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Scotland should be excluded from Trades Union Bill: Holyrood committee

18 January 2016

Scotland should be removed from the scope of the UK Government's Trades Union Bill to avoid damaging industrial relations north of the border, according to a Holyrood committee in a report published today.

The Devolution Committee adds that if the Government is not willing to amend its bill, the Scottish Government should use any means available to encourage the lodging and agreement of amendments in the House of Lords to achieve that outcome.

Failing that, then as a minimum, Scottish ministers should be given regulation-making powers in relation to "facility time" (time off to undertake trade union duties) and "check-off" (deduction of union membership payments at source) – issues that relate directly to public services in Scotland, such as local authorities, the NHS and Police Scotland, all of which are devolved.

Scottish ministers have previously failed to persuade the Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, to accept a legislative consent motion in relation to the bill, ruling that it did not relate to devolved matters and so there was no basis for requiring the consent of the Scottish Parliament before it is passed. However the Scottish Government is strongly opposed to the measure, which would impose further restrictions on the right to take industrial action, especially where this would affect "important public services".

Today's report cites the UK Government’s own Regulatory Policy Committee's conclusion that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ impact assessment on the bill was “not fit for purpose”, provided insufficient evidence to support the UK Government’s estimate of a 65% reduction in work stoppages, and that the impact assessment “lacks evidence to support many of the quoted figures”.

Figures provided by the Scottish Government have indicated that, since May 2007, days lost due to industrial disputes in Scotland have decreased by 84% and that the Scottish trend is the lowest of all the UK nations.

Devolution (Further Powers) Committee Convener, Bruce Crawford MSP said there was widespread opposition to the legislation in Scotland, and a clear majority of the committee rejected the general principles of the bill.

He commented: “We echo the comments made to us in evidence by CoSLA’s Human Resources Spokesperson, Conservative councillor Billy Hendry. He described the Trades Union Bill as an 'unnecessary and unjustified imposition, which could ultimately lead to more industrial unrest across Scotland' and, worryingly, to a breakdown in partnership working across the public sector.”

Conservative member Alex Johnstone MSP dissented from the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.

The Scottish Parliament will hold an early debate on the report so that its view is made clear to the UK Government before the bill completes its passage in the UK Parliament.

The full Scottish Parliament is expected to debate the Committee’s report before the end of January.

Click here to view the committee's report. 

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