and there isn't a recession, they will have done you a favour.
The same goes for protest which should be a part of a fair
labour market at any employer when a consensus cannot be reached.
Most employees have one or two employers. Most employers have
two or many more employees and often human resources workers
to help them make the regular sackings look legal, so it is easier
to hire-and-fire than to apply-and-reply. Bad employers like
the Richmond Fellowship, Stonham, and English Churches Housing
Association may be spending a fortune on advertising for jobs
which they know people will leave when, with union help, they
might have made the jobs more do-able. I did voluntary sector
social work but you'll know the equivelant employers in your
Small employers probably do worst of all out of all this but
generally it is the employees who do worst out of the labour
market compared to the employers, and this situation which leads
to a lack of consensus in some labour markets about the nitty
gritty of working life. In the Roman Empire, slaves and masters
used to swap roles once a year but in 21st century employment,
once a year would seem a bit much and maybe one April Fools Day
in three is often enough for the walk-out, the one-day-strike,
the standing-with-placards, the work-to rule or whatever the
carnival mischievous protesting instinct in us should think of.
Small unions are probably worst at this because they are easy
to victimise, so dual membership is worth having for those who
can afford it. Another way around, chosen by staff of more than
one Leicester higher education college after discovering what
the University and College Union is like, was to join
Industrial Workers of the World. who helped them with a demonstration
quite recently. That is surely the spirit in which the 1922
T&G rule book was written - as a sort of franchise deal
by which active local branches could subscribe to get full-time
staff when needed. Then as now, the central office is prone to
unrelated political statements and not focussed on value for
money but they may be open to haggling.
Another thing that unions can do is gradually set-up in business
themselves. If members are encouraged to make the most of any
employee share ownsership scheme or set-up
more on their own initiative, then members can take the tax
advantages and make it more likely that, come change of ownership
or a planned closure, they can suggest another idea. With public
services often contracted out to charities and quangos, there
is no reason why all the staff except a particular manager should
not bid to run the service next year. Except that there is nobody
to manage the process, and that's where a union might pay a consultant
or appoint a few volunteers to help.
When Peugeot closed Ryton, the T&G complained that it was
a perfectly good factory but the UK was one of the easiest places
in Europe to close factories, and so if a company wants to move
production to lower wage economies in East Europe it will close
UK factories before French ones. This is true. Because of the
sodding T&G. In other parts of Europe there is a tradition
of works councils being interested in their employers. In the
UK there is a tradition of independent unions which could buy
shares in PLC employers if they could be arsed but are more interested
in bribing the Labour Party to protect them from prosecution
from by own members.
Oddly enough the idea of entrepreneurial unions is not new.
It was written-in to the T&G rule book at the time the union
was expanding rapidly as well as emerging from smaller parts.
In the public sector a union could put-in rival bids for the
same government grants, on bahalf of all the same staff with
a cheaper flatter management structure and no overloading of
top jobs and salaries. All this is in the "objects"
paragraph of the old T&G rule book. When the T&G
was founded in 1922, "the extension of cooperative production
and distribution." was so important that it's repeated
in different words several times and if they'd stuck to that
they could have bought majority shares in PLCs where members
work by now. They haven't. Shits. Small unions might have a go
but it's the big momentum of a large union that could inspire
a merger of shoe, steel & textile unions, consulted its members
about what a union should be. Since the consultation, it boasts
on its web site that it has the highest ratio of officials to
working members of any big union. A popular suggestion was that
the union should run a job agency, and now it does, including
re-training programmes and a grapevine to find the remaining
vacant jobs in shoes, steel and textiles without un-due cost
to employers. A union of two or twenty people might take it in
turns to look for likely job adds and post them on the email
while an employer might welcome an extended grapavine by which
temporary staff could be found from contacts without the need
to pay an agency.
Before the welfare state, unions were one kind of friendly society
and hoped to offer grand retirement homes or medical and retirement
benefits. Employee benefit packages - usually sold to employers
for their most important staff - can just as easily be bought
by a handful of people. DAS, the legal insurance provider, also
offers sickness benefits while Thompsons Solicitors have teamed-up
with something less clear but similar.
Buying shares together is an unusual social hobby, but there
are signs online of some people doing it just as some people
form syndicates to bet on the grand national. Just as everyone
in a workplace hates un-necessary interaction they also hate
un-necessary boredom and so rituals like everyone sharing a bet
on the grand national are invented.
Buying employers' shares has obscure
tax advantages which it might be possible to unravel.
investing in Zopa is a thought and takes no organising. Mostly
the loans go to prime borrowers, but, if I understand right,
middle-risk borrowers can put their case on a listings page and
tell colleagues that they're trying to borrow. "I'll put-in
a tenner at 10%", you can say, and given that Zopa do the
money-handling and debt collecting there's always a chance you'll
get it back.
The only thing unions shouldn't do - big or small - is make
donations on behalf of members.
Why should employees buy legal insurance?
To get a free legal helpline, to get claims assessed by a
solicitor on the insurer's panel, and to get reasonable payment
up to a large amount paid to a lawyer for making claims. Some
of the things unions should do but don't.
