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General Council Report 2019

TUC Congress 2019
Report type
Research and reports
Issue date

TUC mission statement

The TUC brings together over five and a half million working people who belong to our 48 member unions. We support trade unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living. We campaign every day for more and better jobs, and a more equal, more prosperous country.


 - Introduction
 - The Economy
 - Brexit
 - Respect and a voice at work
 - Good Services
 - Winning more for workers
 - TUC Administration
 - Appendix

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Frances O'Grady General Secretary
Frances O'Grady, General secretary

Frances O'Grady General Secretary

I’m proud of what we as a trade union movement have achieved over the past year. At a time of huge upheaval, together we have stayed true to our values and stood up for working people.

On the defining issue of the day – Brexit – we have kept the government’s feet to the fire and battled to put jobs, rights and peace in Ireland high up the political agenda. Support from our union friends across Europe has been solid as a rock.

We have highlighted the dangers of a no-deal Brexit and we won’t shy away from the challenges ahead. The new prime minister Boris Johnson may be willing to let Britain to crash out of the EU with a catastrophic loss of livelihoods, and environmental, consumer and worker protections – against all the promises that were made in the referendum campaign.

But our opponents underestimate us at their peril. Together with our brilliant workplace reps and officers, we will do everything possible to defend workers and our communities – because that is what trade unions do.

In the face of global uncertainty, whether in steel, retail or the car industry, we are at the forefront of fighting for our future. We will forge plans for a new industrial strategy, where government has failed.

We are winning important victories across the economy, from securing equal pay for care workers and getting McDonald’s staff a pay rise to gaining union recognition for couriers and getting the agency worker pay penalty outlawed.

We continue to make workplaces healthier, safer and fairer. Last year, over 200,000 workers benefited from training and learning opportunities – thanks to their union.

And against the odds we have grown our movement, increasing membership over the past year. But we know we must do more to bring in younger workers, boost bargaining coverage, and innovate new ways to organise.

The world of work is changing and we must change with it.

In the coming year we will build on our work to tackle racism and the poisonous politics of hate. The far right aims to divide working people: trade unions exist to unite us.

We’ll build class unity and campaign for a new deal that gives everyone dignity and fairness at work, whatever our race, religion or background.

And we’ll continue to make the case for a more just and equal economy that puts working people and the planet first.

What happens over the coming weeks and months will shape our jobs, living standards and public services for a generation. A strong, fighting, internationalist trade union movement is more important now than ever.

Frances O'Grady

The Economy
Economy - Banner

1.1 Introduction

Over the year, the General Council has continued to track and comment regularly on the difficult conditions faced by working people, and set out prescriptions for change. To cap a dismal decade, GDP growth of 1.4 per cent in 2018 was the weakest since the global recession.

Our statement ahead of the HM Treasury Spring Statement 2019 showed that the recovery since the recession has been the slowest for more than a century.

In recent years, continued slow growth has in part reflected the repercussions of and ongoing uncertainty over the shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, with business investment once more grinding to a halt in 2018. But the critical factor throughout has been the government’s austerity policies, which, as the TUC has consistently argued, have damaged the prospects for growth in the UK.

The damage to public services is increasingly apparent. Government has talked about the ‘end of austerity’, but this is far from a reality.

The damage to public services is increasingly apparent. Government has talked about the ‘end of austerity’, but this is far from a reality. The Office for Budget Responsibility has shown that cuts continued into 2018–19, so that real government spending is down £750 per person or 15 per cent since 2009–10. According to the current OBR projection, in five years’ time only £250 of the lost ground will have been made up.

Any increased spending has been allocated to the NHS only; the OBR confirms that spending across all other departments is at best flatlining. 

In November, the TUC hosted a joint meeting between TUC and TUAC (the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD). This included a session on ‘lessons from the 2008 financial crisis’ opened by the former UK prime minister Gordon Brown.

In spring, the TUC called for a more substantial immediate increase of £25bn in public service spending as a first step to restoring the health of the economy, public services and public finances. 

This year, Frances O’Grady became a non-executive member of the court of the Bank of England and a council member of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Sources: ONS, BoE and TUC analysis
Sources: ONS, BoE and TUC analysis
Source: OBR fiscal supplementary table 4.3; Real RSCE in RDEL per capital
Source: OBR fiscal supplementary table 4.3; Real RSCE in RDEL per capital

1.2 Special feature: stronger together at work – re-booting collective bargaining and workplace voice

Over recent years, the UK has become increasingly unequal in terms of both wealth and power. The failure of government to address the social and economic challenges this has created has contributed to the political crisis we face today.

The world of work is at the heart of addressing this crisis. Economic inequality cannot be reversed without tackling the inequality of power within the workplace. This requires a revival of trade unions and collective bargaining.

Union coverage in the UK has declined significantly from its peak 40 years ago. In 1979 union density was 54 per cent and collective bargaining coverage over 70 per cent; in 2018, they were 23.4 per cent and 26 percent respectively, with just 14.7 per cent of private sector workers protected by a collective agreement. Over this period the scope of the bargaining agenda has narrowed significantly and by 2011 pay was the only issue still covered in a majority of collective agreements.

This decline of union influence has directly harmed the interests of working people and their communities. The share of GDP going to wages has shrunk from an average of 57 per cent between 1945 and 1975 to 49 per cent in 2018. This shrinking wage share is also divided increasingly unequally, with a higher proportion now going to the top earners. Average wages are still lower in real terms than before the financial crisis. And there has been a sharp rise in precarious work, with the numbers of people in insecure work growing significantly since 2010, alongside a proliferation of precarious employment models.

This scourge of insecurity and low and stagnating pay has been made possible by the decline of union coverage and collective bargaining.

More broadly, the majority of working people lack effective means to influence decisions at work, creating a democratic deficit in the workplace and feeding into wider feelings of frustration and powerlessness.

But we have the best opportunity for some time to turn this around. Influential organisations, including the OECD and the IMF, have publicly recognised the link between the decline in union coverage and the rise in inequality. And the Labour Party is committed to implementing policies to promote trade unions and collective bargaining through the creation of a Ministry of Labour.

This is the context in which the TUC has launched a major project working with unions to develop policies to revive union membership and extend collective bargaining. All affiliated unions have been asked for their views and to contribute to the process. We have also drawn on resolution 70 ‘Collective voice’ and composite 13 ‘A new deal for workers’ passed at our 2018 Congress.

In July, the General Council agreed a package of policies to reboot collective bargaining and workplace voice. They are published in full in a separate report and set out in brief below.

Organising and access rights

Collective bargaining depends on strong unions and strong unions are built on their members. So the ability of unions to recruit, organise and grow is at the heart of the collective bargaining agenda. Independent unions would have the right to access workplaces during working hours to tell people about the benefits of union membership and ensure compliance with employment legislation. And the right to paid time off for union duties, including for organising, would be extended to all workers.

In addition, we propose new digital access and organising rights and a requirement on employers to display union information on a physical or digital noticeboard.

Individual workers’ rights to union representation

All workers would have a right to be accompanied and represented by an independent union in meetings with their employer and to reasonable paid time off during working time to meet with a union.

The right to paid facility time would be extended to include organising and recruiting members.

The right to bargain at your workplace and enterprise

In the UK, while national bargaining still plays an important role within public services, in the private sector the vast majority of collective bargaining takes place at firm-level.

There are significant elements of workforce voice and negotiation that can only be realised at workplace and firm level. Decisions about how work is organised and other day to day practices are generally determined within the workplace. Many contractual terms and conditions are determined within the firm. Workers need the ability to influence both.

Our proposals aim to help unionisation become the ‘new normal’ in the UK’s workplaces. As well as removing barriers in the complex statutory recognition process, the proposals would create new rights to ensure that organisational size and structure do not prevent workers from having a voice at work. The 21-worker threshold for recognition rights would be removed and unions that have gained a foothold within an organisation would have the right to ‘scale up’ and offer the benefits of collective bargaining to a wider group of workers.

The Central Arbitration Committee would be reformed so that its decisions take into account the clear benefit that collective bargaining brings to the workforce and the wider economy. The unfair labour practices rules would be substantially reformed and collective rights to information and consultation strengthened.

Re-establishing sectoral bargaining

Sectoral bargaining was once common across the UK economy, but has now all but disappeared from the private sector. Across much of the rest of Europe, sectoral and firm-level collective bargaining go together, operating side by side and often intricately entwined. Where it is in place, sectoral bargaining has played an essential role in maintaining collective bargaining coverage and some countries, including Sweden, Iceland and Belgium, combine sectoral bargaining with high levels of union density.

Re-establishing sectoral bargaining in the UK would create a floor under wages and conditions to raise and protect standards. This would be particularly important in sectors that are currently largely unorganised and in which good employers are in danger of being undercut by poor employers.

Sector councils would be established by the secretary of state in consultation with unions and would include equal numbers of worker and employer representatives. Unions have suggested that early candidates for sectoral bargaining could include social care (where workers are not covered by existing national agreements) and hospitality.

Broadening the scope of collective bargaining

The scope of collective bargaining – whether at firm or sectoral level – would be significantly broadened to include:

  • pay and pensions
  • working time and holidays
  • equality issues (including maternity and paternity rights)
  • health and safety
  • grievance and disciplinary processes
  • training and development
  • work organisation, including the introduction of new technologies
  • the nature and level of staffing (firm-level bargaining only).
  • Individual workers’ rights to union representation would also encompass these topics.

Role of the TUC in settling access and bargaining rights

The TUC would work with unions to ensure that the new rights for accessing workplaces, establishing recognition and participating in sectoral bargaining operated fairly among unions in line with existing TUC principles.


Our aim is to create a step-change in unionisation and workplace voice so that collective bargaining once again becomes the norm and the expectation for working people. The TUC is committed to working with affiliated unions, politicians, employers, policymakers and the public to make this happen.

Warehouse packing: one of the occupations most threatened by automation, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) © Microgen/Getty Images
Warehouse packing: one of the occupations most threatened by automation, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) © Microgen/Getty Images

1.3 Future of work and automation 

TUC activity this Congress year has been guided by resolution 2, ‘The future of the retail sector’, resolution 5, ‘Automation’, and resolution 6, ‘Automation and its impact on black workers’. 
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has served on the Made Smarter Commission, which seeks to implement the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’, in the UK. At the TUC’s initiative, the Made Smarter Commission has developed a ‘Made Smarter Charter’, which sets out best practice, including working with union representatives, for the implementation of technology associated with the fourth industrial revolution. The Made Smarter Charter is due to be launched in September 2019.

The TUC also forms part of an ETUC team negotiating an autonomous framework agreement on digitalisation, designed to protect workers across Europe as digital technology comes on stream. 
The General Council’s vision for the future of work includes decent hours and good work/life balance. With most commenters predicting that automation will increase productivity, our flagship long-term campaign is for a shorter working week without reduction in pay. The TUC held an event with union reps and activists to develop the campaign in May. 

The TUC has also been invited to discuss this campaign and the wider future of work with a broad range of stakeholders. Paul Nowak was a panel speaker at the OECD Going Digital Summit in March and the OECD Forum in May, and the TUC gave evidence to the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, formed part of the tripartite consultations on policy around the future of work organised by the OECD, was represented at events organised by The Guardian on a four day week and on artificial intelligence (AI), and was represented on a panel at ‘CogX’, an annual conference for the tech industry on AI and emerging technology.

The TUC has also campaigned against excessive working time, as 3.3 million employees still work more than 48 hours a week. The work programme has included campaigning for tighter working time rules and better holiday rights and enforcement. TUC analysis also showed that UK full-time workers work the longest hours in Europe. The fifteenth TUC Work Your Proper Hours Day (February) called for excessive unpaid overtime to be cut. Employees did £32.7bn of free work last year.
In addition, the TUC has continued to campaign for wider access to home working and flexible working, including Commute Smart Day (November), and National Work from Home Day (May).

Source: National minimum wage rates 2018–19
Source: National minimum wage rates 2018–19

1.4 Labour market 

The TUC continues to produce regular analysis of the performance of the UK labour market, focusing on the ongoing wage squeeze, the scale of insecure work and wider inequalities.

While employment has remained high by historic standards, and unemployment low, the sustained reduction in real pay continues. Over the past decade, workers have suffered the most severe wage squeeze in two centuries. While real wages have just started to grow, there is considerable ground to make up before real pay returns to the level it was at before the recession hit. 

The pay squeeze has hit the living standards of working families hard, and millions are still in poverty. Of those living in poverty, 57 per cent (eight million people) are now in working families.

TUC analysis ahead of the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference showed that, in addition to a disability employment gap, the disability pay gap is 15 per cent or almost £3,000 a year, and even higher for disabled women.

Analysis for the TUC Women’s Conference looked at the gender pay gap. The current gender pay gap for full-time and part-time employees stands at 17.9 per cent. TUC analysis showed this pay gap means that women effectively work for free the first 65 days of the year. 

1.5 Insecure work

In line with resolution 21, the TUC has continued to fight against the spread of insecure work, such as insecure agency work, false self-employment and zero- and short-hours contracts.

Our analysis shows insecure work is a daily reality for 3.7 million UK workers; this is one in nine in employment. This includes agency, casual and seasonal work, those on zero-hours contracts and the low-paid self-employed. A pay penalty is associated with these forms of work, with workers often experiencing low pay and economic hardship and a lack of control over their working hours. Millions of workers are still stuck in low-paid, insecure work and often find shifts are cancelled or changed with no notice. Insecure work is disproportionately experienced by black and minority ethnic (BME) workers, and TUC analysis showed that BME workers are more than twice as likely to be stuck on agency contracts than white workers.

The TUC sought to highlight the continued high levels of insecure work during this year’s HeartUnions week, devoting the campaign to a call to ban zero-hours contracts. 

We know that collective bargaining is the best way to deliver better rights for working people, and over the last year we have worked with affiliated unions to develop detailed policy to give trade unions new rights to organise and represent workers at individual, workplace and sectoral level. 

Millions of workers are still stuck in low-paid, insecure work and often find shifts are cancelled or changed with no notice © Shironosov/Getty Images
Millions of workers are still stuck in low-paid, insecure work and often find shifts are cancelled or changed with no notice © Shironosov/Getty Images

1.6 Low pay, the national minimum wage and the living wage

The General Council’s work focused on creating a better deal for low-paid workers was informed by resolution 22 and emergency resolution 5. 
The number of employees earning less than two-thirds of the median earnings benchmark fell by 200,000 last year, largely because of the rising national minimum wage (NMW).

The General Council has campaigned for more significant increases in the NMW. This has included media, lobbying and engagement with the Low Pay Commission (LPC). Workers were represented on the LPC by Kate Bell (of the TUC), Kay Carberry (formerly of the TUC) and Simon Sapper.
The TUC’s submission to the LPC (June 2019) called for a rate of £10 an hour as quickly as possible. It also argued that the full rate should extend to 21- to 24-year olds immediately and progressively to younger workers.

