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Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture

Published: 22 Nov 2015 00:01

Scotland should be exempt from ‘illiberal’ UK Trade Union Bill - FM.

The UK Government's Trade Union Bill does not reflect the reality of industrial relations in Scotland and does not contain a single proposal that would be passed by the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will say this week.

Delivering the annual Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture - entitled "workers' rights are human rights" - the First Minister will say that the trade union proposals currently making their way through Westminster "offers illiberal solutions to a problem which doesn't exist in Scotland".

Speaking on Tuesday evening in the Bute Hall – the same venue in which Jimmy Reid delivered his world-famous rectorial address in 1972 – Ms Sturgeon will say the bill's provisions should only apply to Scotland with legislative consent and that getting such consent from the Scottish Parliament would be impossible.

The First Minister is expected to say:

"When Jimmy Reid spoke here in April 1972, it was towards the end of the Upper Clyde Shipworkers dispute. The work-in which Reid helped to organise was arguably the greatest achievement of the post war union movement. It asserted the fundamental right of individuals to work. It did so through a peaceful, positive protest which captured the imagination of people around the world.

"It is a reminder that trade unions are a source of empowerment. They provide a voice for those who might otherwise go unheard. The right to strike is an essential part of that, but the real value of trade unions goes much wider. They help employers to create the safe, humane, productive working conditions which head off industrial disputes - and which build better businesses. Because of that, trade unions are a force for good in modern societies.

"That's certainly been our experience here in Scotland in recent years. Industrial relations in Scotland are strong. And so the UK Government's proposed Trade Union Bill is based on a worldview we don't recognise. It sees the relationship between employers and unions as one of conflict rather than co-operation.

"In my view, it doesn't contain a single proposal which would ever be passed by the current Scottish parliament. It does not reflect the reality of industrial relations here, or the nature of public opinion. It offers illiberal solutions to a problem which doesn't exist in Scotland.

"For example the UK Government wants the right to restrict facility time – the system which means that employees can spend time carrying out union duties. Those duties often include helping employees at disciplinary hearings, or offering business training for their staff.

"It also proposes a ban on public sector employers using 'check off' facilities - that's the payroll mechanism which enables union membership subscriptions to be deducted at source.

"It's a straightforward way of helping people to become members. Some people pay union subscriptions that way; others might pay childcare fees, or give to charity. The Scottish Government, as an employer, has been operating a check-off facility for years. The costs are so minimal that we have never charged unions for it.

"The UK Government proposes to make our actions illegal. It's worth repeating that. The UK Government doesn't just want to stop using check-off procedures itself; it wants to make them illegal for the Scottish Government.

"It's an extraordinary attempt to control how we act as an employer. It demonstrates that fundamentally, the UK government wants to discourage union membership. The provision has no other conceivable purpose.

"That's why the Scottish Government is part of a broad coalition – among the devolved administrations, the unions and wider civic society – which is opposing this Bill.

"We have argued for it to be voted down at Westminster. We have proposed that Scotland should be exempted from its provisions.

"And since the Bill will have a significant impact on Scotland – including on how the Scottish Government as an employer carries out devolved functions – we will argue that it should only apply to Scotland if legislative consent is given by the Scottish Parliament. For the substantive provisions, it is almost impossible to imagine that such consent would ever be granted."

Professor Gregor Gall, Director of the Reid Foundation said:

"We welcome the First Minister's criticism of the Trade Union Bill and the actions she proposes the Scottish Government will take to blunt its impact when it becomes law.

"Trade unionists are alarmed at the blatant attack on their trade union rights, which are fundamental human rights such as the right to peacefully protest. Workers also value the human right 'to an adequate standard of living' which is often at the heart of what trade union action is designed to achieve.

"Jimmy Reid famously had a 'work in' not a strike to emphasise the importance of work to families across Scotland and standing up for trade union rights is an important aspect of the Foundation's remit which is to honour the legacy of Jimmy Reid."

Notes to editors

The Jimmy Reid Memorial Lecture is organised by the Jimmy Reid Foundation (http://reidfoundation.org/) and hosted by the University of Glasgow (www.gla.ac.uk)