It is no coincidence the Tories decided to hold the second reading of the trade union bill as the Trades Union Congress took place in Brighton yesterday. It is a trap and to be honest I am concerned we will fall right into it. This is a bad piece of legislation designed to provoke a reaction, which justifies its existence in the eyes of the British public.
The measures in the bill to curb industrial action will inevitably lead to a serious imbalance of power in the workplace. This inequality of power will be hugely damaging to constructive industrial relations at a time when the United Kingdom needs government, business and trade unions working together to deliver a more sustainable and productive economy that can continue to compete on a global basis.
We are rightly proud of what we do in the trade union movement. Community can provide countless examples of the positive contribution trade unions make every day and the vital role we play in creating and supporting highly skilled, motivated and productive workforces.
On a daily basis trade unions are making workplaces safer, smarter and stronger – helping businesses compete globally, delivering public services more efficiently and encouraging long-term thinking. We need to be proud of that and get our message out more widely.
There is a chance to build a big tent approach to defeat this bill. The position of David Davis has attracted some interest but a less high-profile intervention from Peter Cheese, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is arguably more significant. Speaking last week he said ‘government proposals seem to be targeting yesterday’s problem instead of addressing the reality of modern workplaces.’
We all know that Westminster has passed some pretty poor laws over the years and this bill looks set to be up there with the best of the worst but the question for UK trade unions is: what do we do about it? The TUC is working hard at reaching beyond the movement to try and foster wider opposition to the bill but we also need to recognise that the public perception of trade unions is not strong.
Our campaigning on this bill has to be a passionate defense of things trade unions have achieved and the good things that we do – on pay, on health and safety, on skills and on job security.
Despite Davis’s intervention, even with a slender Tory majority in the Commons, it seems unlikely their members of parliament will rebel on a bill that they perceive will neutralise the trade union movement and choke funding to the Labour party. That is why building wider opposition to this bill is hugely important.
If we fail to build and sustain a wider coalition of those with concerns – including good employers and organisations such as the CIPD – then this bill will become law.
The UK government appears to have given little thought to the implications of this bill on the devolved administrations. It is wrong and constitutionally dangerous to have a situation where the UK government imposes limits on facility time for example in areas such as health and education in Scotland and Wales.
The Scottish government, run by the Scottish national party, can do something about that now and be clear that no part of the public sector in Scotland will ever use agency workers should nurses or teachers be forced to go on strike.
And they should not award pubic sector contracts and inward investment grants to companies unless they agree not to use agency labour in the event of industrial action.
They can make an unequivocal statement today and protect the rights of workers in Scotland.
This bill will be damaging to the UK’s industrial relations and in turn our ability to use positive employee engagement to meet the challenges of globalisation.
The Tories are blind to that fact and it appears they do not care that they are happy to risk the UK’s competitiveness on this ideologically driven attack on workers’ rights.