Scotland ‘should be left out of strike ballots crackdown’

SCOTLAND should be excluded entirely from a controversial crackdown on strike ballots and union funding, Roseanna Cunningham said amid fresh calls for Holyrood to seek to block the implementation of planned reforms.

The work and skills minister demanded the UK Government exempt unions north of the border from restrictions in the Trade Union Bill. Picture: TSPL
The work and skills minister demanded the UK Government exempt unions north of the border from restrictions in the Trade Union Bill. Picture: TSPL

The work and skills minister demanded the UK Government exempt unions north of the border from restrictions in the Trade Union Bill which is being debated in Westminster.

“I have looked at the Bill really carefully and given the extent of the risk to us around the future use of this legislation, and abuse which may arise, the only solution I can see is to ask that Scotland is excluded from the entire Bill,” she told delegates at the Scottish National Party’s annual conference in Aberdeen.

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“It is the only way in which we would be able maintain the integrity of our more progressive approach of working in partnership with trade unions,” she said.

“An approach which actually delivers on a better industrial relations landscape instead of creating a landscape which will create an even worse scenario than the Domesday scenario they seem to think exists alreasdy.

“So we are absolutely 100% against this Bill and we want Scotland to be out of it.”

She made the call after Grahame Smith used the first address to SNP conference by a leader of the Scottish Trade Unions Congress (STUC) to renew calls for the legislation to be blocked in Scotland.

The legislation makes clear that no legislative consent is required on what is deemed a non-devolved matter.

But to huge cheers, Mr Smith told activists: “The provisions of this Bill intrude on devolved responsibilities to such an extent that not one clause should be applied to Scotland without the consent of the Scottish parliament.

“A consent that I am confident would not be forthcoming.”

Ms Cunningham said Scotland had the lowest proportion of days lost to industrial action in the UK.

“Scotland points to a different way forward if only they would listen,” she said - complaining that a Westminster committee examining the reforms allowed only 20 minutes to hear Scotland’s case.

“It has the potential to undermine the effective engagement of trade unions across Scottish workplaces and, in particular, in the public sector.”

Mr Smith said banning “check-off” arrangements of public sector employers collecting membership fees and restricting union facility time “represents an unhealthy and damaging degree of centralised dictate.

“And it drives a coach and horses through both the spirit and intent of devolution, to Scotland and Wales and within the regions of England.

“It is totally unacceptable that a minister, from an office in Westminster, without any parliamentary scrutiny, can determine how much the Scottish government or a local authority or the NHS in Scotland can invest in ensuring good and effective industrial relations with its recognised unions and to face sanctions if they decided to invest more than the minister decrees.

“I very much welcome the strong statements of opposition to the Bill from the Scottish Government, from Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and a number of Scottish councils and I have every confidence that if this Bill becomes law, they will resist the implementation of any instructions issued from Westminster on facility time or check-off.”

He insisted there was “no deal to be done” on the Bill’s introduction of a 50% threshold on strike action ballots - meaning at least half of eligible members must cast a vote for it for the result to be valid.

The leader of the UK’s biggest trade union - Unite’s Len McCluskey - had written to David Cameron with an offer to accept thresholds in ballots for strikes in return for secret, secure workplace voting.

But Mr Smith said any such restrictions were unacceptable.

“I’ve heard it argued that the 50% turnout threshold is reasonable and I’ve also heard it said by some that there may be a deal to be done on thresholds, that maybe we could accept a 40% turnout or 30% of those eligible to vote,” he said.

“Thresholds are undemocratic and wrong in principle. They are wrong at 50%. They are wrong at 40%. They are wrong at 30% or 20%. There is no deal to be done on thresholds other than to drop them completely.”

To roars from the hall, he said: “In pursing this vindictive, unnecessary Bill the Tory Government has wilfully placed our country at odds with international law and the conventions on freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly and the rights to strike.”

Mr Smith said Scotland did not have a “strike problem ... and even if we did, that would be no reason to trample over workers’ civil and human rights”.

He mocked claims of “intimidation” by unions, saying the placing of a giant inflatable rat outside the home of an oil refinery director was “pretty mild” next to “threatening to decimate a local community or indeed a national economy, if a union and its members do not agree to accept cuts in their pay, terms and conditions and pensions”.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood also vowed to oppose the legislation in Wales.

In a guest appearance at the Aberdeen gathering, she said the right to take industrial action “is an inalienable right and we will not allow the Tories to take it away”.