What is it?
- a legal help line - probably about any legal question.
A worthwhile helpline should have specialist employment lawyers
to answer questions; First Assist does not.
- assessment of a summery of your employment law case. Insurers
are allowed to use their own panel of solicitors for first assessment.
After that you have a right
to change solicitor or most people stay with the insurer's
- payment of solicitor's fees for reading papers, writing letters
and arguing in a tribunal if your case is assessed as having
50% chance of success. Like unions, legal insurers such as the
AA have been shown to pressure legal firms to do the work for
free and to pay the insurance company. If an un-profitable piece
of no-win no-fee work gets referred to them, they either have
to find a way to do it cheaply, wriggle out of doing it, or subsidise
it out of their better-paying personal injury work.. So you are
paying a broker to find you a no-win no-fee lawyer
An artical in the Guardian
quoted Shoesmith's solicitors as paying introduction fees for
AA legal insurance and union
laywers show astonishing shamelessness in drawing attention to
the problem. A less critical artical in the Telegraph
quotes the typical low-return case that lawyers are asked to
do cheaply by both unions and legal insurers:
"Employment is the biggest area for claims anything from
unfair dismissal to grievances, harassment and discrimination
in the workplace, to redundancy."
- Legal insurance sold to employers is often more like the
service of a trades union: cheaper staff who specialise more
in human resources can check and employer's contracts, provide
a standard staff handbook to adapt, or possibly attend meetings.
There may be unions that use a scheme like this instread of hiring
union officials - the Accord union of Halifax Bank of Scotland
staff certainly does and quotes the cost in their accounts at
the Certification Office.
Staff handbooks often have a clause asking lawyers not to attend,
but a "friend or union official" is often allowed
and it is possible to join one union -UDW-
after the event for this purpose
It remains legal for the employer to insist on an official of
their recognised union - a kind of closed shop.
- Legal insurance for individuals or groups of two or three
people is often called "personal legal expenses insurance"
or "family legal insurance" and sold through
high street brokers rather than online. Lawyers have their own
jargon: "before the event" insurance in contrast
to their own trade schemes for managing risk "after the
event". One firm sells before the event legal insurance
online for £10 each year until the event happens.
The government's Community Legal Service leaflet says this
(the link is to a newspaper artical quoting prices)
Where can I buy before-the-event insurance and what will it cover?
If you have car insurance, home contents insurance or a
credit card, you can often buy
legal-expenses insurance as an 'add-on' or it may be included
with the policy or card. If you have to pay for it, it should
cost you between £10 and £50 a year. It will usually
cover you for:
- personal injury (if you or a family member are injured
or killed due to someone else's negligence);
- employment issues (for example, if you are dismissed
unfairly, or injured at work);
- a consumer problem relating to a contract to buy or hire
goods and services;
- loss or damage to your property that was someone else's
- disagreements with neighbours about things like boundaries
- tenancy disputes if you live in a rented house or flat;
- contract problems with buying or selling a house or with
non-structural building work (redecoration, for example).
If you have a before-the-event policy, you may also be
able to use it for problems that your family members have.
But you should always check first whether the insurance
will cover any problem you want to take legal action over.
Add-on insurance normally won't cover disputes relating
- problems with government organisations (your local council,
[?-this is surely untrue - ed.]
- slander or libel;
- the amount of an insurance claim; or
- a problem about a will or inheritance.
The short list of firms who might insure one person or
a family or a handful of people
These aren't available on the net but you could ring an insurance
broker or walk-in. Either your nearest insurance broker that
looks as though it deals with private people, or one that any
of the insurers below recommend. Bad feedback may apply more
to the larger companies rather than the worst companies. One
or two limit their cover to £1,000. At a guess the others
- the ones that might recommend a broker to sell you a single
policy - are these.
This is the long list including a wider range, mainly found
in the late 2000s
It's a mixed list of firms, mainly for employers who want
to insurure against being sued by employees. Some have some human
resources help included too, like a free staff handbook, to try
to keep things legal from the start. Some recognise the market
for "affiate group" purchasing in their publicity.
Abbey Protection Group,
"minimum probably a thousand members"
Abbey can offer human resources staff as well as legal staff
as part of the same package, underwritten by Brit Insurance.
no quote asked for yet - family legal protection up tp £25,000
only covers employment tribunal disputes and excludes redundancy.
Only available via brokers.
Amicus Legal who
also hire Human Resources Workers under the name Staffrelations.
Recently bought out by DAS but still trading independently 7/07.
Their web site states "Private Legal Cover is only available
as add-on insurance to a household policy through an insurance
intermediary. For professional associations and other affinity
clients, we are able to provide cover on a group basis.".
action group thread]. Their after-the-event section is LawAssist.co.uk.
Amtrust Europe, formerly
IGI.co.uk trade through brokers. Found online. They underwrite
the Motorplus scheme below, according to the small print on the
no quote asked for - Family protection
Arag , Araglegal.co.uk, manages claims for
insurance's "family legal protection" - no quote
asked for yet. Related to Aircrew Protection Ltd who buy services
from Amicus Legal. One broker selling their legal insurance is
Services, no quote asked for yet. No sign of personal legal
protection policies on their site.
no quote asked for - advertised on Google 2/08 - seems to be
£3.99/yr but didn't answer an email asking for minimum
numbers that can be insured together. Closely linked to this
solicitor's firm in Bromley and Manchester.
