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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 Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

My colleague Kevin Stewart spoke of his time at Aberdeen City Council as the convener of the finance and resources committee. He mentioned the important role that trade unionists played in a number of the budget discussions and in resolving the vexed issue of single status and equal pay in modernisation—regrettably, that remains unresolved in a number of local authorities. If the Trade Union Bill were to be passed at Westminster, I wonder what the impact would be on the ability of unions to effect a resolution to that issue.

During my time at Aberdeen City Council, I convened the appeals committee. I saw at first hand the benefits of trade union facility time in enabling the provision of appropriate support and representation for staff members who were lodging appeals against disciplinary procedure. I have serious concerns that, if the bill is passed, the ability of trade union officials to work on behalf of their membership in such appeals or in matters of grievance will be severely restricted, which could remove some recourse to justice for those members.

I also spent time on the council’s corporate health and safety committee. That was an important forum that brought together council officers, union representatives and elected members in order to drive forward the health and safety agenda. My colleague Clare Adamson spoke of that agenda in its wider context. At local authority level, again I have concerns that those union voices could be lost to that process if the changes concerning facility time in the bill are introduced.

Recently at Aberdeen City Council, my colleague Councillor Jackie Dunbar, who leads the SNP group, tabled a motion that was worded similarly to motions passed by other local authorities across Scotland, seeking to express the council’s explicit opposition to the Trade Union Bill and to put the council in a position in which it would not take action that would undermine union rights as a consequence of some of the bill’s measures. Regrettably, the motion was ruled to be incompetent by the Labour Lord Provost, despite it being along the same lines as those that have been passed by other councils. An attempt to lodge a motion with different wording, in a bid to get consensus, was not included on the agenda of the council’s urgent business committee.

My hope is that that was not a narrow consideration that a motion put forward by the SNP was the issue, and I hope that a resolution can be found so that Aberdeen can join those other councils that have, I believe quite rightly, expressed their opposition to the Trade Union Bill.

I was interested to hear Margaret McDougall speak about regressive union legislation that was passed by the Conservatives in the 1970s and remains on the statute books to this day. I regret the fact that that regressive legislation remains on the statute books despite 18 years of unbroken Labour Government from 1997 to 2015. That raises a secondary concern for me. Were the Trade Union Bill to be passed—I hope that it will not be, but we have to work with the reality that there is a majority Tory Government at Westminster—and were there to be a change of Government, we have no explicit guarantee that the legislation would be reversed, given what we saw following 1997.