Meeting date: Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 31 May 2017
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Protecting Workers’ Rights, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Child Safety Week
- Portfolio Question Time
- Protecting Workers’ Rights
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Child Safety Week
Protecting Workers’ Rights
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05864, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on protecting workers’ rights.14:44
I have brought this debate to the chamber today as I am determined that this Parliament supports the workers on which this country relies. I want every worker, regardless of sector, location, background or employment status, to be aware of their rights, to be able to exercise them and to be treated fairly by their employer and, when that does not happen, I want to ensure that they have access to justice.
The debate gives us the chance to recognise the vital role of strong trade unions to our economy and to our society. The United Kingdom’s Trade Union Act 2016 represents a direct threat to unions and to the collaborative approach that we take here in Scotland to protect the fundamental rights of workers. I set out, again, this Government’s clear and consistent opposition to that pernicious legislation.
Employment regulations are there to ensure safe working conditions, maternity and paternity leave and entitlement to holiday pay. However, our world of work is changing. The growth of the so-called gig economy and the need to protect workers in that new employment category is vital. Self-employed workers constitute about 13 per cent of our workforce and those workers have little or no statutory benefits. Zero-hours contracts are becoming more prevalent, although their use is lower in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK, and technology is advancing—
Will the minister take an intervention?
Before the minister moves off self-employment, will he address the issue of bogus self-employment, which is rife in the construction industry, including in Scotland and in some of the Government’s infrastructure projects? What is the Government doing to address bogus self-employment?
I suppose that, having made the point that self-employed workers constitute about 13 per cent of our workforce, I could have been a bit more explicit. I recognise the inherent point in Mr Findlay’s intervention, which is that, in recent times, we have seen significant growth in the number of those categorised as self-employed. Undoubtedly, some of that has been driven by individuals’ desire to become self-employed. In addition, because of the nature of our economy, we have seen a number of people—and this is reflected in the growth in zero-hours contracts—pushed into the self-employed category.
Mr Findlay will be well aware of the framework and the regulations that we have put in place to ensure fair employment practice in procurement. I hope that that goes some way towards answering his question.
The fundamental point, which I was going on to make, is that employment law has not yet caught up with the changed circumstances in the economy and, importantly, the law will not always guarantee that work is fair in other ways that matter to us.
Andy Wightman’s amendment recognises the need for us to be cognisant of developments in our economy. It also recognises the better than zero campaign. I very much welcome that campaign and we will support Mr Wightman’s amendment.
In Scotland, we have been ahead of the curve for some time on many issues relating to fair work. The Scottish Government has used the levers available to us to address poor working conditions and to promote fairer workplaces. Paying the real living wage of £8.45 an hour is a strong public commitment to tackling in-work poverty, so we pay at least the living wage to all those covered by our pay policy. Paying the living wage marks out employers as being responsible to their customers, to the public and, above all, to their staff.
Scotland remains the best performing of all of the four UK countries, with about 80 per cent of our workforce paid at least the living wage. There are now more than 800 Scots-based accredited living wage employers. We are continuing to work with—and fund—the Scottish living wage accreditation initiative to make progress towards our target of having 1,000 accredited employers by autumn this year.
In our manifesto that we presented yesterday, we set out that we will support
“payment of the real Living wage as a new minimum legal requirement to all adults”
over the age of 18. That will ensure that those covered by such a policy are paid more than £10 an hour by the end of the next UK parliamentary session. Scottish National Party MPs will push for that change for all workers not just here in Scotland, but across the UK.
I turn to the issue of zero-hour contracts, which I have touched on briefly. This Government opposes the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts. No worker should rely on a zero-hours contract as their core source of income. No one should be compelled to accept or be required to rely on such a contract. No person should have to live with the strain of not knowing what their working hours will be, week to week.
In our manifesto, we have said that we will press the UK Government to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts to ensure that workers have appropriate rights and protections, including holiday and sick pay. We have also opposed the UK Government’s introduction of employment tribunal fees. There is strong evidence that the charging scheme restricts access to justice, which is why we will abolish fees in Scotland, using powers devolved through the Smith commission, and why SNP MPs will press the UK Government to reverse its charges in the next UK Parliament for the entire UK.
Our business pledge was introduced as a partnership between the Government and business to promote our shared ambitions of fairness, equality and sustainable economic growth. It encourages business to adopt progressive workplace practices such as workforce engagement, active participation in communities and investment in innovation. There is a large body of credible evidence to show how companies can benefit from that through increased productivity, enhanced employee commitment and improved reputation.
To date, less than one out of every 1,000 businesses in Scotland has signed the business pledge. Does the minister see that as a ringing endorsement of his policy?
I was just about to turn to where we are with the business pledge. We put the business pledge in place as a voluntary arrangement because we do not have power over employment. If the Conservatives are willing to stand here today and say that they support the transfer of that responsibility to the Scottish Parliament, I will very much welcome that—I look forward to Mr Lockhart doing that in a minute or so. I would have thought that he would have welcomed the difference that the business pledge is making to 80,000 workers across Scotland.
In that regard, I turn to Jackie Baillie’s amendment. I thought that the amendment’s wording was a little more critical than it might have been. I have just made the point about our business pledge, and we have the living wage accreditation scheme.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I will in a minute.
The living wage accreditation scheme has 800 accredited employers and our carer positive scheme covers over 200,000 workers in Scotland—I think that that is progress.
I might also say this in my speech, but the minister is well aware that we support the Scottish Government in its business pledge. We just wish that the Government would be more ambitious in promoting it so that more people would benefit.
Indeed, that is a shared agenda, so it is a perfectly timed intervention for me because it allows me to say that although I think that the wording of Jackie Baillie’s amendment is a little more critical than it needed to be, I do not want us to split hairs in this instance. I absolutely recognise that, although progress has been made, we need to make further progress. I also recognise what I think is the implicit recognition in Ms Baillie’s amendment that the Scottish Parliament should have control over employment law. I see very clearly the ambition that she sets out in her amendment.
It is vital that we have the ability to have engagement and dialogue between employers, unions and the Government to better embed fair work in the law of Scotland. That type of dialogue is reflected in our fair work convention and the strategic labour market group that has been established as part of the labour market strategy. If we had control of those employment areas in the Scottish Parliament, we could ensure that fair work was embedded in our legal framework.
I hope that it is recognised that progress has been made, but we must never be complacent. Too many people are still in low-paid and insecure work. The Government working with partners, including trade unions, the third sector and the business world, to protect the rights of all workers has never been more important. In August 2016, we published our first labour market strategy, to which I referred a few moments ago, in recognition of current and future challenges and to set out how fair work contributes to inclusive economic growth. We will continue to work with the fair work convention to support the delivery of its five fair work dimensions: security, respect, opportunity, effective voice and fulfilment.
The independent fair work convention is central to making the argument on how embracing fair work can create more innovative and productive workplaces, supported by stronger industrial relations. Its vision, which I share, is for the fair work framework to be embedded in workplaces throughout Scotland by 2025. Protecting the rights of workers is at the core of the fair work framework and the principles that underpin it.
Let us now focus on people who are currently looking for work, whom we must support into work. We are committed to removing long-standing barriers to employment for disabled people and those at risk of long-term unemployment. That is why our new, devolved employment programme is so important. Job seekers have the right to be treated with dignity and respect through locally delivered services that are inclusive, effective and responsive, with targeted support through the newly devolved employment powers for groups that are excluded from the labour market.
Those are some of the actions that we are taking to protect the rights of workers and that we could take if we were empowered to do so. However, the UK Government’s decisions seem to be designed to create the opposite effect. Perhaps the most damaging decision is the one to implement a hard Brexit, which has cast uncertainty over the future of the workplace protections that are currently in place for workers as a result of European Union law. The EU provides a harmonised approach to social protections and human rights, which are at risk with the UK leaving the EU. Even if they are mirrored at the time of the UK’s exit from the EU, there are concerns that the UK will be left behind as the EU improves its humans rights.
There are also significant concerns about access to social security. Currently, the 181,000 EU nationals in Scotland and the many thousands of Scots who live and work in the EU benefit from legally guaranteed co-ordination of social security, which protects access to pensions and benefits.
The Tories talk about protecting workers’ rights, but we have seen them fundamentally undermining the powers of our trade unions. As part of their hard Brexit campaign, they will withdraw the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. That is hardly the kind of progress that we want.
The Tory amendment clearly says that the Tories will transpose into UK law all the rights that are set out in EU law. That might have been somewhat more reassuring if we had not heard from many Tory back benchers in the UK Parliament about their desire to see a race to the bottom and if we had not seen a clear roll-back on the supposed commitment to ensuring that all areas of EU law that are currently devolved to the Scottish Parliament will be passed to it. What is there to stop the UK Government and the Tories rolling back on the commitment that is set out in the amendment? Most fundamentally of all, of course, there is nothing to stop the law being changed in the future.
The Tory amendment wants us to celebrate the fact that workers across the UK receive a minimum of £7.50 an hour, which the Tories call the “national living wage”—one of the greatest con tricks before us. Is that a decent wage? We know that the real living wage is independently set by the Living Wage Foundation and sets out the minimum that a person needs to sustain themselves and their family.
The Conservatives say that they want to enhance protections for workers. Is that what the Trade Union Act 2016 and employment tribunal fees are designed to achieve? The Conservatives want to give unemployed disabled claimants tailored employment support. Is that as long as they are able to make the journey to their nearest jobcentre, which, if the Conservatives’ planned closures go ahead, could be miles away? The Tory rhetoric in the amendment is not matched by Tory actions. That is why we will not support that amendment.
Will you draw to a conclusion, minister?
In addition to the challenges that have been thrust on us by the UK Government, the nature of the labour market is changing. There is the emergence of the so-called gig economy. We know that research says that nearly 8 million people in Britain would consider some form of gig work in the future and we know that, although such work may have some benefits, they are countered by workers not receiving employment status. We need to explore that issue further. That is why we have established an independent expert advisory panel to consider the challenges and opportunities that are associated with such work. The panel will take evidence over the coming period and report back to us in due course.
Looking ahead, I see that the only certainty is that change will continue at an accelerating rate. Scotland’s workforce has to be equipped to adapt and to thrive in that environment, and developing our skills policy to ensure that training is matched to future employer requirements is key. In parallel, we must ensure that our employment policies and legislative framework adapt and respond at a similar pace, to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and enhanced.
