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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 James Kelly James Kelly Labour

My constituency has a strong industrial heritage—it has a strong history of mining, steel making and manufacturing, through which was born strong trade unionism. There was a need for collectivism because, historically, some of the employers in the constituency had very bad employment practices.

If we fast forward to the 21st century, although industrial relations and working conditions have improved substantially, even just a cursory glance at recent news cuttings shows that we still have major issues to deal with.

Last week, the Resolution Foundation reported that one in five Scots earns below the low pay threshold, and we have seen the reports about Sports Direct, where thousands of workers are on exploitative zero-hours contracts. The role of trade unions in giving a voice to people in the workplace is more relevant than ever. When we look at the logic of the Trade Union Bill, we must ask what it does for those who need the strong voice of trade unions. The bill undermines that voice.

The bill has been introduced by the Conservative Government because it operates on the basis that trade unions are not a force for good. A lot of members have mentioned the attempt to restrict facility time, which is all about shutting down trade unions’ opportunities to organise and assist workers. However, trade unions also assist employers. Lesley Brennan pointed out that the benefits of facility time include lower exit rates, lower incidences of people going to employment tribunals, and lower rates of illness and injuries. There are clear benefits.

This afternoon’s debate is about how the Parliament can move the issue forward and express a view that is legally binding in Scotland. Bruce Crawford made a very relevant point when he said that an implication of the bill was that Jeremy Hunt could have responsibility for a substantial amount of trade union activity in the Scottish NHS. To me, that makes the point that the Scottish ministers do have executive competence over areas of the bill, so it is regrettable that the Presiding Officer ruled that we were not able to debate an LCM.

Mary Fee’s proposal to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is helpful. I note the contributions from experienced members of the committee—Stewart Stevenson and Patricia Ferguson—which demonstrated the committee’s political will to explore how an LCM could be brought before this Parliament. That could be very helpful indeed.

I do not agree with Mark McDonald, whose analysis was that if this Parliament debated an LCM it would be a moot point.