Composite Legal's personal legal insurance contract only covers
employment contract law up to £1,000. They also work with
the online human resources site Work4ce-online.com
and provide legal insurance to the British Chambers of Commerce.
http://www.composite-online.com/registration.htm is their enquiry
form. British Chambers of Commerce also use
a year each for a thousand members". Refused to quote for
less, but their brokers like BibInsurance.co.uk
will sell a single policy @ £15 so a broker could probably
split the commission and sell for less than £15. The sales
manager had a good line in saying "we can help small
unions with panels of lawyers if they want, but more importantly
we can help unions manage the risk of paying for legal action"
found on a web site about medical negligence but mention before
the event general policies as well
Welfare Protection Group, Lowsoft has this one mention in
is a member of riad-online.net trade association. Individual
and bloc policies.
Assist no quote asked for yet. No sign of personal legal
protection policies on their site, except while travelling.
Humane Resources Ltd
also offer tribunal help, up to appeal. As registered claims
handlers they can represent at tribunals and have done so - up
to appeal - but their speciality is human resources and dealing
with problems such as staff bullying.
no quote asked for.
only the first £1000 of employment law expenses
price not known - cheap
Walters Kluwer) Human resources workers, rather than lawyers.
Used by Accord,
the union of Halifax Bank of Scotland staff. They charge £19,128
to represent 25,159 members; First Assist charge a similar amount
for a legal help line to the same group.
Mhlsupport uses human
resources workers as well as lawyers. The combined package costs
£36 per year per employee for a smaller firm. The price
is almost exactly the same as Staff relations, the human resources
part of Amicus legal. Their adverts are specifically employer-only,
so don't have employee experience.
to trade as ULR Norwich as well.
no-frills employment cover.
Self-insurance: keep all subscriptions invested somewhere
and pay lawyers directly. This is what Transport and General
does, when they want a headline that their no-win no-fee panel
can't deliver. It's probably too risky for a simple union without
paid staff because, firstly, the trustee might just go away with
the money and secondly the legal bills might be bigger than expected.
A Google of the phrase suggests a way of doing this more subtly
on large amounts of risk and money, but nothing for small unions.
QC Legal Expenses Insurance of Earl Shilton, Leicestershire -
found on Google - no detail available
are a national chain of solicitors which often provides services
to unions. In March 2008 they teamed-up with different firm of
the same name to provide legal cover for Thompsonsonlinebenefits
.The same benefit company will organise a group self-invested
personal pension scheme.
a broker, writes "To arrange the cover you require on
an affinity basis there would need to sufficient numbers to make
it viable to Insurers for a low cost policy. You do not indicate
in your enquiry the numbers involved but I would expect to see
a minimum of 1000 for this class of business. However I would
point out that the cover you are seeking is widely available
to individuals under their home contents insurance at a nominal
cost of approx £12 per annum and sometimes the cover is
included free of charge. I therefore suspect that the take up
for this cover would be low."
claims to be a specialist insurance broker. "does not
typically arrange individual policies for either personal or
small commercial clients, although we will consider broking individual
risks where the premiums are likely to be substantial, for example
intellectual property insurance."
trade association is a source of contacts. Albany Assistance - is motoring insurance
only but the others are listed above. promising. Another source
of names of firms and typical costs is The Market for 'BTE' Legal Insurance prepared
on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, July 2007 and Riad-online.net
- an international association of legal expenses insurers including
the UK and
- part of Qdos consulting. Qdos has a range of out-sourced
services and is used by the British Chambers of Commerce
Now. Steal the idea. Buy insurance yourself. Encourage colleagues
to do the same and agree to act rep for each other if needed.
If enough people sign-up to the list above I'll try to get a
Legal insurance isn't much sold as a single product for one person.
It isn't available on the net. Sometimes walk-in insurance brokers
sell it. Sometimes it is a bit of a scam added to a motor insurance
policy, or a more genuine optional extra on household insurance
policy. But householders often aren't the people with stressful,
arbitrary jobs who most need a lawyer, nor are such people likely
to browse through insurance leaflets one afternoon. Traditionally,
trade unions have filled the gap.
People in public service jobs like teachers, nurses, social workers
& civil servants simply can't afford a house, let-alone insurance
and quite rightly aren't interested anyway: if someone steals
a sofa, why not just buy another? If they live in someone else's
house they're not the person who buys the insurance & scans
the small print for optional extras. Their only choice so far
has been to join a trade union or take the risk of an arbitrary
management pulling complicated tricks to end their career. Most
employers now realise that they are at risk of being exploited
by their employees, & hire human resources workers to keep
them legal in everything that they do. Employees are at even
more risk of arbitrary employers, because an employee has only
one or two jobs, which are not easy to change. She doesn't want
to be sacked, even if there is an arbitrary management or a manager
with a personal problem, there is always pressure to play safe,
even for the most efficient employees. It's sensible to do what
the employers do.