We have also lobbied the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go beyond the current NMW target. The government has announced an intention to ‘end low pay’ with a suggestion that this could imply a target of two-thirds of median earnings.

The TUC NMW Enforcement Group brings together unions, advice agencies, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department, the Low Pay Commission (LPC), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLLA) and the Director of Labour Market Enforcement. Some progress has been made on this agenda. Crucially, the amount of arrears recovered increased to £15.6m. With 439,000 workers underpaid, much more is still needed.

We campaign for a range of improvements, expressing strong concern that naming and shaming underpaying employers was suspended last year.
More positively, government has committed to extend the NMW to non-UK seafarers on ships working exclusively between UK ports.

Promoting the voluntary living wage standard was also a goal. Many trade unions use these rates (£10.55 in London and £9.00 elsewhere) in their pay claims. The number of living wage employers increased to 5,400 in the past year, up 25 per cent. The TUC took part in the Living Wage Week campaign (November) and campaigned to build support for the living wage. The general secretary sits on the Living Wage Commission.

1.7 Social security

The General Council’s work on social security has been guided by resolution 30, ‘Stop and scrap universal credit’, and resolution 29 on social security.

The TUC has been actively campaigning for universal credit to be stopped and scrapped. This included a submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on universal credit and in-work progression, and a parliamentary briefing for the upcoming discussion of managed migration regulations of universal credit in parliament. We have also provided regular updates on universal credit to unions and the Disabled Workers’ Committee.

We have continued to highlight the devastating impact of the cuts to the social security budget. Our work has also looked at the longer-term and how to build a radically improved social security system. We responded to the Labour Party Consultation on ‘rebuilding a just social security system’ and worked with unions on this. The TUC has also worked with the Fabian Society to produce a set of proposals for social security in the 2020s, alongside a wide range of organisations representing groups with an interest in the social security system.

1.8 Energy policy

TUC activity during this Congress year has been guided by resolution 7, ‘Just transition and energy workers’ voice’, resolution 8, ‘Fracking’, and resolution 9, ‘Strategy for a low-carbon industrial region’.

In July 2019, the TUC launched its just transition statement. This statement was developed by the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) following consultation with trade union members in the energy and energy-intensive industries. The statement calls for a cross-party commission on long-term energy use, involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers. It argues that workers must be at the heart of delivering these plans, including through just-transition bargaining at the sectoral level. Other highlights of the statement include a call for major investment in reskilling and ensuring that new jobs are good jobs, with terms and conditions at least as good as those in carbon-intensive sectors. The statement was launched at an event addressed by shadow secretary of state for business Rebecca Long-Bailey. 

The TUC’s just transition statement calls for a cross-party commission on long-term energy use,involving affected workers, unions, industries and consumers.

The deputy general secretary of the TUC, Paul Nowak, and the TUC’s northern regional secretary, Beth Farhat, represent the TUC on the Institute for Public Policy Research’s Environmental Justice Commission, chaired by Ed Miliband MP, Laura Sandys and Caroline Lucas MP. The first meeting of this commission was held in June 2019.

TUSDAC has continued to advise the TUC on priorities relating to energy and climate change. TUSDAC has engaged with the Committee on Climate Change during this Congress year, lobbying that body to push for robust just transition policies as part of its call for a net zero-carbon economy by 2050. The TUC further made this case in a round table event organised by the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on net zero, chaired by Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change. The TUC was represented at the Carbon Capture and Storage Association’s parliamentary reception in June 2019. 

1.9 Creative industries

TUC activity during this Congress year has been guided by resolution 4, ‘Local casting’, and resolution 40, ‘Austerity, arts and discrimination’.
The TUC has continued to attend quarterly meetings of the Federation of Entertainment Unions, giving updates on TUC activity and responding to questions from FEU members. 

The TUC has campaigned widely against austerity, including in the arts and cultural sectors. We have highlighted the effects of austerity on women, BME, LGBT+ and disabled people, as well as the effects on deprived regions and communities across the UK.

1.10 Pensions

Over the last year the TUC has continued to be the leading advocate for the interests of working people in the occupational pension system.
The General Council has been a strong voice for reforms to improve pensions for the low paid in particular. In line with resolution 31, this has included working to close the loophole that denies pension tax relief to up to two million workers. This affects scheme members who earn below the £12,500 income tax threshold and whose pension provider uses a particular method – net pay arrangements – to deduct pension contributions. The TUC contributed to a joint letter to the chancellor calling for this loophole to be closed and has drawn attention to the problem in the national media. We have also worked with an industry group to draw up technical proposals to address the problem, due to be published in the summer.

The TUC has campaigned to lower the age threshold for auto-enrolment and to scrap the lower earnings limit, so that pension contributions are calculated from the first pound of earnings. Analysis published in February showed that delaying these moves – which the government pledged in 2017 to implement without setting out a timeframe – by just six years could reduce the value of a worker’s pension pot by up to £12,000. The General Council has also established a working group to bring together unions representing self-employed workers with DWP officials to explore ways of improving pension provision for this group.

In line with resolution 31, the General Council has continued to promote collective defined contribution (CDC) pension schemes as an alternative to defined contribution (DC). This has included responding to a government consultation on delivering CDC, organising meetings with the shadow pensions team on the subject and providing them with a written briefing ahead of planned legislation to enable CDC schemes. 

The General Council continues to support defined benefit (DB) provision. This has involved responding to a government consultation on proposals to allow consolidation into profit-making ‘superfunds’ that would leave members exposed to serious conflicts of interest. The TUC has also continued to engage with the Pensions Regulator over concerns that its excessively risk-averse approach is encouraging employers to close viable DB schemes.

In the public sector the TUC has lobbied government over concerns raised in emergency resolution 8 that its decision to cut discount rates has increased the cost of pensions for employers. This was compounded by a decision in January to pause a process that was set to deliver improved pension benefits and lower contribution rates for public servants from April 2019 after the government lost an age discrimination case. The TUC has written to and met with the chief secretary to the Treasury to call for this process to be un-paused and for the cost of the reduced discount rate to be funded for all departments to 2023.

The TUC also secured a pledge that any changes to public sector schemes that are needed to remedy the age discrimination will be negotiated with unions, on a scheme-by-scheme basis. 
The TUC’s annual pensions conference in February was well attended and included a keynote speech from the pensions minister. It also featured sessions examining the gender pensions gap, issues with pension funds investing in infrastructure and practical workshops for pension scheme trustees.

Executive pay: according to Forbes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth $131bn © Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Executive pay: according to Forbes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is worth $131bn © Drew Angerer/Getty Images

1.11 Corporate governance, executive pay and workers’ capital

A revised UK Corporate Governance Code was published in July 2018. Its principles refer to stakeholders and the workforce and it includes a provision on engagement with the workforce. This represents a significant change from the previous version, which focused solely on shareholder relationships. However, the workforce engagement provision sets out three options that the TUC considers insufficient. The TUC described the revised Code as a “step in the right direction”. 
The TUC was represented on a coalition group coordinated by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) to advise on the development, for the first time, of corporate governance principles for large private companies. The Wates Principles, named after the group’s chair, were published in December. One of the six principles states that the board has a responsibility to oversee meaningful engagement with material stakeholders, including the workforce, and have regard to that discussion when taking decisions. Engagement with trade unions is referred to in the text. The coalition group remains in place to oversee the implementation of the Wates Principles.

The TUC submitted evidence to John Kingman’s review of the FRC in August 2018 and to the government’s consultation on the implementation of the review’s recommendations in June 2019. The focus of the TUC’s submissions was the importance of the FRC taking full account of the views and interests of company stakeholders, in particular the workforce, in terms of its remit, engagement and board representation.

In March, the TUC commented on the draft Stewardship Code, arguing that while the TUC supported the aim of setting higher expectations of stewardship, achieving this was hampered by the draft code’s lack of focus on the real-world impacts of investments. The response also argued that the code should promote asset managers allowing clients investing in pooled funds to direct their voting and require that asset managers publicly disclose all voting information. The TUC continues to be represented on the FRC’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee by Janet Williamson.

The TUC gave oral evidence to the BEIS Parliamentary Committee inquiry into fair pay in January. The Committee’s report, published in March, quoted from the TUC’s evidence and argued that companies should do more to link executive pay to workforce pay, recommending that remuneration committees should include an employee representative.

TUSO hosted a seminar for Amazon investors, focusing on employment practices and environment, social and governance shareholder resolutions filed at the company’s AGM.

The TUC has continued to coordinate Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO), an initiative bringing together union funds to collaborate over voting and engagement with companies.

In May, TUSO hosted a seminar for Amazon investors, focusing on employment practices and environment, social and governance shareholder resolutions filed at the company’s AGM. Speakers included GMB and UNI representatives and an Amazon worker who spoke anonymously for their job security. The seminar discussed Amazon workers’ experiences of health and safety, treatment of pregnant women, sexual harassment, pace of work and working hours.

The TUC has continued to push the case for a steel sector deal with BEIS ministers © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The TUC has continued to push the case for a steel sector deal with BEIS ministers © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

1.12 Industrial strategy, science, technology and sustainability

TUC activity during this Congress year has been guided by resolution 1, ‘Industrial strategy: an economy for the many’, resolution 3, ‘Save our Steel’, and resolution 77, ‘Food security and sustainability’. 

In December 2018, the TUC launched its new report, All Tomorrow’s Jobs. This called for a target for the creation of a million new manufacturing or high-tech jobs by 2030. We argued that sustainable industry and green technology could be one of the key planks of delivering these new manufacturing jobs. Priority policies to achieve this include making sure more government funding supports jobs, offering new skills to those at risk of industrial disruption, and strengthening union representation on sector deals. All Tomorrow’s Jobs was launched at a round-table event in Congress House and was reported in The Guardian. 

In July 2019, the TUC launched a new report on ensuring that industrial change benefits workers, commissioned from the New Economics Foundation. This considered best-practice examples of cities and regions that have successfully managed industrial change. Based on case studies from Bilbao in Spain, Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and Iceland, the report set out a range of recommendations, including a lead role for unions in local industrial strategies and stronger public procurement policy.

The TUC has continued to engage with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on industrial strategy throughout this Congress year. Roy Rickhuss CBE, a member of the TUC General Council, sits on the Industrial Strategy Council. The TUC was present at ‘Industrial strategy: one year on’ event that took place in Bristol in November 2018 and which was addressed by the secretary of state for business, Greg Clark, and the chair of the Industrial Strategy Council, Andy Haldane.

The TUC has continued to work with Community, Unite and GMB in support of the UK steel sector. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has raised on several occasions the crisis in UK steel and the need for robust government support with the business secretary, Greg Clark. The TUC was in attendance at the launch of the UK steel charter at the House of Commons in May 2019. We have continued to push the case for a steel sector deal with BEIS ministers during this Congress year.

Brexit banner

2.1 Introduction 

Brexit has dominated the political and industrial landscape over the last year. Throughout a volatile political situation, the General Council’s work has been guided by the 2018 General Council statement on Brexit and composite 2.
The General Council statement adopted by Congress 2018 built on the position agreed the previous year, with three tests against which we would measure any Brexit deal:

  • maintaining workers’ existing rights and establishing a level playing field so that workers’ rights in Britain do not fall behind those of other European workers
  • preserving tariff-free, barrier-free, frictionless trade in goods and services with the rest of Europe to protect jobs
  • ensuring that trade and livelihoods in Gibraltar and Ireland are protected, and defending the Good Friday Agreement.

The statement set out the TUC’s willingness to consider any proposals that met these tests, including through continued membership of the single market outside the EU (for example via EEA membership). The statement also made clear that any Brexit deal must secure the confidence and support of the country, whether through a meaningful vote in parliament, an early general election or a popular vote.

The government brought the deal to parliament in January 2019. MPs rejected the deal and inflicted the largest parliamentary defeat in modern history on the government.

During the year these tests have guided and supported our work and enabled us to keep a clear focus on our core concerns, despite the fast pace of political developments.

2.2 The political and parliamentary context

The government published the withdrawal agreement in November 2018. The TUC quickly warned that the deal did not protect jobs and rights, failing the Brexit tests agreed by Congress in 2017 and 2018. We also made clear that trade unions could not support a deal that contained no legal guarantees about the future relationship and amounted to a blindfold Brexit. The government brought the deal to parliament in January 2019. MPs rejected the deal and inflicted the largest parliamentary defeat in modern history on the government. MPs voted against the deal again in early March and a third attempt to pass the deal later that month also failed.

In January, the general secretary and deputy general secretary met then prime minister Theresa May and set out why trade unions could not support the deal. The PM also met the leaders of Unite, UNISON and the GMB, who echoed the TUC’s position. We cautioned the PM that it would be possible to make progress only if she were willing to significantly shift the government’s position. The CBI then joined us in writing to the PM warning that the country faced a national emergency. Its letter called on the PM to abandon her red lines, rule out a no-deal Brexit, and prioritise finding a deal that put jobs and rights first.

In addition to regular meetings with the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, the general secretary also met with the chancellor of the exchequer and the secretary of state for exiting the EU. The TUC was also in regular contact with leading shadow ministers and other opposition parties, as well as MPs leading cross-party attempts to oppose the government’s plans. The TUC also led a group of trade unions to meet officials from across government – including the Cabinet Office and BEIS – where we reiterated the union movement’s opposition to the government’s deal. The TUC briefed MPs extensively on the risk posed by the deal to working people, and campaigned for MPs to vote against it.

With the clock ticking down to the Brexit deadline of 29 March, parliament held indicative votes on options to break the deadlock. Our analysis, in line with our tests, concluded that in the limited time remaining, the best way to deliver a Brexit deal that trade unions could support looked to be sticking by single market and customs union rules. But no option was able to command a parliamentary majority.

By March, with the prime minister’s deal failing to pass through the Commons, parliament unable to agree on an alternative and government in chaos, we reiterated the General Council’s 2018 call for people to have their say, either via a general election or a popular vote. Reflecting the analysis that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for working communities, we also called for an extension of Article 50 and supported parliamentary efforts to prevent a no-deal.

Throughout the year unions in the TUC’s Public Services Liaison Group highlighted the pressures that would be faced by government budgets in the event of a post-Brexit economic downturn. We showed that a falling number of EU nationals willing or able to work in the UK was exacerbating the recruitment and retention crisis across schools, the NHS, social care and other areas. We also highlighted the intense pressure being placed on civil servants tasked with implementing Brexit, the lack of adequate preparations for Brexit across the government (particularly in the event of a no-deal exit) and that unions representing the public service workforce had not been included in any serious discussions about departmental plans. The TUC, with public service unions, raised these issues directly with the Cabinet Office and departmental leads through a specially convened meeting of the Public Services Forum in April. It was agreed that more needed to be done to establish effective dialogue with unions at the departmental level and specific contacts have been established in order to facilitate this process.

