The Conservative Government’s “Trade Union Bill” was introduced by David Cameron’s Conservative Government to “Make provision about industrial action, trade unions, employers’ associations and the functions of the Certification Officer.”
The bill, which would seeks to implement higher voting thresholds for trade union strike ballots, banning the use of payroll deductions to trade unions known as ‘check offs’ and seek to limit ‘facility time’ (time off from an individual’s job, granted by the employer, to enable a representative to carry out their trade union role) for public sector workers passed the second reading 317-284 on Monday following six hours of debate in the House of Commons.
The UK Government has stated that the measures bring brought forward in the legislation are designed to protect workers and save tax payer’s money by limiting the amount of time public sector workers spend carrying out trade union activity and prevent workers from inadvertently paying a trade union subscription through the payroll. The government also insist that the changes to the rules governing trade union strike action will prevent unions without broad support from their membership from being able to take industrial action which leads to a significant number of ‘working days lost’ in the UK each year.
In reality however the bill has been widely criticised by workers, trade unions and even many employers as a thinly veiled attempt by the Conservative Government to erode workers’ rights, make it easier to implement public sector cuts and changes to the terms and conditions of public sector workers and financially limit the ability of trade unions to support the wider labour movement.
Whilst on a UK level I believe we must do all that we can do oppose this Tory legislation which seeks to implement draconian measures such as doubling the amount of notice unions have to give before a strike can be held – from 7 to 14 days, allow employers to use agency workers to replace striking staff and Introducing fines of up to £20,000 on unions if picketers do not wear an official armband. I also believe that in Scotland we must put pressure on the Scottish Government to oppose this legislation and to prevent its implementation in Scotland.
It is not in the interests of the working people of Scotland to have the rights that their forbearers fought for taken away by a Tory Government which is on an ideological crusade to prevent workers from exercising their rights.
I believe that the clauses in the Trade Union Bill seeking to ban the public sector employers from collecting union dues through the check-off arrangement is an unwarranted interference on the autonomy of elected public bodies across the UK and in Scotland. Equally, devolved public bodies should have the right, without interference from the UK government, to continue to support arrangements that afford trade union representatives sufficient resources to enable them to carry out their functions to ensure the continuation of good industrial relations.
The Scottish Labour Party therefore has repeated its call on the Scottish Government to demand that the provisions of the Bill relating to public administration should be the subject of a Legislative Consent Motion and thus subject to debate and to agreement in the Scottish Parliament.
If the UK Government does not agree with this the Scottish Labour Party will work with elected representatives in local government to develop a position of non-co-operation with any attacks on facility time or check off and will seek the support of the Scottish Government to stand with local authorities in opposing the proposals in this Bill and to adopt a position of non-cooperation with respect to facility time and check off.
Already we have seen Scottish Labour local authorities taking a lead by gearing up to fight the bill and protect their workers and working relationship with them. Below are some of the statements and motions passed by Scottish Labour councils across Scotland and I believe we must continue to oppose this bill, put pressure on the Scottish Government to do the same and stand with our Labour local authorities leading the fight on this issue.
What Labour Councils have said about this legislation:
Councillor Frank McAveety, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:
“We have to do all we can to stop the Tories’ Trade Union Bill affecting people who work in our vital public services. Glasgow will say no to these attacks on working people and we will not co-operate with attacks on facility time or check off. It is also for the Scottish Government to stand with us and do what they can to resist this bill.
“It is clear that this is nothing more than an ideological attack on the rights of working people across our country. People on strike will be criminalised, workers’ rights will be undermined by the use of agency workers and democracy will be undermined by the introduction of ballot turnout thresholds.”
Leader of Edinburgh City Council, Councillor Andrew Burns said:
“We will stand strong alongside the trade union movement in opposing this Bill. It will restrict the ability of this council to engage in good industrial relations practices with our workforce and that is bad for this Council, for its workforce and for our capital city.
“I will be writing to the Business Secretary making clear our outright opposition to these proposals which will undermine crucial workplace functions like facility time and check off and ask the First Minister to back local authorities across Scotland campaigning against this ideological attack on trade unions.”
Councillor Willie Young of Aberdeen City Council said:
“This Trade Union Bill will have a negative impact on public service workers. This is something that should be avoided at all costs.”
“Aberdeen Labour Group has and always will work closely with trade union colleagues. In that spirit, my door will be firmly open to those trade union colleagues who are angry at the attack this bill brings on their hard-fought rights at work.”
Fife Council Leader David Ross said:
“Fife Council has always recognised the positive contribution that trade unions and trade union members make in our workplaces. We value the constructive relationship we have with our trade unions and we recognise their commitment, and the commitment of all our staff, to the delivery of good quality public services.
“I have real concerns about the Trade Union Bill which is currently being proposed by the UK Government and which would affect this Council’s relationship with our trade unions and our workforce as a whole. I see this as an attack on local democracy and an attack on our right to manage our own affairs.
“I will be asking the Council to support the campaign against this unnecessary, anti-democratic and bureaucratic Trade Union Bill.”
Councillor Mike Holmes, Depute Leader of Renfrewshire Council said:
“The proposals in the Trade Union Bill are not aimed at improving industrial relations. If enacted the bill will make it harder for the council to maintain good industrial relations with our workforce and their representatives.
“For example the collection of union dues through check off – which employees voluntarily sign up for – makes sense for the workforce, the trades unions and for the council which receives an income for doing so. The bill is an attack on democracy – we have a long standing and well tested agreement with our trades unions and this centralised government interference is unwelcome and unhelpful.”