Devolution (Employment) (Scotland)

– in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 17 October 2023.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice) 1:02, 17 October 2023

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Scotland Act 1998 to grant legislative competence for employment matters to the Scottish Parliament.

At the outset, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a member of the SNP trade union group and in relation to my own membership of Unite.

As this Parliament begins to draw to a close, many of us are left wondering why the much-vaunted Employment Bill never materialised. After all, we were promised that Brexit—now supported enthusiastically by the Tories and Labour—would not lead to a diminution of workers’ rights, but would instead be an opportunity to enhance employment protections. Despite countless fire and rehire incidences—many of which have been referenced by my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands—ever more maternity discrimination and an assault on trade union rights by a Tory Government acting like Thatcher on steroids, the very opposite has happened.

The fact is that employment rights under this British Government are under attack. Far from dealing with workplace discrimination on issues such as the menopause, we have a Government actively and increasingly hindering the rights of workers with their Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023. It is a piece of legislation that even the International Labour Organisation has expressed concern about. As the world of work continues to evolve and we seek to build back better from the pandemic, Brexit Britain is now on a steep decline when it comes to employment protections. However, this is an issue that extends far beyond the immediate rights available to workers, because it is fundamentally a matter of equality. The way in which we value workers in our legislative framework sets the expectation of what we should expect workplace cultures to emulate, and legislation must help build the foundations of a fair and equal labour market.

Let us take, for example, some evidence published in July by the charity Pregnant Then Screwed. Of 24,000 parents surveyed, it was found that 7% of women lost their job through redundancy, sacking or feeling forced to leave due to a flexible working request being denied. The charity estimates that, if scaled up, this would mean that over 41,000 pregnant women or mothers could be sacked or made redundant every year. Under-represented groups continue to face significant inequalities in the workplace, and I and many of my colleagues have stood here time and again calling for the enshrinement of flexible working as a day-one right, as well as mandatory gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting.

Given the powers, these are just some of the examples of workplace injustices that the Scottish Government would seek to remedy. However, it is an inescapable truth that Westminster’s crackdowns on workers’ rights—not to mention the assault on unions—have seen the UK’s global rating on workers’ rights fall. Indeed, the UK has dropped in the International Trade Union Confederation’s annual report on workers’ rights from a rating of three, which is for countries where ITUC considers there to be “regular violation of rights” to four, which is for those where it says there are “systemic violations”. Sadly, that puts the British Government on a par with the likes of Qatar and Oman. The latter is an absolute monarchy, where criticism of the Government is illegal. If that is the message the Government want to send out as Brexit Britain, it is certainly a bold move, but ITUC’s recent report is damning. It says:

“In the United Kingdom, union busting, attempts to introduce legislation curtailing the right to strike and protest, and violations of collective bargaining agreements have become systematic and led to the country’s rating dropping from three to four.”

Perhaps it is no wonder that the devolution of employment law is backed by some of the biggest trade unions in these islands, including the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the TUC itself. Only recently, the Trades Union Congress passed a motion calling for the repeal of current anti-union legislation and the devolution of employment law to Scotland. Roz Foyer, the outstanding STUC general secretary, is on record as saying:

“It’s clear, especially to any incoming UK Labour Government, that the voices of workers across the country now support the Scottish Parliament having full autonomy over labour and employment rights.”

That poses a question for our colleagues on the Labour Benches: why not Scotland? In his rush to out-Union Jack even the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Murray has said no, nay, never—no further devolution. Today’s vote is also a first test for Michael Shanks. It poses a question for him when the Division bells ring shortly: whose side is he on? Is he on the side of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, or the side of his Westminster boss in Camden?

On blocking the devolution of employment law, Angela Rayner has come in for criticism from Michael Sharpe, a former general secretary of Scottish Labour, who has said that ruling out the devolution of employment law was a “huge blow” and

“a slap in the face to the trade unions who have campaigned for this for many years.”

Since taking over the reins as Labour leader, the Leader of the Opposition has moved ever more to the right, distancing himself from trade unions and, ironically, deciding to go on strike from attending picket lines himself. We have even had the spectre of shadow Ministers being sacked simply for having the temerity to support workers on a picket line.

The blunt reality is that Scotland is already missing out on Europe’s enhancement of workers’ rights, thanks to a Brexit we did not vote for and do not support. Post pandemic, we could have been taking opportunities to empower trade unions, increase statutory sick pay, ban fire and rehire, and do so much more for workers, but it appears once more that the Labour party and the Conservatives have landed in the exact same space.

It is clear to us that a Westminster Government of whatever colour do not have workers’ rights as a priority. It is only by giving Scotland powers over employment law that the Scottish Government can entrench workers’ rights in law and build a fair work society for all our citizens. We can and we must do so much better for our workers and our trade unions. If Westminster is not up to the job, Holyrood will take this on, and working people will be better off as a result. It is for that reason, and with the support of our trade union colleagues, that I commend this motion to the House.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).

Division number 328 Devolution (Employment) (Scotland): Ten Minute Rule Motion

Aye: 22 MPs

No: 32 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 22, Noes 33.

Question accordingly negatived.