The absolute cheapest, simplest, minimum possible organisation
is for people to buy their own legal insurance and join something
like a yahoo group of colleagues in the same workplace who are
willing to act as witness for each other in disciplinary meetings,
or maybe act as a witness in a tribunal about firms worked for
in the past:
"former staff are good witnesses" said the duff
under-funded under-qualified lawyer provided to me by Unite T&G.
If he knew that, it's a pity the union officials and the committee
of activists hadn't dreamt-up some scheme for finding these people
who are meant to be good witnesses.
If the best value quote involves people pooling their money &
making one payment together, there will be a high
interest bank account, a Paypal recurring payment system
or Go Cardless
& publication on the web of as much information as possible
about money coming & going. This annual payment could be
so small as to be about what you could save by opting out of
the political fund of an old union. Some of the P2P lending sites
might take a loan from a trustee in the trustee's own name
(but not two accounts in the same trustee's name) or something
more elaborate. Worth considering because some of the sites on
P2Pmoney pay more than inflation.
What's the risk?
Very little can go wrong, if people buy their own insurance and
their certificate counts as membership of the union.
There's a danger that the insurance company is no good. Close
reading of the small print, careful use of the right to change
lawyers after the first assessment, and feedback by claimants
to people who haven't claimed should all help as it remains legal
for an insurance company to charge
the solicitor as well as charging the policyholder - the
roundabout" as lawyers call it, with a
third of lawyers visited by the law society being found not to
show the full detail of referral fees to their clients. Arrangements
like writing a contract to bill the introducer alongside a verbal
understanding that the bill won't be sent are not un-known, so
the real figure could be well above the 32% that the law society
If some people pay together - for example if it's cheaper to
buy in bulk, if there's a petty cash fund or some subscription
to buy the time of a human resources worker - then there is a
risk of the money going elsewhere, as in a big union. Unlike
a big union, a little group of colleagues can be transparent
and find ways of publishing the bank statement.
Here's an example of what can go wrong, chosen after ringing
Unite's telephone legal helpline. Firstly I was told that they
didn't cover employment law. Or not contentious employment law
which was the rice-bowl of my official. But if it was not contentious
I could ring a man who said "a contract? It's a contract.
Why shouldn't you have to follow a contract?" Because
of employment law, but as he said "I am not an employment
law specialist" and then found an excuse to end the
call. This helpline is bought (unless they pay a kickback but
according to leaked detailed accounts it's paid for) off First
Assist, who are now owned by a private equity company. See if
you can see anything in their bumf that says they hire specialist
employment lawyers (and ignore the dodgy semicolon and capitals
as we all make mistake like this. And you can skip the bit that
says quality of service is paramount, as though anyone would
think to question it):
FirstAssist's Legal Team comprises lawyers who have a minimum
of a law degree and a further professional qualification. The
lawyers have come from private practice, the bar and in-house
legal departments. The HR professionals within the Department
come from both the public and private sector; having specialised
in a wide range of areas. This wealth of experience gives the
Legal Team the necessary life skills to advise clients on the
telephone, taking into account the wide spectrum of subjects
on which we are asked for help.
The in-house team comprises:
* 33 Lawyers
* 8 Lawyer team leaders
* 5 CIPD qualified HR & Personnel consultants
Quality of advice is paramount and stringent checks are
in place to ensure that advisers provide solution-based advice
rather than just reiterate the law.
Is it registered? Is anything in writing at all? Will anyone
"you don't understand: the purpose of insurance is not
to legal insurance but solidarity" and take the money?
If the first step in starting a union is for all the members
to buy their own legal insurance and try to help each other slightly,
the second step is to cement goodwill in place with some sort
of formal statement.
A minute book with numbered pages was a Victorian or
Edwardian requirement for organisations. If money was involved
a ledger of money in and money out, and possibly a separate bank
account along with volunteer once-a-month job roles like secretary
chair & treasurer. Someone would volunteer to go door-to-door
collecting cash once a month. It's not beyond living memory.
Rent books are still available in stationary shops and can be
used to record cash payments; books with ruled columns are also
available to record money in. By the 1950s people had discovered
carbon paper systems for reducing work in theory and by the 1980s
or 1990s computerised transactions were more common.
Edwarian unionists met once every two years according
t the old T&G rule book when they all attended a mass meeting
and voted by a show of hands, at which they would often hold
their contribution cards to show that they were paid-up members.
You can see some of the details in the Transport
and General 1922 rule book, slightly amended till 2004.
If there are easier ways to keep lines of contact open, finding
out what colleagues want before a recognition-agreement meeting,
pass-on informal advice or collect evidence from ex-colleagues
before a tribunal hearing, they are probably something to do
with the internet or telephone conferencing.
