A LABOUR MSP will this week launch a “damages” bill that restores the right of automatic compensation for injured workers, after it was removed by the UK government.
The launch of the damages bill by Richard Baker in the coming days came after Aidan O’Neill QC said that the Scottish Government could face a bill greater than the £11 million that was paid out to cover the cost of damages to former inmates over the practice of “slopping out” in prisons, unless it failed to block the UK law change that he said was in breach of EU law.
However, Mr Baker last night said ministers had failed to listen to the warning from the QC and that he would now attempt to change the law with the bill, which is expected to win enough parliamentary support to go before MSPs.
The UK government removed the law that removed employee automatic compensation if rules on safety were breached.
Mr Baker’s bill is aimed at striking out controversial Westminster legislation that strips people injured in the workplace due to safety breaches of an automatic right to compensation.
Mr Baker said he had decided to launch the bill after Scottish ministers failed to use their powers to block it.
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He said: “Time is up for the Scottish Government on this. They received a warning from Aidan O’Neill that they would liable for these damages.
“We can’t wait any longer, which is why I’m launching the bill this week and I’m calling on the Scottish Government to adopt the bill.
“If ministers do not act on it, they are opening the government up to the possibility of damages under European law.
“I hope ministers recognise the seriousness of this now that we’ve got a new justice secretary with a fresh pair of eyes.”
UK Business Secretary Vince Cable introduced the change, through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, as part of a move to cut red tape for employers.
Employees injured in the workplace under the old law were automatically entitled to compensation if rules on safety were breached, with the burden of proof on the employer.
Mr O’Neill, who specialises in European law, said the Scottish Government could face a flood of lawsuits from injured workers denied compensation if it fails to overturn the law.
The QC said the Scottish Parliament has the “legislative competence” to overrule the law on the grounds that Holyrood has powers over compensation case law and an obligation to uphold European Union law.
Patrick McGuire, a senior partner at Thompsons Solicitors, who is O’Neill’s instructing solicitor for the issue and has helped draft the bill, said: “This is about ensuring that there isn’t a two-tier workforce and ensuring that the Scottish taxpayer is not exposed to significant compensation claims.”
A Scottish Government spokesman, when previously asked about the bill, said: “We look forward to seeing the details of the bill proposed by Mr Baker once it is introduced to Parliament, where all MSPs can give consideration to the proposals contained within it.”
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