I hope that, collectively, we can seize the opportunity today to work towards a unified position of support for protecting the rights of every worker. It is only through supporting people in achieving their full potential that we can deliver the priorities of inclusive economic growth, fair work and social justice.
That the Parliament recognises the vital role of trade unions to Scotland’s economy, society and its workforce; supports the Fair Work agenda to protect the rights of all workers in Scotland regardless of sector, background or employment status; is concerned about the impact that leaving the EU will have on the workforce in Scotland; agrees with Scottish Government plans not to impose employment tribunal fees when powers over tribunals are devolved, and calls on the UK Government to act now to protect workers across the UK by repealing the Trade Union Act 2016.15:00
In recent debates, the chamber has discussed the rapidly changing nature of the economy, the emergence of new business models such as the gig economy and the constantly changing demands that those developments are placing on workers across the UK. We therefore welcome this debate on how we can protect workers’ rights in that rapidly changing environment.
Over the past seven years, the UK Government has placed great emphasis on a series of fundamental protections for workers across the UK. Indeed, since 2010, we have witnessed some of the most significant improvements in workers’ rights in decades. Last year, we saw the introduction of the national living wage, giving a pay rise to millions of workers and ensuring that a full-time worker on that wage now earns £900 more a year. The UK Government has also introduced new rights for workers in the areas of annual leave, shared parental leave and maternity pay; in fact, such rights in the UK go far beyond their European equivalents. Moreover, since 2010, more than 4 million of the lowest-paid workers in the UK have been lifted out of tax altogether, giving those workers the right to keep more of their hard-earned wages.
The UK Government has also extended perhaps the most fundamental of all employment rights—the right to work—with the creation of more than 2.8 million new jobs across the UK in the past seven years. As for zero-hours contracts, which the minister mentioned, the UK Government has ended exclusivity clauses, and it is worth highlighting that, at the moment, less than 3 per cent of all employees are on such contracts.
Such positive improvements in employment protections and prospects have resulted in significantly improved industrial relations in the UK. Last year, the number of working days lost to disputes was half that in 2010, and for that we must credit not only the measures taken by the UK Government but the constructive and positive engagement of trade unions across Scotland and the UK. I take the opportunity to recognise the vital role of trade unions in Scotland’s economy, society and workplaces.
I am concerned about the Conservative attempt to remove from the Government’s motion the phrase
“is concerned about the impact that leaving the EU will have on the workforce in Scotland”.
Is the member trying to say that the Conservative Party is not concerned about the impact of leaving the EU on the workforce in Scotland?
As our amendment goes on to say, the UK Government has confirmed that
“the rights of workers conferred under EU law will be adopted into UK law”
when we leave the EU. Far from diluting workers’ rights, our leaving the EU means that we can, where necessary, introduce employment protection laws that are more relevant, more tailored and more appropriate to the UK economy. There is a whole list of areas where the UK Government has in its domestic law extended workers’ rights beyond their EU equivalents, and I will mention them later.
As we leave the United Kingdom—[Laughter.] I mean the European Union—leaving the UK will not happen. As we leave the European Union, those rights will be fully protected. As I have said, the UK Government has gone way beyond the scope and application of equivalent EU laws. For example, women in the UK are entitled to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave, not the 14 weeks that are guaranteed under EU law, and UK workers are entitled to more paid leave than their EU counterparts. It is therefore clear from the UK Government’s robust track record in advancing workers’ rights that leaving the EU will not diminish those protections.
The minister questioned whether additional powers will come to the chamber; again, we need only look at the UK Government’s track record and the fact that, through successive Scotland acts, it has made this one of the most powerful devolved Administrations and chambers in the world. There is no doubt that, whatever areas come back from Brussels, those powers will, where appropriate, be devolved to the chamber. Obviously, with its plans for independence and the euro, it is the SNP’s plan to transfer those powers immediately back to Brussels.
In its manifesto, the UK Government has published proposals to further expand workers’ rights in future. They include increasing
“the National Living Wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020 and then by the rate of median earnings, so that people who are on the lowest pay benefit from the same improvements”
as those earning higher salaries.
Will the member take an intervention?
For clarity and for the benefit of Scottish businesses, will Dean Lockhart confirm whether the Scottish Tories support new taxes on Scottish businesses, such as the skills charge? Would he support the actions of a future UK Government that sought to increase national insurance contributions for self-employed people? The answers to such questions are vitally important to workers in this country.
The manifesto has made it clear that those matters will be subject to review. It will depend on the future fiscal position of the UK. We have been reducing the budget deficit and we are reducing the national debt. The fiscal position in the UK is far stronger than that in Scotland under the SNP.
The UK Government proposes a number of additional worker protections, including fairer corporate governance structures, with worker representation on company boards, and further protections for people working outside traditional full-time employment, including self-employed people and those in the gig economy.
To advance those rights, the UK Government has commissioned the Taylor review, which will report on the changing labour market and consider how the interests of workers in different parts of the modern economy can be advanced. The central objective of the Taylor review is to ensure that workers’ rights are protected in the context of new working practices.
It is against the background of modern working practices that I will briefly address some of the points raised in the Government motion in respect of the Trade Union Act 2016. That legislation has been debated in the chamber before, so I do not intend to cover old ground, but I confirm the Scottish Conservative Party’s position. Trade unions are valuable institutions, and dedicated trade unionists work hard to represent their members. It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services.
As with other legislation, the 2016 act is designed to reflect the needs of the modern economy, and it replaces a number of outdated practices that are based on legislation that is decades old. My colleagues will further address matters relating to the 2016 act in the course of the debate.
To protect workers’ rights and pursue the fair work agenda, it is essential that we have a strong economy. That is recognised by the Scottish Government’s labour market strategy, which states that for
“Scotland to be a more successful ... country, with opportunities for all to flourish ... we need a strong economy”.
The Scottish Conservative Party agrees. Only with a strong economy can we create extra jobs, increase pay and expand workers’ rights.
Let me remind the minister of the economic background to the debate. Under the SNP, the economy in Scotland is in decline and we are halfway towards recession. Wage increases in Scotland are lower than those in the rest of the UK, while economic inactivity levels are higher, and we have a notional budget deficit of £15 billion.
The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Mark McDonald) rose—
The member is in his last minute.
I need to conclude.
That economic background is important, because it will impact on the ability of the Scottish Government to implement the fair work agenda and the labour market strategy.
On page 40, the SNP’s labour market strategy defines success. It refers first to
“a strong labour market that drives ... sustainable economic growth”.
Unfortunately, since the strategy was published, there has been no economic growth. Secondly, it refers to
“a skilled population capable of meeting the needs of employers”.
Again, under the SNP, that is not happening. Literacy, numeracy and general education standards are all falling. Thirdly, it refers to an economy that is
“characterised by growing, competitive businesses”.
Again, that is not happening under the SNP Government. Businesses are being hammered with increased rates and the large business supplement.
The SNP talks a good game on workers’ rights, fair work and the labour market, but when it comes to the hard realities of economic growth, take-home pay, tax levels, budget deficits and the ability to afford additional protections, the SNP is yet again failing the hard-working people of Scotland.
I move amendment S5M-05864.2, to leave out from “is concerned” to end and insert:
“welcomes confirmation from the UK Government that the rights of workers conferred under EU law will be adopted into UK law at the point at which the UK leaves the EU; recognises the significant enhancement of workers’ rights introduced by the UK Government since 2010, including the introduction of a national living wage, shared parental leave and the extension of flexible working rights, and welcomes the independent Taylor review on modern employment practices, which will include a review of how employee rights can be protected in a changing economy.”15:09
An economy for the many, not the few: that is the Labour Party’s ambition, and it is our pledge.
I have stood here many times and encouraged the SNP Government to do more to grow the economy—indeed, I have often demanded that it do so. Let us face it: there is lots of room for improvement. However, an objective that we can all share is that growing the economy should not and must not be at the expense of the workforce. We will get a vibrant, growing and sustainable economy only if we all share in its success. Fundamentally, that is about valuing and respecting the workforce and their rights. We most certainly will not succeed if we simply engage in a race to the bottom in relation to pay, conditions and security.
The Tory amendment discusses an increase in workers’ rights. What a joke. The Tories should tell that to people working in the gig economy, to people who are employed in short-term, temporary contracts, to those on zero-hours contracts with no minimum guarantee and to those in low-pay jobs who are struggling to make ends meet.
Will the member give way?
No. I have heard enough from Mr Lockhart already, frankly.
Employment may be rising, but the nature of that employment is much more fragile. What certainly is not rising is wages. In real terms, earnings have been in decline, and they are still lower than they were before 2010. The truth is that, under the Tories, the richest few have got richer, whereas working people have struggled.
Nearly 6 million people across the country earn less than the living wage, too many workers worry about how many hours they will be working from one week to the next, and increasing numbers of working people have to rely on food banks. That is Tory Britain for you.
In contrast, Labour will stand up for working people. We will invest in our country, in our services and in our infrastructure to boost our economy and deliver for working people. We will deliver security and equality at work. [Interruption.] I see the Tories laughing. It would do them well to listen, instead of pretending—
Will Jackie Baillie give way?
No. These days, the member is more likely to be found on picket lines outside SNP conferences than anywhere else.
We will deliver. All workers will have equal rights from day 1 of their employment, whether they are full time or part time, temporary or permanent. Labour will ban zero-hours contracts. We will introduce a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. Those are just some of the plans in our comprehensive programme to strengthen rights at work.
We will repeal the Trade Union Act 2016. Evidence from the Royal College of Nursing about facility time for trade unions shows a positive benefit for recruitment and personnel costs for employers, never mind the positive benefit for patient care. However, the Tories are simply not interested in evidence; they are blinded by their dislike of trade unions.
I have been a trade union member for all my working life. I value the work that trade unions do in protecting their members. However, they do so much more than that. Their efforts are not targeted just at the workplace and their existing members; they want the economy to grow and our society as a whole to flourish. They are partners with industry and with Government, too. Nowhere is that partnership more evident that in the fair work convention. The aspiration and vision that, by 2025, we will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society is absolutely right. I want to focus on how the Scottish Government will ensure that that is delivered—in other words, how we get beyond the warm words to the action.
In the time left to me, I will highlight three areas: financial assistance from Government, procurement and the Scottish business pledge.