During the year, the general secretary also met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, along with colleagues from the ETUC and ICTU. The TUC, ETUC and ICTU wrote to Commission president Juncker, Council president Tusk and all heads of government across the EU before the 29 March deadline. In the letter we condemned the UK government for putting party interests before country and for failing to meaningfully engage with other political parties or unions in Britain and Northern Ireland. We warned of the disastrous consequences of a no-deal exit for jobs, rights and peace.

2.3 Defending rights 

In line with composite 2 and the General Council statement, the TUC campaigned to highlight the risks of the government’s proposed Brexit deal to workers’ rights. We argued that under this deal rights would fall behind those in the rest of the EU, and that access to justice would be limited. The TUC’s warnings on rights were widely quoted during debates in parliament. The TUC also gave evidence to the Committee on Exiting the European Union on the lack of level playing field guarantees.

In March, the government announced that it was willing to make a series of changes to domestic legislation on workers’ rights. This included proposing a process that would require government to monitor and report to parliament on changes to rights implemented by the EU. But these limited domestic proposals fell far short of our demand for a binding guarantee in the withdrawal agreement that rights here in the UK would keep pace with those of working people across Europe. We were concerned the proposed process could easily be revoked by a future government and that, even if it were maintained, it would represent a significant reduction in protections, including a lack of recourse for UK workers to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
During this time the government also pushed through several statutory instruments on workers’ rights that would come into effect in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We raised concerns in parliamentary briefing and with BEIS officials that these regulations were unclear and would make it harder for the UK to keep pace with future developments in rights. The statutory instruments included provisions that would reduce some of the rights that UK workers currently benefit from, such as removing the ability to participate in European Works Councils.

2.4 Protecting jobs

While the UK remains in the EU and has not yet experienced the full potential economic impact of Brexit, the uncertainty generated over the nature of the deal has had an impact. In 2018 UK business investment fell by 0.4 per cent, and growth has effectively flatlined since the third quarter of 2016. Alongside other factors, the fall in investment has had a particularly marked impact in the automotive industry, with companies pulling back investment plans and announcing closures, including at Honda in Swindon and Ford in Bridgend. 

In line with composite 2, the TUC campaigned for the government to commit to tariff- and barrier-free trade with the EU after Brexit. The TUC lobbied for changes to the Trade Bill, seeking guarantees that the UK would remain in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit and that any future trade deals protect labour standards and public services. We also called for guarantees that trade unions would be involved in trade negotiations. The TUC gave evidence to the International Trade Committee on these points, and its December report endorsed our recommendation that trade unions should be involved in trade negotiations on equal terms with employers. In line with resolution 77, the TUC also campaigned to safeguard food and environmental standards.

The TUC also campaigned for stronger protections against trade dumping, working as a member of the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance (MTRA). MTRA condemned the government’s March announcement of a plan to dramatically reduce tariffs on many manufacturing sectors in the event of Brexit proceeding without a deal being reached.

In May, the TUC again gave evidence to the International Trade Committee to highlight the dangers of a hard Brexit ‘global Britain’ trade agenda. During President Trump’s state visit to the UK in June, the TUC highlighted the dangers of a trade deal on Trump’s terms to workers and the NHS.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak was appointed to the government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group. Members of the group issued a statement calling for trade policy to respect labour standards, protect public services and involve social partners. 

The TUC continued joint work on trade with trade unions in countries the government has prioritised for post-Brexit trade deals, including Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA. 

Frances O’Grady met president of Ireland Michael D. Higgins at the Áras an Uachtaráin in April © Tony Maxwell/
Frances O’Grady met president of Ireland Michael D. Higgins at the Áras an Uachtaráin in April © Tony Maxwell/

2.5 Safeguarding peace and the Good Friday Agreement

The General Council has consistently called for an approach that can safeguard peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement, in a context of rising tensions and the cavalier attitude of some senior politicians.

We have worked closely with our friends in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) throughout the year. ICTU published a statement in November saying that there is no such thing as ”a good Brexit for working people” in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland.

The general secretary met president of Ireland Michael D. Higgins in April and attended the Council of the Isles in May.
The TUC moved a statement on Brexit at the ETUC congress in May, adopted unanimously, noting that if labour rights in the UK did not keep pace with those in the EU after Brexit, it would damage workers in the UK and trigger a race to the bottom with devastating consequences for workers’ rights and their livelihoods across Europe and especially in Ireland.

The statement pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement contains a commitment not to undermine the economic and social fabric of Northern Ireland and that regression on workers’ rights would breach that commitment.

The TUC has campaigned to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit © Jack Taylor/Getty Images
The TUC has campaigned to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit © Jack Taylor/Getty Images

2.6 Building a social Europe

The 2018 General Council statement on Brexit committed the TUC to work through the ETUC to push for reforms so that the EU single market better serves working people’s needs.

In that spirit, the TUC has supported ETUC campaigns for higher wages and lobbied members of the European parliament for the adoption of worker-friendly EU directives including the directive on work/life balance, which introduces a right to 10 days’ paid paternity leave (paid at least at the level of statutory sick pay), a right to four months’ parental leave (two of which are non-transferrable) and a right for all workers – not just employees – to request flexible working.

Thanks to trade union lobbying, the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive was adopted in spring 2019. This introduces a right to information on terms and conditions of work from day one, and introduces new employment rights for precarious workers, including a ban on exclusivity clauses, reasonable notice of work schedules, compensation for last-minute cancellation of on-call work, and a right to free mandatory training. These rights cover all workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, in casual work, domestic work, voucher-based work (that is, work that is paid but part of a government subsidised programme) or platform work.

2.7 Building solidarity

In line with composite 2, the TUC campaigned to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. The TUC lobbied against the Immigration and Social Security bill that would end EU citizens’ right to free movement and social security entitlements after Brexit and enable the introduction of a time-limited visa scheme for EU citizens. The TUC appeared before the bill committee in February and argued that the bill would be damaging for all workers as it would make it easier for bad employers to use EU workers to undercut others.

In May, the TUC released the report Building Solidarity, Stopping Undercutting, which detailed concerns with the bill and called for sector-wide collective agreements, stronger workers’ rights and dramatically increased investment in public services and skills. The shadow immigration team drew on TUC evidence during the committee stage to support its opposition to the bill.

The TUC has also worked with civil society campaign groups and met with Home Office officials to raise concerns about the ‘settled status’ scheme for EU citizens, highlighting that the scheme leaves EU citizens in informal employment and low-income workers particularly vulnerable to losing their legal status in the country. 

Respect and a voice at work
Respect at work - banner

3.1 Introduction

Over the year the General Council has worked to build and promote union voice and campaign for respect at work. As covered in Section 1, work to develop and promote collective bargaining continues to be a significant priority, alongside other activity on respect and a voice at work.

3.2 Special feature: combating the far right

Tackling the far right has been a major priority for the General Council over the past year. Far-right activity and visibility are growing. Such activity seeks to exploit the divisions laid bare by the 2016 referendum and ongoing uncertainty around Brexit in a context of wage stagnation, insecure work and public service cuts in Britain, and a resurgent international far right. They are mobilising significant numbers to some of their demonstrations, growing in strength and influence online, and linking with groups around Europe.

The far right are promoting a highly divisive and racist agenda, often with a particular focus on Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-migrant sentiment, but with wide-reaching consequences across all of our communities. We are also seeing the continuing rise of the anti-feminist movement, which finds a home in the virulently anti-women views and policies of the far right. The far right have also targeted disabled and LGBT+ people.

The trade union movement has always been at the forefront of activity to oppose fascism and racism. We are well-placed to challenge the far right’s claim to speak for working people and address the ever-growing encroachment of far-right ideology into mainstream public life. Based on a strategy agreed by the General Council, the TUC has delivered a range of work domestically and internationally aimed at building a platform to challenge far-right ideologies in workplaces, on the streets and online. The TUC’s work on combating the far right sits alongside and is closely linked to our wider campaigns to tackle racism and promote equality and diversity in our workplaces and communities.

In line with emergency resolution 6 and resolution 44, the General Council supported large-scale national-level demonstrations of opposition to racism and fascism. We worked with partners on both the National Unity Demonstration on 17 November 2018 and the UN Anti-Racism Day demonstration on 16 March 2019. The UN Anti-Racism Day demonstration in the UK linked with similar events in 22 other countries as part of an internationally coordinated expression of anti-racist solidarity. The march paid visits to the French, Austrian, Hungarian, German and Brazilian Embassies to show solidarity with those resisting the growing far-right in those countries. The TUC coordinated social media activity with affiliates to maximise reach and used social media channels to share a well-received video that set out the deep roots of the trade union movement in standing against fascism, and for working people.

Far-right ideologies came into particular prominence during the European parliamentary election campaign, with a number of high-profile candidates promoting far-right messages. In order to combat hate speech and remind candidates of their legal obligations, the TUC built and led a coalition of over 30 organisations in a public statement, asking all politicians and candidates to ensure they stood against hate speech during and after the election period. The TUC, community groups, human rights organisations and charities also urged local authorities to publicly correct false claims made by candidates and parties that could stir up divisions in their communities.

The TUC is producing a suite of materials to build union reps’ knowledge and confidence to challenge far-right activity and views in the workplace. In April, as part of this, we launched an online training resource on combating the far right that included information on holding transformative conversations, which we continue to promote widely.

TUC regions have begun to run training sessions to support union reps and activists in organising against the far right, including online organising and positively handling the difficult conversations involved in challenging racist and far-right views in the workplace. These will be completed by December 2019. We also ran well-attended sessions on combating the far right at the Young Workers Conference and Black Workers Conference.

The TUC has created a closed Facebook group for those who have completed the e-learning and attended regional sessions and other engaged activists to share intelligence and experiences of their work in challenging far-right activity. Through this we aim to build stronger links between activists, create safe, online spaces to organise and build a sustainable network of individuals who can share information and insights.

The TUC is working with the ITUC and ETUC to gather information about far-right activity in other countries. We are keen to better understand the internationalisation of the far right, looking at ideology, tactics, funding, social media, and the mainstreaming of xenophobic and far-right ideas, and sharing international examples of successful initiatives against them.

In April, the TUC attended the ITUC Women’s Committee, where unions shared information about initiatives and discussed ways of tackling a range of discrimination including xenophobia and far-right activity.

The TUC wants to ensure that all our work is underpinned by a sound evidence base, using messages proven to be effective in combating far-right narratives. As part of this, we are working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) to better understand the experiences and views of low- and middle-income workers to inform a public-facing campaign aimed at unifying positive action for working people and their communities. The TUC, with support from the JRF, carried out polling and focus groups with low- and middle-income workers from across the country. We are using the results to develop a narrative and language that takes account of people’s lived experience and unifies people around positive solutions to the UK’s social and economic challenges.

Tackling the far right continues to be a major focus, as has our work on employment and union rights, skills, equality, health and safety at work and migration.

3.3 Employment and trade union rights

The TUC has been at the forefront of fighting for improvements to workers’ rights, and for workers to be able to exercise the employment rights that they are entitled to.

As well as work on the overall framework of rights, the TUC has continued to campaign to ensure a stronger framework for employment rights. We briefed MPs on government statutory instruments seeking to implement aspects of its Good Work Plan, stemming from the Taylor Review. In particular we supported the ending of Swedish derogation contracts, which were used as a loophole to avoid giving agency workers equal pay, although we sought to bring forward their abolition. We also supported the right to a written statement of terms and conditions from day one of employment for all workers.

We have also continued to push for strong enforcement of rights, meeting regularly with the Director for Labour Market Enforcement, the GLAA, HMRC and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, pushing government to increase the resources for enforcement, including of employment agencies, and engaging with the Labour Party in the development of its proposals for a Ministry of Labour.

In May, the TUC published an indepth study that showed shocking levels of sexual harassment of LGBT+ people at work.

These have included the right to work flexibly, the right to be free of harassment and free from inappropriate investigation by the police and for the rights of trade unions to be provided with information. 

In line with resolution 23, we’ve lobbied for an overhaul of the right to request flexible work. The TUC has been an active participant in the flexible working taskforce established by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

We have used our participation in this taskforce to argue that jobs should be advertised as flexible unless the employer can prove exceptional circumstances. People should have the right to work flexibility from their first day of employment.

Participation in the BEIS taskforce enabled the TUC to highlight evidence put forward by affiliated unions that demonstrates the failures of existing legislation. In particular, we emphasised that unsuccessful applicants have no appeal route, and that employers have excessive levels of discretion to turn down a flexible working request.

In summer 2019 the General Council endorsed the New Deal Charter. This includes an updated policy on flexible work, which stipulates that when employers advertise new vacancies, they should be required to set out which flexible working arrangements apply, unless they can prove exceptional circumstances.

Throughout the year, the TUC has continued its work to protect people from bullying and harassment at work. Sexual harassment, along with other forms of workplace harassment, has remained high on our agenda.

In line with resolutions 24, 36 and composite 5 we have worked with affiliates and partner organisations to campaign for measures to tackle harassment at work. We have put forward the case for a new legal duty on employers to proactively prevent harassment and victimisation at work. In June 2019 we launched our #ThisIsNotWorking campaign, a coalition of unions, women’s and LGBT+ organisations and other NGOs. This highlighted the inadequacy of the current legislative framework and the benefits of a preventative duty, particularly for sectors with high levels of freelance workers. 

 The TUC has revised its Your Rights at Work booklet, Protection from Sexual Harassment for LGBT+ Workers
The TUC has revised its Your Rights at Work booklet, Protection from Sexual Harassment for LGBT+ Workers

In May, the TUC published an in-depth study that showed shocking levels of sexual harassment of LGBT+ people at work. Nearly 7 in 10 (68 per cent) lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) people have been sexually harassed at work. To support efforts to address this, we published updated guidance on identifying and addressing sexual harassment of LGBT+ people in the workplace. 

We have also been developing our policy on the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of workplace harassment and discrimination in order to secure reforms to the law that will ensure workers can more freely report and talk about their experiences. In March 2019, the TUC gave oral evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on the use of non-disclosure agreements and a month later we submitted our response to the BEIS consultation on measures to prevent misuse of confidentiality clauses in situations of workplace harassment or discrimination.

In response to the May 2018 implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the TUC established a forum for union officials with a responsibility for data protection to discuss the implications, and new obligations, arising from the GDPR. The network has met three times and has helped unions to understand the practical implications of GDPR and the implications for their work, in line with resolution 71. 

The forum has helped unions meet experts in the field, discuss data protection issues that are specific to unions, and share best practice including innovative technological solutions. In addition, TUC Education ran a webinar to help workplace reps prepare for GDPR. The TUC plans to publish a GDPR bargaining guide for union reps in late 2019, focusing on the requirements and minimum standards employers must meet. The aim of is to ensure that employers do not misuse workforce data to disadvantage workers.

