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I was born and brought up in industrial Lanarkshire, and the trade union movement and industrial relations have often been prominent in my life. The traditions of solidarity and unity in Lanarkshire were brought home to me last year when I stood with representatives from the trade union movement, the STUC and people from the communities of Motherwell and Wishaw at the unveiling of the steelworkers memorial, which is a beautiful sculpture by Andy Scott and a fitting tribute to the many workers in the steel industry who lost their lives or were injured in the workplace. However, the site of Ravenscraig on which the statue stands will forever be remembered by me as the place that epitomised in my formative years the failure of industrial relations.
I remember the miners’ strike and picketing at Ravenscraig. I fully believe that that conflict, as it is in my mind, was orchestrated by a Government that had an agenda to damage irreversibly the trade union movement. I thought that the anti-trade-union legislation that followed was the worst that a Tory Government could do to a movement that has done so much to secure workers’ rights, to improve health and safety, and to protect workers. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
The proposals in the Trade Union Bill will further restrict the fundamental rights of workers to organise, to bargain collectively and, where necessary, to withdraw their labour. One has only to look at the position of junior doctors in England and Wales to see how important that last right is when one is faced by an unjust Government. In Scotland, we have good industrial relations. The trade unions are well recognised; they are a hugely important part of our society and are indicative of a healthy modern democracy.
As convener of the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness, it has been my absolute pleasure to work with Scottish Hazards in its endeavours with the STUC to raise awareness, and to train and support workers with the aim of reducing the amount of work-related injury, ill health and death. The group aims to increase knowledge and awareness and, most important, to improve practice and develop workers’ involvement in the most important part of their lives—their working environment.
How many of those hard-won protections for workers would exist, however, without the efforts of an effective trade union movement? We have heard the mantra from other parties in the UK, particularly from the United Kingdom Independence Party, about the red tape of health and safety, but it is not so. Those are hard-fought-for protections that were put in place for workers through the endeavours of a strong and effective trade union movement.
In Lanarkshire, unfortunately, we all understand the dangers and the legacy of those industrial days—mesothelioma, pleural plaques, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and vibration white finger. The list goes on and on. If we do anything that further diminishes the rights of workers and the trade unions in the UK, we do it at our peril.
I have talked about my formative teenage years. I remember the 1979 devolution referendum and the late amendment that required 40 per cent of the electorate, not just a simple majority, to support the proposal. That was an affront to democracy then, and clauses 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Bill are an affront to democracy now. There has been talk about how the bill will be debated in the Welsh Assembly today, and Liam McArthur said that he is in favour of a UK-wide employment legislation solution, but we do not have that now: the bill will not be discussed in the Northern Ireland Assembly, because the matter is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Had we had support in the Smith commission, the bill’s subject matter might well have been in Scotland’s power too. It is a shame that we do not have that power, because it would make such a difference to the future and to today’s deliberations.
One of the reasons that have been mooted for the need for the Trade Union Bill is that through it the number of days’ productivity that are lost in the UK economy can be limited. I would like to see the UK Government look to what the Scottish Government has done by introducing the living wage—which research has proved increases productivity, motivates workers and benefits people. We can do things differently here; we can take different decisions. We need the power to do so, and we should use every way that we can find to reject the bill that is being promoted by the Tory Government.