Tuesday, 27 October 2015
Opposing the Trade Union Bill in Parliament - guest blog Ian Murray MP
Ian Murray MP, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, along with Stephen Doughty MP, outline the Labour Group's opposition to the Trade Union Bill in the UK Parliament, and the joint campaigning against it.
There is a grim irony to the fact that the Tory Government’s Trade Union Bill coincides with the 100th anniversary of the death of Keir Hardie, a hero of the workers’ movement and the man perhaps most responsible for forging the close links between the Labour Party and the Trades Union movement that endure to this day. As my colleague Stephen Doughty MP, Labour’s lead spokesperson on this Bill, has stated, Labour MPs will oppose every aspect of this pernicious Bill with every sinew.
Since Hardie’s era, the Labour Party has built on the foundations he established and developed a close relationship with the Trades Union movement, based on mutual interest, reliance and support. Every trade unionist and good employer knows that businesses thrive when employees and employers work together for the benefit of the business. Viewed in this context, the Bill is not just an affront to civil liberties; it is a devious and dishonest attempt to rupture that relationship and to place workers and employers at loggerheads. As Jeremy Corbyn has said, it infringes international labour rights and conventions. What’s more, it is just bad legislation: transparently partisan, poorly conceived and porously drafted.
This Bill has so many holes that it is difficult to choose which thread to pull on: arbitrary turnout and voting thresholds that, had they been applied at the General Election, would have seen many Tory MPs fail to get elected, and which will, if enforced, have a disproportionate impact upon women seeking parity of pay and conditions. A profusion of petty regulations to smother unions in red tape, and changes to political funding which could undermine successful campaigns such as the Hope not Hate, or UNITE’s “Fair Tips" and USDAW’s “Freedom from Fear” campaigns. A self-serving redefinition of “essential” public services. Finally, absurd restrictions on facility time, and the abrogation of check off, a proposal that former Lib Dem MP, Danny Alexander – hardly a totem of the Trade Union movement – previously dismissed as pointless and open to legal challenge. In essence, we are dealing with a full-frontal assault on the Trades Unions and Labour movements.
The Government’s justification for the Bill is utterly spurious. They argue the need to reduce the incidence of industrial action – citing the recent rail strikes in London as an example. However, and as Alan Johnson MP pointed out when the Bill was debated at second reading, industrial action has declined significantly over the past 30 years. Since 2010, an average of 647,000 days have been lost, compared with 7,213,000 lost in the 1980s and these proposals would not have prevented the London Tube strike or that CWU postal strike that had huge turnouts and massive support.
Labour has led the charge against this Bill and I have been working very closely with the Shadow BiS Team on this issue, and with Stephen Doughty MP, who has been taking the Bill through Parliament. We have tabled over 70 amendments to try and derail the Bill. As well as opposing the Bill overall, in areas where we believe it to direct contravene of the devolution settlement, we have taken a more focused approach, tabling amendments to protect workers across the UK form its worst aspects. In its assault on workers’ rights and entitlements, this Bill is no respecter of boundaries and borders, and while the Bill is itself divisive, we must show solidarity in opposing it.
That is why Labour’s amendments apply equally to every part of the country: the Greater London Authority; English local authorities; and the devolved administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. SNP MPs have already supported many of these amendments, and we welcome their support.
If we are to defeat this Bill, as I believe we can, we need collective action across the UK. The Supreme Court judgement on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages board in Wales has given us grounds for hope. Carwyn Jones, Labour’s First Minister in Wales, is vigorously opposing the Bill as infringing on devolved policy, and is poised to demand a Legislative Consent Motion, for which the above ruling provides legal precedent, should the Government proceed regardless.
In Scotland, our Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale MSP has urged all Scottish local authorities to agree a motion of non-compliance, and every Labour-led administration in Scotland has done so. We need everyone else to follow suit and the Scottish Government to encourage them to do so. We also need the Scottish Government to table their own LCM, and to state clearly and unequivocally that they will not abide by any Bill that affects the devolved settlement in Scotland. This Bill encroaches upon devolved public services so a Scottish LCM is both necessary and justified.
The Trade Union Bill is part of a wider Tory agenda to curtail rights and quell dissent; an agenda which encapsulates the charities gagging bill, fees for employment tribunals, the dilution of individual rights, the undermining of collective rights, and cuts to legal aid. All those who believe in democratic rights and sound industrial relations have a duty to oppose it. We are doing all we can in the Parliamentary process and we welcome the support of the STUC and member unions. What this Tory Government forgets is what we have always known: that effective trade unions are good for employees, good for businesses, good for jobs and good for the economy. This Trade Union Bill is an all out assault on them all.