In line with emergency resolution 3, the TUC supported the National Union of Journalists’ campaign condemning the arrest of Belfast-based journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey following the making of their film No Stone Unturned. The documentary investigated the murder of six Catholics in Loughinisland, County Down, in 1994. The TUC met with the NUJ to discuss the campaign and promoted a film screening event to support the campaign. The TUC welcomed the confirmation in June that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Durham Constabulary have dropped the criminal inquiry relating to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. This came shortly after the Lord Chief Justice ruled search warrants used by police had been “inappropriate”.

In 2019, the TUC made a series of campaign videos for social media, including this one on equal pay
In 2019, the TUC made a series of campaign videos for social media, including this one on equal pay

3.4 Equalities

The General Council has worked throughout the year to promote equality at work and to tackle discrimination. We have built on the findings of the Equality Audit published at Congress 2018, briefing the TUC’s equality committees and union equality officers on the findings and recommendations. Work on equality has been informed by resolutions 37, 38, 39 and 41, as well as resolutions on issues including anti-racism and the far right, automation and black workers, sexual harassment and flexible working, which are all covered elsewhere in this report. 

During the year, Frances O’Grady has been a member of the Nuffield Foundation Inequalities in the 21st Century steering group.

Pay gap reporting

The TUC has continued to call for gender pay gap legislation to be significantly strengthened, including for reporting requirements to be accompanied by mandatory employer action plans and for smaller employers to be required to report their pay gaps.

In March, the TUC published new analysis showing that the UK’s persistent gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free for two months a year compared to the average man. The report highlighted larger gender pay gaps, including in sectors where women dominate such as education, health and social care, finance and insurance. 

In response to the government’s consultation on ethnicity pay gap reporting, published in January, the TUC made a number of recommendations for a more robust reporting scheme. We took the opportunity to call for mandatory reporting on the pay gap between BME women and white male employees, to focus attention on addressing the intersecting racism and sexism affecting this group. We also highlighted the importance of effective enforcement, setting out the need for better resourcing and stronger powers for the EHRC. And we argued that to allow effective pay gap reporting, employers would need to vastly improve race monitoring data. 

In March, the TUC published new analysis showing that the UK’s persistent gender pay gap means that women effectively work for free for two months a year.

TUC research has found that the disability pay gap – the difference between what non-disabled and disabled workers earn – is 15 per cent or almost £3,000 a year, and higher for disabled women. The TUC called on the government to make it compulsory for employers to publish their disability pay gaps, arguing that the voluntary code the government brought into force in November 2018 is ineffective.

Equal pensions

In line with resolution 38, the TUC wrote to the EHRC about the disadvantages faced by women as a result of the gender pension gap. We supported the call for an EHRC assessment of the extent to which the secretary of state for work and pensions has complied with her duty to advance equality of opportunity by minimising the impact of the gender pensions gap on women. The gender pensions gap was also a theme in the TUC’s 2019 pensions conference.

Abortion rights

The TUC continued to make the case for access to free, safe, legal abortion. We know that this right is crucial to women’s economic, educational and social advancement and is supported by the great majority of people in Britain. We continue to argue that barriers to reproductive rights are barriers to full social, economic, political and workplace equality. As an active member of the Voice for Choice Alliance, the UK’s national coalition of pro-choice organisations, we are challenging attempts to undermine, erode, and even roll back hard-won women’s rights.

In line with resolution 37, we worked jointly with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to write together to the prime minister to call on her to secure access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland. The legislation in Northern Ireland on abortion is some of the most restrictive and carries some of the harshest criminal penalties in Europe. Our letter called on the prime minister to commit the UK government to ending this violation of human rights by legislating to ensure that women in Northern Ireland have access to free, safe and legal reproductive healthcare. 

We also endorsed ICTU’s evidence to the Women and Equality Select Committee’s inquiry on abortion law in Northern Ireland and offered our support to a Ten Minute Rule Bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. 

LGBT+ workers

LGBT+ workers are impacted by discrimination at work, in public and when accessing goods and services both at home and abroad. As part of our work this year to advance LGBT+ equality, the TUC submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into the issues facing LGBT+ people when accessing health and social care. We continued to support the campaign for equal marriage in Northern Ireland and added our voice to international lobbying initiatives calling for greater protections for LGBT+ people in Chechnya and Brunei.

The TUC ran two social media campaigns with a focus on LGBT+ equality at work, one to coincide with Trans Awareness Week in November, and the other for Pride in June/July, with a focus on keeping Pride political. As set out in the previous section of this report, we also published the first major report into LGBT+ sexual harassment at work. 

In line with resolution 41, we responded to the government consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act, setting out TUC support for a simplified, free, statutory gender-recognition process based on self-declaration and supporting the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that allow for the provision of single-sex spaces and services and for proportional exclusions. 

In line with resolution 39 we sought information from the government to better understand the impact on the pension rights of LGBT+ people who were dishonourably discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation or trans status. The TUC has, and will continue to, lobby for any historic wrongs done to the LGBT+ community to be acknowledged and addressed.

Disabled workers

The TUC has, in addition to progressing resolution 30 on stopping and scrapping Universal Credit, continued to use our research and lobbying to push for wider positive change for disabled workers.
We produced new guidance on reasonable adjustment passports for disabled workers, publishing a model passport and guidance aimed at union reps and disabled members. This is designed to make to easier for disabled members to keep their adjustments in place when their line manager or role changes.

We produced new guidance on reasonable adjustment passports for disabled workers, publishing a model passport and guidance aimed at union reps and disabled members.

We used TUC research to highlight the disability pay gap (see above). And we also drew attention to the 30 per cent disability employment gap, and the lack of real progress in narrowing that gap.

The General Council has campaigned to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of workers is protected by strong union organisation and a network of health and safety reps © Monty Rakusen/Getty Images
The General Council has campaigned to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of workers is protected by strong union organisation and a network of health and safety reps © Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

3.5 Health, safety and regulation

During the year the General Council has campaigned to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of workers is protected by strong union organisation and a network of health and safety reps with access to high-quality guidance and advice. 

Supporting activists

The TUC produced a range of resources to support workplace activists. The weekly health and safety e-bulletin Risks was published throughout the year.

Five meetings of the Union Health and Safety Specialists group took place during the year. This forum discusses developments within occupational health and safety. Speakers included officials from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who spoke about their research strategy and vulnerable workers, and the National Centre of Excellence for Musculoskeletal Health and Work.

In the run-up to International Workers Memorial Day in April 2019, the TUC used the theme of hazardous substances to further promote the work of union health and safety reps, and TUC material on the eradication of asbestos and diesel exhaust.

The results of the 2018 survey of trade union health and safety representatives were published in October 2018 and promoted on social media.


The TUC continued to work with the HSE during the year. The TUC was represented on the Board of the HSE by Kevin Rowan, head of organisation, services and skills at the TUC, and Sir Paul Kenny, former general secretary of the GMB. 

In June 2019, it was announced that TUC General Council members Claire Sullivan of the CSP and Ged Nichols of Accord had been appointed to the Board, and that Sir Paul Kenny would be stepping down. 

The TUC was on the programme board of the Work and Health Programme, which has this year prioritised issues including stress, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and lung diseases.


The General Council campaigned on a wide range of health and safety issues during the year. The TUC produced resources for affiliates and health and safety representatives to support these campaigns, including on bullying, diesel exhaust and musculoskeletal disorders. Other campaign activities included:


During the year the TUC continued to campaign for a legal maximum indoor working temperature through the media and social media. We worked with the ETUC to develop research into the situation in Europe to inform a proposal for binding legislation.

The TUC has campaigned to ensure that government and employers take action to address the mental health implications of poor employment protections © Alvarez/Getty Images
The TUC has campaigned to ensure that government and employers take action to address the mental health implications of poor employment protections © Alvarez/Getty Images

Mental health

The TUC developed a guide on workplace mental health that included guidance on prevention, the use of Mental Health First Aid and prevention of suicide. This was a result of composite 12 at the 2018 Congress. In support of this, several regional conferences were held on mental health and we worked with Public Health England (PHE), the HSE and the Joint Unit on Work and Health on integrating prevention activity into mental health strategies.

The TUC developed a guide on workplace mental health that included guidance on prevention, the use of Mental Health First Aid and prevention of suicide.

Drugs and alcohol

The TUC produced two guides in February 2019 on developing drug and alcohol policies and on drugs testing. We had a number of meetings with unions on the issues raised by the guides.


The TUC worked with Maternity Action to produce joint guidance on health and safety and pregnancy. We also met HSE officials about improving enforcement in this area. 

Public health and wellbeing

In accordance with resolution 62, the TUC worked with Public Health England on its campaign for improved health and wellbeing in the workplace. This included involvement in the guidance for ‘Charter’ schemes, where the TUC continued to provide a high-quality scheme through our Northern region. A series of meetings were held with the joint Department for Work and Pensions/Department of Health unit to ensure that the interests of workers were protected in the government follow-up to the recent green paper on health and work. Following resolution 27, the TUC continued to raise concerns over the health impact of night working.


The TUC continued to campaign for strong regulation in accordance with resolution 25. We met with the chair of the Regulatory Policy Committee to continue to oppose deregulation and put more weight on the societal impact of regulation. We continued to work with affiliates over the impact of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, including liaising with the HSE prior to the publication of a government policy on a new regulatory framework for building control covering high-rise residential buildings, as called for in composite 3.


The TUC continued to play a major part in seeking to influence the health and safety agenda of the European Commission. This included active membership of both the Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work to the European Commission and the board of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work based in Bilbao. The TUC was also represented on the Health and Safety Committee of the ETUC.

Industrial Injuries Advisory Council

The TUC is represented by Karen Mitchell (RMT), Doug Russell (Usdaw) and Hugh Robertson (TUC). The three TUC nominees played an active role in the work of the council, seeking to ensure that workers who become disabled as a result of an injury or illness caused by work receive benefit.

External bodies

TUC nominees sat on a range of other external bodies including the Council for Work and Health and the board of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. It also continued to work closely with the Hazards movement, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and other organisations in the field of occupational health and safety. 

3.6 Skills at work

Over the past year, the General Council has campaigned for greater investment in skills to support economic growth and help more workers achieve their full potential. During this period the scale of the skills crisis has grown apace, with potential impacts from Brexit and automation, and growing calls for a boost to public investment in the skills system.

To inform the policy debate, the TUC commissioned an analysis of workplace training trends from Professor Francis Green of UCL. This drew on previous research highlighting that the total volume of employer-led training declined by a half between the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the current decade. The new analysis tracks trends since 2011 and it paints a similarly depressing picture, including:

  • the latest rate of decline in the volume of workplace training ranges from 10 to 19 per cent according to findings from two large employee surveys.
  • workers with the lowest-level qualifications have been hit hardest, experiencing a cut in training that is double the average.
  • the quality of training has not improved and fewer people are accessing off-the-job training, longer courses, and nationally recognised qualifications.

On a more positive note, the study shows that the union ‘mark-up’ on training is holding up well, with training volumes averaging a 19 per cent higher level in unionised workplaces. In line with composite 16, unionlearn produced a new pamphlet showing how the Union Learning Fund is boosting investment in skills and opening up lifelong learning opportunities for workers.

General Council members and TUC staff are represented on a range of skills bodies, in particular those with a remit for major infrastructure projects. Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, was a member of the Heathrow Skills Taskforce and Kevin Rowan, head of organisation, services and skills at the TUC, is a member of the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce.


The General Council has supported some key apprenticeships reforms, especially measures to drive up employer investment through the levy and new regulations to improve quality, including a strengthened entitlement to off-the-job training. Unionlearn has produced resources to help unions take advantage of these reforms and negotiate with employers to boost the number of high-quality apprenticeships.

There remain significant shortcomings in the government’s policy approach, including weak union voice in new institutional arrangements and slow progress in tackling poor-quality apprenticeships and widening access to under-represented groups. Various commentators, including the OECD, continue to highlight the need for a genuine social partnership approach on apprenticeships as is found in other countries with high-quality training systems.

The TUC welcomed a number of the recommendations of the House of Commons Education Select Committee following its inquiry into apprenticeships last year. Many of these recommendations were in line with policy reform proposals in our submission aimed at driving up quality and improving equality and diversity across the apprenticeship programme.

Earlier this year the TUC submitted evidence to the government’s review of the levy and called for some flexibilities to drive up the number of high-quality apprenticeships. We also organised a roundtable of senior employers and union officials, under the auspices of the Public Services Forum and chaired by the skills minister, to discuss the challenges and opportunities for public sector apprenticeships.

 Construction jobs are suffering from decline in the volume of workplace training © Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images
Construction jobs are suffering from decline in the volume of workplace training © Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images
Adult skills

The General Council has consistently called on government to balance the increased investment in apprenticeships with more funding for FE and adult skills and to introduce measures to empower more workers to upskill and retrain. The TUC submission to the Autumn 2018 Budget called for specific new entitlements, including a right to time off to learn, access to mid-life reviews, and a learning account for all workers.

The need to boost investment in retraining was also a key plank of our oral and written evidence to an inquiry on the Fourth Industrial Revolution undertaken by the Education Select Committee. Throughout the year, the TUC collaborated with the government and the CBI to oversee the design and development of the National Retraining Scheme, including planning trials to test out the programme over the coming year.

In recent years the General Council has been calling for measures to boost English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) learning provision and to make basic digital qualifications free at point of access. In line with this, the TUC welcomed long-overdue commitments by government to develop a national ESOL strategy for England and to deliver a new digital skills entitlement.

Adult skills funding is to be devolved to the Greater London Authority and six mayoral combined authorities later this year. The TUC has campaigned for these authorities to use these powers to widen access to learning and skills, but also raised concerns about adverse impacts of this funding change on our national programme for training union representatives.

The Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, near London, on 21 June 1948. 1,027 passengers from Jamaica began disembarking the next day © SSPL/NMeM/Daily Herald Archive
The Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, near London, on 21 June 1948. 1,027 passengers from Jamaica began disembarking the next day © SSPL/NMeM/Daily Herald Archive

In line with composite 6, the TUC campaigned for a rights-based and humane immigration policy that ensures the dignity of all workers and that tackles labour market exploitation.

A key route for this was our lobbying on the Immigration and Social Security Bill. In evidence to the Bill Committee in the House of Commons, the TUC called for the Immigration and Social Security Bill to be scrapped along with the 2014 Immigration Act and 2016 Immigration Act. This legislation intensified the ‘hostile environment’ against migrants that caused the Windrush scandal of 2018.

The TUC held a series of meetings with Home Office officials and the shadow immigration team to show how hostile environment policies have meant those from the Windrush generation as well as other non-EU migrants have been exploited by employers taking advantage of their insecure immigration status. As a result of the Windrush scandal, many people have lost access to employment, healthcare, bank accounts and housing and have faced increased discrimination. In March, the TUC wrote to the home secretary to condemn the deportation of 29 people to Jamaica despite the fact at least half of them had Windrush generation parents or grandparents.

As a result of the Windrush scandal, many people have lost access to employment, healthcare, bank accounts and housing and have faced increased discrimination.

