Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Trade Union Bill

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests and declare that I am a member of Unison.

The Trade Union Bill seems to be part of a wider Tory agenda to restrict employees’ rights. We have already seen the removal of legal aid access for personal injury claims, and anyone who started working after 6 April 2012 must work for their employer for at least two years before they meet the qualifying period for unfair dismissal. Changes to employment tribunals have restricted access to workplace justice, and tribunal fees of up to £250 just to register a case have been introduced. Those changes—all attacks on employee rights—were bad enough, but now we have the Trade Union Bill, which seems to be an outright ideological attack on worker representation.

In its briefing for the debate, the British Medical Association has provided us with an excellent summary of the bill. The BMA does not have a political fund and is not affiliated to any political party or to the Trades Union Congress. No one—unless their name is Hunt—could ever accuse the BMA of being a reactionary, militant organisation. The briefing states:

“The BMA believes that the Trade Union Bill risks diminishing not only the important role trade unions play in the work place, but also their legitimate right and need to represent their members’ interests. The imposition of tighter restrictions on trade unions may have the inadvertent effect of prolonging workplace disputes, thereby making it more difficult to resolve disputes amicably.”

A similar view is held by Shirley Rogers of NHS Scotland, who stated at the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee that

“the NHS took the view that we wanted to invest in co-production; we wanted to front-load our investment in facility time to allow us to have a better product rather than to spend our time in conflict resolution and dispute management. The proof of that pudding is that, during the past 10 to 15 years, we can count on one hand the number of disputes that we have had.”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 7 January 2016; c 6.]

My experience of facility time is similar—it has been beneficial to some organisations that I have been involved with, including Aberdeen City Council, in which it has been beneficial in areas such as health and safety, input to the local education committee—including work on the three Rs project, which built 10 new schools in Aberdeen—and budget setting. Trade union colleagues were at the forefront in those examples. I hope that that continues throughout the country for ever and a day.

The bill undermines workers’ rights to representation: of that we can be in no doubt. The BMA briefing tells us:

“The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has stated that ‘this Bill is not a declaration of war on the trade union movement’. However, this Bill, alongside the measures introduced by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, appears to be another ideological attempt by the Government to curtail the legitimate activities of trade unions.”

Esther Lynch, who is a confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, recently wrote:

“The very fact that the Trade Union Bill has been proposed is shocking. Attacks on the fundamental right to strike, recognised as a basic human right, are not just an attack on workers and their trade unions, they are an attack on society as a whole. Weaker unions mean greater inequality. By interfering with trade union collective action Governments prevent workers from effectively participating in the choices involved in their workplace, society and economy. The deck becomes firmly stacked in favour of the powerful and the privileged.”

Should we be surprised that, once again, the Tory party is attempting to stack the odds in favour of the powerful and the privileged? Probably not. However, in the Scottish Parliament, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that such draconian laws cannot be implemented here. We must all support the call from the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee that Scotland be excluded from the bill.

We have heard today from Mr Findlay that he would like to explore every avenue to combat the bill. Margaret McDougall said that we should take every measure required to do so. The measure that we must take—the avenue that we need to go down—to protect trade unionists and employees across the board, to protect human rights and to defend our freedoms, is ensure that all aspects of employment law are devolved to this Parliament.