The Government are tackling the "pilgrims." This is practice of "trade union facility time" where Council staff work for trade unions, often full time, yet have their salaries paid by the Council Taxpayer. It also applies in the NHS and central government departments.

However arrangements should also be reviewed where councils collect the trade unions subs for them. Free, independent, voluntary trade unions really should recruit and maintain their own membership – not rely on the payroll department to do the job for them. Some councils don't even charge for providing this service.

The closed shop is illegal but this official mechanism for  collecting subs may leave some employees with the impression they are obliged to become union members.

The "check off" system also may help explain who so many trade unionists who don't vote Labour end up financing the Party via their contributions to the Political Levy.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has said in a Written Answer in September:

Given departmental resources are used to facilitate the payment of union subscriptions including the political levy, direct from the DCLG payroll (under so-called ‘check off’ arrangements), I appreciate there is a broader public interest in scrutinising this matter.

In that context, as an illustration, I observe that PCS campaigning leaflets, handed out within my Department, do not inform DCLG staff members of their statutory right to opt-out of the political levy when they join, and they correspondingly are signed up to have their union membership fee deducted direct from their DCLG pay packet.

Such a collection of the political levy is clearly not a transparent practice. The consideration of the right to opt-out cannot be an informed choice or decision if individuals are simply not informed of that right.

The current Department for Business Innovation and Skills guidance on "check off" arrangements was weakened by the last Labour Government. Written authorisation by the employee is required employers are no longer required to notify employees if the amount deducted increases, nor are they required any longer to obtain a repeat authorisation every three years (page 3).  But under the regulations, the employer can charge the union for the administration involved in providing the service (p.7).

It also says:

Check off is a voluntary arrangement and employers have no statutory duty either to operate it at all, or to continue to do so having started.

Public sector unions collect their money via check off, but don’t inform their members of their rights to opt-out of the political levy – a bit like selling a washing machine with an optional warranty, without telling you the warranty is optional. Or mortgage payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal.

The Government should not allow these abuses to continue. But no should local councils wait for the Government to act. When it comes to "check off" it's time to check out.