Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants v Osborne

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ASRS v Osborne
Court House of Lords
Citation(s) [1910] AC 87
Case history
Prior action(s) [1909] 1 Ch 163
Subsequent action(s) [1911] 1 Ch 540
Keywords
Political donations, ultra vires, trade unions, Labour Party

Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants v Osborne [1910] AC 87 is a UK labour law case, which ruled that members of trade unions would now have to "contract in" if they wanted a portion of their salary to go to a trade union, unlike the previous system of "contracting out", in which the portion of salary was taken unless the individual explicitly stated otherwise.

Facts[edit]

Osborne, a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for 16 years in Walthamstow alleged that the union's creation of a political fund to support the Labour Representation Committee in elections was done irregularly in breach of union procedure. The original rules, from 1900, contained no reference to seeking Parliamentary representation.[1] Because of the irregularity, it was argued that the donations by the union were ultra vires and void.

Judgment[edit]

House of Lords[edit]

The House of Lords held that a union’s authority was circumscribed by the union’s rules. Use of union funds for any purpose other than those enumerated in the union rules was ultra vires.

Court of Appeal[edit]

After bringing his action, Mr Osborne was expelled from the union. He brought a further claim that his expulsion was wrongful.[2] The Court of Appeal held that he was wrongfully excluded. Lord Cozens-Hardy MR noted that the union was, at common law, a lawful association.

The society is a lawful association at common law. It is possessed of considerable property which belongs to the members, and any member unjustly excluded may invoke the assistance of the Court. This principle has been repeatedly acted upon in the case of West-end clubs, and the conclusion is enough to dispose of the appeal in favour of the appellant; but we have had able arguments on the second proposition, and it seems desirable that I should state my view upon it, in case it should be held elsewhere that the society is an illegal association at common law on the ground of restraint of trade. I may add that the mere introduction of some objectionable rules will not necessarily taint the whole of the rules. As was observed by Lindley L.J. in Swaine v Wilson, “No doubt if the real object of this society were unduly to fetter trade its rules might all be tainted by the vice of the object, and none of the rules might be enforceable.” In the present case there is no evidence to shew how the rules are in fact used, even if such evidence would be admissible, as to which I express no opinion. We have nothing but the rules before us, and everything turns upon the construction of these rules.

Significance[edit]

The judgment threatened one of the Labour party's main funding sources. This was especially detrimental to the Labour Party as it supporters were generally poorer than other political parties. The two elections in 1910 saw Labour gain 40 seats and 42 seats respectively. In 1911 Herbert Henry Asquith's government decided, for the first time, that MPs should receive a salary. (Previously, only people with savings or funding organizations behind them could become members of parliament.) David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave MPs a wage of £400 per annum, which alleviated financial problems.

The Osborne judgment was overturned in 1913, by the Trade Union Act 1913. The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 required union members to opt into the political fund. The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1946 required that members opt out. Currently under TULRCA 1992 s 82, members have the right to not contribute to a political fund, not be discriminated against for it, and the right to complain to the Certification Officer.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "To improve the condition and protect the interests of its members; to endeavour to obtain and maintain reasonable hours of duty and fair rates of wages; to promote a good understanding between employers and employed, the better regulation of their relations, and the settlement of disputes, between them by arbitration, or, failing arbitration, by other lawful means; to provide temporary assistance to members when out of employment through causes over which they have no control, or through unjust treatment; to provide legal assistance when necessary in matters pertaining to the employment of members, or for securing compensation for members who suffer injury by accidents in their employment occasioned by the negligence of their employer or of those for whom their employer is liable, to aid the young orphan children of all members; and to use every effort to provide for the safety of railway work and of railway travelling; to provide a grant of money in case of members permanently disabled or killed by accident, or when by reason of old age they cannot follow their regular employment; also to enable such members as voluntarily desire it to provide funds for their relief in sickness or temporary disablement, and for their respectable interment.”
  2. ^ [1911] 1 Ch 540

External links[edit]