Business secretary: “Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one-nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business”
SCOTTISH Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith has described the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill as “vindictive, unfair and unnecessary”, saying it is “an attack on the fundamental human right of workers to withdraw their labour”.
The Trade Union Bill, announced on Wednesday by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, goes significantly beyond Tory proposals in the party’s election manifesto, seeking to make breaking picketing laws an illegal offence, and to have a 14-day waiting period after a trade union has informed an employer of its intention to take industrial action.
The move, if passed, is likely to severely hamper the ability of trade unions to organise, and Smith said that it should be a concern for anyone “who values the right to peaceful protest”.
“This Bill is vindictive, unfair and unnecessary,” Smith said. “It is an attack on the fundamental human right of workers to withdraw their labour, a right enshrined in international Conventions to which the UK is a signatory and which it will now contravene.”
“The UK already has some of the most restrictive strike laws in the industrialised world.” Grahame Smith
He continued: “This Bill starts from the false premise that unions are bad and their activities need to be curtailed.
“This is contrary to the approach we are taking in Scotland where unions, employers and government are working together through the Fair Work Convention, to promote the very positive role unions play at the workplace, and across the economy and society in tackling low pay, job insecurity, inequality, underemployment and skills shortages to improve productivity and economic success and to reduce poverty.
“The call for the devolution to Scotland of employment law and trade union regulation will only grow as a consequence of the current attack.”
The STUC called for employment law to be devolved to Scotland as part of the Smith Agreement on more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but the move was opposed by the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems.
One key element of the new proposals is to create a 40 per cent threshold of trade unionists, regardless of whether they vote or not, in favour of strike action. Smith argued that this wouldn’t be a problem if the government allowed unions to move to digital and workplace means of voting, rather than only postal voting.
“The UK already has some of the most restrictive strike laws in the industrialised world covering how ballots must be conducted, what must be included on the ballot paper and that the method of voting must be by post,” he said. “Postal voting is notorious for achieving a small turnout. If the Tories were serious about increasing participation in ballots, which I am all in favour of, they would allow unions to use secure online balloting or secret workplace ballots.”
“These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored.” Sajid Javid
Javid defended the new changes, saying: “Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one-nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business.
“These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored.”
It’s unclear as yet whether the Labour party will oppose the changes, but leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has declared her opposition, saying: “Labour must do all it can to stop these divisive and damaging measures from coming into force.”
Cat Boyd, Unite trade union activist and co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign, said that the proposed changes were an attack on democracy.
“These plans were not included in the Tory manifesto. What does that tell you about the Tory interpretation of democracy? That democracy for the Tories is only for the rich, the bad bosses and those who already have influence and power,” Boyd said.
“If the Tories want to know why strike turnouts are so low, they should look back into their own history, when Thatcher first brought in the requirements for secret postal ballots.” Cat Boyd
She continued: “Trade unions are the only democratic, collective institutions who protect people in their workplaces.
“Let’s not forget the things that we sometimes take for granted at work – like sick pay, holidays and safe working conditions were fought for by generations of trade union members who came before us.
“People risked poverty and prison to stand up for what’s right – the dockers, the match girls and the gas workers. Those of us now in the trade union movement need to be prepared to do the same today.
“If the Tories want to know why strike turnouts are so low, they should look back into their own history, when Thatcher first brought in the requirements for secret postal ballots.
“The Tories think we’re rabble rousers? The only rabble that should be shut down are those sitting in the government benches.”
Picture courtesy of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills