New report finds revolution in Scottish workers’ rights requires independence


Calls to introduce far-reaching legal changes for Scottish workers as conditions worsen

A NEW report has called for a new form of collective bargaining rights for Scottish workers among other legal changes, to turn around the deterioration of working conditions across the UK in recent decades.

The report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation also argues that either Scottish independence or the devolution of powers over employment would be necessary to make the changes to workers’ rights in Scotland. 

The paper by JRF director and industrial relations professor Gregor Gall investigations the extension of the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law to Scotland.

“The possibility exists that in the longer-term under independence the Manifesto could be implemented.” Gregor Gall

The manifesto would establish a new basis for workers’ rights and conditions, including giving workers the rights to bargain collectively with employers across industrial sectors, increasing workers’ collective strength.

In the report, Gall writes: “At one level, and as already alluded to, the prospect of implementing the Manifesto in Scotland is no more auspicious than it is south of the border – certainly in the short- to medium-term. As is widely known, employment law is a reserved matter (for Westminster and not Holyrood) and, somewhat more contentiously for some, the SNP in office as the Scottish Government since 2007 has not shown itself to be a radical or reforming administration.

“However, the possibility exists that in the longer-term under independence that the Manifesto could be implemented. With full power on matters of employment law and employment relations, a Scottish Parliament could decide to do so. The issue then becomes one of political will.

“Under the first scenario, the devolution of employment law could take place under a new constitutional system (such as federalism). Post-Brexit this becomes more possible and, indeed, some pressure is building for the devolution of employment with the STUC and the Unite union recently adopting this as policy. Under the second scenario, there is no need for devolution of employment law because independence as taken place.”

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The call for the implementation of the measures in the manifesto, which also include the establishment of a ministry of labour with a cabinet representative, a specialist labour court and a national economic forum to promote industrial strategy, comes amid a steep decline in workers’ pay and conditions.

Gall aso argues that even with a changed constitutional arrangement, only a powerful and dynamic grassroots labour movement could imporve worker’s conditions.

UK workers already work among the longest hours in Europe and have the second lowest collective bargaining coverage of any group of workers in Europe.

The UK is the only major European economy to see a continued fall in average wages in the years of recovery following the 2008 economic crisis. Between 2007 and the beginning of 2017 average real wages fell by 10.4 per cent according to the TUC.

The UK Tory Government’s 2016 Trade Union Act has further curtailed workers’ rights to organise and resist declining living standards. New measures reduce the ability of workers to pay money into their union, provide the state with greater powers to investigate unions and raise the voting thresholds at which industrial action can take place. 

The shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has pledged to implement the Manifesto for Labour Law should Labour form the next UK Government after the 8 June General Election.

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Picture courtesy of quisnovus

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