Tuesday, 4 July 2017
That’s what the Smith Commission had to say about the future of railway policing in Scotland. The British Transport Police comes within the purview of the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Government have used their new powers to pass a Railway Policing Bill, with Green support, that will break up the British Transport Police in Scotland and merge its functions into Police Scotland, against the advice of experts, officers and staff.
Against the wishes of the STUC too, expressed in resolutions backed by rail unions and public sector unions alike.
There is no reason why the devolution of the British Transport Police should mean the dissolution of the British Transport Police. Breaking up the BTP is a choice. A political choice. It didn’t have to happen.
In response to the Smith Agreement, the British Transport Police Authority set out a range of options, including alternatives to a merger that would allow us to retain the British Transport Police as a specialist service but with enhanced accountability to the Scottish Parliament. The best of both worlds for railway policing.
Yet it is telling that the Scottish Government were only prepared to consult on one option – dismantling the British Transport Police in Scotland.
BTP officers and support staff provide a good service. They are public servants in a unique police force – one of the best in the country – with specialist skills and experience in preventing terrorism, protecting transport hubs, managing major incidents and keeping the railways running safely.
BTP has been subject to more inspections than any other police service in the country and is consistently found to be efficient, effective and to carry the confidence of the travelling public.
Not one of the principal stakeholders involved with the British Transport Police believes that its abolition in Scotland is necessary. Not one would support it. Not the train companies. Not the officers. Not the staff.
When the Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence on the Bill, the majority of respondents raised substantial concerns about the terms, conditions and pension rights of BTP officers and support staff.
When the Scottish Parliament voted on that Bill, no settlement had been negotiated and no agreement had been reached. The level of engagement between Ministers and the relevant unions has been dismal. So much for the fair work agenda. So much for partnership.
In the days before the vote, Nigel Goodband, the Chair of the British Transport Police Federation, personally wrote to the Transport Minister and warned that at a time of heightened security when the terrorist threat is severe, it would be “imprudent” to push ahead with the merger.
The TSSA say the Bill amounts to a “downgrading” of security of Scotland’s railways.
The RMT warned that the railway policing specialism would be diluted, eroding skills and experience built up over decades, and they said the Bill had come at the worst possible time.
Merging the British Transport Police with Police Scotland is wrought with risks. Risks no responsible government should take. Yet the Scottish Government continued regardless.
There is understandable dejection amongst BTP workers after the Parliament’s decision but we were able to secure one small victory that may prove to be important in years to come.
Amendments I put forward that would ensure trade union representation on a new Railway Policing Management Forum were accepted and the Scottish Government also agreed to include trade unions and staff associations on a list of statutory consultees.
This Bill is a bad Bill. It is not a Bill I could possibly support. However, in ensuring trade unions are mentioned on the face of the Bill, we have guaranteed that whatever happens with this merger, workers will have their say in the future of railway policing.
Neil Bibby MSP
Friday, 23 June 2017
The Second World War saw an influx of women into male dominated professions such as engineering. So much so, that in 1943 the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) took the decision to admit women members for the first time and women have continued to consolidate their position within the sector and within their unions ever since.
Since that time much has changed in the world of work and the issue of gender inequality and occupational segregation in engineering is now widely recognised. We know now that occupational segregation in STEM fields costs the Scottish economy £170milion each year; we know that 73% of women with qualifications in these fields leave the sector, compared to 49% of men and we know that the Scottish Government forecasts the need for 120,000 more engineers by 2020.
Companies are also recognising the benefits of diverse workforces and many are working to create more inclusive cultures. At Equate, we have the good fortune to work with passionate women and men from across the sector who are committed to creating change through flexible-working, taking positive action and challenging structural barriers.
Trade Unions continue to have a key role to play in this work. In recent years, Prospect the Union has taken the lead in championing the needs of women looking to return to science and engineering following a career break. Their research in this area, has resulted in the development of returnship programmes that have enabled talented women to step back onto the career ladder.
Today is International Women in Engineering Day – a day to celebrate the many achievements of women in engineering and also a day to remember that supporting this agenda is the right thing to do both economically and socially. Without women, Scotland cannot meet its STEM sector targets and if we do not work to overcome occupational segregation in these sectors, then we risk locking women out of the jobs of the future.
In order to prevent this, we must all work together. We need engineering employers to take bold action to attract and retain women to and in their organisations. Equally, we need our trade unions to be at the fore front of discussions on gender equality, challenging the status quo and championing change. There is a real opportunity for Unions to lead on these issues, just as Prospect has done, and Equate Scotland looks forward to working with Unions to make this vision for Scotland a reality.
Allison Johnstone started her career as a chemical engineer with the oil and gas industry. She now works as Training and Development Manager at Equate Scotland, the national experts on women in STEM fields. She is member of Unison.
Photograph found at: https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/explorefurther/images/ase160/
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Auto-enrolment is a Government initiative designed to encourage workers to save for their retirement. By 2018 all employers must enrol their eligible employees into a workplace pension scheme and the employers must contribute to it. Employees can opt out if they wish but the reality is very few do. Since its introduction in 2012 over 440,000 workers in Scotland are now saving into a workplace pension as a result of auto-enrolment.
By the time the roll out is complete the majority of workers in Scotland will have access to a workplace pension that will include an employer contribution of at least 3% of salary by April 2019.
The Government review of auto-enrolment is currently taking place however there is no requirement to change anything as a result of this review.
As we are all aware Brexit negotiations will extend well into 2018 and beyond taking up much of the UK’s government’s time, however we can’t allow them to use this as an excuse to stall long term domestic pension policy.
Despite the general consensus that Auto-enrolment has been a success, changes have to be made. It must be made simpler, fairer and open to all. In particular, the review must address the discrimination against the low paid and bring more women and people on low incomes into auto-enrolment.
A major problem with the current approach is that to be eligible you need to earn at least £10k a year in one job. This excludes many part-time workers who have an income over £10k which comes from multiple jobs.
We need action to change the auto-enrolment eligibility criteria so that more women qualify. By bringing together low income multiple jobs –would allow workers with more than one job to benefit from an employer contribution which they currently do not. At the moment these workers are exempt because their earnings are looked at individually rather than combined and they are considered to be below the £10,000 threshold.
Recent figures show that 60,000 women in the UK would immediately benefit if the threshold changed to allow more than one job to be taken into account. Since the financial crash there’s been a massive increase in part-time roles, the majority of which are done by women and government policy on pensions must reflect this.
Widening the scope of AE must be at the heart of the review so that more women can benefit from an employer contribution and start saving.
Women already lose out on pensions in so many other ways. On average their pensions are worth 1/3 less than mens due to lower pay and the earnings threshold on auto-enrolment is yet another contributory factor to the continued widening of the gender pensions gap.
We need a pensions policy that works for everyone.
Wednesday, 26 April 2017
Kezia Dugdale MSP
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
120th STUC Annual Congress
Let me begin by paying tribute to the STUC, to Helen and to Grahame Smith, your General Secretary.
The STUC has always been the voice for working people across Scotland, highlighting injustices and fighting for people’s rights, not just in Scotland but right across the world.
In the past, and still today, you have fought for the rights of people at work, and shone a light on racism, sexism and homophobia.
As Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, I am proud to have the STUC, and your member unions, as part of our Labour family. You make us stronger, and nothing will ever call into question the historic link between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions.
Friends, when I accepted the invitation to speak here at your Congress, I didn’t expect to be facing the circumstances we are dealing with today.
In just a matter of weeks, we will go to the polls again to elect a new UK Government.
The stakes at this election really could not be higher.
It’s a choice between a hard right Tory Government, intent on pursuing a hard Brexit at any cost.
Or a Labour Government that is offering better and fairer choices, and will put workers’ rights and the values of trade unionism at the heart of everything we do.
That is the choice that is on offer on June 8th.
And what an opportunity that is.
Think about what this Tory Government has meant for people across this country over the past seven years, and then think of getting the opportunity to boot them out of office in just a few short weeks.
This is the Government of the bedroom tax, which led to tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people in our country being forced out of their homes.
It is the Government of a cruel and unusual sanctions regime which sees the sick and disabled penalised.
And, if we needed a more recent reminder of the cruelty of the Tories, this is the Government of the rape clause.
A policy implemented by Theresa May and defended by Ruth Davidson here in Scotland.
Friends, if the mark of a civilised society is how we treat our sick, our disabled and the most vulnerable, this is a Government that is failing every test.
And that is why this election is an opportunity.
It is our opportunity to bring about the change that this country needs with a Labour Government, led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Our country stands at a crossroads in this election.
More than ever, people here in Scotland, and right across the UK, feel left behind and marginalised.
They continue to feel that politics isn’t working and that politicians aren’t doing enough to address their concerns.
Our job is to change that.
And, as the Labour Party has always done, our starting point is making sure that everyone has a decent high quality job that pays a real living wage.
Because making sure that people have good jobs isn’t – as you know – just about creating a stronger economy.
It’s about giving people their place in society, and the dignity they deserve.
It’s not just good enough to give people jobs, they have to be well paid and they have to come with rights and protections, guaranteed by trade unions.
But under this Tory Government, we’ve seen our country’s economy driven to low wages, low productivity and low investment.
Workers across the country have seen their incomes stagnate over the past decade, and even today real wages are 10% lower than they were in 2007.
5.7 million people across the UK are in jobs that pay less than the living wage.
And the productivity gap, that even the Chancellor has admitted is “shocking”, still goes without any real solution, and the UK continues to have some of the lowest productivity in Europe.
All of this means that people are working longer and harder for less.
But while people at the very top are getting tax breaks, working families are on average set to be £1,400 a year worse off by 2020.
And the Government now even have to admit that their “National Living Wage” won’t hit the £9 they promised by 2020.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s economy shrank in the final quarter of 2016 and continues to lag way behind the UK’s GDP growth.
Our two biggest industries – finance and oil and gas – which employ tens of thousands of your members continue to go through tough times.
The North Sea has not recovered from its most recent slump, and experts predict that we may be about to lose 20% of Scotland’s jobs in the financial sector to automation over the next two years.
Already, thousands of people in administration jobs in Edinburgh have lost their jobs because they have been replaced by machines.
And this is a trend that is only going to increase in the coming years.
So, we need solutions to our economic problems that address both the challenge of low living standards, and the risks presented by the changing nature of the economy across the UK.
That’s why we’ll start by making the National Living Wage a real living wage of £10 an hour.
And we’ll write the real living wage into law so that everyone will have enough to live on.
This change would bring an immediate increase in living standards to people across our country, but it would also provide a much needed economic boost.
And we must also guarantee the rights of people at work, and the rights of people to organise and be members of trade unions.
That is why the next Labour Government will stand by its promise and repeal the Tories’ anti-Trade Union Bill.
Trade Unions don’t need more restrictions on your ability to organise. You need to be able to organise in even more workplaces, and be recognised for the benefits you can provide to employers as well as employees.
Employers like Lidl, who I have lobbied recently after USDAW highlighted the difficulty they have been having trying to organise there.
It’s the responsibility of all of us to show the benefits that unions can bring and the real difference they can make.
We also need to get to grips with the structure of our economy.
For too long, London and the South East of England has raced ahead of the rest of the UK, while too many other nations and regions have fallen behind.
If our country is to be successful, it needs to be firing on all cylinders.
And that means every part of the United Kingdom working at full capacity.
That is why the next Labour Government would establish a National Investment Bank and Regional Investment Banks across the UK, to help unlock £500 billion of investment and lending, including a £20 billion Scottish Investment Bank.
That’s the real change that’s on offer with Labour at this election.
And, friends, with Brexit around the corner it is more important than ever that we begin to think about the kind of country we want to build after the UK leaves the EU.
With the Tories it’s absolutely clear what that will look like.
Theresa May has already made it clear that she’s willing to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven if she doesn’t get a deal on Brexit.
We can’t allow that to happen.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has shown us the risks they’re willing to take with our country’s economy.
Threatening to walk away from the EU without a deal is no worse than Nicola Sturgeon’s threat to walk away from the UK with independence.
Both the Tory approach and the SNP approach would lead to job losses and even more austerity than we’re already facing.
And the UK Government’s refusal to take EU nationals off the table as bargaining chips is just another example of their lack of compassion.
That’s why I’m proud that Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, made absolutely clear yesterday that we would unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU migrants on day one of a Labour Government.
Why? Because, friends, it is the right thing to do.
These are people who have chosen to come to the UK, to make their lives here, to raise families and contribute to our economy here.
We shouldn’t then make them bargaining chips in our negotiations with the EU.
Ruth Davidson must now commit the Tories to providing the same guarantee in her party's manifesto.
Anything else would add to the growing evidence that she isn't a different kind of Tory after all.
In our approach to Brexit, Labour would take a very different direction to the Tories, putting the rights and protections we have gained by being part of Europe right at the heart of our country’s future.
But it also provides us with an opportunity here in Scotland to build on the rights we already have.
Earlier this year, at our Party Conference in Perth, the Scottish Labour Party endorsed federalism as our preferred constitutional model.
This would mean putting power closer to people in every nation and region of the UK – providing an answer to people who feel that politics is too detached and too remote.
For us in Scotland, this would mean considerably more powers for the Scottish Parliament.
These aren’t power for the sake of it.
When Labour has argued for more power for Scotland in the past – right from the early days of devolution – it has been about giving us powers for a purpose.
There is no point in hoarding power in Holyrood. They have to be used.
Our starting point is that any powers returning to the UK that are already devolved should not be re-reserved. That means that powers over things such as agriculture, fisheries and development programmes should come straight to Holyrood, along with their budgets.
But I don’t think we should stop there.
Brexit provides us with the opportunity to go even further.
With the application of the social chapter ending in the UK, now is the right time to think about where power best lies over other areas such as employment law and immigration.
I believe the UK should guarantee a minimum set of rights across the whole country, but the idea of allowing nations or regions of the UK to build upon this is a strong one.
So here in Scotland, we could choose to extend employment rights or top up the minimum wage.
We would want to consult fully with all trade unions before making such a change, but the argument is compelling.
Similarly, the UK will now have to develop and design a new immigration system fit for a post Brexit UK.
Here in Scotland, we have long had different migration needs from other parts of the country. That is why it is right that we should now look at devolving powers over who is able to come in and out of the country.
This would allow us to create a fair and flexible system to meet our needs.
I’m pleased that the STUC have also endorsed these calls earlier in the week, and I’m looking forward to working with you and hopefully making them a reality in the future.
The next six weeks are going to be a crucial time in the life of our country.
This is when we will decide the direction we will take, and with it the character of the decisions that will be made about Brexit and the future of our country.
My message to you today is this.
We have a chance to get rid of this Tory Government.
And you can only do that by standing with the Labour movement, and supporting the Labour Party.
Clause One of the Labour Party’s rule book says that the purpose of the Labour Party is:
“to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”
In this election campaign over the next six weeks, I will do all I can to make sure we have a Labour Government.
A Labour Government that will end the trade union bill, abolish the rape clause and ensure fair wages and decent work for all.
A Labour Government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, with real compassion.
A Labour Government, friends, that puts our principles into practice in the place where Labour should be:
In power in the interests of working people
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Annette Drylie, GMB Scotland
Chair, STUC Women’s Committee
Chair, STUC Women’s Committee
120th STUC Annual Congress
Congress, it is my honour to address you as Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee. I would like to begin by thanking all of my colleagues on the Committee and my own trade union for the support they have given me to take on this role.
Liliany Obando, Human Rights Defender and University Lecturer in Colombia, has been granted amnesty. It has been more than eight years since she was first arrested for her commitment to human rights and for peace in Colombia, and today we can celebrate that at least some sense of justice has been served for Liliany and her family.
Now more than ever, our movement must strive to ensure the voice of women is heard. In just a few weeks’ time, elections will take place for every local council in Scotland. Despite the fact that three of the main political parties here are led by women, and the fact that we once again have a woman living at number 10 Downing Street, when it comes to local elections, the political parties have put forward 70% male candidates. As a worker in local government, I know first-hand that decisions taken in Scotland’s Council Chambers matter. The harsh reality for women as workers, and as the predominant carers of the young and old, is that it is we who are hit hardest by the same of austerity in Scottish local government.
Decisions taken here in Scotland have accelerated Tory austerity onto local government and the impact is felt most by women workers in our councils, still more likely to be low paid, more likely to be held back, or looked over, and more reliant on many of the services which are being cut.
Congress, we need a politics which delivers for all women, not just those who have been lucky enough to reach the top.
Congress, we need an honesty in Scottish politics which means more than bemoaning the Tories, whilst passing on their cuts to our local services. I ask for all of your support to expose the shame of austerity in local government. Be in no doubt, a fairer Scotland will not be built on the backs of working women.
Every generation of women must renew our commitment to tackling inequality in the workplace and in society. Our fight is now for the WASPI women retiring with less than they planned for and for all women whose lower wages during their working lives leads seamlessly into less pension provision whenever they retire.
This year, we are marking the 50th anniversary of the achievement of the 1967 Abortion Act and celebrating the women who went before us and campaigned for autonomy over their reproductive rights. With devolution of abortion law to the Scottish Parliament, it now falls to us to safeguard free access to safe, legal abortion services and to ensure that devolution is a chance to improve the rights of women, not diminish them.
Congress, there is also today an issue on which we must campaign, which even our foremothers would have struggled to believe is real. Cuts to tax credits and welfare reform, more generally, has been an attack primarily upon the living standards and opportunities of women to get on, and get by. No so-called reform is more reprehensible, however, than the Tory ‘rape’ clause. Let the message go out from this hall today, nut just to the UK Government and their supporter, Ruth Davidson, this movement stands with the women victims that you are humiliating and the child your bureaucracy seeks to officially brand as the product of rape.
A Tory Government, led again by a woman, but as never before showing its true colours on the dignity of women. Congress, the ‘rape’ clause will not stand, and no matter how long it takes to beat this cruel measure, trade union women will fight it and those who have imposed it.
Over the next year, we will also take forward our campaign to raise awareness of menopause issues in the workplace, and also in our trade unions. We will also prioritise our campaign for a gendered understanding of how women experiencing mental ill-health at work can be supported.
Congress, our movement marches forward with those who have gone before us and preparing the way for those who follow. I will do everything I can in my year as Chair of the STUC Women’s Committee, to support and encourage women to lead in our movement and to challenge privilege where it exists amongst us.
I look forward to your support in my task, and I wish to extend an invitation to join the Committee at our Annual Conference, in Glenrothes later this year, and I would like to wish you all well for the reminder of Congress.
Monday, 24 April 2017
Nicola Sturgeon MSP
First Minister of Scotland
120th STUC Annual Congress
Thank you, Grahame. Let me again congratulate today’s award winners.
Their achievements have made a very real difference to people’s lives - and helped to further the values of the trade union movement.
Of course, they are just a few of the outstanding examples of the important work being done by union reps across Scotland. That work is just one of the many things that makes trades unions so vital – to our economy and our society.
And that’s relevant to what I’m going to speak about today. Because I want to talk about the some of the ways the Scottish Government works with the STUC, and employers, to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country.
But first, I want to talk about the important decisions that Scotland faces.
Because we are, of course, at the start of a general election campaign.
A general election campaign called by the PM for one purpose - to strengthen the grip of the Tory party and crush dissent, and to do so before criminal prosecutions for alleged expenses fraud at the last election catches up with her.
So the question that confronts us is this: what kind of country do we want to be?
The different parties will obviously set out their competing visions in the weeks ahead.
One of those visions, the Tory vision, should be ringing alarm bells loud and clear across Scotland.
The hard-liners have taken over the Tory Party.
And now those Tory hard-liners want to take over the country.
Scotland knows there has always been a cost to voting Conservative.
But the price of voting Tory at this election has never been higher.
And it will be those least able to pay that price who will bear the biggest burden.
The Tories will impose a double hit on Scottish families and communities:
They will make Scotland a poorer country.
And a more unfair, unequal society.
Don't just take my word for it.
The Resolution Foundation think-tank issued its annual audit of living standards recently.
It said this: “A particularly tight squeeze on poorer households will actually see their incomes fall, and is set to drive the biggest rise in inequality over a parliament since Margaret Thatcher’s time in Downing Street.”
And they go on to say:
“….the unequal impact of the upcoming squeeze is the result of government policy on tax and benefits.
Now, much of political debate in the UK at present, of course, is dominated by Brexit.
And our relationship with Europe is of central importance to the kind of country we will be.
But the hard-line Tory plans for post-Brexit Britain are about far more than EU relations.
They see Brexit as a means to an end.