Through agencies such as Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government gives out vast sums of money to attract businesses to the country and to help existing businesses grow. I will not mention any of those businesses by name, but some are well-recognised multinational online order and delivery companies. The terms and conditions that their staff operate under are questionable. Should we be giving taxpayers’ cash to such companies, which appear to exploit workers? There is no assessment of that when decisions are made about who gets millions of pounds of regional selective assistance.
Will Jackie Baillie take an intervention on that point?
Yes, if the cabinet secretary will answer this point. Perhaps it is about time that we had minimum standards for workers’ rights, and we should make meeting them a requirement of Government support. Will he commit to ensuring that that happens?
On that last point, would that not be so much easier if Labour had not vetoed the devolution of employment law?
On the point that Jackie Baillie made about some hypothetical company that received grants, would that be the same company to which the Labour Party also gave grants when it was in power?
The cabinet secretary went to visit it. [Laughter.]
We have been put under an injunction not to name any companies, so I will resist the invitation.
The issue is not about powers that the Scottish Government does not have; it has powers over procurement and who it gives support to. The Government can address the matter now, and I urge it to do so.
That takes me on to procurement. We debated the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill long and hard in the chamber, and rightly so, because £10 billion of public money is spent each year on buying goods and services from the private sector. However, the experience on the ground is not good. We have all heard reports about subcontractors not following the rules by bringing in workers from abroad and not paying them the rate for the job. We have also heard about companies that engage in blacklisting being given huge contracts, the use of umbrella companies and avoidance of tax and national insurance payments. We do not want any of that.
Those are all reserved.
The cabinet secretary shouts that those are reserved matters and not his responsibility. That is a complete derogation of responsibility.
There are genuine concerns about how commissioning in social care can act against the principles of fair work. The Scottish Government has the power to change all of that. What monitoring has it undertaken of procurement rules and whether they have been applied? What dialogue has it had with trade unions, which have raised real concerns? The Government can make a real difference in the area if it chooses to do so. It is not anyone else’s problem or responsibility; it is ours.
Will Ms Baillie give way?
I will, once I have touched on the Scottish business pledge.
I do not think that you have time, Ms Baillie.
Oh my goodness—let me hurry up.
We support the Government’s intentions in bringing forward the business pledge but, as I said, the problem is the SNP’s ineffectiveness in promoting the policy. This time last year, 0.2 per cent of registered businesses had signed up, which represented 2.4 per cent of the total workforce. That is the tip of the iceberg, so we encourage the Government to do more.
I conclude with a word on the European Union. Labour’s firm position is that all EU employee laws must be fully protected as we exit the EU and that the existing rights of all EU nationals living in Britain should be guaranteed—and that means that they should be guaranteed now, not traded as part of the negotiation. Those people have chosen to make their home in the UK, to work in our public services, to set up businesses and to help our economy grow, so we must stand beside them and for them, just as we stand up for workers’ rights in the UK, which we do in the interests of the many, not the few.
I move amendment S5M-05864.1, after “devolved” to insert:
“; recognises that, for too many people, work is insecure with real terms pay still lower than before the financial crisis and that a £10 real living wage is essential; believes that progress on flagship policies such as the Business Pledge has been poor with only 2% of jobs in Scotland covered by it; considers that all EU-derived workplace laws must be fully protected post-Brexit and that existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain are guaranteed; believes that zero-hour contracts should be banned and that all workers should have equal rights from day one, whether part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, which would help transform the workplace”.15:17
In the Holyrood election last year, the Scottish Greens stood on a manifesto pledge to
“campaign to make government business support available only to companies who plan to pay the Living Wage, avoid zero-hours contracts, recognise trade unions, reduce the gap between the highest and lowest paid, pay women and men equally and are environmentally responsible.”
We recognise that much of the legislative framework around workers’ rights is reserved and so we focused on what the Scottish Government can do within the powers of the Parliament.
The member gave a list of policies that he saw as a priority last year, all of which are in Labour’s manifesto for the current election. Given that the Greens have almost opted out of the election, which party will they support in constituencies where they do not have a candidate standing if the programme that the member read out is the priority?
The Scottish Green Party does not advocate support for any other political party. Obviously, Green voters are entitled to make their views known to candidates. I am sure that those concerns will be front and foremost for many Green voters.
My amendment seeks to strengthen the levers at the Scottish Government’s disposal, namely the Scottish business pledge and the fair work framework. The amendment recognises the demands of those who are campaigning on the issues and the initiatives that the Scottish Government is taking to promote workers’ rights and fair work.
I will begin by giving some context. In the report “Decent Work for Scotland’s Low-Paid Workers: A Job to be Done” by Oxfam and the University of the West of Scotland, which was published in October last year, the experiences of 1,500 low-paid workers were laid bare through eloquent first-person testimony. The report revealed, among other things, that one in five workers is paid less than the living wage, that 138,000 are on temporary contracts and that 118,000 do not receive the statutory minimum paid holidays. The report made nine recommendations to the Scottish Government, one of which was:
“Give the Fair Work Convention an explicit role in investigating and publicising poor employment practices and driving up standards.”
“Enhance the Business Pledge, including by placing a more robust and transparent accreditation process at its centre.”
However, fair work is not just about workers’ rights; it is about institutional discrimination in the labour market such as the gender pay gap, a phenomenon that was the subject of a recent inquiry by the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee. The committee heard from Close the Gap, a charity that is funded by the Scottish Government to tackle the inequality faced by women at work. The Close the Gap submission told us about the shortcomings of those two Government initiatives. On the fair work framework, it said:
“There is no mention of discrimination, the undervaluation of women’s work, and horizontal segregation. The recommendations on equality are generic and lack specificity; employers are encouraged to ‘investigate and interrogate the workforce profile ... and identify where any barriers to opportunity arise and address these creatively’.”
On the Scottish business pledge it was equally critical, noting that it has not
“changed employer practice on equal pay or ... advanced gender equality at work more broadly.”
Fair work also means improving work-life balance. As research earlier this year from the charity Working Families revealed, one in five parents working full time works an extra five weeks per year—the equivalent of their annual holiday allowance—in unpaid work, just to keep up with the demands of the job.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK is ranked amongst the worst in Europe when it comes to employment protection. The European Committee of Social Rights has also chastised the UK for non-compliance with whole swathes of labour rights, again ranking us bottom of the barrel.
In the face of attacks on workers’ rights by right-wing Governments in Westminster and the weak standards set by the Scottish business pledge—which, as Jackie Baillie’s amendment, which we support, points out covers only 2 per cent of the Scottish workforce—it comes as no surprise that the trade union movement and wider civil society have become increasingly vocal in their campaigns for enhanced employment protections.
It is not just the Government in Westminster that is attacking workers’ rights here. Here in Scotland, better than zero has campaigned relentlessly to improve the already precarious working conditions of those who are employed in the hospitality industry. To date, it has put pressure on the G1 Group, said to be one of Scotland’s largest companies in the sector, to overcome and end stifling and oppressive practices, such as forcing employees to pay for uniforms or spillages during their shifts. I applaud better than zero for its role in forcing the G1 Group to cease its practice of offering zero-hours contracts to employees.
However, it does not stop there, and that leads me to the gig economy—a curious phrase dreamt up, no doubt, by callous wannabe hipsters seeking to conjure up similes of youthfulness and carefree flexibility. Despite their best efforts to soften that form of contractual working, the harsh reality is that it means that people are employed on short-term contracts with no protection against unfair dismissal, no right to redundancy payments and no right to receive the national minimum wage, paid holiday or sickness pay.
That is not exactly the happy-go-lucky imagery that one would expect. However, the language associated with the gig economy has been meticulously selected to undermine workers’ rights. Take, for instance, one well-known courier company that has its own in-house vocabulary guide that openly eliminates workers’ rights. Instead of having employees, workers, or staff it has “riders”, who are retained on a “supplier agreement” rather than an employment contract. Such subtleties indicate that those delivering for the firm are having their employment status undercut, thus denying their right to the minimum wage, yet the company’s chiefs do not deny it. Indeed, one executive told the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee that the minimum wage is
“incompatible with our fee-per-delivery model”.
Clearly, workers’ rights have too often been viewed as a trade-off with business performance, as the only strategy that business knows is to undercut through cost cutting. Looking to France and Germany, two key comparators to the UK, we see that both those countries have far stronger employment protections than the UK and enjoy productivity levels about 29 per cent higher than ours.
In conclusion, we must learn from existing evidence that demonstrates that we can bolster our workforce and their rights by supporting them to flourish in an ethical and environmentally responsible economy. The Scottish business pledge and the fair work framework can achieve that, but they need to be substantially strengthened to ensure that access to Government support and funding is dependent on clear ethical and environmentally responsible business practices being incorporated within them.
I move amendment S5M-05864.3, after “employment status” to insert:
“; supports the Better than Zero campaign and its efforts to support workers in the so-called gig-economy; agrees to make access to government support and funding dependent on clear ethical and environmentally-responsible business practices”.
We move to the open debate. All the extra time that we had has been used up by the opening speakers, so members must keep their speeches tight, at absolutely no more than six minutes.15:24
The trade union movement has a proud history of protecting workers’ rights, born of a desire to combat exploitation and ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. From the great advances of the industrial revolution, it was against a background of poor pay, poor conditions and disregard for the value of workers’ lives that the first workers’ co-operatives and unions grew.
As an active trade unionist myself, and a former trade union steward and divisional convener with Unison, I know at first hand the fantastic and vital work that trade unions do for their members. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
Members of this Parliament need to work with trade unions in maintaining and developing productive and safe workplaces. We must also develop and implement the innovative fair work agenda, the five dimensions of which—effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect—are central to our working lives. The fair work agenda seeks to balance the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers while creating benefits for individuals, organisations and society. It is unique in the world and shows that Scotland is at the forefront of productive workplace relations.
When we create the conditions in which workers’ skills and abilities are supported and developed, and when we promote opportunities for skills and abilities to be deployed, fair work is proven to generate high levels of productivity, performance and innovation, all of which contribute to a wealthier and more inclusive society.
Before members entered this chamber to represent our constituencies, back when we all had what we might call normal jobs, what did we value in our working lives? Was it a good salary? A beneficial work-life balance? Sick pay? Paid annual leave? Those and other benefits are not the products of corporate benevolence—although we should pay tribute to the many employers who look after their staff—but, largely, hard-won rights and benefits that we all have today because of the collective action of the trade union movement.