The TUC is calling on the government to set up an independent inquiry into the hostile environment policy and its effects, for the restoration of full rights for those affected by the Windrush scandal and for full compensation for the losses suffered.

In the run-up to the European elections in May the ETUC, with input from the TUC, released a statement calling for MEPs to support solidarity and an approach on migration where rights are respected regardless of immigration status.

The TUC has worked with the ETI on freedom of association for members and to strengthen support for union organising worldwide © John Moore/Getty Images
The TUC has worked with the ETI on freedom of association for members and to strengthen support for union organising worldwide © John Moore/Getty Images

Global supply chains

The TUC has remained an active board member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The TUC supported the ETI decision to expel the banana company Fyffes for failing to resolve long-running abuse of freedom of association in its Honduras supply chain. We worked with the ETI to produce more demanding and ambitious guidance on freedom of association for members, to strengthen the organisation’s support for union organising worldwide.

The TUC continued to advocate for binding human rights due diligence laws to compel British companies to respect workers’ rights globally.

In Bangladesh the TUC carried out detailed research among unions in the garment supply chain, discovering that early support for newly formed garment unions was essential.

Good Services
Good Services banner

4.1 Introduction

The last 12 months have seen no easing of the pressure on our public services as we struggle to cope with rising demand at a time of staff shortages, cuts to funding and closure of services. As resolution 68 illustrated, essential parts of our public sector such as fire and emergency services are being pushed to the brink, posing a threat to the wellbeing of workers and communities alike.

Despite the Chancellor’s rhetoric, we expect further real-terms cuts to many services over the course of the next spending review. In line with composite 8, the TUC continues to campaign for a fair funding settlement across the public sector. Throughout the year we have commissioned analysis from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) that has enabled us to map the impact on departmental budgets and to identify the level of spending our public services need. 

In its Austerity by Stealth report, the NEF demonstrated that, under current spending plans, areas outside of the so-called ‘protected’ budgets of health, education, defence and international development were likely to see further cuts of between 2 and 4 per cent per capita by 2023. And, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported, the additional funding for the NHS falls far short of what is needed, while schools will continue to see real-terms cuts per pupil. The NEF’s analysis estimated that a further £32bn would be required by 2023 in order to meet demand and improve services across a range of areas including health, social care and schools.

4.2 Education

Over the past year, the TUC has worked closely with affiliated unions on policy and workforce issues relating to education in line with resolutions 32, 53 and 56 and composites 9 and 10. The TUC has continued to facilitate regular meetings of the education unions to coincide with the meetings of the Public Services Liaison Group and support coordination with wider public services campaigning and the TUC Campaign Plan 2018–19.

The meetings of the education unions have focused on developing strategic support for the main campaigning issues highlighted in the Congress resolutions on education, including the education funding crisis, excessive workload in schools, corporal punishment, the mental health and wellbeing of teaching and support staff, the abuse of data in education policy and practice, the failings of our post-16 education system, and continuing opposition to the expansion of academies, free schools and selective education.

The General Council has continued to highlight the education funding crisis, in particular the funding shortfall facing schools and colleges.

Despite the education funding crisis, teachers and teaching assistants continue to work miracles in our schools and universities © Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
Despite the education funding crisis, teachers and teaching assistants continue to work miracles in our schools and universities © Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

In line with composites 9 and 10, the General Council has continued to highlight the education funding crisis, in particular the funding shortfall facing schools and colleges and the detrimental impact of this on educational provision and the pay and conditions of teaching and support staff. Particular concerns have been raised about special needs education, with local authorities facing a major shortfall in SEND funding during a period when there has been a significant increase in the number of young people with education, health and care plans.

The General Council has given its support to the Love Colleges campaign coordinated by FE employers and unions, and the call for: a fully funded entitlement to a first level 3 qualification for all adults; increased funding for colleges; and a fair pay deal for all FE staff.

Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, was appointed to the Independent Commission on the College of the Future that is being coordinated by the Association of Colleges.
The TUC welcomed some of the recommendations in the final report of the review of post-18 education and funding chaired by Philip Augar, in particular proposals to: boost funding for our college system; introduce fully funded entitlements to a first level 2 and/or level 3 qualification for all adults; and reintroduce HE maintenance grants and widen access to grants for students doing sub-degree qualifications.

However, the General Council remains concerned that the Augar Review has constructed a reform agenda largely based on a remodelled version of the existing HE loan system. As highlighted in the TUC’s original evidence to the review, there is a risk that this will extend the damaging consequences of a loan-based approach to other parts of the education sector, leading to higher levels of unsustainable student debt for more individuals.

Earlier this year the TUC responded to the government’s consultation on the impact of the introduction of T Levels on the long-term public funding of existing vocational qualifications, such as applied general qualifications. In line with many other stakeholders, we strongly argued the case for maintaining public funding for qualifications, such as BTECs, to ensure that the needs of all learners are fully met under the reformed system.

4.3 NHS and social care

In line with composites 11 and 12, the TUC worked with unions and campaigners at a national and local level to campaign for a proper funding settlement for health and social care, parity of esteem for mental health services, support for healthcare workers and an end to the outsourcing and privatisation of health services. 

The chancellor confirmed additional funding for the NHS in the 2018 autumn budget that would provide annual real-terms increases of around 3 per cent to the Department of Health budget up to 2022/23. However, as the IFS and Health Foundation reported, this fell short of the 4 per cent a year that’s needed to improve services, plug provider deficits, address the shortfall in capacity and invest in transformative change and new integrated models of care. This funding also does not cover capital investment, public health or training and education budgets that are crucial to underpinning an effective NHS workforce strategy. And, of course, there was still no additional funding for social care.

As a result, we continued to see the NHS struggling to deliver services within an unprecedented decade-long spending squeeze, with waiting lists and waiting times increasing, available beds decreasing and 100,000 unfilled staff vacancies.

We continued to see the NHS struggling to deliver services within an unprecedented decade-long
spending squeeze, with waiting lists and waiting times increasing, available beds decreasing and 100,000 unfilled staff vacancies.

Mental health remains one of the worst affected areas. In October 2018, the TUC published its report Breaking Point: the crisis in mental health funding – with new analysis commissioned from the NHS Support Federation showing dramatic decreases in mental health doctors, nurses and beds in the last five years. This data was included in a revised version of our campaigning app, which allowed people to look up the impact of cuts to mental health services in their local postcode and lobby their MP. This will continue to be used as the TUC, together with unions and campaign groups, steps up the joint campaign for a better funding settlement for the NHS and mental health services specifically, including a conference with Health Campaigns Together in September 2019. In doing so, we will also be highlighting the impact that cuts to school funding and local authority services are having on mental health services, as we see more cuts to school support for at-risk pupils and local drug and alcohol dependency services. 

At the beginning of the year, the NHS Long Term Plan was published setting out ambitious plans for reform through funding for priority areas like mental health, greater integration across health and social care, greater use of technology and proposals to increase staffing, providing new routes to entry, training and progression. We have significant concerns about how the lack of funding could undermine the workforce strategy, untested assumptions about the benefits that digital services will bring to all service users and the capacity to deliver ambitious integration proposals with such high levels of unfilled staff vacancies and the ongoing impact of the funding squeeze. 

However, there are some positives and the TUC, along with health unions, supported many of the proposals for legislative change that NHS England is advocating that will undo some of the damage caused by the competition regulations in the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

The TUC also worked with health campaigners to help coordinate support for union campaigns against the outsourcing of services through subsidiary companies (subcos) set up by NHS providers. While we welcomed the pause following the introduction of new guidance, we are concerned that in recent months the green light has been given for further subcos to be established and we will continue to campaign against them.

The TUC has supported unions in their campaigns against outsourcing in the NHS © Jess Hurd/
The TUC has supported unions in their campaigns against outsourcing in the NHS © Jess Hurd/

4.4 Privatisation and outsourcing

The tremors from the collapse of Carillion continue to be felt across our public services as more high-profile outsourcing companies face similar difficulties, including Interserve, Kier Group, Four Seasons and Allied Healthcare. Ministers were forced to bring probation services back in-house following their chaotic privatisation and NHS England is currently consulting on reforms to regulations that could remove some of the competition, outsourcing and fragmentation brought in by the coalition government’s reforms in 2012.

The past 12 months have seen a number of high-profile strikes by public service unions in defence of the pay and rights of outsourced workers with the full support of the TUC, including outsourced PCS members fighting for the real living wage at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a successful campaign against outsourcing at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow led by UNISON members.

In accordance with composite 7, the General Council pressed the case for a change of direction in public service outsourcing. In November 2018, we brought public service unions together with the Cabinet Office to inform its plans to reform HM Treasury guidance on outsourcing. We called for a more rigorous public interest case to be applied to outsourcing decisions, greater support for employment standards through the procurement process in line with the objectives of the government’s Good Work Plan and greater transparency on outsourced services across the public sector.

We followed this up with a roundtable with the Cabinet Office in May 2019, held jointly with the Business Services Association, to look at how the government can strengthen its social value procurement framework, again making the case for a stronger focus on employment standards and support for trade union access and collective bargaining.

The TUC continued to work with unions and other campaign partners, such as We Own It and the Co-Operative Party, to make the case for new models of public ownership, informing the Labour Party’s policy development around insourcing and public ownership.

We are also working with the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) to develop easy-to-use online tools that give step-by-step advice and guidance on insourcing services and social value procurement that unions, local authority councillors and others can use to develop alternative approaches.

4.5 Civil service

Workers across the public sector continue to labour under the impact of funding cuts, job losses and attacks on pay and pensions. In the civil service, we have seen public servants increasingly subjected to unwarranted attacks on their impartiality and effectiveness by politicians and commentators with axes to grind in the Brexit debate, as highlighted by resolution 65. In response to this, the TUC wrote to the minister for the Cabinet Office seeking a clear message to civil service unions that the integrity and impartiality of civil servants would be promoted and protected by whoever leads the government going forward.

The housing paradox: more luxury flats have been built in London in the past 10 years than at any other time, yet local councils have spent 48 per cent less on housing © Dan Kitwood/Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The housing paradox: more luxury flats have been built in London in the past 10 years than at any other time, yet local councils have spent 48 per cent less on housing © Dan Kitwood/Oli Scarff/Getty Images

4.6 Local government

Local government continues to see significant cuts to funding. The National Audit Office reported that central government funding for local authorities has effectively been cut in half since 2010/11 and this year saw the largest single cut in revenue support grant from central government in a decade.

Since 2010, local councils have spent 10 per cent less on adult social care, 20 per cent less on the local environment and an alarming 48 per cent less on housing.

This situation will be exacerbated by the widening of inequalities in local authority funding, as the government withdraws grant funding and requires councils to self-fund through retention of business rates, council tax and local charges alone. This year, the TUC published new analysis commissioned from the New Economics Foundation which showed that, even with the government’s limited redistribution measures, the gap between council revenue in some of the wealthiest and poorest areas of the country is set to dramatically increase. The TUC is calling for a fairer system of equalisation and redistribution of retained business rates in order to address regional inequalities and stimulate economic growth in every region.

Fair pay for public service workers? To restore earnings to 2010 levels would cost an additional £8.5bn by 2022/23 © Joel Goodman/Lnp/Shutterstock
Fair pay for public service workers? To restore earnings to 2010 levels would cost an additional £8.5bn by 2022/23 © Joel Goodman/Lnp/Shutterstock

4.7 Justice

TUC policy on the criminal justice system is guided by resolutions 66 and 67. In line with these, we collaborated with colleagues in UNISON, GMB and Napo on the Speak up for Justice campaign, which works with a range of civil society groups and public sector partners to roll back the government’s damaging reforms to the justice sector and protect it from further attacks.

We submitted a consultation to the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) review of the probation system (Transforming Rehabilitation), laying out how we believe the errors of the government’s privatisation programme should be rectified. In May, the MoJ announced that it will bring 80 per cent of the probation service back into public ownership, following campaigning by unions in the sector and a series of damning reports from the National Audit Office (NAO) and the Chief Inspector of Probation.

Despite increased funding in the last two years, spending on prisons has fallen by 16 per cent from 2009/10 to 2017/18 and staffing levels remain 15 per cent below 2010 levels. Violence in prisons continues to be a major concern. The frequency of reported assaults on staff has almost tripled since 2010, with a 26 per cent increase in the last year alone and prisoner-on-prisoner violence has increased at an even sharper rate. Noting composite 4, we drew attention to the crisis of safety in the prison system, which affects prisoners and prison officers alike. We support calls by unions to end and roll back privatisation. And we support calls for funding to ensure prisons are safer for prison officers and inmates. 

4.8 Public sector pay

The General Council’s work on public sector pay is governed by resolution 61, composite emergency resolution 1 and emergency resolution 7. In line with this, the TUC continued to call for fair pay for public sector workers.

In 2015, the General Council set out five tests for a fair pay deal for public sector workers, including funded increases, fair pay awards across all public services, freedom for collective bargaining and genuinely independent pay review bodies, tackling low pay through the real living wage and the restoration of lost earnings since 2010. Although in some sectors – such as the NHS, local government and the National Probation Service – unions were able to use new flexibility to secure some advances on pay, the government has still failed to deliver against the tests we set out.

The TUC will continue to press the case for fair pay for public service workers, calling on the chancellor to
ensure sufficient funding is provided in the spending review to fund fair pay awards.

In some sectors such as the civil service, prisons and the police service, pay awards were below inflation, meaning more real-terms pay cuts. Outside of the NHS, no funding was provided to support pay increases, putting additional strain on departmental budgets. This year, for example, civil service pay has been capped at 1 per cent but with departments able to provide an additional 1 per cent – where this is affordable and doesn’t impact on delivery of services, according to Treasury guidance. The government continues to ignore the recommendations of pay review bodies, with ministers rejecting the recommended 3.5 per cent award for teachers on the upper pay scale or in leadership roles, despite the pay review body highlighting the necessity of this to address the recruitment and retention crisis in our schools. 

The TUC will continue to press the case for fair pay for public service workers, calling on the chancellor to ensure sufficient funding is provided in the spending review to fund fair pay awards across all public services. Analysis by the New Economics Foundation, commissioned by the TUC, shows that a pay award above inflation that restores earnings to 2010 levels would cost an additional £8.5bn by 2022/23. The research also showed that almost half of this is recouped to the Treasury through increased tax revenue, reductions to in-work benefits and indirect tax revenue as a result of wider economic growth resulting from the multiplier effect.

The TUC has also challenged the government over proposals to cap exit payments, covering voluntary severance, redundancy and other payments, at £95k for all public sector workers. We highlighted the impact that this will have on a range of medium earners, and how it rides roughshod over existing collective agreements and reduces the scope for unions and employers to work together to secure workforce reforms.

4.9 Public Services Forum

The Public Services Forum brings together the TUC and public service unions, the Cabinet Office and relevant public service employers, including the Local Government Association and NHS employers, to agree joint programmes of action in relation to strategic issues affecting the public service workforce. 
In the last 12 months, we have worked jointly on developing a cross-public-sector response to the government’s Good Work Plan, with the aim of launching a new good work toolkit for use by managers and union officers and reps later this year.

