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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Trade union political funds

Some trade unions maintain a political fund. This is a separate account which the trade union can use to provide financial support for a political party. For example, they could donate to a party or particular politician, produce leaflets in support at an election, or support party conference costs.

Political funds

Trade unions may have an interest in government policies or other issues of the day. It is not unusual for trade unions to campaign in favour of particular public policies (called 'lobbying'). A trade union does not usually need to set up or use a political fund to finance lobbying. 

Voting for a political fund

If a trade union wishes to start a political fund, its members must vote in favour of creating one. This vote must be conducted by a secret ballot held under rules approved by the Certification Officer. The trade union must allow all its members to vote in the ballot. 

If a trade union's members vote in favour of creating a political fund, the trade union can maintain the fund for a period of ten years.

If a trade union wants to continue maintaining the political fund after the end of the ten year period it must hold a further ballot of all its members asking whether they wish the trade union to continue running a political fund. This is sometimes called a 'review ballot'. The rules for the ballot must be approved by the Certification Officer.

If your trade union holds a ballot to start a political fund or a review ballot and you think it has broken the rules for the ballot you can complain either to the Certification Officer or the courts.

The political fund rules

A trade union which operates a political fund must have political fund rules. These too have to be approved by the Certification Officer. The trade union’s political fund rules will specify how money is collected for the political fund, and the amount to be paid into the fund by the members who contribute to it.

A trade union must pay for party political activities from its political fund, and must not use money from its other accounts for this purpose.

Once a political fund is established, it is up to the trade union to decide, in-line with its rules, how the money is spent.

Paying into a political fund

If you contribute to your trade union’s political fund the contribution will usually form a part of your trade union membership subscription. This contribution is sometimes called the ‘political levy’.

If your employer deducts money from your pay for your trade union subscription (known as ‘check-off’), this money will usually include a political fund contribution if you contribute to it.

Your trade union must have arrangements in place enabling you to find out how much of your trade union subscription is a contribution to the political fund.

How to stop paying into a political fund

You do not have to contribute to your trade union’s political fund and have the right to stop paying at any time. This is called ‘contracting out’.

If you wish to contract out, you must do so in writing. If you ask your trade union’s local office or head office for a form to contract out of political fund payments, they must supply it. You can also ask the Certification Officer for a form.

If you have contracted out of contributing to the political fund you can also tell your employer in writing that you have done so. If you do this your employer must make sure that no amount representing a contribution to the political fund is deducted from your pay.

Your rights to complain

You can make a complaint to the Certification Officer if you think your trade union:

  • has spent money from its other accounts on political matters that must be paid for from the political fund
  • is still making you contribute to the political fund when you have contracted out of contributing to it
  • has excluded you from any trade union benefits because you have contracted out
  • has treated you unfavourably compared with other members because you have contracted out

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