This section on keeping in touch is very much notes-in-progress.
is another attempt, listing social networking sites because,
as their monthly email says, these things "frankly don't
, Drupal, and other collaboration software is meant to do
some of the clerical work of recording minutes. Add-ons exist
at http://civicrm.org, a group
who claim their software is free but act like grant-artists who
have never had to pay for their own time or servers, so presumably
we've paid them fat salaries already as taxpayers. These are
the rules of court (along with wearing a powdered wig and curtseying
to Marie Antoinnette). Don't ask what they mean: I don't know
CiviCRM is a web-based solution that runs on your own web
server, or on a server at your hosting provider. Installs on
local machines should consider using the XAMPP/WAMP stacks which
almost painlessly install Apache/PHP/MySQL.
- Shared [affordable] hosting is not an ideal environment
for CiviCRM and is actively discouraged. We encourage
users to consider Virtual Private Servers (VPS) OR (semi) dedicated
hosting. [because we assume they are grant-artists like ourselves
or, frankly, dirt. If peasants start to use our software with
a cheap domain name and shared hosting package, what next? We
don't want anyone who isn't on a government grant to start competing
in our market, so "actively discouraged" is
the least we can say.]
- Apache 2.0+
- PHP 5.2.1+ Note that CiviCRM does not support PHP 5.3
- MySQL 5.0.x+ with InnoDB support
- Drupal 6.x / Joomla 1.5.x
- Server cronjobs
- 128mb PHP memory limit recommended
- Multi-lingual features of CiviCRM require SUPER privileges
in MySQL 5.0.x (to allow the use of TRIGGERS)
Another free program is planned called membrane - search the
to find out if it's done or dissapeared. This kind of software
works, but it takes time and skill to set-up.
I haven't done it. I use software that sits on a computer
at home and is less good at interacting with a database and having
moving parts that work on its web site. Some specialist softare
exists which can be downloaded and track members. This free one
was mentioned on Volresource.org.uk/swit/mshipsys.htm
amongst a formidably expensive list of others. And of course
if the secretary falls under a train with the laptop, forms a
rival union, goes on holiday or to gaol or gets bored with the
project it's hard for others to get the software back.
Commercially-hosted free software like Yahoo Groups could be
the answer and there are services aimed at people working together
like some of the Google offerings. There are usually free versions
with advertising and obscure providers offering better deals.
Wikipedia lists two catagories of software for keeping in
touch: collaboration software and online word processors.
Members of sites like Facebook have equivalents.
lists some of the free video meeting tools for people who are
comfortable with these things, to save the costs of face to face
All look too formidable for the purpose; to choose whatever
is most familar would skip the problem of whether one is better
than another. Usually the best known is about second or third
best and buys-out competitors who are better. Anyway the ability
to work with someone else editing a letter is useful to have,
according to reviews, and Google Docs formatting isn't good,
but the essential quality is to keep people in touch without
using the work computer. Anything else can be sorted if needed.
Online wordprocessors which are free for one person - usually
for more - are
- http://eyeos.org/en/ added 2009, open source
- http://www.ajaxwrite.com with Firefox
- http://www.zoho.com/ free for a single user only
The most useful details are the dull ones, unchanged from
the times of Victorian treasurers, secretaries and chairs: somewhere
to post minutes of any meetings and dates of the next; somewhere
to post accounts, and a free online polling service for votes.
Somewhere to list who has legal insurance and fax-copies of the
contracts. This kind of service is available from Yahoo Groups,
while Google's hosted software allows collaboration on letters,
so that a member can ask another member for advice before printing
and sending. If the software doesn't allow one voter per email
will send invitations to vote once to any email list. There's
more on voting systems at hustings.html#e-vote
This site is written on software that sits on the owner's
computer, but the more effective sort tends to sit on the server
where it can interact with a database and have more moving parts.
A lesson in what websites look like when written in scraps of
time is provided by http://www.crapunion.co.uk/Reviews.html -
which could have been inspired by employees.org.uk except that
is seems quite specific to one trade and it's short on answers
to the problems of big unions.
UK domain names. This domain name & web site cost £16.98
together, bought from a web hosting company rather than Nominet
itself. Your only connection to Nominet is that the name of the
person or organisation is probably recorded there and people
can look it up on the Nominet web site if they want.
General Federation of Trade
Unions - a trade association like the TUC for smaller unions
which controls a meeting space in central London. Their fee is
under one pound per member per year. They administrate state-subsidised
courses in law & negotiation. But hotcourses.com
has 177 courses on employment law without the GFTU-administered
subsidy, & most of them look quite cheap too. Worth watching
if not worth joining.
The Information Commissioner
can if you like register that you hold information, for a fee.
There may be some legal requirement or hopefully not.
House register a limited partnership for £2, or £15
for a shareholder company, but there's a requirement for hiring
a qualified accountant above a certain level of turnover &
a £15 a year charge just for registering accounts. Given
the cheapness of limited partnership, it might be good for all
customers to be members of a partnership that then agree a trustee
but there's a legal obstical in section II of the Trades Union
and Labour Relations Act, which forbids a registered trades union
also being registered at Companies House.
Certification Office will state that it is aware of a union
for free, register it and show their form of details on their
web site for £150, certify a union as independent for £4,066.
Cheaper, an existing union with a handful of retired members
that wants to close might welcome a newer organisation's members.