We held two roundtables of unions and employers looking at how we can effectively deliver good-quality apprenticeships across the public sector. And we have staged two roundtables looking at revisions to the government policy and practice on outsourcing and social value procurement.

Season tickets for rail passengers in England can cost 13 per cent of average earnings © DGL Images/Getty Images
Season tickets for rail passengers in England can cost 13 per cent of average earnings © DGL Images/Getty Images

4.10 Transport

The TUC has continued to campaign for improvements to our transport systems to benefit passengers, workers and the whole economy. We believe that publicly owned, democratically accountable rail is the best option. Train operating companies (TOCs) privatise the profits from running lines, but the risks and penalties are paid for by the public. In 2018 the taxpayer was liable for £38m for Govia Thameslink because the nature of its contract meant the Department for Transport (DfT) had to compensate it if profits didn’t meet expectations. The industry still relies on large subsidies from the taxpayer.

We continue to campaign for an end to train franchises, pointing out the failures of the current system. In line with composite 17 and resolution 11, we called for a publicly owned rail network. In January, we published research showing that season tickets still cost up to three times the proportion of earnings for UK passengers than they do for European passengers taking similar journeys. Season tickets in England can cost 13 per cent of average earnings. Tickets for equivalent journeys in Germany, France or Belgium cost between 3 and 4 per cent. Meanwhile, train companies have paid billions of pounds in dividends, as passengers struggle with frequent cancellations and delays, and union members’ jobs are attacked. 

Reforms to Network Rail promise to unite track and train. But by bringing private companies back into infrastructure maintenance they threaten to create a series of regional Railtracks, putting safety at risk.

We published research showing that season tickets still cost up to three times the proportion of earnings for UK passengers than they do for European passengers taking similar journeys.

We raised all these issues in a substantial response to Keith Williams’ root-and-branch review of the rail industry. In our submission we pointed out that it is more expensive to use private finance and outsourcing to fund and deliver projects and services on the railways. We also highlighted the value passengers see in having a safety-critical staff member on their trains. 

The last year has seen an attack on rail workers pay. As noted in emergency composite 9, attempts to link reductions in ticket prices to cuts in pay are dishonest and have to be resisted. The TUC was clear that the real problem on our railways is not workers’ pay: instead it is a broken franchise system, huge dividends for investors and rocketing fares on packed, unreliable commuter trains.

TUC policy on freight is guided by resolution 13. The UK’s rail freight capacity increased from 1996 until 2013/14, but since then it fell by 25 per cent. Once freight capacity is lost it is very expensive to replace. Rail freight is a more efficient, greener method than transporting goods by road. Keeping freight is essential if we are going to reduce our carbon emissions. We will continue to press for more recognition of the environmental and economic benefits of the rail freight system.

In line with resolution 14 and composite 1, the TUC has undertaken a comprehensive programme of work during this Congress year to oppose social dumping, and to promote better employment rights and safer workplaces, including in the maritime sector. We have campaigned on these issues in the UK and have worked with European and international colleagues to campaign on them throughout the world. This has included developing new proposals for sectoral collective bargaining, which is particularly important among fragmented sectors that are harder to organise.

Winning more for workers
Winning more for workers- banner

5.1 Introduction

Trade unions have shown their resilience, effectiveness and relevance to working people this year, despite facing the enormous challenges of austerity, economic uncertainty and precarious employment across all sectors and industries. Union membership has increased for the second consecutive year, a testament to the hard work of union organising campaigns. While our strength remains in large employers and the public sector, unions continue to make breakthroughs in the private sector and the gig economy.

The TUC continues to demonstrate its value in supporting our unions, officers and reps – providing innovative leadership in digital transformation, capacity building initiatives for young workers, increasing use of a broad range of TUC Education courses and resources, professional development for union officers and supporting a growing number of Trades Councils.

While workplace learning has come under increasing pressure, unionlearn continues to build union capacity, supporting learning reps and bargaining for skills, demonstrated by the fact that workers are still much more likely to have learning opportunities in a unionised workplace.

In Wales and across cities and regions of England, the TUC has shown what can be achieved in partnership with progressive administrations and with committed political leaders. Through promoting social value procurement, employment charters, local industrial strategies and the TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda, we have shown that there is an alternative way to govern local communities and economies to the benefit of working people.

And, of course, the TUC remains part of a global movement, working with our sister unions across the world through global union organisations and the ILO and showing solidarity to unions fighting for workers’ rights and social justice from Brazil to Turkey and beyond. 

There is always more that can be done and the TUC will be looking ahead this year to talk to unions, officers and reps to see how we can further adapt and improve our services, resources and support to ensure that we continue to make gains as a trade union movement across the UK. Working people need us now more than ever.

5.2 Organising and union membership

Between 2017 and 2018 trade union membership in the UK increased for the second consecutive year and for the fourth time in the last seven years.

The number of trade union members increased by over 100,000 to 6.35 million. This is the largest single-year increase in membership since 2000 and is accounted for by an increase in membership in the public sector from 3.56 million last year to 3.69 million. There was a small fall in membership in the private sector from 2.7 to 2.65 million.

The proportion of workers who belonged to a union also increased both overall (from 23.2 per cent to 23.4 per cent) and in the public sector (from 51.8 per cent to 52.5 per cent). There was a small fall in union density in the private sector (from 13.5 per cent to 13.2 per cent).

Density increased among workers aged 16–19 and 20–24. But just one in ten workers aged 20–24 were in a union. 

The number of trade union members increased by over 100,000 to 6.35 million. This is the largest single-year increase in membership since 2000.

A key challenge for unions is to increase membership in the private sector © Jess Hurd/
A key challenge for unions is to increase membership in the private sector © Jess Hurd/

The proportion of women workers who are members of a union increased to 26.2 per cent and there are now over 3.5 million women trade union members. Among men, density was 20.7 per cent.

The sectors/industries with the highest density were education (47.6 per cent) and public administration (45.4 per cent). In the private sector the transport and storage industry has the highest density (36.1 per cent).

Collective bargaining coverage across the economy remained unchanged at 26 per cent but there was a small increase in bargaining coverage in the public sector (from 57.6 per cent to 58.9 per cent) and a small fall in private sector bargaining coverage (from 15.2 per cent to 14.7 per cent).

The statistics show that two key challenges remain for the movement: organising young workers and increasing membership in the private sector.

Each new group of workers starting their working lives are less likely to be union members than the preceding generation. Almost 77 per cent of employees who carry a union card are aged over 35. Of employees who are trade union members, less than one in twenty were aged between 16 and 24 whereas almost 40 per cent were aged 50 and over. In the private sector there are over 17.5 million non-members, including approximately three million 16- to 24-years-olds in sectors where union density is particularly low.

During 2019, the TUC has undertaken a comprehensive review of the support that it provides to unions on organising and in the latter part of the year will begin to roll out new education programme for reps, officers and union leaders. This will include a new version of the TUC’s Leading Change programme.

Resolution 73 on winning against atypical employment models called on Ryanair to negotiate good-quality agreements with unions representing all sections of its workforce in all countries in which it operates. The General Council notes that the campaign for union recognition at Ryanair has continued across Europe.

During 2019, the TUC has undertaken a comprehensive review of the support that it provides to unions on organising.

5.3 Special feature: a Digital Lab for the union movement

The TUC Digital Lab was launched in February 2019. It is a programme of networking, events and resources aimed at building affiliate unions’ capacity in digital transformation.

What is ‘digital transformation?’

Internet access has reached near-universal levels among working adults in the UK. Large and growing majorities of union members and potential members now have a natural preference to engage initially online, on mobile and at any time of day.

This has raised people’s expectations of how they can interact with companies, government and organisations. It’s also caused an explosion in new services and organisations, many of which now compete with unions on at least some of our activities.

Digital transformation is the process by which unions can adapt the ways they work to better fit people’s expectations from us. It’s about devising new ways to make our historic values more accessible in the modern age.

Eight principles for union digital transformation

The Digital Lab launched with a workshop for senior union leaders in February, with attendees drawn from TUC Executive Committee members and their nominees. The session explored some of the challenges facing unions in meeting member expectations in the digital age.

It also defined some key principles that underpin the success of digital transformation projects, in an environment that is still unfamiliar to many unions.

These principles have formed the approach of the Digital Lab and were published as a resource for unions to use in their strategic planning around digital transformation.

They can be read at

Building a network

The Digital Lab has worked to build and support a network of champions for digital transformation across the union movement. Regular mailings have circulated new resources, upcoming event invitations and suggested reading.

To join the mailing list and hear about upcoming events and resources, visit

Identifying best practice

Many unions are already doing great work in digital, but the learning has not always been shared around the movement as well as it could be.

A programme of monthly Digital Lab workshops for union staff and leaders has helped identify what good practice looks like in digitising different areas of unions’ work. Learning from the workshops has been written up, to produce helpful resources for other unions starting projects in these areas.

Tools to help the movement come together

The Digital Lab has helped unions come together on digital where it could have a greater impact for the movement.

For example, Megaphone is the TUC’s new digital campaigning platform for affiliates. It was launched in 2019 and has offered free campaign tools and promotion, building a best-of-breed platform to serve the labour movement.

Megaphone has so far enabled over 50,000 people to take action in support of union campaigns. It has aimed to convert online interest in work-related campaigns into helping unions sign up new members or mobilising support towards other campaign goals.

You can start your own campaign on Megaphone at

Piloting new approaches

The Digital Lab has helped answer questions around digital transformation through supporting pilot work. The Digital Lab has worked with affiliates on prototyping and testing new approaches to shared problems and distributing the learning to other unions.

Initial projects have included work on online recruitment in campaigns with BFAWU and testing website recruitment messaging effectiveness with BECTU sector of Prospect.

Measuring progress

The Digital Lab has assisted unions to understand progress made on their digital journeys and how they could develop their own digital strategies.

The TUC digital healthcheck tool is an interactive framework that has enabled unions to quickly plot their own progress against different aspects of digital capacity and strategy.

You can test out the digital healthcheck at

Find out more

Meeting the expectations of digital is a huge challenge, and there will be many different ways for people in many roles across the movement to get involved during 2019/20.

You can find out more and share your own ideas at


5.4 Young people

Resolution 74 at Congress named 2019 as ‘the year of young workers’, asking the General Council and affiliates to prioritise winning for young workers at work and supporting them through their unions.

We completed the WorkSmart pilot in early summer 2019. The evaluation of this project will help us build new online tools to help young people get on at work.  


Harassment and abuse from a third party (such as a customer or other member of the public) is a significant issue facing too many young workers in the UK. The TUC published a report in December 2018 that gave voice to over 400 young workers that had experienced third-party harassment and abuse at work. It found that less than half of young workers who had experienced third-party harassment or abuse reported it to their employer or union, and for those that did, over three-quarters said nothing changed or the situation got worse after reporting. The Report It! campaign was launched in March, with a webpage, video and reps’ resources to help negotiate stronger preventative policies. The General Council also called for the government to change the law, so employers have a duty to prevent harassment at work, as covered in Section 3. The TUC Young Workers Committee continues to campaign on young workers and mental health, in particular the impact of stress on young people’s wellbeing, in line with resolution 33.


Organising and recruiting young workers are core priorities for the trade union movement. In June, TUC Yorkshire and the Humber brought together 25 young trade unionists from across the movement to run the Summer Patrol project, reaching out to non-unionised young people in their workplace. The project blends tried and tested methods of face-to-face organising with the newest digital campaigning technology, to turn conversations with young workers into a commitment to mobilise their friends and attend an organising meeting. Activists had 150 in-depth conversations with non-unionised young people over two days, achieving press coverage and introducing concepts of rights and dignity at work and how unions can help them. In line with resolution 72, the General Council continues to highlight the great value young workers are bringing to unions’ organising activities, such as those in global fast food chains McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s. We completed the WorkSmart pilot in early summer 2019. The evaluation of this project will help us build new online tools to help young people get on at work.

Future Leaders courses

The TUC is delivering some Future Leaders courses in 2019, with the aim of developing campaigning, organising and leadership skills and establishing networks of young activists in the area. A number of the courses include residential learning components both in the UK and with sister unions in Europe, such as a visit to Auschwitz as part of the movement’s priority to tackle the far right. All courses will include participants putting their skills and learning into action by developing and delivering a campaign for Young Workers’ Month in November. 

Rights at work 

TUC South West and TUC Northern are both running apprentice rights campaigns, with particular focus on the underpayment of apprentices. An online Apprentice Pay Calculator has been developed, allowing apprentices to check they are getting the correct level of pay, as well as materials on workplace rights and Know Your Rights briefings delivered in some local colleges. TUC Yorkshire and the Humber are developing a programme on trade unions aimed at school leavers to complement this. 

Young Workers Committee members are participating in workshops and Future Leaders courses in the regions © Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images
Young Workers Committee members are participating in workshops and Future Leaders courses in the regions © Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

Young Workers Committee 

The TUC Young Workers Committee will continue with the priority campaigns chosen by Young Workers Conference in 2020. This year, Committee members are participating in workshops to complement the Committee’s work and the Future Leaders courses in the regions, including better understanding the challenges of organising young workers, campaign planning, using digital campaigning tools and working with the media. 


5.5 TUC Education

TUC Education provides high-quality education and training for workplace reps. Unions representing major public and private sector employers send reps for training. Almost all unions take part in the programme, which is recognised for integrity, quality and innovation.

During 2018 there was a rise in the number of reps trained to 29,694, an increase of 27 per cent on the 2017 figure. With a further 8,934 reps using webinars and e-learning, the total number of reps accessing training was 38,628. This indicates that our strategy to increase support and flexible training opportunities for reps is resulting in improved access to our programmes. 


The TUC programme of training for union reps is delivered UK-wide and the same qualifications are accessed and delivered to union reps in England, Scotland and Wales. In recognition of the wider benefits for the economy, the government has provided a 50 per cent co-funding contribution for TUC Education union training courses and this is manged nationally and administered directly by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to partner FE providers.

From August 2019, mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are taking on responsibility for the adult education budget (AEB) for their areas. This will leave the TUC attempting to access each of the different MCAs or the GLA as well as non-devolved areas to fund its trade union education training programmes.
Recruitment to college-based programmes is not geographically based. Union reps are often recruited through union networks or by workplace. As a result, our own internal enquiries show that 50–60 per cent of reps attending a college-based course are from outside of the geographic catchment of those colleges, potentially excluding them from area-based funded programmes in the future.

The TUC is lobbying government to provide equal access for union reps to our national programme in England, with an ESFA national funding stream alongside the devolved AEB. Otherwise there is a major risk that skills devolution will lead to a significant reduction in the training of union reps.