As Dave Moxham, the deputy general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress has pointed out, workplaces that have trade union recognition are likely to pay up to £53 a week more per worker, and union members are less likely to end up in an employment tribunal, because in unionised environments disputes and grievances are more often settled before they reach that stage. Moreover, unionised workplaces are safer workplaces.
Today, in Tory Britain, there are unprecedented threats to the movement. Following successive Conservative Administration attacks, union membership is less than half what it was when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. Employment is increasingly fragmented, with huge employers replaced by many small businesses, whose staff numbers are in the tens rather than the thousands.
Through the Trade Union Act 2016, the Westminster Government has sought to hobble trade unions’ ability to exercise their power at the negotiating table and be the voice of the ordinary worker. The 2016 act, which attacks the fundamental right to withdraw labour—to strike—was passed at a time when industrial disputes are at an historic low. In the words of the First Minister, it is
“an attack on basic human rights.”
The 2016 act requires a 50 per cent turnout threshold for any action to be legal—and that is even before the results have been counted. It makes it more difficult to take strike action, it singles out picket leaders for retaliatory action by vindictive employers, and it imposes more complicated membership rules.
It can cost an ordinary worker up to £1,200 to take a case through the employment tribunal. Since the UK Government introduced charges, the number of people who have taken a case has collapsed. The total number of employment claims reduced from 105,000 in 2013-14—the year in which charges were introduced—to 61,000 in 2014-15.
When the Scottish Parliament gets devolved power over employment tribunals, the SNP Government will seek to help ordinary workers by mopping up the Tory mess and abolishing the fees, so that people who have been poorly treated will be able to take action without facing the barrier of cost.
In Scotland, the SNP Government has given £2.2 million to support trade unions in accessing skills and lifelong learning opportunities, and we have invested in trade unions themselves, giving them a quarter of a million pounds to help them to modernise and offset some of the damage that the UK Trade Union Act 2016 has done. STUC general secretary Grahame Smith welcomed the support to mitigate the impact of the 2016 act. He said:
“the Scottish Government has again demonstrated its commitment to positive industrial relations through workplace democracy.”
The commitment to effective workplace relations has borne fruit. The number of days that are lost to industrial disputes is the lowest of all the UK nations—indeed, it has gone down by 84 per cent since 2007.
We need only look at my professional background—health—to see the value of partnership working between employers, trade unions and staff. There are far fewer disputes and there is much less industrial unrest and industrial action than is the case in other areas of the public sector. There are certainly far fewer industrial disputes than there are in NHS England. The partnership model allows the sharing of information, a development of relationships between the involved parties and for workers to be treated respectfully.
I support the motion because I support the alternative—the only alternative—to Tory attacks, and that is the SNP Government’s on-going commitment to the empowerment and dignity of ordinary working people, to upholding the rights of trade unions to represent their members and, above all, to protecting the human rights of all workers.15:30
I start by putting the debate into historical context. It is fair to say that the United Kingdom today enjoys generally good industrial relations, but that has not always been the case. I can well remember as a child the country suffering from the poor industrial relations of the 1970s, when overpowerful trade unions held the country to ransom. That culminated in the winter of discontent of 1978-79 and was a key factor in ushering in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government. Indeed, it is the memory of growing up in a cold, dark house, with the power out thanks to the striking power workers, that was, at least partly, what led me to an early interest in the Conservative Party.
Margaret Thatcher’s Government pursued necessary trade union reform with widespread public support, abolishing secondary picketing and clamping down on other abuses. The consequence of those actions we see today: the UK has a very low level of industrial disputes compared with many other countries and a stable level of industrial relations.
Will the member give way?
No; I want to make some progress.
The Government’s role in all that is to provide a balance of rights. In the past, I have been happy to talk about the valuable role that trade unions play in our society. Many of the achievements in securing workers’ rights in previous centuries and previous decades would not have been possible without the campaigning work of trade unions. We should see trade unions as partners in progress in delivering safer workplaces and quality rights for workers, not as political opponents. Above all, trade unions embody the very principle of fraternity, with individuals banding themselves together in a common endeavour for the general good. What could be more Conservative than that?
I suspect that, when the SNP scheduled the debate, it saw it as an opportunity to score some political points over the UK Conservative Government. I can only imagine that it did that in advance of the publication of the Conservative Party manifesto for the general election. When that was published, it must have come as a great disappointment to the SNP, because it makes clear that workers’ rights will be at the heart of the next Conservative Government.
I note Murdo Fraser’s attack on picketing—he seemed happy to picket yesterday outside the SNP manifesto launch, although it was a bit more like picket fencing than anything else.
On the point about workers’ rights and fraternity, does the member think that it is right that the Conservatives should impose a new tax on some employers who employ some workers? Is that not unequal and wrong? Will he answer the question that Dean Lockhart failed to answer: does he support the imposition of the £1,000—going up to £2,000—tax on employers?
It is a bit rich for a minister in a Government that has imposed a level of business rates on our largest businesses that is double the rate payable elsewhere in the United Kingdom to complain about taxes being higher here than anywhere else.
I return to the Conservative manifesto that the minister did not want to talk about. It commits to
“A new deal for ordinary, working people giving them a decent living wage and new rights and protections in the workplace”
“Fairer corporate governance, built on new rules for takeovers, executive pay and worker representation on company boards”.
It sounds almost as if it could have been written by the TUC.
Not only will the next Conservative Government entrench EU employment rights in UK law, but it is committed to strengthening those rights. There are plans to legislate for bereavement leave to guarantee some peace of mind for bereaved parents; plans to legislate for new rights to request leave for training purposes; representation for workers on company boards, giving every employee a statutory right to receive information about key decisions affecting their company’s future; and a commitment to increase the national living wage in line with median earnings until the end of the next Parliament in 2022. It is little wonder that the concerns over that part of the Conservative manifesto have come not from the trade unions or those representing workers but from the business community, which believes that they go too far.
The Conservative record, and the Conservative commitments for the future, are there to protect and enhance workers’ rights.
I listened with great interest to Jackie Baillie’s speech.
Will the member give way?
No. I need to make some progress.
Jackie Baillie’s rhetoric seemed uncharacteristic of her. It was almost as if she was reading out Jeremy Corbyn’s stump speech.
I was interested in the fact that the Labour Party is going into the election with a commitment to abolish zero-hours contracts entirely. I am not sure whether that is a credible position. When, in the previous session, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee took evidence on these issues, we heard from a lot of people in business that there is a role, in a limited sense, for zero-hours contracts. For example, the operators of Scotland’s ski resorts cannot possibly retain a permanent staff throughout the season, as they can only derive income on days when there is snow, so their workforce has to be largely employed on zero-hours contracts. The same applies, in warmer weather, to people who make ice cream and sell it from ice cream vans, which is an entirely weather-dependent business.
I agree absolutely that we should be addressing exploitative zero-hours contracts. The UK Government has already banned the use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, despite the fact that the previous Labour Government did nothing to address the issue. If we are going to go further, Labour members need to tell us how they will deal with the situation in the types of businesses that I have outlined.
I welcome the Taylor review of the changing labour market. Its commissioning illustrates that the Government is trying to address the fact that the labour market is changing. I welcome the fact that we have a Government that is there to strike the right balance between allowing industry the flexibility that it needs to thrive and compete, and, at the same time, ensuring that workers’ rights are properly protected, and extended where appropriate. That is exactly what the future Conservative Government will be doing.15:36
I cannot get the image of Murdo Fraser as a child in the 1970s out of my head.
Excuse me, Mr Doris. I do not want to miss any of your bon mots, so will you put your microphone up?
Time will tell about that, Presiding Officer.
I think about Murdo Fraser as a child of the 1970s, with his wee candle lit, to light up his house because of the power shortages, and his wee tartan blanket—or maybe his wee union jack blanket—wrapped around him, to keep him warm. He was driven into the hands of Margaret Thatcher to do God knows what, quite frankly. There you are. I cannot get the image out of my head.
Let us return to reality, rather than stay with Murdo Fraser. Before I knew that this debate was scheduled, a constituent contacted me about their employment situation. The constituent is a taxi driver, but I do not have permission to give the full details of their case, so I will speak in more general terms. I will not name the local authority that licenses the taxi firm or name the taxi firm or give any of those kinds of details. My constituent has to pay a substantial rent for their taxi, pay for a radio for their taxi and buy their fuel. They are likely to be out six days a week, for maybe 10 hours day, and they work out that they get maybe £4.50 an hour. The so-called gig economy is not working for my constituent; they called it “slave labour”.
We have heard what happens with holiday pay for such people, who I would say are exploited, and what happens when they are off ill. My constituent made the point that they find it incredibly difficult to claim working tax credits, which they feel that they need because of their low income. I wanted to put their case on the record—it would be odd if I did not mention it while the debate is taking place.
There is a rather famous case of two drivers going to an employment tribunal and saying that they should be deemed to be not self-employed but contracted workers, and that findings in relation to the national minimum wage and holiday pay should apply to them. I will not say too much more about that, because of the restrictions that we may be under and the rules of engagement of today’s debate, but the point that was made in that case was that Transport for London could perhaps play a much more beefed-up role and ensure that when it licenses companies, it takes a much more ethical view. I am conscious that we have 32 local authorities in Scotland. Are there rules and regulations around that that could be brought into play to work for my constituent and others?
I had a further look at the sector in the west of Scotland. It is possible to go online and see individuals advertising taxi driver jobs that are full time and permanent, but the drivers would be self-employed. They just need to have their taxi badge and to be more than 25 years’ old for insurance purposes. Experience is preferred but not essential and the drivers are required for day shifts, back shifts and night shifts over seven days. I started to think about the point at which someone stops being self-employed if they are tightly contracted to do a very specific job but not necessarily with any of the protections that we would expect in relation to respect and dignity in the workplace.
I am sure that if employment law was devolved to this institution, we would find a way of tackling that—dealing with it—and legislating for it on a cross-party basis. We would be able to transform the sector, whether for taxi drivers or for the people who deliver pizzas or Chinese meals of an evening and work goodness knows how many hours. We could tackle the issue—I know that we could.
For most people in this Parliament, the debate is about not whether we should tackle the issue, but whether it should be tackled here or in London. Unfortunately, I have been left with the feeling that the Tories do not want to tackle it at all. Shame on them.
