go cardless, tribinal judgements third party pressure, unison complaints, political pressure on tribunal service, Labour Union Digest

Trade Unions are exempt from registering with the Fincancial Services Authority as claims handlers and do not have to give key facts

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#now #legal-insurance
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#recognition: quarterly meetings

Start Your Own Union

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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 chaged parties.

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.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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 stay insured.
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 expertise too.
  • need help and have your home number
  • while this is making you a target for workplace vicimisation: at ARP 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 for clients.

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".


Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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 this:

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 that

  • 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 more interesting.

But compared to being without any union, or relying on a feckless one, this strange informal institution could be the least bad option.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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 it possible.

Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section Unite the Union Transport and General Workers Union section


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.

#Volunteering 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 unions

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 side. MyGrievance.co.uk 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 T&G.


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 own trade.

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 people better.


Community, 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.

Individuals 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.


I will get back to you if enough people are interested in proper legal insurance for employees. For now, the email handling is handled by Aardvark Mailing List. This is an idea to launch a back-up service for people who know they can join a trades union, but don't want to or are already members and don't trust the union legal service. Not many people are signing-up, but the ideas is free for the taking and with luck someone will take the idea and do it better.

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 one.
  • 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 fault;
  • disagreements with neighbours about things like boundaries or noise;
  • tenancy disputes if you live in a rented house or flat; and
  • 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 to:

  • problems with government organisations (your local council, for example);
    [?-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.
Allanz, 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.". [consumer 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 Keyfacts document
Angel Assistance no quote asked for - Family protection
Arag , Araglegal.co.uk, manages claims for Brit Insurance
Brit 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 LSTA.co.uk
Capita insurance Services, no quote asked for yet. No sign of personal legal protection policies on their site.
Clarity-Legal.com 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.com 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
DAS "£15 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"
Elite-insurance.co.uk found on a web site about medical negligence but mention before the event general policies as well
Employee Welfare Protection Group, Lowsoft has this one mention in a directory.
Financialandlegal.co.uk is a member of riad-online.net trade association. Individual and bloc policies.
First 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.
LampInsurance.Com/legal_clientservices.aspx no quote asked for.
Lawshieldcorporate.com/ only the first £1000 of employment law expenses
Lexelle-Online.co.uk/brokers_general_familylegal.html price not known - cheap
Ppcadvice.co.uk (Now 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.
Motorplus.co.uk used to trade as ULR Norwich as well.
MSL-LegalExpenses.co.uk/products_keystone.html 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
Thompsons 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.
Towergate, 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."
UniversalLegal.co.uk 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."
LEIG.ORG/members.asp 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 Ireland
Qdoslegal.com/insurers-affinity/ - 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 group deal.


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 on http://p2pmoney.co.uk/ 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 "claims 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 discovered.

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 say
"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. Newunionism.net/network.htm is another attempt, listing social networking sites because, as their monthly email says, these things "frankly don't come naturally".

Now Joomla , 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 either!

Technical Requirements

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 as yet
  • 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 Newunionism.net site 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 Powerdev.co.uk/circle/ 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.
http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Videoconferencing lists some of the free video meeting tools for people who are comfortable with these things, to save the costs of face to face meetings.

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.edeskonline.com/
  • http://www.nevrocode.com/docs/
  • http://member.thinkfree.com/
  • http://docs.google.com/
  • http://home.zcubes.com/
  • 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 address, Ballotbin 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.

Nominet registers 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.

Companies 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.

The 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.
This artical about who can sign as an auditor seems as circular as the act itself

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.

The 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 interest. Zopa 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.

BACS 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 though.


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 ballot

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 "Deliberative democracy".

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 system.

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 emailed.

A web link about socks is run by the same group of companies as
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.

Missing votes: the truth about the Tunnocks cake factory will never be knownFraud 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
  • http://sg.royalmail.com or stamps: 30p+postcard. Slow.
  • Viapost.com 30.5p per letter inc. paper & envelope. Mailmerge. Program download required.
  • cfhDocMail.com 25p+VAT+35p card processing fee
  • Ezgram.com 50c per US letter, US based. Possibly 66c per UK letter?
  • Pixelletter.com €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
  • Royalmail.com 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.

Possible Questions:
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.

Footnote #1

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. Sheffield 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:

I will get back to you if enough people are interested in proper legal insurance for employees. For now, the email handling is handled by Aardvark Mailing List. Like Pledgebank, this list is for people who would like there to be cheap legal insurance but don't set it up because not enough people want it at once to make it viable. If you check out Aardvark, you will see that they remain free bacause they don't give email addresses to list owners; if anyone hijacks your email address it will be them, not employees.org.uk, and they look honest. You can add your name to the list to be told when there are a lot of people on it and cheap legal insurance is possible.

Contact Employees.org.uk

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  • Poverty Wages
  • More subsidies than Corporation Tax
  • Treating staff as robots
  • Crushing small business


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Contact Employees.org.uk. ARP RUGBY HOUSE