And that end is a low tax, low wage, low regulation UK.
We already know Brexit will hit wages and jobs here in Scotland. Leaving the single market will cause serious damage to our export prospects. It could jeopardise the vital inward investment that creates jobs. And it could limit our ability to attract and retain those EU citizens who contribute so much to our society and our workforce.
The UK Treasury itself has said Brexit will leave the whole of the UK “permanently poorer”.
But there is even more at stake. EU legislation currently guarantees us important rights – covering things like paid leave, working hours, and maternity pay. It sets baseline standards when it comes to health and safety practices and the treatment of agency workers. And it provides us with important protections from discrimination.
But now the Tories are threatening to walk away from the EU entirely and in their words “change our economic model.”
We should be in no doubt.
A changed model is precisely what the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson had in mind when he said: “Brexit gives us the opportunity …..to finish the job that Margaret Thatcher started.”
That would be a catastrophe for Scotland’s communities.
Even with a small majority the Tories have introduced the bedroom tax, the two-child tax credit cap and the shameful rape clause.
With a large majority of hard-line Tories, our social security system – that so many depend upon – will never have been in greater danger. And we have seen just this weekend that the triple lock on pensions will be under threat too.
The truth is the Tories are starting to think they can do anything to Scotland and get away with it.
Brexit is a good example of that.
Despite saying she would seek a UK approach to triggering Article 50, the Prime Minister rejected the Scottish Government's compromise plan to protect our place in the single market.
Indeed she announced unilaterally, with no consultation, that the UK was to leave the Single Market – no matter the cost.
As a result Scotland now faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU, against its will.
And I know we share the same concerns as the STUC and want to see many of the same solutions. How many of us could honestly look any worker in the eye and say we trust Theresa May’s Tories with the minimum wage, employment rights or equalities law. I know I couldn’t.
Far from seeing an overdue crackdown on zero hours contracts by a UK government, for example, we'd be more likely to see an erosion of workers' rights that would be both dangerous and unacceptable.
And when it comes to migration - yes there are challenges that must be addressed - but we cannot stand by and watch EU citizens living in Scotland be deprived of their rights and nor can we allow Theresa May to shut the doors of this country to a valued workforce in a way that risks shutting the doors of many of our businesses or driving away essential staff for our public services. That would be an act of economic self harm that would damage all of us. And it would be wrong. Politicians must have the courage to say so.
So I can tell you that the SNP and the Scottish Government support the 6 key demands that the STUC is making and with a strong voice at Westminster and a strong Scottish parliament we will keep fighting to bring those powers to Scotland at the earliest opportunity.
The fact is that it has never been more important for people across Scotland to think clearly and ask themselves this question:
How can we best protect Scotland from the hard-line Tories?
That’s why the next few weeks – and the next two years, as Brexit negotiations are completed – will be hugely important for Scotland’s future.
Indeed, faced with the prospect of a PM who, in her own words, wants to strengthen her own hand to deliver the kind of hard Brexit she wants, it is more important than ever that, firstly, Scotland sends strong voices to Westminster and then, when the terms of Brexit are clear, that the people of Scotland should have a choice about our own future.
For a Westminster government to seek to block that choice - and instead decide our future for us - is undemocratic and unsustainable.
Meeting Economic Challenges
Of course, in addition to protecting our relationship with Europe, the Scottish Government is also working with unions to meet other challenges that our country faces. We’re still recovering from the global downturn in the oil and gas sector. UK cuts to public spending have harmed our economic growth, our public services and our social security system. And, partly as a result, too many people find themselves in jobs that offer too little stability or security.
There are other longer term issues facing our economy. These include our need to raise productivity; to adapt to the requirements of an ageing population; to ensure that everyone can earn a decent living, as more jobs become automated; and to manage the move to a low or no carbon economy.
Now the Scottish Government has taken major steps to meet these challenges and seize new opportunities.
For example, we’ve supported the establishment of eight innovation centres – bringing together academia and businesses – to ensure Scotland remains at the forefront in areas of huge economic importance, like biotechnology, oil and gas, and data science.
We’ve made unprecedented investment in Scotland’s infrastructure, through transport projects like the Queensferry Crossing, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral route, and the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail improvements; and through our broadband programme, which is on track to deliver superfast broadband access to 100% of homes by 2021.