There is another area to discuss that is not about people’s rights when they are in employment, but about their right to try to get a job in the first place. In that context, I must mention the jobcentre closures, which look as if they will sweep right around Scotland and will include half the jobcentres in Glasgow, including my local jobcentre in Maryhill. Do members remember when jobcentres used to be thought of as a way to encourage people into employment? Where is a person’s right to work if they feel that a jobcentre is an oppressive place, rather than a supportive place? I know many good-quality jobcentre staff who feel the same way.
My final point on the right to work comes from talking to family and friends over many years about their experiences. It is on the connection between the right to work and those who claim disability benefits and are almost terrified to get back into employment as they are not sure whether they have the confidence or physical ability to do so. They really worry about taking a punt on going back into employment because, if it all breaks down, they would not necessarily get back on the same level of disability benefits as they were on before. When we talk about the world of work and the right to work, let us ensure that the debate is about not just workers’ rights in employment, but about those vulnerable people on the fringes of society who are trying to get into the labour market in the first place.15:42
I declare an interest as a member of Unite the union and the Educational Institute of Scotland.
In a week’s time, the people of this country have the greatest opportunity since 1945 to vote for a programme of change that will radically improve the lives of working people and rebuild our society. In 1945, after a decade of war and eye-watering austerity, the Attlee Government built one million council houses, created full employment and established the national health service, which was the greatest social policy that was ever introduced.
The Labour manifesto that was published a few weeks ago is built on the very same principles as that great transformative manifesto of 1945: the principles of community, co-operation, equality, justice and solidarity. When it was published, I had never been more proud to be a member of my party.
In a world of work in which too many people and their families suffer through low pay, job insecurity and attacks on their rights, Labour’s manifesto will deliver fairness, justice, opportunity and, most of all, hope. We will again put full employment at the centre, as our key economic goal, with £20 billion coming to Scotland via a national investment bank.
We will ensure that all workers—part time, temporary or full time—have equal rights in the workplace. We will end the job insecurity of someone not knowing from one day to the next whether they have a wage by banning zero-hour contracts and ensuring that every worker who wants it gets a guaranteed number of hours each week.
We will stop agencies from exploiting local and migrant labour and ensure that any employer who wishes to recruit labour from abroad does not undercut workers at home, because that causes divisions in our communities by pitching worker against worker.
We will repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 because it is the right and fair thing to do. An organised workforce is a better-paid, safer and healthier workforce.
We will introduce four new bank holidays—there you go, Mr Fraser. How do you feel about that?
We will amend the takeover code to ensure that every takeover proposal has a clear plan in place to protect workers and pensioners, because workers should not suffer when a company is sold.
We will end unpaid internships. We will abolish tribunal fees across the UK. We will double paid paternity leave to four weeks and increase paternity pay, because fathers and parents deserve to spend more time with their newborn.
We will strengthen protections for women against unfair redundancy, because no one should ever be penalised for having children.
We will hold a public inquiry into blacklisting to ensure that it remains a thing of the past. We will use the spending power of procurement to drive up standards, end low pay and recognise trade unions.
I am sorry to interrupt the member’s party-political broadcast. Can he tell me how much all this is going to cost, because his leader cannot?
Every single bit is costed in the Labour manifesto. The only numbers in the Tory manifesto are page numbers.
The party that introduced the national minimum wage, when SNP members of Parliament went to bed instead of waiting up to vote for it and Tories fought tooth and nail against it, will increase it to £10 an hour, which will give a pay increase to half a million Scots.
We will end the cap on public sector pay, ensuring that our nurses, bin men, housing staff, classroom assistants and others see the end of years of pay cuts and freezes. The greatest pro-worker policy of all will see the end of austerity as a UK and Scottish Government economic policy.
We have not seen Theresa May much in this election—I think that she has been locked in a cupboard in Tory HQ to prevent her from meeting the voters. However, in a rare sighting, she claimed that the Tories are the party of working people. The party of the bedroom tax, the rape clause, the poll tax, the trade union bill, privatisation—the party of greed and the me, here-and-now society—claiming to stand up for working people is enough to make a pig vomit.
In Scotland, the SNP’s manifesto says that it will press the UK Government to do this, that and the next thing. Working people do not need a pressure group; they need a Government that is going to change their lives by giving communities back hope and optimism and a belief that no one will be left behind. They need a Government that acts in the interests of the many not the few and a Government that has care and compassion at its heart.
Our manifesto is a programme that will renew our communities and society. We have the chance to change our country for the better. I urge every voter to get out there on 8 June to vote Labour and reject the politics of division and despair.15:48
Trade unions are a vital part of our society. Like most people in Scotland, I recognise the importance of trade unions to our workforce. In 2015, 32 per cent of Scottish employees were members of trade unions.
Being a member of a trade union tends to benefit employees, but it also benefits employers. Evidence shows that unionised workplaces have more engaged staff, a higher level of staff training and a progressive approach to staff wellbeing; staff are also better paid. That makes for a better and more productive workplace.
Not only do unions challenge low pay, they challenge the gender pay gap. Across the UK, in 2015, employees who were trade union members earned, on average, 14 per cent more than non-members, and that difference was more pronounced among women, who earned on average 24.6 per cent more if they were members of a trade union. That is why supporting and protecting unions is vital.
I was appalled by the UK Government’s Trade Union Act 2016 and I am glad that the Scottish Government has made clear its opposition to that pernicious act. It seeks to undermine the role of trade unions in the labour market and make it easier for employers to undermine the rights of the millions of workers who are represented by unions. It seeks to undermine the fundamental human right of employees to withdraw their labour, a right that is enshrined in a range of international conventions, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights. It is an attack on workers and it will make it considerably more difficult for many employees to have their voices heard.
Thankfully, in this country, we have a Scottish Government that is working to take Scotland in a better direction, using the powers that it has at its disposal to mitigate the damage that would be done by Tory Government legislation or, where possible, to alter the direction of travel.
I welcome the £2.2 million that the Scottish Government has provided to support trade unions in helping people to access skills and lifelong learning opportunities that contribute to collective prosperity, fairness and equality for workers across Scotland. I look forward to the devolution of power over tribunals, and I would like more powers over employment law to be devolved. The Scottish Government has said that it will abolish tribunal fees. Since 2013, when tribunal fees were introduced, the number of claims being issued in the employment tribunal has dramatically declined, almost definitely because of the prohibitive cost, which can be up to £1,200 a case.
Can Maree Todd tell us what proportion of the reduction in tribunal claims is a function of the introduction of tribunal fees and what proportion is a function of the introduction of mandatory Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service conciliation?
There is a statistical correlation.
There is certainly a correlation between the introduction of a charge and the effect. There is absolutely no doubt that the act that was introduced last year is an attack on workers’ rights.
I welcome the further £250,000 that has been invested in the trade union modernisation fund to support the modernisation of trade unions and to help to mitigate the negative impacts of UK legislation. However, as is always the case when it comes to mitigating UK Tory Government legislation, it is deeply disappointing that it is even necessary to do so.
We need to understand and commit to the idea of fair work and not let the Tories take us along in their pursuit of deregulation and low wages, particularly post-Brexit. I agree with the Labour amendment that all EU-derived workplace laws must be fully protected post-Brexit. In order to do that, we have the fair work framework, which sets five conditions for a fairer working environment through the provision of opportunity, security, fulfilment, respect and an effective voice to workers.
We have seen a dramatic rise in in-work poverty since the Tories and the Liberal Democrats went into Government in 2010. However, when employees have greater job security and sufficient income, fewer people have to turn to welfare and the country benefits from increased tax revenues. That approach makes economic sense. When employees have fulfilling work, it gives them a greater sense of self-worth and purpose, which improves physical and mental health. When employees have an effective voice, it can improve workplace relationships, creating a positive work environment that feeds into the productivity and wellbeing of employees.
Everyone would want those things from their work. People want to value their work and also to feel valued. They want to feel secure in their job, to feel that they have a voice and to have the opportunity to grow and develop through work. Those are things that we all want. I think that the ambition of workers in Scotland having all of those things is right and should be shared by all of us.
The Scottish Government has endorsed the fair work framework and I hope that, in the coming years, we are able to take that forward. Unions will play a role in doing that.
Recently, I had a meeting with a group of Norwegian trade unionists. Their catchword was co-operation. Workers in Norway are recognised as essential to the success of enterprise, so management and workers co-operate to improve businesses. I have to say that it is not the only time that I have felt a great sense of admiration for the Scandinavians.
I am sure that we in this chamber are all keen to work together to fulfil the ambitions of the fair work framework and to provide secure and meaningful work for employees in Scotland.15:54
The Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the motion. The Scottish Government’s fair work agenda has sensible aspirations: the promotion of dialogue, the reduction of inequality and the securing of sustainable economic growth.
Of course, words must be matched by actions, and the SNP Government’s record in that respect is patchy, let us say. Take the living wage, which should become the norm and should be paid for all public services. Regrettably, however, the Scottish Government twice voted against similar proposals during the previous session of Parliament. The Scottish Government has levers to encourage its payment in the private sector, too—Jackie Baillie and Andy Wightman have mentioned the huge amounts of public money that are given to a company by the Scottish Government. In return for that financial assistance, the Scottish Government could have expected that company to pay the living wage, not £1 below it. It could also have asked the company to guarantee working conditions, but that is the subject of, let us say, considerable controversy. If the SNP is serious about standing up for fair employment, it should agree to stop dishing out millions of pounds to multinational companies that pay low wages.
The Scottish Government controls the pay of thousands of public servants, and just three weeks ago, in this chamber, SNP members were given the opportunity to commit to a real-terms pay rise for NHS staff. They refused it. Many public services are already struggling to recruit the staff that they need. Living standards are falling and public sector workers are going to food banks. The Liberal Democrats are clear that it is time to end years of pay restraint in the public sector by lifting the 1 per cent cap on the pay of nurses, teachers, the police and others. We would uprate wages in line with inflation.
Does the member acknowledge that his party was in government when the pay cap was introduced?
Oh, for goodness’ sake. Time moves on, and we certainly realise that the pay cap needs to be lifted now—of course it does. However, others do not realise that, including the member’s own party.
Our pay boost would apply to all public sector workers in Scotland, either directly or through Barnett consequentials, which would allow the Scottish Government to raise the pay of all public workers. That would lead to an estimated pay rise of £780 for an average public sector worker by 2021. Compare that to the Conservatives’ public sector pay cap and Brexit squeeze, which will lead to years of pitiful increases. Strong public services require workers to be paid properly.