The Scottish Carpet Weavers failed to send accounts this year
after last year's said they were thinking of winding-up: they
might donate the certification office name to you for free -
but probably not the reserves or any carpets - if you're nice
to them. When turnover reaches £5,000 a year the law requires
a qualified auditor to sign the accounts, which is another expense
unless you know a free accountant. References for this are on
a sheet headed "notes to auditors" sent to applicants
and a the
153 Industrial Workers of the World sent their slip back
as part of their union's 2006 return so you can read the detail
there. It refers readers to section
25 of the Companies Act 1989 and seems to mean an accountant.
about who can sign as an auditor seems as circular as the
Registration and certification do not mean much: The Stable Lads
Association registered and certified independent after several
complaints even though it was funded entirely by employers. Maybe
there's an Ecclstone Union of Racing Staff as well - I haven't
looked at the ones beginning with E - but the tax break on insurance
premium tax could be worth having along with the web link and
air of respectability.
The Central Arbitration Committee
coult be worth a look after setting-up a small union. It has
obscure and new powers on workplace consultation alongside an
older one to arbitrate on whether an employer holds a ballot
on whether to recognise a union: it has that power if it thinks
that a union is "independent" and has to believe so
if you have a £4,066 certificate of independence from the
Certification Office. If not, they also have fact sheets and
give general advice for the future.
Industrial and Provident Societies at the Register of Friendly
Societies no longer exist. New forms of company can now be
registered cheaply at Companies House, or the old register is
managed by the The Financial
Services Authority at Canary Wharf. You can still register
a society for £40 using an existing template for your set
of rules - it doesn't say on
the page where to find all the existing templates - but the
cost rises towards £950 for anything new. There's also
a £15 charge to see the accounts, which are not online,
taking away half the purpose of a public register, and section
II of the Trades Union and Labour relations act forbids Friendly
Societies from registering as Trades Unions as they used to.
The Community Interest
Companies Register is managed by Companies House and if a
company's object is not profit then it's a replacement to the
Industrial and Provident Society's register. A test of a Community
Interest Company is whether the takings are locked-in to the
company rather than being available for divvying-up.
Charities Commission registers charities and provides evidence
to a local tax office that any money in the union account is
not the treasurer's or the members' in the sense that they should
pay tax on it. Most employees pay tax as PAYE and do not trouble
the tax office with small amounts that they earn in other ways,
so the issue is probably only important if you try to stop paying
income tax at source on a deposit account, your bank will do
it if you fill-in the right form, but there's some uncertainty
about whether you are a charity. Two ways round this problem
are to use accounts which don't take tax at source - Zopa; Kaupthing
Edge in the Channel Islands - or just to let the bank take a
few pence off the interest payments and not to worry about it.
People who provide goods and services for money don't have to
pay VAT below a certain threshold of money turning-over, so VAT
is unlikely to apply.
More relevant to a micro-union is whether to have a separate
account at all. If everyone has their own legal insurance and
there are no other costs then no money changes hands. If a few
people start buying together, they may at first be people who
are willing to take a risk and let the buyer put the money in
her pocket or any half-forgotten account that she has anyway
and could clear-out to use just for this. If it's worth coaxing
more people to pool money, then they are the judges of what gives
them confidence. Go
Cardless allows you to ask each member for money by direct debit,
at a cost of 1%. This is 1% more than not using it, but it
is a labour saving system to remind members to pay in an easy
way that inspires confidence.
Faxing the statements to an email account or scanning them
could be good, and putting them online without
the account details.
- The Abbey National sometimes allows a free account in a business
name, depending on likely turnover. If someone has an account
like that unused, it's probably easier to change the name than
to start a new account.
- Better is a current and a deposit account in the treasurer's
name which is no harder for her to raid but could get higher
interest until she does so. For those used to large organisations,
this ramshackle arrangement can look daft - but no more daft
than Unite branch
1/1148 paying all available money to a standard list of charities
including the communist party's landlord, and without any accounts
on their web site and refusing to pay for a lawyer when the regional
office fails to provide one. That was the prompt for this. They
know this web site exists. Their accounts are still not public.
- Best are high interest deposit accounts that don't deduct
is one for long-term saving. It could also allow loans to members
so it suits the traditional role of unions as friendly societies
even it it's never used for that in practice. Kaupthing Edge
or whatever is the best
offshore deposit account is good for money that can be withdrawn
within days. Current accounts depend on what people happen to
have available to them - most of us have a dormant one.
Certified or Chartered Accountants
check accounts better than book-keepers or online access to the
bank statement for £50 an hour. But not yet: some kind
of online Google spreadsheet or scanned image of recent bank
statement entries would allow all visitors to the site to audit
the accounts for free and share the burden of knowing the detail;
it would help members know whether they could volunteer to be
the next book-keeper and give the first one a break. There are
laws about organisations registered at Companies House, the Certification
Office, & the Charities Commission having to have their accounts
signed. The law seems different for each register, and is stricter
for limited companies if they sell insurance than if they do
anything else; the latest companies act allows most small companies
to have no qualified accountant and still have limited liability
if they remember to send accounts to Companies House each year.
direct debits might be possible through an expensive bureaux
service, and Paypal also offers a recurring payments system between
users, paying-in to a zero-interest paypal account. What the
Industrial Workers of the World do is make out a standing order
to the treasurer with a standard reference. That's free but doesn't
allow the union to increase charges, so it's good for small organisations.