And we’ve taken every opportunity to support a vibrant green economy. That support has helped Scotland become a world-leader in renewable energy.
But we know that one of the most important things we can do to build a stronger economy is to tackle inequality. The evidence is clear that greater inequality has a negative impact on economic growth. That’s why creating a more equal society is at the heart of our economic policy.
Support for Trade Unions
And we know that strong trade unions play a hugely important role in helping achieve that. Research shows that lower levels of union membership reduces pay – not just for union members, but across society.
That’s why we value trade unions and the contribution you make to our economy. That is why we opposed the UK Trade Union Act. That legislation represents a direct threat to unions; to the fundamental rights of workers; and to the collaborative approach we take here in Scotland.
And let me make clear today - the SNP supports it's immediate repeal.
But in the meantime, through our Trade Union Fair Work and Modernisation Fund, we’ve sought to limit the negative effects of the Act. Today, I can announce that over the next year we will provide an additional £250,000 to that Fund. It will ensure that trade union reps are not needlessly diverted by the burdens of the legislation from their most important role – supporting members and promoting fairer work practices.
And where the Scottish Government has the power or the discretion, as an employer, we will not invoke the provisions of the Act against unions. We will ensure that check-off remains and is not delivered at cost which penalises unions. And we will use our discretion as an employer to ensure the minimum one week notice period for industrial action is required.
Make no mistake. The Tories' legislation is designed to weaken unions. To cast you as an enemy.
Well, let me be clear. You are not the enemy. You are our partners.
Sometimes, you are critical partners - that's as it should be.
But you are vital partners.
By standing together and working together, we will build a better country.
That's why we must do more than just mitigate the consequences of the UK Government’s Trade Union Act. We want to work with you to build a fairer, more prosperous nation. For example, the Scottish Government and the STUC have agreed to work together on a project examining the impact of technological advances on the labour market. That’s going to be one of the key issues affecting the workforce in the coming years. So it’s vital that government, unions and employers work together to adapt to its implications.
This kind of partnership approach underpins Scotland’s Fair Work Convention. The Convention brings together representatives from unions and the public, private and third sectors to help shape and drive our agenda for Fair Work.
As you know, the Living Wage is a big part of that agenda. The Scottish Government was the first government in the UK to pay the real Living Wage.
And wherever we can, we use procurement to encourage its use in all public sector contracts. And through the initiative that the Scottish Government funds, more and more Scottish-based organisations have now become accredited Living Wage employers. When I spoke to this Congress in 2015, 150 companies had signed up. Today, more than 780 organisations are accredited. And we’ve set a target of increasing that number to 1000 by the end of the autumn.
In addition, almost 350 companies have signed our Scottish Business Pledge - committing themselves to good employment and business practices. One of the values the Pledge seeks to encourage is gender equality in the workplace. That’s another major focus of Fair Work agenda.
We know we need to close the gap between the proportion of men and the proportion of women in the workforce. Our commitment to almost double free childcare entitlement will help achieve that, by removing one of the main barriers that prevents women returning to work.
And we also want to address the lack of women in senior positions. That’s why, later this year, we will legislate to ensure gender balance on public sector boards.
But as you all know, there are employment inequalities across other protected characteristics – like race and disability. So I can announce today that, through our new Workplace Equality Fund, we will provide an initial £500,000 to help address these disparities. The money will go to groups who can demonstrate that their efforts will help people overcome barriers to employment.
It’s a small but potentially significant way in which we can help address a major economic and social issue. And it’s in-keeping with the broader principles of the union movement. By ensuring everyone in society is able to flourish, everybody in Scotland will benefit.
Since the start of devolution, the STUC has worked with different Scottish Governments to make Scotland a more equal, inclusive and successful country. You’ve helped the Scottish Parliament legislate for social progress. And you’ve been at the vanguard of making workplaces more productive and protecting people in Scotland from the worst effects of austerity.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, this is a challenging time for Scotland. We face the prospect of a Brexit, implemented by an out-of-control, hard-line Tory party.
But through all the challenges we face, our trade union movement remains a source of huge strength for our country. I want to thank you for all you do. And I pledge that the Scottish Government will continue to work with you to make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and more equal nation.