The consensus in Holyrood against this attack on democracy can be used to our advantage, argues DAVE MOXHAM
LAST week, both the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments debated the Trade Union Bill.
In Westminster the Bill successfully negotiated its third reading, despite robust opposition from Labour and SNP MPs. There was only very slight amendment, reflecting a climbdown on some of its most ridiculous provisions relating to the use of social media for campaigning purposes, but otherwise it progressed largely intact.
Meanwhile, in Holyrood a government motion with a Labour amendment was supported by all MSPs, with the exception of the Tories. Is was one of the most consensual debates that the Scottish Parliament will get to see.
Of course, with employment law and the regulation of trade unions a reserved matter, there is little doubt as to which debate was the more important.
However, the debate in the Scottish Parliament raised a number of key questions as to how the Bill can be opposed and, if passed, resisted, here in Scotland.
In the first instance, there is the question of whether elements of the Trade Union Bill should be subject to a legislative consent motion, the procedure whereby an Act of the Westminster Parliament should not impact on the legislative or administrative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
Both the SNP and Labour committed to asking the questions as to whether an LCM can be tabled, though it seems clear that Westminster has rejected this possibility.
There are two aspects of the Bill which the STUC believes should be subject to legislative consent.
First, the part of the Bill which forces UK public-sector-funded bodies to give an account of the amount of facility time they offer to union reps (paid time off to represent members) and empowers the Westminster government to cap the amount of time public-sector bodies offer if it deems it “excessive.”
Second, the clause in the Bill determining that public-sector bodies should not offer “check-off” facilities to their employees (the system whereby employees, if they wish, can pay their union dues directly from their salary).
The Westminster government has justified these provisions on the grounds of “saving taxpayers’ money,” although of course the real purpose is to attack public-sector unions.
But crucially the government has not said it with wants to do away with payroll deductions per se.
It is not banning their use for charity-giving, pension payments or cycle lease schemes.
Neither is it banning payroll deduction schemes for union dues in the private sector.?? The same is broadly true on facility time.
The government is not banning facility time, nor does it want the power to limit its use in the private sector.
Thus, we are facing a discriminatory piece of legislation in which some workers will have rights that others will not. ?
Moreover, in an answer from the responsible Minister Nick Boles to Chris Stephens MP, it seems clear that the government’s intention is that UK public service departments will be empowered to directly dictate to devolved and autonomous Scottish public service departments, such as NHS Scotland, how they may deploy their resources with regard to how they pursue their workplace relations.
This represents an entirely unwarranted interference which, as well as being a vicious attack on union organisation, breaches the principle of devolution.
If the Scottish Parliament is not successful in its call for these aspects of the Bill to be subject to legislative consent, the STUC’s position is clear.
The Scottish government must join with local authorities in a clear statement that they will refuse to comply with those provisions of the Bill which infringe its policy-making and administrative autonomy.
This would take the form of a clear statement that it will not agree to cap the facility time agreed with unions if such a diktat were to be issued from London and that it will continue to offer to its employees the facility of deducting union dues at source in defiance of the new law.?
Such a statement would present a genuine challenge to the Trade Union Bill and have implications not just for its application in Scotland but also in Wales and for devolved local authorities in England too.
Wedded to undertakings already given in Parliament and by Scottish local authorities not to attempt to capitalise on other provisions of the Bill such as the use of scab labour to break strikes and the proposed additional restrictions on picketing, a clear statement of non-compliance has the potential to bring together local and national government in Scotland, the SNP and Labour, trade unionists and campaign organisations in a unified campaign of opposition to the Bill and provide the platform for more widespread, unified opposition to the Tories’ austerity agenda.
Dave Moxham is deputy general secretary of the STUC.