Our offer to reps

Our strategy for supporting and enabling union reps to access trade union education continues. Ensuring that as many reps as possible have access to flexible training opportunities continues to be a focus of TUC Education work. Developing materials to support face-to-face training opportunities for reps, and further developing our online, blended and e-learning offer, is a priority. We are seeking to ensure as many reps as practicable are accessing trade union education and securing appropriate paid release to do so.

Several approaches have been developed to enable union reps to access informal opportunities for education and development, both online and face to face. TUC national and regional offices continue to organise various demand-led briefings, including health and safety training days, supporting learners’ events, tackling the far-right briefings, and anti-austerity campaigns.

Flexible fully online programmes sit alongside classroom courses, providing up-to-date resources for reps. Programmes and resources can be accessed by reps as soon as they take office and can be used by experienced reps to refresh their skills and knowledge.

eNotes continue to be a great resource to help reps keep up to date on key workplace issues. These self-contained e-learning modules include a mixture of text, video and quizzes, and can be accessed from PCs, tablets or smart phones as many times as and when required.

eNotes include:

  • Tackling the far right
  • Ethical trade awareness
  • Mental health in the workplace
  • Building a stronger workplace union.

The use of webinars to reach union reps with interactive briefings remains popular. Over thirty are available from the TUC Education website including:

  • Health and safety inspections
  • Organising
  • Third party harassment
  • Zero-hours contracts.

Review of support to reps, officers and organising

A TUC priority for 2018–19 was reviewing support to reps and officers and union organising. TUC and unionlearn deliver a range of activities and actions that support reps and officers. This includes both our formal classroom-based training and more informal learning opportunities, including e-learning, events and briefings.

TUC Education is undertaking research to inform a more strategic approach to the wide range of services and support that the TUC and unionlearn offers to union reps, including union learning reps. The research will help us understand the behaviours of union reps in the modern workforce and get an up-to-date picture of the demographic of our rep base, their current challenges and experiences and how they are carrying out their role in today’s workforce. This will help us develop a progressive and sustainable education solution that meets the needs of union reps in the future.

Our strategy for supporting and enabling union reps to access trade union education continues. Ensuring that as many reps as possible have access to flexible training opportunities continues to be a focus of TUC Education work.

The research will include surveying reps that have engaged directly with trade union education as well as those reps that have not undertaken any union-led learning. This will ensure that the full landscape of training and support and its impact is determined. The research will evaluate the effectiveness of traditional formal training methods and assess the impact of informal learning approaches, including events, websites and fully online e-learning opportunities.

This work will map and research our current learning offer against TUC and union priorities and ensure that TUC and unionlearn resources and development capacity are deployed efficiently and strategically. The University of Exeter has been appointed to undertake this research.

The review also includes work to research and restructure the Organising Academy and union professionals offer. This work is being informed by a survey of union professionals and an organising survey of affiliates. New programmes will be available in early 2020.

Union professional development programme

2018 saw a rise to 669 union officials trained through the union professional development programme. During the year, the Organising Academy was managed by TUC Education together with the union professionals programme. This presented an opportunity to examine the entire TUC offer for union officers and staff and consider closer integration. The introduction of TUC digital badges during 2019 allows us to plan a clear route linking the union reps’ training to the union staff programme and develop a stronger emphasis on organising activity.

The new programme will include a sharper focus on developing reps and union capacity while retaining and expanding the specialist subject courses. Over time, it is our intention to create easier access to the TUC’s vast stock of research and policy materials for learners to supplement their learning or simply to pursue an interest.
New courses for officers and staff in health and safety, pensions and using company accounts will also be added. 

International and European partnerships

TUC Education continues to be involved in transnational work reflecting TUC priorities. Tutors attend and teach on courses organised through the European Trade Union Institute.

TUC Educational Trust

The TUC Educational Trust supports trade union education through:

  • bursaries for students at Ruskin College, Coleg Harlech and Northern College
  • supporting programmes at Keele University
  • supporting trade union learners working online.

Course statistics

Table 1: Union workplace reps, courses, 2018
Table 1: Union workplace reps, courses, 2018
Table 2: Union workplace reps, students, 2018
Table 2: Union workplace reps, students, 2018
Table 3: Short course students by generic course title, 2018
Table 3: Short course students by generic course title, 2018
Table 4: TUC day-release and short courses provision, 2001–18
Table 4: TUC day-release and short courses provision, 2001–18
Table 5: Percentage take-up of places on TUC 10-day and short courses, 2018
Table 5: Percentage take-up of places on TUC 10-day and short courses, 2018

5.6 TUC Trade Union Communications Awards

This year we celebrated the 42nd TUC Trade Union Communications Awards. Twenty unions took part in the competition with a total of 78 entries – showcasing a variety of high-quality communications from across the union movement.

The judges were: Alex Lloyd Hunter, co-executive director, Forward Action; James Moore, chief business commentator, The Independent; Phil Pemberton, head of brand and communications at Equity; Baroness Wheeler of Blackfriars; and Becky Wright, executive director of Unions21.

At the awards ceremony on 8 July, hosted by the TUC president, union communications professionals and members of the General Council celebrated the competition entries. The TUC general secretary awarded the certificates.

The winners were: 

Best membership communication (print journal)
National Education Union

Best membership communication (digital)

Best communication for reps and activists

Best recruitment/new member communication

Best campaign communication
National Education Union

Best designed communication

5.7 Trades councils

Trades councils continue to actively and effectively support key trade union and TUC campaigns, providing a visible presence in towns and communities throughout England and Wales. Trades councils organised street stalls to support HeartUnions week and promote trade unionism and have provided practical support for union industrial campaigns, challenged precarious employment models and supported union organising campaigns.

This year 154 trades councils and 24 county associations registered with the TUC. This is an increase on the 147 trades councils that were registered in 2018 and reflects the efforts of the regional TUCJCC representatives who have prioritised establishing trades councils in areas where none is operating.

60 delegates attended this year’s Trades Councils Conference in Bournemouth where guest speakers included Jennifer McCarey from the STUC, Harsev Bains and Sonia Kullar of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Campaign and TUC President Mark Serwotka.


5.8 Wales TUC

Wales TUC has used its unique role and status as a devolved entity within the TUC to build a social partnership approach in Wales. This has had benefits for Welsh workers such as the two-tier code, the ethical employment code and legislation to stop significant parts of the UK Trade Union Act applying in Wales.

Wales TUC has now agreed with the new Welsh Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford that it is time to move to the next stage in order to deliver the shared goal of making Wales a fair work nation through effective and robust tripartite social partnership.

The Welsh government will legislate for a Social Partnership Act to be on the statute book by May 2021. This will provide statutory underpinning to our approach, establishing a public sector legal duty to deliver fair work through social partnership; placing statutory fair work and social partnership requirements on procurement and business support; and establishing strong enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.

Central to all of this will be making the extension of collective bargaining and access to unions the core, measurable business of Welsh Government as the most effective method of delivering true fair work outcomes for workers in Wales. 

Engaging business: the TUC has worked with metro mayors, like Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, to develop charters to promote high employment standards © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Engaging business: the TUC has worked with metro mayors, like Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, to develop charters to promote high employment standards © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

5.9 English regions

TUC regional councils continued to develop relationships with local authority leaders and metro mayors, promoting trade union partnership and inclusive economic growth.

In Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Greater London and the North of Tyne combined authorities, the TUC worked with metro mayors to develop employment charters as a way of engaging businesses in the promotion of good employment standards.

A number of local authorities have also signed up to the TUC’s Great Jobs Agenda, passing council motions that required councils to commit to tackling zero-hours contracts, union voice and insecure work in its own workforce and supply chains. In areas such as Bristol, the TUC has formed an active partnership with the mayor in order to promote the living wage across the city.

The TUC is working across each region to inform the development and implementation of local industrial strategies by metro mayors and Local Enterprise Partnerships. We are calling for strategies that strengthen worker voice, invest in public infrastructure, promote social value procurement, bring employers and unions together in different sectors to promote productivity and decent jobs, increase employer engagement in learning and skills and embed equality and diversity.

TUC regions have staged a range of festivals promoting trade unions past, present and future, with Tolpuddle, Chainmakers and Durham Miners Gala going from strength to strength.

We have been instrumental in supporting health and wellbeing in workplaces across different regions. The Dying to Work campaign has grown from its roots in TUC Midlands to a high-profile national campaign, with thousands of endorsements and businesses engaged. TUC Northern continues to support hundreds of workplaces across the north-east with its Better Health at Work project

Protest organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to draw public attention to the European Parliament elections © Isopix/Shutterstock
Protest organised by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to draw public attention to the European Parliament elections © Isopix/Shutterstock

5.10 Global solidarity, trade and international development

Global union organisations

The TUC belongs to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC).

TUC representatives on the ETUC Executive Committee are Frances O’Grady (also on the Steering Committee), General Council Europe spokesperson Steve Turner, Mary Bousted and Dave Prentis. The Pan-European Regional Council executive met in March: Steve Turner, Tim Roache and Frances O’Grady are the TUC members. In May a TUC delegation attended the ETUC 14th Congress that re-elected Luca Visentini as general secretary for a second term and Esther Lynch as deputy general secretary with the support of the TUC.

The TUC is represented on the European Economic and Social Committee by Nick Crook (UNISON), Brian Curtis (WTUC), Diane Kelly (UNISON), Martin Mayer (Unite), Judy McKnight (convenor), Amarjite Singh (CWU), Agnes Tolmie (STUC) and Kathleen Walker-Shaw (GMB).
The ITUC General Council met in Copenhagen on 2 and 6 December during the ITUC 4th World Congress (2–7 December). A TUC delegation attended the congress that elected Sharan Burrow as general secretary for a third term and Owen Tudor of the TUC as a deputy general secretary. ITUC General Council titular members are Frances O’Grady and Tim Roache. Mariela Kohon is Frances’ first alternate, and Gloria Mills is her second alternate. The ICTU’s Jack O’Connor is Tim’s first alternate and Gail Cartmail his second alternate. ITUC Executive Bureau titular members are Frances O’Grady, Mariela Kohon her first alternate and Tim Roache her second alternate.

Frances O’Grady represents the TUC on TUAC, which met in December and June. The TUC participated in TUAC’s work on OECD policies on macro-economics, skills, digitalisation, business and human rights, and the G7 and G20. 

The TUC worked with the Brazilian CUT to support the campaign to release former President Lula and to oppose the far-right and anti-worker policies of President Bolsonaro © Stephen Russell/TUC
The TUC worked with the Brazilian CUT to support the campaign to release former President Lula and to oppose the far-right and anti-worker policies of President Bolsonaro © Stephen Russell/TUC

Global solidarity

The TUC continues to show solidarity with unions internationally. Solidarity actions were taken to support trade unionists in several countries including Iran and the Philippines, as well as those set out in more detail below. At the ILO Conference, the TUC spoke in support of the workers of Egypt, Fiji, Turkey and Zimbabwe. The TUC has also established a new network of international officers, to help develop our international strategy.


The TUC worked with the Brazilian CUT to support the campaign to release former President Lula and to oppose the far-right and anti-worker policies of President Bolsonaro. We joined Brazilian activists based in London at several protests outside their embassy and have had several meetings with Brazilian CUT representatives.


In line with emergency resolution 2, the TUC continued to support the work of Justice for Colombia to highlight the killings of trade unionists and other social leaders, implementation of the peace agreement, and the campaign to release framed FARC peace negotiator, Congressman Jesús Santrich. The general secretary signed a public letter to the British government calling for his release, and briefed MPs on the situation in Colombia. Mr Santrich’s freedom was secured in May.


Members of the TUC Women’s Committee and other union women went to Palestine in May. The TUC provided funding for a film of the visit and sent a solidarity statement. The TUC met with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign trade union network to discuss future collaboration in line with emergency resolution 4, and promoted the demonstration held in London in May in support of Palestinian rights.

Workers’ rights protesters at the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival demonstrate against the imprisonment of political activist Abdullah Öcalan in İmralı, Turkey © Jess Hurd/
Workers’ rights protesters at the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival demonstrate against the imprisonment of political activist Abdullah Öcalan in İmralı, Turkey © Jess Hurd/


The TUC worked closely with the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU) and the National Union of Somali Journalists to promote respect for human and trade union rights and to promote media freedom, including writing to the new UK ambassador to Somalia.


In line with composite 14, the TUC wrote letters to the Turkish Ambassador in January and October, highlighting workers’ rights’ issues and the ongoing imprisonment of Abdullah Öcalan. The TUC met with solidarity campaigns Support for the People of Turkey (SPOT) and Freedom for Öcalan to further solidarity work. 


The TUC wrote to President Mnangagwa, the UK’s Minister for Africa, the UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, and the High Commissioner of Zimbabwe, raising concerns about the blocking of a peaceful demonstration by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), resulting in violent repression that left at least 12 people dead and the arrest of trade union members, who were subsequently released on strict bail conditions. In February we organised a protest outside the Zimbabwe High Commission. 


In line with resolution 76 on supporting the work of the ILO, the deputy general secretary, Paul Nowak, addressed the centennial ILC at the United Nations, welcoming the ILO’s commitment to strengthening its role in protecting and promoting workers’ rights. Paul Nowak was also a member of the trade union reference group for the ILO Commission on the Future of Work.

The TUC played a key role helping to secure a new ILO Convention and guiding recommendation to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. 

The TUC played a key role helping to secure a new ILO Convention and guiding recommendation to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace, adopted at the ILO centennial conference. The Convention, when ratified into national law, will compel governments to ensure their equality and discrimination legislation protects the employment rights of all vulnerable groups.

International development

The TUC remained a prominent advocate of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the importance of decent work in meeting the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The TUC International Development Group, chaired by Gail Cartmail, met in November, March and July. 

The TUC has increased its advocacy on the SDGs, targeted at the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Treasury, including contributing to a cross-sector report by Bond on the UK’s progress in meeting the SDGs. It also continues to seek to influence the CDC Group, so that UK aid is better used to deliver decent jobs and promote respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining.


TUC Aid continues to support our international development objectives. Trustees met in December, April and July. The Trade Union Unit Trust Charitable Trust is supporting several TUC Aid projects and agreed to co-fund a capacity-building project for East African trade unions to advocate for trade deals that deliver decent work and support the UN SDGs.

Recent and current projects include:

  • supporting the Guatemalan banana workers’ union SINTRABI to establish new unions 
  • a three-year project of disability rights training and advocacy with the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU)
  • supporting the National Garment Workers’ Federation in Bangladesh to provide training for women trade union members.

The TUC remained a prominent advocate of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda and the importance of decent work in meeting the UN sustainable
development goals.

TUC Administration
TUC Administration
TUC Administration

6.1 Developing the TUC

The TUC is adapting to meet external challenges by investing in its people, building and systems. Our finances are more secure, and we’re working with our staff team to make sure the TUC is a great place to work. That helps us deliver everything we do. 

Our people, learning and development

Our people are at the heart of everything we do. We were pleased to be reaccredited as an Investor in People during 2019, reflecting our high standards of people management.

