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Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in my capacity as the convener of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee. As members are aware, the Scottish Government referred its policy memorandum on the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill to my committee for consideration. I start by emphasising that the committee’s report was agreed by an overwhelming majority of its members, with Alex Johnstone—as he just said—being the only dissenting member. It is fair to say that that was not a surprise to him, and it was certainly not a surprise to the rest of the committee. Nevertheless, I thank him for the way in which he made his views clear and enabled the rest of us to agree the report.
The context for the introduction of the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill is that, since 2007, the number of industrial disputes in Scotland has decreased by 84 per cent. The number of days that are lost to industrial disputes in Scotland is the lowest of the four nations of the UK. Therefore, the bill is not so much a sledgehammer to crack a nut; put simply, it seeks to solve a problem that does not exist.
The evidence that the committee took emphasised the positive working relationship between unions and employers that has existed over decades in some of Scotland’s largest public sector organisations, such as local government and the national health service. I was struck by the comments on behalf of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that were made by Billy Hendry, who is a Conservative councillor on East Dunbartonshire Council. He said:
“COSLA leaders are extremely concerned that the changes that are proposed in the bill are being brought in without any evidence to back up the assertion that they would modernise industrial relations between councils and trade unions.”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 7 January 2016; c 4.]
Councillor Hendry’s remarks demonstrate well the broad-based opposition that there is across all sectors of Scottish society to the bill, although not everyone opposes it—I note that the TaxPayers Alliance and the Confederation of British Industry support it.
We heard that there has been a lack of consultation with Scottish stakeholders and the Scottish Government on this UK bill. In his evidence to the committee, Dave Moxham of the STUC said:
“There was a failure to consult, a very rushed process, a committee stage that was, in our view, very poor and the introduction of a couple of key additional aspects of the bill in that process. We did not know about the introduction of the check-off arrangements until well after the first reading. That was not subject to any consultation or any assessment of costs.”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 7 January 2016; c 13.]
The bill seeks to provide UK ministers with the power to limit the amount of time that union representatives in the public sector can spend on union duties or activities. The Scottish Government estimated that in 2014-15 the total cost of facility time across the entire Scottish public sector was £5.8 million. That is around 0.002 per cent of the Scottish Government departmental expenditure limit budget.