Most employers recognise the long-term value in treating their employees decently. Those that exploit workers hurt individuals and undermine the competitive position of good employers. Everyone should share in our prosperity, which is why the Liberal Democrats also want new transparency requirements on larger employers regarding what they pay their staff; modern employment rights that are fit for the modern economy; more employee ownership, with new rights to request shares; staff representation at the top of companies; and the abuse of zero-hours contracts being stamped out. We will create a formal right to request a fixed contract and will consult on the introduction of a right to make regular patterns of work contractual after a period of time.
The failure of Theresa May’s Government to guarantee the rights of EU nationals who are already working and living here is shameful. She is even, in my view, outkipping UKIP on that. However much Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives may wish to differentiate themselves when it suits, the truth is that they are squarely behind Theresa May’s miserable, cold-hearted agenda. The rights of 1,000 doctors across the NHS have not been guaranteed, and some are leaving now because they are concerned about that. The loss of those workers from sectors from our health service to tourism, agriculture and food and drink would be catastrophic, but Theresa May does not seem to care. The Liberal Democrats would end that uncertainty immediately and would unilaterally guarantee those workers’ rights. It is in our interests, their interests and everybody’s interests to do that.
The Scottish Parliament has condemned the Trade Union Act 2016 on several occasions, and I am happy to do so again today. It has fundamentally failed to recognise the job of protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, resolving disputes and increasing productivity. It says something when David Davis—of all people—who is now the Brexit secretary, describes some sections of the act as being reminiscent of Franco’s Spain.
Next week’s general election is the chance to change the direction of our country. We need to give all our workers a brighter future in which people are decent to one another and are treated with respect, as opposed to Theresa May’s cold, mean-spirited, inward-looking Britain.
The political dividers of our time would leave our country worse off. The Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for openness, tolerance and unity, which are principles that have underpinned generations of progress in improving workers’ rights.16:00
The trade union movement was a natural place for any activist to begin their fight against inequality and injustice. It is that same fight—against intolerance and unfairness—that drives me, every day, to fight on behalf of my constituents. Whether in work or not, being in the trade union movement offers a voice and a chance to stand in unity with union colleagues to fight against discrimination and persecution. Make no mistake about it—workers have been persecuted over the years, no more so than by the UK Conservative Government and its anti-trade union act. Indeed, the legislation and the Tory party as an entity are anti-trade union.
The Trade Union Act 2016 is, as we have heard, a pernicious piece of legislation that seeks to undermine collective solidarity. It seeks to restrict fundamental rights, such as the human right of workers to withdraw their labour. I am proud to say that the Scottish Government and our SNP colleagues in Westminster opposed the legislation every step of the way. Let me be clear that the Scottish Government has mitigated some aspects of the act, but today I reiterate the call for the act to go and for workers to be allowed to organise, to collectivise and to exercise freely their human right to withdraw their labour.
From the minimum wage—increased and enhanced by this Government to become the real living wage, not the fake one—to the EU working time directive, which is under threat from a reckless, hard-Brexit Conservative Government, trade unions continue to be at the forefront of striving for decent employment practices and the enhancement of working conditions for all.
It is with that same spirit and righteousness that we have to defend our workers’ rights, particularly against the unrelenting pursuit of a hard-Tory Brexit. From maternity rights to paid holidays, the EU underpinned those working rights.
I do not believe or recognise the Conservative amendment today. It suggests that the UK Government will somehow now transform into the party of the working people and ensure the working rights of millions in a post-Brexit Britain. Most of us in the chamber do not believe the Conservatives; most of the people in the United Kingdom do not believe them either.
Simply put, workers’ rights are human rights. That is a simple declaration, but one of virtue and truth. It is this Scottish Government that has worked with our partners in the trade union movement and shown commitment to those rights. The fair work convention and the fair work framework are testament to that. The framework values respect people and wellbeing over greed and profit. The framework has a clear message: by 2025, the working conditions of people in Scotland will be underpinned by the values of fairness, wellbeing and respect. They will not be exploited, unregulated or unequal. A fairer working environment will be created by providing opportunity, security, fulfilment, respect and an effective voice for every working person in Scotland.
As the nature of work changes—make no mistake, it has changed, which we have recognised today—the Scottish Government stands ready to listen and to act. Indeed, it has acted against the anti-trade union act, ensured that those bidding for public contracts must adhere to fair work practices and refused to employ anyone directly through the use of zero-hours contracts. Our Government has done all that, but I hope that it will continue to listen and take further action.
I will listen to the likes of the better than zero campaign—a vibrant, young member-led organisation that breaks the mould. It leads the way on holding bad bosses to account, shining a light on poor employment practices and educating our young people about their rights in the workplace. The better than zero campaign is an example of what can be achieved through the dynamism of youth—maybe some us should try it—and fearlessness of spirit. Using flash mobs, creativeness and song and sound, those young people have defined how the trade union movement should respond to the changing nature of work.
It is far too easy to say, as many of us in the chamber do, that young people are our future, but young people are our now. However, the under-25s in our country are discriminated against over and over again in terms of working practices, the living wage, the minimum wage and housing benefit—they are discriminated against all the time by the UK Government. I am sorry, but the Conservatives cannot stand here and say that they are sticking up for workers’ rights when they discriminate against every young person under the age of 25.
Those young people are the apprentice or the administrator, and the student or the stylist. The Scottish Government knows the kind of working conditions that young people are subject to, and we have heard a lot about that in the debate. That is precisely why the Scottish Government will consult on extending the free bus pass scheme to apprentices and precisely why we have pledged in our manifesto to back a transition, over the next parliamentary session, towards payment of the real living wage as a new minimum legal requirement for all adults over the age of 18, not 25.
From our young people to our aged, the Scottish Government has been proud to stand alongside workers of every creed, nationality and religion, but especially our colleagues, friends and neighbours who are EU nationals. I reiterate that workers’ rights are human rights and I urge the Scottish Government and the UK Government to be at the forefront of defending them and expanding them to all workers in Scotland.
Our next speaker is Michelle Ballantyne, who will be followed by Stewart Stevenson. This is Ms Ballantyne’s first speech in the Parliament—I welcome you here. We have often been on platforms together, although not with the same point of view.16:06
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
First, I declare an interest as an employer in my capacity as a director of Ballantynes of Walkerburn Ltd, as a director of two charitable trusts and an employee of a third, and as a councillor on Scottish Borders Council.
Presiding Officer and members, as I entered the chamber for the first time last week, my father reminded me of the letters that we had exchanged many years ago when I was complaining that my beloved NHS needed reforming or it was going to run into real difficulties. He had written back replying that the only way I could ever really bring about change was to become a politician. My response was polite but firm: hell was definitely going to freeze over first.
However, in 2009, my local councillor, Gavin Logan, saw fit to persuade me that I should join the Conservative Party and run for the council. Gavin may be disappointed to learn, though, that it was in fact during the general election of February 1974 that I first stood as a candidate. I was, of course, just a child then, and it was the mock election at my primary school. I was the candidate for the PLP—the Prevent Litter Party—and I am delighted to report that our heartfelt campaigning won the day and presented us with the honour of implementing our promises for one year. I learned a valuable lesson: making promises was easy; delivering results was the real challenge. After a year of picking up litter and trying to convince people not to drop it in the first place, I understood that we can get results only if our promises are realistic, everyone works together and we share responsibility for our world.
The laws that we make and the messages that we send out from the chamber should be ones that support rights and responsibilities whether someone is an employer or an employee; they should encourage enterprise, reward endeavour and support success, because we do not protect the vulnerable in society by penalising that success. As a nurse and then in management, I have spent 36 years working in the NHS and the third sector, and 27 years ago, my husband and I set up a manufacturing company, through which we have experienced the real challenge of creating the wealth that drives our economy and funds the public services that I hold so dear.
It is because of those many years of experience of working in the public, private and third sectors, both as an employee and as an employer, of working with the unions and of putting my money where my mouth is by taking a risk and building a company whereby, even in times of difficulty, people count on us to find the money to pay the salaries and wages that they have earned, that I can say that I am proud of the record that the United Kingdom has so far in protecting workers’ rights. The truth is that private enterprise is the backbone of any promise that a Government makes and it is the partnership between employer and employee that makes businesses successful.
The American politician John Lynch once said:
“We will not agree on every issue. But let us respect those differences and respect one another. Let us recognize that we do not serve an ideology or a political party; we serve the people.”
To me, that is the backbone of what politics is about. Everyone wants the best for our country and our communities; what makes us different is how we believe we can achieve the best outcome for the people whom we serve.
When I stood in my first mock election, the United Kingdom had only just joined the European Union. I now enter Parliament as we prepare to leave it. Across the nation, there are people who, regardless of their political affiliation, believe that leaving the EU is a positive step and recognise that the laws that we make to protect workers’ rights are laws of our kingdom because we as a nation support them. They are not forced on us by others; they are brought about in recognition that economic productivity and growth are best served by a society that is motivated and wants to succeed.
We must build a society that encourages individuals to employ others. All too often, I hear people say that they do not want to grow their businesses and have to employ people because of the burdens and risks. Our laws must be balanced so that workers are protected from being exploited by unscrupulous employers, but they must also provide protection for the employer and the consumer, who are responsible for or reliant on the service or product that is being delivered. Employers, employees and consumers are mutually dependent—a perfect circle that must not be broken by political ideology. As Winston Churchill said,
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
I am truly honoured to have been given a voice in the Parliament. In serving the people of this country, I will do my utmost to ensure that it is a voice of rational and balanced argument that seeks to embrace our democracy, as it is not the things that we have in common that make us stronger; it is the ability to debate and embrace our differences.
Thank you for listening. I look forward to working with all members. [Applause.]16:12
I congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on her first speech in Parliament. I see that she attracted a large and appreciative audience for it—at least among her own party. I well remember my first speech in Parliament, which was in June 2001. As Michelle Ballantyne did, I joined the Parliament late, in mid-session, and not at the general election. I wish her every success—short of actual victory, that is—in her time in Parliament, and I look forward to hearing a speech from her that I can agree with in full.
I think that Michelle Ballantyne said that the only way to achieve change is through politics. I sincerely hope that that is not true. In particular it is, in the context of today’s debate, also possible to achieve useful change through trade union activity. It is another very important way of achieving change.
