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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Why the Trade Union Bill is especially wrong in Scotland

The Trade Union Bill weakens our voice at work, and weakens our campaigning voice. It undermines the right to strike, union organisation and aims to make it harder for unions to win a fairer deal at work.

The Bill receives its Second Reading at Westminster today. It will:
·      undermine the right to strike for better pay and conditions or against unfair treatment
·      threaten freedom of speech, with new restrictions on protests and pickets
·      allow employers to use agency temps to replace striking workers
·      introduce new red tape that makes it harder for unions to run political campaigns
·      Reduce the rights of union reps in the workplace, making it harder for them to represent their members
·      Make it more difficult to join a trade union by ending check off/DOCAS agreements.

The Trade Union Bill has been described even by employer organisations as an outdated response. That is particularly true in post-devolution Scotland.

One of the early actions of the first devolved Labour-Liberal coalition was a Memorandum of Understanding between the trade unions and the Scottish Government, which has led – through different iterations – to the Scottish Government’s new Fair Work Convention. The Working Together report describes how Scotland’s industrial relations has taken a different direction, particularly in the public sector, the main target of this legislation. I highlighted the growing differences recently in an article in the Scotsman and in more detail in the Policy Now journal.

While industrial relations is a reserved matter to Westminster, sections of this Bill, particularly those dealing with check off/DOCAS and facility time, explicitly interfere in devolved issues of public administration. We have therefore argued that the Bill requires the support of devolved parliaments. The Scottish and Welsh governments support this position.

Scottish public bodies are also required under the Public Sector Equality Duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination in the area of employment. In an embarrassing error, UK government officials posted a final draft of the Bill’s equality assessment that shows that officials have serious doubts about the lack of evidence to support government assertions.

The Scotland Act also requires that human rights must be respected and realised at all levels of governance in Scotland. The Trade Union Bill breaches a number of the articles in the European Convention on Human Rights and in particular ILO conventions that the UK has signed up to. The human rights aspects have also been criticised by Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights. UNISON’s General Secretary, Dave Prentis, covers the sinister surveillance issues at Left Foot Forward.

The campaign against the Trade Union Bill has received broad political support across Scotland. Both the SNP and Scottish Labour oppose the Bill. Almost all of Scotland’s MPs will oppose the Bill today.

Scottish councils and other public bodies are starting to recognise the impact this will have on their industrial relations culture. Renfrewshire and Glasgow councils have tabled strong motions opposing the Bill and others are considering similar positions.

Both party leaders in Scotland have made the link between the Bill and the Tory approach to the workplace generally. They support the idea that employees working together for better wages, terms and conditions makes for a more productive workforce – good for business and good for society. This is a point well articulated by Will Hutton the former Director of the Work Foundation and leading academics. Vince Cable has described the Bill as ‘vindictive’ and even senior Tory MP, David Davis, has described the picketing proposals as like something out of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain.

Today’s debate, is an early stage in the parliamentary process. Our main focus has to be explaining to our members and the wider public that this grubby piece of legislation will not only damage workers rights, but it undermines good workplace relations and the economy.

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