At times when credit card companies are making money, an affinity
group credit card would be ideal for paying small commission
towards membership. MBNA have closed their scheme, leaving Liverpool
Victoria's still going. Perhaps this isn't a good time to ask
This was written for the /hustings.html
(/hustings1.html) file because it's
more to do with large unions and the ease with which they could
sort their elections if they wanted to. In a small union, work
done would usually be for money and a contract, by a human resources
agency, or done by volunteers very loosely co-ordinated if at
all. The idea of people sitting round a table passing a motion
on what other people should do has always been a bit daft and
gets dafter in a small organisation. However there could be times
such as when choosing or loosing a treasurer or gleaning comments
and suggestions to pass to mangement when consultations and votes
are important. If everyone belonged to some kind of web discussion
thing like a Yahoo group, it could quite likely have a voting
system built-in. If not, this is what happens if you start googling
for voting systems...
About Googling for online voting systems if you want to run a
This probably belongs on the "startyourownunion" page
but sits here just to show how cheap it is to run an honest election.
Union Ideas Network has some quite subtle articals about how
branch members can do business from home with something called
This collection isn't all subtle. It suits a branch secretary
or a rep or official who has an election to hold or a recognition-agreement
meeting to go to on behalf of a load of people, but is only in
touch with the three who turn up at branch meetings.
Traditionally in the T&G, branches are self-election committees
of these people who elect on a show of hands and don't necessarilly
have to be anything to do with one employer; they can be more
interested in politics and campaigns and turn a blind-eye to
a cruelly dispicably illegally bad union services as long as
they get a subsidy for the Cuba Solidarity Campaign or whatever
their favourite cause is. They certainly won't make the accounts
known to each member, as the law says they have to.
Recognition agreement meetings are often cancelled by management
without explanation, or held with one out-of-touch rep representing
the work force, who, because they are working, may not have made
time to go the the last branch meeting. The chances of a workplace
bullying problem or bad management being sorted out are nil.
Online ballots are one small part of sorting the problems out
if they include more people than the show-of-hands-in-a-back-room
Free online vote systems come-&-go over time. Some of the
sites that come-up on a Google search are government funded papers
that never get to the point and list dozens of dud links. There
are also free commercial sites, sometimes ugly with adverts or
short-lived. Sites that offer surveys with roughly one vote per
computer tend to come-up on the same google searches as these
rarer voting sites that offer roughly one vote per code from
the vote-holder's list, such as a reference on the electoral
roll, a membership number, or a code that has been posted or
A web link about socks is run by the same group of companies
Delib.co.uk/products_and_services/opinion-suite - an open source
collection of deliberative software, whatever that is. There
may be free versions but they must think that full time politicians
have got more money than sense because one of the packaged products
- My Election - has a price guide of £5,000.
Fraud gets mentioned
on the web. The main difficulty with a small dull and little-used
election is whether the secretary has simply not told anyone
and not allowed postal votes so that a self-election clique forms
(the position at my branch OK). Then there are problems of postal
votes going via some editing process before counting. What happened
at the Tunnocks biscuit and cake factory that lead to the rift
between United Independent Union and T&G may never be known,
but nobody seemed to question the strange system of postal votes
being used and handled by by interested people before counting.
Further back in the process there is the problem of advertising
this obscure election more to supporters than opponents, or more
to ghost supporters than ghost opponents.
Getting the votor's roll off the people who run the status
quo might be difficult. The law about union elections is for
a list of important positions only, and out of date in that it
insists on pencil-and-paper voting. More obscure elections of
little committee cliques seem to be a free-for-all. When I asked
a Unite T&G branch secretary about elections he wrote "the
regional office would probably not allow it".
In my branch the membership database didn't always work, was
kept in Manchester for the whole union, and didn't have a way
that branch secretaries could log-on: they have to ask the few
paid staff and wait for a reply. To convert postal addresses
all over the UK to a decent email list could take a long time
but presumably most branches have some sort of email list. Mailouts
of over about 50 letters, asking members to log-on to a web site,
to vote, and give their email address to save the union money
might be done by hand or online, with Viapost being about the
same price as sticking stamps on postcards by hand and probably
with easier proof that you've posted most of the things to most
of the right people. If doing it by hand in the worst situation
you'd need a certificate or posting with one address per line,
or someone to witness that you've done the right thing.
employer's franking or stamps: free if in recognition agreement
- employer's franking or stamps: free if in recognition agreement
or stamps: 30p+postcard. Slow.
- Viapost.com 30.5p
per letter inc. paper & envelope. Mailmerge. Program download
25p+VAT+35p card processing fee
- Ezgram.com 50c per US
letter, US based. Possibly 66c per UK letter?