We are debating the protection of workers’ rights, but we should pay continuous attention to the issue. I do not think that we could reasonably describe our Tory colleagues in particular as the natural friends of workers—perhaps the deletions that the Tory amendment seeks to make to the motion illustrate that. The Tories are unconcerned about how their particular plans for how we should leave the EU will impact on workers or more broadly, and it is clear that they wish to see continuation of the substantial fees that workers endure when they go to employment tribunals. The people who have least are being asked to contribute most for their own justice. In general, the Tories seek to defend their pernicious Trade Union Act 2016.
I find that I can agree with Labour colleagues—even during an election campaign. I recognise that opponents have articulated good sense when they suggest that the EU-derived workplace laws must be fully protected. I absolutely support that.
Moreover, when the Greens call for environmentally responsible business practices—again, that is not something that the Tories sign up to; I cite as an example the cancellation of the important carbon-capture project at Peterhead, under what would have been a major employer—I find common cause with those colleagues.
Let us talk about trade unions. During my working life before Parliament, I was a member of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union. I must confess that I was not an active member; I simply paid my subscription, as someone who wanted to know that the union was there, should I ever need it, although I hoped that I never would. When I became a manager, sitting opposite the union on the other side of the table and discussing activities in our company, I remained a member.
With regard to the provisions of the Tory act that very specifically attacks trade unions, I note that section 2 requires a 50 per cent turnout of eligible electors for any ballot for industrial action. If that were a principled position, it would also apply, for example, to local authority elections. Of course, it does not—in fact, it applies nowhere else. If it did, however, half of Tory councillors would not be in office. I must say that in that respect it is quite tempting, in its way.
However, under section 3 of the 2016 act, 40 per cent of eligible voters have to vote in favour of a strike. That is extremely challenging—as those of us who campaigned in 1979 with regard to the Scotland Act 1978 will be aware as we recall the George Cunningham amendment that required a similar 40 per cent of the electorate. If we were to apply the same rule to local government, it would probably mean that the Tories would have no councillors at all—which is extremely tempting. There is a matter of principle here, though; that provision is a serious illustration of the fact that the objective of the 2016 act is to neuter trade unions, not to protect workers’ rights. I also note other measures relating to the check-off system and the loss of facility time.
As we have heard, there is substantial evidence that trade unions are contributors to the success of businesses, companies and public services. Where unions are part of the decision making, better decision making results and success for the enterprise can follow. It might go back a while, but research that was undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing which has been subsequently endorsed shows lower leaving rates in unionised businesses, lower use of employment tribunals, fewer workplace injuries and less illness. That is a pretty good return for sharing, through the involvement of trade unions, decision making across all the people who work in an organisation.
I have been talking about the 2016 act, but I will close with some evidence from this Parliament of that same attitude to workers. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill was introduced to create additional protections for some of our most important public servants. We had a passionate and informed debate, and SNP members supported the bill, which had been introduced by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition. However, when our Parliament voted on the bill’s general principles on 30 September 2004, only one of the seven members who I think are still here now voted against. Guess who? It was Murdo Fraser. Then as now, the idea was to deprive workers of their proper rights. The leopard never changes its spots—and the Tories will never work in the interests of workers.16:18
I, too, congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on her excellent first speech in the chamber.
Given that the issue of workers’ rights is important and affects most of us, it is right that we debate it. As always, it provokes strong views—some of which we have heard this afternoon.
I want to focus on the trade union aspect of the Government’s motion, and I speak as a former union rep with a reputation for fiercely defending my members and as a former—if only briefly—member of the National Union of Journalists. The NUJ was not the body that I was the rep for; I felt that it did not do a particularly good job and, when I was a member in the 1980s, it was far too right on and politically correct.
Everyone should have rights in the workplace, but they also have responsibilities. Workers deserve to be looked after; however, so do employers and, when we are talking about the public sector, so do the people who are served by those who work in it.
A lot of heat has been generated around the Trade Union Act 2016. Trade unions are valuable institutions, and dedicated trade unionists have a strong history of working hard to represent their members—as they should. They campaign for improved safety at work and better conditions, they support those who need support and they give invaluable advice. I have seen the good work that they do—both as an employee and as a former councillor, in which capacity I have seen some excellent public sector union representatives standing up for members.
However, it is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with those of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services. The aim of the 2016 act is to rebalance the interests of employers, employees and the public with the freedom of trade union members to strike. It was previously the case that a small minority of union members could disrupt the lives of millions of commuters, parents, workers and employers at short notice and without clear support from the union’s members.
Will the member take an intervention?
Because of their high impact on the normal life of a large group of people, it is my view that strikes should take place only on the basis of a reasonable turnout and substantial vote in favour by those who are able to vote. In the past, we have seen strikes taking place on the back of the votes of a fraction of union members. In 2014, a strike in the education sector that was organised by the National Union of Teachers was held based on the support of just 22 per cent of its members The Public and Commercial Services Union, which frequently calls strikes among its members in the civil service, has never achieved a 50 per cent turnout in a national ballot.
Critics have argued that the 2016 act will make new legal strikes next to impossible. However, that is not true. Post Office workers voted to go on strike in a row over branch closures, job cuts and pensions; 83.2 per cent of a 50 per cent turnout voted in favour of industrial action.
I want to mention one other aspect of the 2016 act. Public sector employers—and some in the private sector—with at least one trade union official will be required to publish facility-time information. That is the amount that is spent on paid time off for union duties and activities. I have enjoyed that myself, as a union representative, and it is entirely right that we shine a light on it. Union representatives in the public sector tend to be employed to do other jobs. Most do not abuse the facility whereby they can take time off to perform union duties, but some do—I have seen it.
Will the member take an intervention?
No. I want to make this point.
It is on that point.
No—I am going to make a point.
In the case of one teacher, that abuse hampered the smooth running of the school in South Lanarkshire where she was meant to be working.
What does Graham Simpson say about his colleagues, one of whom is a football referee who takes time off for other duties when he should be here performing his parliamentary duties?
I wish that Neil Findlay would stick to the point, which is about union representatives taking time off.
If it is not just an SNP stunt—the usual diatribe about Westminster being wrong and the SNP being right—we need to ask what the effect of repealing the 2016 act would be. It would make strikes easier, and there would be more disruption—most of it undemocratic—and more waste of public funds. We should be careful what we wish for.
Let me touch just briefly on two other aspects of the Government’s motion—
You are in your last minute, so you should be brief.
I know. Those aspects are fair work and leaving the EU.
I had a quick look at the fair work convention’s summary report. It did not take me long. Aside from statements of the blindingly obvious—such as that work should be fair, and that fair work should be available to everyone, no matter who they are—it is 32 pages of waffle and is pretty vague.
That brings me on to the EU. Here is the simple fact that the SNP hates: the Prime Minister has clearly said that when we leave the EU, workers’ rights will be fully protected and maintained. [Interruption.] That is something that the SNP may not like.
Presiding Officer, the Government motion gets it right in recognising the role that unions can play; the rest of it leaves much to be desired.
I call Joan McAlpine, who is the last speaker in the open debate. We will move to closing speeches after that.16:24
I, too, congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on her first speech to the chamber.
The problem that we face today is stark. Once again we find ourselves discussing how to defend the people of Scotland from the actions of the UK Government. That is not what I or other members of Parliament would choose to do with our time, but it is necessary. I would prefer to stand here and demand further progress. I want to be part of a legislature that can significantly expand workers’ rights and add further protections to what we have, rather than one that is continually looking for more ways to mitigate the reactionary policies of Westminster.
The Trade Union Act 2016 was rejected by this Parliament. It attacks the fundamental rights of workers on these islands. In a bid to mitigate the effects of the bill, the Scottish Government has provided £2.2 million to support trade unions in accessing skills and lifelong learning opportunities, but some things cannot be fixed within the current limited powers of the Scottish Parliament alone. I wish that the 2016 act was the only such case. Instead, however, it sits alongside the UK Government’s pursuit of a hard Brexit in defiance of the people and Parliament of Scotland.
The bottom line is simple: leaving the EU will result in people losing their jobs and their employment rights. Currently, the EU safeguards Scottish workers’ right to a paid holiday and the protection of women’s rights during pregnancy, notably by giving women the right to statutory paid maternity leave and the right to take paid time off work to attend antenatal examinations. There are further important protections against discrimination on the basis of age, religion, belief and sexual orientation.
Many of the protections that we currently enjoy, including access to pensions across borders, rely on co-operation between member states. That is just one example. The posted workers directive of 1996 guarantees a minimum level of effective protection to temporary workers who are posted to another member state. As of last year, the directive is being revised to make it even stronger, following a campaign by the European Trade Union Confederation.
Other members have mentioned the gig economy. As we speak, the Court of Justice of the European Union is contemplating whether Uber is a transport firm, with the obligations that come with that, or an electronic firm. The non-binding opinion of the Advocate General is that Uber will need licences, like any other taxi company. We do not yet know the final opinion of the court, but it is clear that the end result will be important for protecting the rights of workers in the digital age.
Those are all significant matters in their own right and, in its white paper for the great repeal bill, the UK Government has committed not only to replicating EU employment rights but, further, to
“enhance the rights people have at work.”
As Graham Simpson said, that has come from Theresa May. I am a bit sceptical about statements that the Prime Minister has made: after all, she told us that there was not going to be a general election but she changed her mind on that, she changed her mind on her own budget, and she recently changed her mind on her own manifesto. I do not have much confidence in what Theresa May promises the nation.
The real purpose of the great repeal bill for the Brexiteers in the Tory party—and for the Tory remainers who have displayed a convert’s zeal for Brexit since last summer—is clearly not to increase workers’ rights. The desire to remove the UK from oversight by the European Court of Justice exists because the court is an obstacle to removal of those rights. After all, the EU’s much-maligned court does not prevent member states such as the UK from passing employment laws that confer a higher level of protection on workers. In many cases, directives state that explicitly.
The UK is already one of the most deregulated labour markets in the EU and in the world. The UK is ranked 31st out of 34 developed nations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for levels of employment protection for individual and collective dismissals. Other countries in the EU do far more than we do to actively encourage trade union organisation. In Sweden, membership of trade unions is about 70 per cent. The same is true of Denmark and Finland.
It might be useful to consider briefly how people do things in one of those countries—Denmark. The Danish trade union system has its roots in the early 20th century. Collective bargaining is done at sectoral level, which gives its trade union federation and its largest employer organisation central roles in the Danish industrial relations system. The wage systems that have resulted from those negotiations allow for flexibility where that is appropriate, while still protecting the rights of individual members. The effectiveness of the system was recognised by the International Trade Union Confederation in 2016, which ranked Denmark among the top countries for protecting workers’ rights.
