Lifting the lid – major trade union uses wholly owned subsidiary company to undercut terms and conditions and union bust

Read Time 6 mins | Wednesday 22 September, 17:34

Chris Musgrave, UWU General Secretary.

Employers who create wholly owned subsidiary companies to engage workers with inferior terms and conditions conjures thoughts of the advancing neoliberal agenda in the public sector. However the Union Workers’ Union can reveal that a well known and long established trade union is a proponent of this practice which is often derided by the wider union movement. 

Chris Musgrave, UWU General Secretary

To minimise the potential for workplace reprisals, we have agreed with members not to name the funding union.

Following recent casework for UWU members, the union was disturbed to learn that although our members were working for the union under a contract of employment, subject to the management and direction of a directly employed official and engaged wholly and exclusively in the recruitment and organising of members to the said union; our members were employed by an arm’s length company which is owned and operated by a prominent, elected officer of the funding union. 

The purpose of this company can only be to reduce the pay, terms and conditions of union workers and to side step the hard fought collective bargaining rights enjoyed by directly employed staff. The evidence for this speaks for itself. 

The employment contracts issued to our members are fixed term, statutory minimum and worse still; applications for union recognition in this union owned and operated company are both resisted and ridiculed. Union membership is not only discouraged by this employer, it’s actively opposed. However, when advocating for members on behalf of the funding union, we believe these same management figures would describe their set up as dark and Dickensian. 

Yet, with a level of hypocrisy worthy of Mr Pecksniff himself, the funding union proudly campaigns against precarious work and seeks to improve working conditions in their chosen sectors. Meanwhile, the reality for UWU members striving to bring about this future in the field, is poorer pay and a much more precarious employment compared to their counterparts doing the same roles in the funding union.

Since the UWU’s listing in 2020 many union workers have asked, what’s the point? Cosseted as some of us are by what are generally better than average pay and conditions it can be easy to forget that a growing number of union workers are being left behind. As union employers increasingly turn to the dirty tricks so often called out by sister unions we should instead be asking: what’s the best way to protect and advance conditions for all union workers?

Founding members of the UWU believe the only way to counter this growing threat to fundamental trade union values is a strong, independent and campaigning union dedicated to supporting union workers. UWU demands are clear and simple: fair and equitable employment practices with an end to union busting and dodgy dealings. We also believe we can only hope to build a mass people-powered union movement when unions hold themselves to the standards they demand of employers they bargain with.