Union fees change is ‘vindictive’, Lib Dems tell Tories

 

A bitter Coalition row has broken out over moves by Conservative ministers to stop Whitehall departments deducting trade union subscriptions from civil servants’ pay packets.

The initiative has sparked recriminations between the parties, with the Liberal Democrats accusing their Tory partners of a “vindictive attack” designed to hamper union activities.

The clashes came after Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, wrote to departments urging them to end the system of deducting union subs through Whitehall’s payroll system, known as “check-off”.

His instruction will be ignored in ministries headed by Lib Dems, such as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Nick Clegg also intervened to stop Mr Maude scrapping check-off for staff in the Cabinet Office.

Lib Dem ministers have been instructed by Mr Clegg to resist the move in other departments.

Tory supporters of ending the practice argue that it is archaic and fosters an unhealthily close relationship between unions and the state. One leading advocate is Eric Pickles, who last year lost a court case when he tried to scrap the system in his Department of Communities and Local Government. He has, however, pledged to press ahead with the latest move.

But a senior Lib Dem source described the plans as vindictive and “petty party political point-scoring of the lowest kind” from the Tories.

“This is classic pandering to the Conservative Party’s anti-union right,” he said. “Some Tories want to attack the very principle of trade unions and that is not something the Liberal Democrats will ever sign up to.”

The clash emerged two years after the Lib Dems vetoed proposals backed by David Cameron to give companies the power to sack unproductive workers at will.

The two sides also disagree over Tory support for a threshold on the number of union members who have to vote for industrial action in essential services.

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