0.55 per German letter, German based
- Pc2paper.co.uk 54p
per second class letter, UK based
- l-mail.com (a small
L) 66p per UK letter, by credit card, +their logo
- doc2post.com no price
given - possibly 50p. Website down 6/10
online calculator for large mailouts by post code
The next stage is trying to get at least as many people to
vote online after a meeting as turn up to meetings. That can't
be hard. The problem of a register of voters is solved if all
members want to join something like CollectiveX or a Yahoo Group
and there may be similar things like Facebook or Meetup that
I know nothing about.
The UK government names upmarket firms authorised to ballot and
scrutenize under the Trades Union and Labour Relations Act, which
covers a few votes for the most senior union jobs and insists
on paper ballots sent to physical addresses rather than email
ballots, so the posh end of the market has no privilages over
the free firms above when it comes to email voting. Some of the
firms are listed on the BERR page about these ballots. One, Polaris,
has partnered with the expensive-looking firm
Everyonecounts.com/index.php/demos to do online elections for
other votes. Another of the named firms,
Electoral Reform Services, also runs expensive-looking e-votes.
How do I join?
There's a form at the end of the main index.html
page for anyone who wants to leave their details. If a few dozen
people sign-up, I'll try to get legal insurance or if you can
get a handful together where you are then you could do it yourself.
I organise another small union. Can we buy services together
if it gets us a better price?
I haven't got any firm members yet, but when so, yes please.
The Associated Train Crew Union say they've found another union
to share membership services with but also suggest that they
haven't got legal insurance sorted yet.
I am a lawyer / human resources worker / union official. Can
I work for you for a salary?
No thank you: there are no plans to employ staff directly. For
union officials, this link looks worth a try:
I am an employee. Can I volunteer as a rep, acting as a witness
in meetings, doing a little gentle negotiation, & feeding
back questions from colleagues to an official for advice each
quarter? I'd like my colleagues to get more organised, meet the
employer quarterly and try to get them to sign a recognition
agreement if possible.
You can do some of these things unofficially as a "friend"
of someone who is going to a disciplinary meeting for example.
There may be some way to log your willingness on this web site.
It's too early to say how to organise this more, but the European
Works Council Directive has been written into UK law while this
site has been up, with 50-100 member workforces needing a Works
Council after April 2008, so something is happening. Not much
is happening here at Employees.org.uk and the tricky part could
be overcoming embarrasment for several colleagues just to buy
legal insurance and call themselves a union.
I am a volunteer who wants to help, partly to get experience
& partly to be useful. Do you have any ideas?
With web design, yes. The tricky bit is finding free programmes
to handle memberships.
If the thing took-off there might be post to answer, & perhaps
requests for speakers. I'm not getting requests from other people
setting-up unions, so I can't pass-on any offers.
I've seen these questions on your web site for a few months.
You haven't started a union yet.
Why lecture others about things you haven't done yourself?
To give take-it-or-leave-it advice is a quick way to give an
opinion about how to do something. A few people have signed-up
on the list below and hopefully more will over time. Meanwhile
the best place to start a union is among colleagues in a few
related workplaces - preferably at one or two employers to show
independence. I've gone for self-employment instead but if you
are still in the employee rat race you might have a better chance
of starting your own union, if not of making a fool of yourself
and typing a lot of stuff about work onto the internet. Self
employed people are lucker that way.
The Certification Office accounts for Twenty First Century Aircrew
Association show 5 members and four paying members, contributing
£50 each, who use the union to pay for legal insurance
from ALPL, who
would charge £126 a year to individual applicants. ALPL
seem related to Brit insurance and buy services from Amicus
Legal of Colchester: Puzzlingly, they earned fees from the
insurer last year rather than paying subscription to the insurer.
Wool Sheep Shearers Association, another small union that
also joined the TUC and earned a place in the Guinness Book of
Records, decided to close this year.
Starting our own union:
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
When did you last see a big trades union advertise for members?
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
where to get the last
penny from your last
£10 of savings or shared money
My Lawyer guides you online through the process of writing a
letter to your employer and a grievance appeal letter. The Employee
grievance pack gives you the capability to voice any grievances
you have with your employer by arranging a grievance meeting,
setting out the details of the grievance and to subsequently
appeal the outcome of the meeting, should you be dissatisfied
with it, by setting out your grounds of appeal. The Grievance
appeal letter included in this pack is only suitable for use
regarding incidents that took place after 6th April 2009. The
questionarre guides you through legal rights such as your contract
and employment laws. A lawyer can then review your draft before
you send the letter. There is 20% off the cost of this service
for members of topcashback - sign up from the green box above.
A free demonstration version with no advice and vital words blanked
out is available on epoq desktop lawyer.
where to get the last
penny from your last
£10 of savings or shared money
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
where to get the last
penny from your last
£10 of savings or shared money
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
Pay a financial advisor commission to tell you about pensions.
Pay a pension company commission for putting your money into
a tracker fund and inventing extra rules and charges.
Pay tax on your pension when you're 65.
You don't have any choice in this: this is a public service
advert on behalf of the financial thingey authority
offer junk or search for free junk on recycling groups near
you. Simple interface. Easy to use.
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
Telephone advice for about £80 a year - appeals not
covered - price offers vary
- Poverty Wages
- More subsidies than Corporation Tax
- Treating staff as robots
- Crushing small business
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