Trade unions have historically been one of the great pillars of civil society. They’ve fought for workers’ rights and welfare and, in our local industries, they’re there to give a voice to their members when they need it most.
As the local MP for Gosport, I’ve seen the great benefits union representatives confer on their members and I’ve met with many to help secure the best outcome for my constituents in difficult times.
Their work is of immense value and it’s the reason why their members continue to pay their subs each year.
Yet in these tough economic times, every penny counts when it comes to funding front-line services. That’s why I was surprised to learn that hard-pressed resources are being taken away from the front line to pay for union work. The taxpayer subsidies the unions to the tune of £113m a year – with the majority going to pay the salaries of public sector employees carrying out full-time union work.
It’s a shocking situation when the country is struggling through difficult financial times that we’re paying nurses not to nurse and teachers not to teach – taxpayers’ money is being used to fund almost 3,000 full-time union reps.
I’m not disputing the value of the unions’ work, but asking why these private organisations must be subsidised by the taxpayer.
However valuable their work is, it lacks the accountability and transparency that is vital in publicly-funded services. There are few records of how the union reps use their time and the unions are under no obligation to show how money is spent. This is unacceptable.
The government has already taken steps to reduce the subsidy and stop abuse of the system.
But in times of economic hardship, reform must now go farther so we can return the salaries of many public sector workers to the frontline where they belong.