Trade Union Access to Workplaces — [Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:22 pm on 4th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 5:22 pm, 4th June 2019

I agree wholeheartedly, but on this occasion the hon. Gentleman underdoes his criticism of the Foreign Office. It gave a contract to a company that will be the next Carillion, because it is in administration. It is absolutely and utterly ludicrous that the Government are giving contracts to companies that are failing.

Members including Danielle Rowley have mentioned the historical context and blacklisting. We know that it has been going on in the construction sector. The difference between that sector and other sectors of the economy is that people in the construction sector found the blacklist, but I know there are blacklists in other sectors. Given my trade union activity over the past 20 years, I would be very surprised if I were not on a blacklist.

We have seen the erosion of trade union rights over the past few decades. There is the anti-trade union Bill, which I will touch on; the erosion of facility time in the public sector; the publishing of that facility time, and the suggestion that it is a cost to the public purse when it is not; a public sector pay cap; and the erosion of collective bargaining. In Scotland, 81% of workers were covered by collective bargaining agreements for pay in 1979. The figure is now 23% as a result of the deregulation of markets.

The examples provided by the hon. Member for Warrington South are very alarming. As far as the Scottish National party is concerned, all workers should have the right to trade union membership and to organise as a collective trade union. Multinational companies purposefully stopping trade unions from recruiting staff is against employer best practice, and does not bode well for the prospect of positive workplace relations. These incidents can make workers feel isolated and alienated, further frustrating cohesion in the working environment.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the benefits of a trade union workforce have been consistently documented by research—not just by the TUC, but by others—that suggests members are more likely to be paid more, more likely not to be dismissed, more likely to have better leave provisions and more likely to work fewer hours of unpaid overtime. Those are important gains. Members are also more likely to find themselves in a pay and grading scheme that complies with the Equal Pay Act 1970, and trade unions have played a vital role in ensuring that employers comply with that very important piece of legislation. As the chief economist of the Bank of England has said, the weakening of trade union power in the United Kingdom has hit workers’ pay over the past few decades.

Trade unionism should be viewed as an opportunity to improve workplace relations, as trade union representatives and officials bring a vital perspective to a workplace, and do more than play a role in collective bargaining; for example, they ensure effective communication between employers and workers. Indeed, trade unions provide workers who go on to become trade union representatives with the opportunity for personal development through lifelong learning. They ensure a common footing on communication between employees and employers.

I want to highlight the great work being done by organisations such as Better Than Zero, which is highlighting some awful employment practices, particularly on zero-hour contracts and the status of workers—the bogus self-employment that is increasing in the economy. Since I support the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Warrington South, I hope that he will support mine, the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, because it is important that we deal with zero-hours contracts. Under my Bill, such contracts would be allowed in only one circumstance: where there is a collective agreement with an organised trade union. That would nail once and for all the view espoused by some people that workers like zero-hours contracts. Having trade unions in workplaces where there are zero-hours contracts would put that to the test.

My Bill would simplify the status of workers, because there is far too much bogus self-employment—people are finding out that they are self-employed when they thought that they were employees. It would also provide another opportunity to expose the anti-trade union Act that was passed in the last Parliament and has significantly reduced the mobilisation and organising power of trade unions. The Act has in particular impacted on facility time, which is integral to a trade union’s ability to prepare for collective bargaining. That law pits the Government and employers against trade unions and is needlessly divisive. Publishing details of facility time and its so-called cost to the public purse is frankly outrageous. The fact is that trade union reps save both time and money by improving workplace relations and enforcing best practice.

I support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, and I hope he supports mine. It is a pleasure once again to support the trade union movement—the best partner with our society.