During the year, we trained people in digital, project management, and line management skills and introduced a new wellbeing programme. We reviewed and improved our internal communications and introduced new measures to attract more BME applicants when we advertise jobs.

Our policy departments underwent a major restructure following the departure of head of the European Union and international department, Owen Tudor, to become deputy general secretary of the ITUC. Much of our international work was merged into a new department, Rights, International, Social and Economic, or RISE. Our Brexit project moved to the Equality and Strategy Department, enabling us to focus on it as a key strategic project. We continue to look carefully at vacancies as they arise, with a number of posts being reshaped to ensure they best meet the demands of the TUC. In January 2019, Head of Campaigns and Communications Antonia Bance went on maternity leave and was covered by Alex Rossiter.

TUC digital comms experts Scott Gilfillan and Riz Hussain discuss how unions can make the most of Facebook and Twitter in a training webinar
TUC digital comms experts Scott Gilfillan and Riz Hussain discuss how unions can make the most of Facebook and Twitter in a training webinar

Congress House improvements

We launched The Rookery – our refurbished office space at Congress House – in a difficult commercial climate. Despite this, most of the space is now let or under offer and our rental income is starting to rise. This follows our strategy to make the best possible use of Congress House.

We’ve also launched a print and despatch service including to affiliates under the banner Print & Post @ The Rookery.

Congress Centre – a valued venue

The TUC and our affiliates have enjoyed the wide range of meeting, conference and event facilities hosted by the Congress Centre. Demand for these facilities is increasing and 2018 was a successful year. We delivered events from conferences to fashion shows and remain a desirable film and TV location. We are working through a programme to update toilet facilities and are planning to upgrade our AV facilities in Congress Hall. We continue to look for new ways to market effectively and maximise value from the facilities.

IT strategy and information services

We’re towards the end of a programme to upgrade our IT hardware and we made further progress towards moving to a new suite of tools to help us work cross-departmentally to deliver our objectives. As we go, we’ve improved our file management and data protection compliance. We are putting an improved contact management system in place, which will help us engage better with the people we contact.

The information line supported more than 6,100 public enquiries in 2018, of which 70 per cent were from people who wanted to know how to join a trade union. This was an increase of 30 per cent more enquiries and a welcome 25 per cent more people being supported to join a union.

6.2 Affiliations and mergers

There were no new affiliations to the TUC or mergers of TUC affiliates in 2018–19.

6.3 Congress awards 

The winners of this year’s Congress awards for lay representatives are as follows:

Congress Award for Youth
Christina Di Stefano

Health and Safety Representative Award
Jenny Cooper
National Education Union

Learning Representative Award
Susan Mann

Organising Representative Award
Lyn Marie O’Hara

Women’s Gold Badge
Pat Heron

6.4 Congress

The 2018 Congress was held in Manchester. The Congress carried 45 resolutions, 15 composites and 9 emergency resolutions. It also agreed statements on Brexit, collective bargaining and the TUC Campaign Plan 2018–19.

6.5 General Council 

At the time of writing, the General Council has held seven meetings during the Congress year. At the first meeting, held jointly with the outgoing General Council of the 2018 Congress, Mark Serwotka was elected as chair and he will preside at the 2019 Congress. It was agreed that the Executive Committee should be composed of the existing members, with the addition of Christine Payne.

In February 2019, Sally Hunt left the General Council and Executive Committee. In June 2019, Vicky Knight left the General Council. 
During the course of the year, key themes in the General Council’s work have been our campaigns on Brexit, tackling the far right and collective bargaining.

The General Council lead responsibilities for the year 2018–19 have been as follows:

Overall responsibility as lead spokesperson for the TUC
The general secretary, Frances O’Grady

Senior representative throughout the Congress year
The president, Mark Serwotka

Specific areas of responsibility
Disabled workers
Seán McGovern

Environment and sustainable development
Sue Ferns

Steve Turner

Health and safety
Liz Snape

International development
Gail Cartmail

International relations
Sally Hunt (until Feb 2019) 
Tim Roache (since Apr 2019)

Learning and skills
Mary Bousted

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights
Maria Exall

Public services
Dave Prentis

Race equality
Gloria Mills

Trade union councils
Matt Wrack

Vicky Knight (until Jun 2019) 
Sue Ferns (subsequently)

Young workers
Charlie Gray

6.6 Strategic governance

The General Council continued to make improvements to the TUC’s strategic governance, introducing changes to the Executive Committee and General Council, including time limits for speakers, and quarterly meetings of equality committee chairs. In spring 2019 the TUC consulted affiliates and statutory committees on further improvements to committees and conferences, outcomes from which will be progressed across the 2019–20 Congress year.

6.7 Women’s Conference

This year’s wide-ranging TUC Women’s Conference was chaired by Sujata Patel of Usdaw and debated motions including fighting to combat the far right, sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and period poverty. The conference heard from the TUC president and general secretary, from Dawn Butler MP (shadow minister for women and equalities) and speakers from the Repeal the 8th Campaign and Maternity Action.

6.8 Black Workers Conference

Winning Workplace Unity was the theme of the TUC Black Workers Conference. Chaired by Sajid Sheikh of the CWU, and addressed by TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak, conference welcomed speeches by Claude Moraes MEP, Sandra Kerr (Business in the Community), Kye Gbangola (The Truth about Zane Campaign), Phien O’Reachtigan (Gypsies and Traveller Coalition) and Nazek Rahman (Migrant Voice).

6.9 Disabled Workers Conference 

The Disabled Workers Conference chairing was shared between Seán McGovern (Unite), Sian Stockham (UNISON), Ann Galpin (NUJ) and Tony Sneddon (CWU). The conference was addressed by TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak and included a well-received panel discussion on independent living, with experts from Disabled People Against Cuts, the European Network on Independent Living and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

6.10 LGBT+ Conference

The LGBT+ Conference chairing was shared between Maria Exall (CWU), Phil Jones (Unite), Peter Taylor (NASUWT) and Taranjit Chana (GMB). The conference was addressed by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner MP and Dr S Chelvan, barrister specialising in LGBT+ asylum cases. There was a well-received panel discussion on inclusive education with experts from NASUWT, LGBT History Month and Schools OUT UK and the Founder of Birmingham South Asians LGBT – Finding A Voice, an independent, multi-faith social support group for South Asian men and women.

6.11 Young Workers Conference

This year’s Young Workers Conference was lively and action-focused, with the launch of the Report It! campaign and delegates speaking to shop workers in central London about their rights around harassment and abuse. Workshops on mental health, digital organising and tackling the far right were well received, as well as an expert panel on organising precarious young workers, the women’s reception, a seminar on tackling misogyny and a Q&A with Frances O’Grady. Conference voted to continue campaigns on harassment and abuse, and mental health.

6.12 Trades Councils Conference

The Trades Councils Conference debated a range of issues of concern to union members and local communities. The conference was chaired by Roger McKenzie of UNISON and was addressed by TUC President Mark Serwotka, Ines Lage of the South West TUC and speakers from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre 1919 Centenary Committee.


6.13 TUC finances

The annual statement of accounts and balance sheet as at 31 December 2018 is set out in Appendix 3. It shows a total deficit across all funds of £3.25m, including asset revaluations and FRS 102 accounting adjustments. The operating surplus on ordinary activities of £81,000 comprises a deficit of £156,000 on the administration fund and surpluses of £95,000 and £142,000 on the development and Congress House dilapidations funds respectively.

Development fund

In 2018, 10 per cent of the affiliation fee was allocated to the development fund, alongside some external funding, and was used to promote new work and General Council initiatives. This was used to support a variety of projects, with the main initiatives being:

  • great jobs for everyone
  • an economy that works for working people
  • a thriving movement that delivers for younger workers
  • effective TUC and 150th anniversary
  • global solidarity.

The development fund representing all non-unionlearn externally funded projects, together with projects funded by the affiliation fee, showed an operating surplus of £95,000.

Statement of accounts

The administration fund (covering day-to-day office running expenses and staff costs) produced a deficit on ordinary activities of £156,000, while unionlearn funds broke even. The development fund is shown above, while the dilapidations fund showed that £427,000 was spent on the upkeep of Congress House during the year and £569,000 was transferred to the dilapidations fund from the administration fund.

During 2018, our calculated FRS102 pension scheme position moved from a £11,936,000 surplus to £10,674,000. This negative movement of £1,262,000, together with the operating surplus of £81,000, the gain of £75,000 on sale of investments, net revaluation and deferred tax loss of £2,144,000, has reduced the funds of the TUC from £84,606,000 to £81,356,000.

Prospects and developments

A budget for the administration fund 2019 has been agreed by the General Council. This showed a projected deficit of £193,626, primarily as a consequence of the pressures on affiliation fees, investment and property income. The General Council approved a six pence (2 per cent) increase in the affiliation fee to £2.88 pence for 2019.

Our internal audit work in 2018 included a review of the effectiveness of our management of large projects as well as our procedures for ensuring compliance with tax reporting requirements. TUC has retained its Fair Tax accreditation.

Young workers and unions – agents for change is the new exhibition from the TUC Library available for loan from 2019
Young workers and unions – agents for change is the new exhibition from the TUC Library available for loan from 2019

6.14 TUC Library

Located at London Metropolitan University, TUC Library attracts a wide range of researchers interested in both the history and the current activities of trade unions, industrial relations, labour history and adult education.

We have five pop-up exhibitions available for loan: the latest, on the history of young workers and trade unions; 150 years of the TUC; the 1984/85 miners’ strike; the impact of the Russian Revolution on the left; and the relationship between American and British labour movements.

Our educational history websites – The Union Makes Us Strong, Workers’ War, Winning Equal Pay and Britain at Work – contain images, archives and oral history and can all be accessed from

Contact TUC Librarian Jeff Howarth to arrange visits and inductions at: 
London Metropolitan University
The Wash Houses
Old Castle Street 
London E1 7NT
020 7320 3516 

Lord Garfield Davies CBE
Lord Garfield Davies CBE

Lord Garfield Davies CBE, who died in March aged 83, was general secretary of Usdaw from 1986 to 1997, serving on the TUC General Council from 1986 to 1996. He started work as an electrical apprentice at the Port Talbot steelworks, becoming a full-time official with Usdaw in 1969 and a national organiser in 1978. As general secretary, he was closely involved in the Keep Sunday Special campaign to defend the existing working week of members. He was on the executive of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the European TUC and was a member of the Employment Appeal Tribunal from 1991 to 2006. He also served as a Labour councillor.

Denise Doherty
Denise Doherty © Jess Hurd/

Denise Doherty, who died in May aged 62, was Frances O’Grady’s secretary at the TUC. Previously a union rep in the airline industry, she joined the TUC in 2003, holding a number of administrative posts in the equality, organisation and learning services departments. In 2007 she became Frances’ secretary, managing her diary, meetings and external commitments. Diagnosed with lymphoma in 2018, she continued to work as much as possible, and was deeply committed to the trade union cause.

Trevor Fowler
Trevor Fowler

Trevor Fowler, who died last year aged 87, worked for the TUC from 1966 to 1971. After furthering his education through Workers’ Educational Association courses, he became secretary of his local trades council and a Labour councillor. During his time with the TUC, he taught trade union education, dealt with industrial relations issues and helped organise Congress. Subsequently he worked for the National Graphical Association, organising picket lines and demonstrations during the disputes at News International in Wapping and at Eddy Shah’s Warrington Messenger.

Harry Leslie-Smith
Harry Leslie-Smith © Anna Gordon

Harry Leslie-Smith, who died in November aged 95, was an activist and critic of austerity. A keen supporter of the trade union movement, he made his mark in later life as the author of the bestselling memoir Harry’s Last Stand, a passionate defence of the welfare state. Brought up in abject poverty, he served with the Royal Air Force during the war and spent the rest of his life fighting racism and fascism. Harry’s address to the 2014 Labour conference, defending the NHS and denouncing austerity, made headline news.

Max Levitas
Max Levitas

Max Levitas, who died last year aged 103, was a lifelong communist, community activist and veteran of the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Born in Dublin to Jewish immigrant parents from Latvia and Lithuania, he later lived in the East End of London. He led a four-month rent strike and became a fire warden during the Blitz. In 1945 he was elected a Communist councillor for Stepney, serving for almost 15 years. As a community organiser, he supported anti-racism campaigns, tenants’ associations and pensioner groups.

Doug McAvoy
Doug McAvoy

Doug McAvoy, who died in May aged 80, was general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) from 1989 to 2004 and a member of the TUC General Council from 1989 to 2003. A shrewd negotiator, he persuaded John Major’s government to abandon league tables of SATS results for seven-year-olds, easing pressure on children and teachers’ workloads. His first job was as a miner, after which he became a PE and maths teacher at Walkergate secondary modern in Newcastle. He became active in the NUT and joined the union’s executive in 1970, becoming deputy general secretary to Fred Jarvis in 1974. During his time as general secretary, membership rose by over 40 per cent to 267,000, and he became a figure of national prominence during the national strike by teachers over pay

Fred Smithies
Fred Smithies

Fred Smithies, who died last year aged 89, was NASUWT general secretary from 1983 to 1990 and served on the TUC General Council from 1983 to 1989. After qualifying as a teacher, he taught at schools in Accrington and Northampton and joined NASUWT, becoming a national executive member in 1966 and serving as chair of the Education Committee. He was elected the union’s vice president in 1976, subsequently becoming assistant general secretary and deputy general secretary. He also served on the executive of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions.

TUC General Council members 2018–19

Sheila Bearcroft MBE

Josie Bird

Mary Bousted

Tony Burke

Gail Cartmail

Mick Cash

Mike Clancy

Manuel Cortes

Kevin Courtney

Ruth Cross

Nick Cusack

Tony Dale

Neil Derrick

Mark Dickinson
Nautilus International

Maria Exall

Sue Ferns

Larry Flanagan

Steve Gillan

Janice Godrich

Jo Grady1

Charlie Gray

Philipa Harvey

Sally Hunt2

Chris Keates

Vicky Knight3

Ian Lawrence

Paddy Lillis

Brian Linn

Annette Mansell-Green

Susan Matthews

Len McCluskey

Seán McGovern

Roger McKenzie

Gloria Mills CBE

Ged Nichols

Christine Payne

Dave Penman

Dave Prentis

Davena Rankin

Roy Rickhuss CBE

Patrick Roach

Tim Roache

Maggie Ryan

Malcolm Sage

Mark Serwotka

Jon Skewes

Liz Snape MBE

Michelle Stanistreet

Jane Stewart

Claire Sullivan

Chris Tansley

Horace Trubridge
Musicians’ Union

Steve Turner

Dave Ward

Simon Weller

Tony Woodhouse

Matt Wrack

Frances O’Grady
TUC General Secretary

1Joined Aug 2019
2Left Feb 2019
3Left Jun 2019


The appendix includes:

  • Attendance 
  • Committee membership 
  • Accounts
  • Disputes between unions 
  • TUC rules and standing orders 

Download Appendix (PDF)

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