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Trade Union Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 26th January 2016.

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Photo of Margaret McDougall Margaret McDougall Labour

That is not what we are here to discuss and it is not an issue.

Removing the ban on the use of agency workers to break strike action—that ban was introduced by a Tory Government, no less, in 1973—is a dangerous precedent that would undermine the rights of all workers. I fear that, if bad employers are able to use low-paid temporary workers to break strike action, that could lead to a new era of protracted industrial ill health. Bad employers would most certainly use that provision to push down pay and terms and conditions. We should also acknowledge the unacceptable position that many agency workers who are desperate for work will be placed in when they are pressurised by agencies to accept work in those most stressful of situations.

There are concerns that the use of agency workers could have an impact on the quality of public services and on health and safety. Would it really be acceptable, for example, for a business to break strike action with less-qualified temporary workers in heavy jobs where the safety of that worker and the wider public could be put at risk? We in the Parliament should be making it clear that we respect the right to strike—that should be a fundamental right in all democratic societies—and that we do not want devolved public bodies in Scotland to use agency workers to undermine industrial action for the reasons that I have outlined. We should also do all that we can to defend trade union facility time and check-off arrangements.

The Tories always omit two key points in all their rhetoric about those matters. Trade union facility time is not, as the Tories would have us believe, a costly burden on employers that provides no benefits. The reality is very different. Facility time is already tightly defined. It includes undertaking duties, such as negotiating with employers and representing members—duties that I am sure all of us in this chamber would expect trade unions to carry out. In enabling the carrying out those duties, facility time provides a substantive benefit to employers by reducing work-related illness, stress and injury. It saves employers and the Exchequer money by reducing employment tribunal cases; it helps employers retain staff, saving them money on recruitment and training.

Let us be clear that check-off is not free. Local authorities, for example, charge trade unions an administrative fee for check-off arrangements. In recent years, as local government cuts have taken their toll, many local authorities, including those where the Conservatives are in power—South Ayrshire for example—have raised the check-off fees.

We on these benches have always acknowledged the importance of trade unions. We know that in workplaces with trade union recognition workers benefit from better pay and terms and conditions and, as I have just said, employers can benefit from good industrial relations. We believe in the key trade union value of solidarity and the principle of united we stand, divided we fall.

Members on these benches will do everything that we can to oppose the bill and to protect the right of trade unions to represent their members. Labour councils across Scotland have taken decisive action against the bill and have pledged not to co-operate with it. The councils have pledged not to implement the changes to check-off and facility time arrangements; they will also not use agency workers to undermine strike action.