The collective bargaining structure that stems from that high level of membership is one of the main reasons why income inequality is so much lower in Denmark than it is in the UK. Members do not have to take my word for that; the issue is well documented and debated. On the OECD’s measure of disposable income inequality using the Gini coefficient, Denmark came third and the UK came 29th. Why would we want to curb union power and reduce standards even further? We should aim to come up to the level of employee protection that our partners in Europe including Denmark have, instead of moving away from that.
A better future would be to chart a course for this Parliament and nation so that it is no longer necessary to spend our days debating how best to mitigate the policies of Westminster. As an independent nation with membership of the EU, we could work to enhance workers’ rights and improve their lives, rather than be dragged along in a race to the bottom that puts profits before people.
Before we move to the closing speeches, I want to say that two members—Neil Findlay and Christina McKelvie—who took part in the debate are not back in the chamber. No doubt they will send an appropriate note to the Presiding Officers with sound reasons for their absence. I see that Ms McKelvie has just entered the chamber, so I remove her from that. However, it is disappointing that Mr Findlay, who took an active part in the debate, has not bothered to come for the summing up. I would like to hear what he has to say by way of an apology to the Presiding Officers.16:31
I declare my associate membership of the National Union of Journalists and, for completeness, the fact that my party is a tenant of the STUC.
Difficult though it was to restrain the instinct to intervene or heckle for seven minutes, I congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on making her first speech.
Jamie Hepburn said that the Scottish Government seeks to protect the rights of all workers and ensure that they are in practice able to access their rights. We should acknowledge that we are still a significant distance away from that being a reality for all people working in Scotland, whether we choose to blame the UK Government or take responsibility here. The Scottish Government should at least be commended for some of the basic facts of reality, such as the distinction between the Conservatives’ fake living wage and the real living wage or the Government’s acceptance of the need to place an expectation on employers about certain standards of ethical behaviour in the way they treat their workers.
As I have argued in the past, however, we can do a lot more, and we hope that the Scottish Government will support our amendment so that that will happen. We can add conditionality to the provision of taxpayer-funded support services, such as grant and loan schemes, to ensure that they require companies to sign up to a basic ethical standard. Many of us recognise that, although there has been little progress on the business pledge, it has potential. I found it strange to hear Conservative members most happily pointing out how few businesses are choosing to sign up to that ethical standard of treatment. If they acknowledge that very few businesses are willing by choice to sign up to the standards, they make the case for a greater level of compulsion, or at least for conditionality.
I am not sure that Mr Harvie has actually read the business pledge, which is vague and unclear as to what businesses are signing up to. Someone who is in business would be very reluctant to sign up to it, because it is nonsensical.
I have made many suggestions and I will make more to give the business pledge additional teeth and clarity. I look forward to hearing Dean Lockhart’s enthusiastic support for those proposals, on issues such as maximum tax compliance, the avoidance of any use of tax havens and low pay ratios between the lowest and highest-paid employees in an organisation. Those additions to the business pledge would give it additional teeth and reality.
The Conservatives say that they are lifting the lowest-paid workers out of tax by increasing the personal tax allowance, despite the reality that the bulk of the cost of that policy to the taxpayer and the Exchequer goes on high-income households and the lowest earners in our society gain nothing at all from it. The Conservatives’ latest ploy is to give workers the freedom to go for a whole year without any pay in order to look after family members who have been ignored and abandoned by the social care system. They say that, in future, EU rights at work will be protected. Graham Simpson says that the Prime Minister has made that commitment but, as we heard just a moment ago, this is the Prime Minister who flip-flopped on Brexit, flip-flopped on an election, flip-flopped on social care and flip-flopped on support for child refugees, so we know precisely how strong and stable the Prime Minister is and it is not particularly impressive.
That commitment sits uneasily with what we have heard from other Conservative voices at UK level. Philip Davies, for example, has said repeatedly, year after year, that disabled people should be paid less than the minimum wage. Others, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, have called for a slashing of environmental and safety standards, and Ms Leadsom—what is her name? Whatever her name is, Ms Leadsom, a cabinet minister, said:
“I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights—for the smallest companies that are trying to get off the ground, in order to give them a chance.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 10 May 2012; Vol 545, c 209.]
They might well have a chance, but what chance would their employees have, stripped of every single one of those rights that Andrea Leadsom wishes to remove from them?
Finally, on Brexit, when capital is free to move but people are not free to move, that can be a recipe only for even deeper labour market exploitation than we see in today’s economy.
I hope that the Green case for additional requirements on the Government’s support services to companies, and for ensuring that we address the condition of workers in what is coming to be called the gig economy, will get support from across the chamber. In one of the early Green debates during my first session in the Parliament, we were making the case for wider economic measures beyond gross domestic product, looking at quality of life, and I remember a Labour MSP—although it could have come from any party in the chamber—saying that having a job gives people dignity and that having money gives them quality of life. The notion that employment or work is the best or only route out of poverty is not enough unless we ensure that that work is decent, secure, safe, healthy to do and provided by an employer that respects family life.
Murdo Fraser told us about the good record that this country has on industrial relations. What he means is that we have fewer strikes. Where workers are punished, as they are today, for organising in unions, unable to take collective action, that is not an expression of good industrial relations. Rather, it represents successful industrial exploitation. It is not just the Trade Union Act 2016 but the actions of companies in the gig economy that are making that a reality, as the slaveroo campaign and the better than zero campaign are making clear. There has been greater progress towards workers’ rights, and it can be achieved by Government action, but the lesson of history suggests that it is unlikely that that route alone will ever be enough, unless the option exists for people to organise together and take collective industrial action in defence of their interests.
I support the amendment in Andy Wightman’s name.16:38
I congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on what I thought was a very accomplished first speech. I look forward to hearing more of her speeches in the months ahead.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, especially my trade union membership of the GMB and Unite.
We need to contemplate what faces us over the next eight days, because on one side we have a party that is prepared to marshal all the apparatus of the state—Parliament, the judiciary and the courts—to close down legitimate and democratic trade union activity. I could be talking about the Combination Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries, or the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927. I could, for Murdo Fraser’s benefit, be talking about the miners’ strike 30 years ago—and I hope that people do not forget the brutality of those years or the de-industrialisation from which many of our communities have never recovered. However, for the avoidance of doubt, let me say that I am describing the Trade Union Act 2016, which came into force in this country just 90 days ago. The ink is not yet dry on the latest in a long line of crude attempts by Tory Governments down the years to suppress the rights and aspirations of working people and so to secure, through legislative means—and I do not use this term lightly—the domination of one class by the other.
I say to the SNP members who have spoken in this debate on workers’ rights that the real division in society is not between Scotland and England but between those who own the wealth and those who, through their hard work and endeavour, create the wealth. That is the real division.
That is why democratic socialist solutions are more relevant now than they ever were. It is also the reason why nationalism, as a political creed, is a wholly insufficient answer. It is why, in the Labour amendment, we are critical of the Scottish Government’s approach in relying on voluntary agreements through the Scottish business pledge, which exposes the insufficiency of the Government’s political thinking in graphic economic practice.
If the member is concerned about a voluntary approach, can he definitively confirm that the Labour Party now supports the devolution of employment law to this place? If that is the case, why did Labour not support it at the time of the Smith commission?
We are interested in seeing what will happen to the rights that will be repatriated from Europe. Where it is appropriate that they come here, they should come here—[Interruption.] I understand that the minister wants them all to be repatriated here; that has been his stance as an SNP minister—
What is Labour’s stance?
Our stance is that power should be taken to the level at which it is most appropriate for it to be exercised.
Let me return to the Tories. Members should not be deceived by what they have heard this afternoon. They should not be deceived into thinking that the Tories can be trusted with working people’s rights, when the Tory amendment says that rights will be protected
“at the point at which the UK leaves the EU”.
That gives the game away, because the Tories fail, once again, to reveal precisely how long that protection will last. The intention of the Tories today is, as it has always been, to try to con people into allowing the rich to rule the roost and continue to get richer at the expense of working people.
I am grateful to the Scottish Government for bringing this debate, because over the next eight days we need to consider the impact of Brexit and the future of workers’ rights. Many working people benefit from provisions, rights and protections that emanate from Europe, so the questions for people to consider are these: is the future of workers’ rights safe in the hands of the party that introduced employment tribunal fees, to deny access to justice? Are those rights safe in the hands of the party that is denying access to justice for working people who are injured at work? It is doing that because, in the words of Lord Young of Graffham,
“The aim is to free businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens”.
Is the future of workers’ rights safe in the hands of a party that has already set out, in technicolour, through the Archer review for the Department for Work and Pensions, suggestions for streamlining occupational safety and health, including proposals to repeal legislation on chemical agents, safety signs, display screen equipment, risk assessments and much more? The Tories are in favour of low taxes and “better regulation”, which we all know means lower regulation and deregulation.
Are workers’ rights safer in the hands of a party that puts jobs and the economy, workers’ rights and health and safety first and that will repeal the Trade Union Act 2016, abolish all employment tribunal fees, introduce a £10-an-hour real living wage for everyone who is 18 and over, ban zero-hours contracts, legislate for equal rights for all workers from day 1 and—I say to Joan McAlpine—introduce sectoral-level collective bargaining? That is the question that we need to answer.
Trade unions are a social and economic force. They are at their best when they are not just negotiating the best deal for their members but looking to change the social and economic system in which their members work. Over the next eight days, people will need to consider whether they want to subscribe to the social doctrine that the poor can be left behind or want to be part of a society in which the condition of each of us becomes the concern of all of us—a society with a more equitable distribution of not just wealth but power. That is a future worth fighting for.16:44
The United Kingdom stands as a global leader on workers’ rights, which means that Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is also at the forefront.
Today, we have achieved consensus on support for workers’ rights and respect for trade unions. Jamie Hepburn spoke about “inclusive economic growth”, which we also support. In closing, it would be helpful if the Government would reflect on what more it could do to utilise public sector procurement and taxpayer investment in companies where potentially workers’ rights are not protected in the manner in which chamber would see fit—a point made by Mike Rumbles and Jackie Baillie.
Jackie Baillie also highlighted the point that growing the economy should not be at the expense of the workforce, with which we on these benches agree. Andy Wightman highlighted issues around the gig economy and a lack of workers’ rights in that particular area. Murdo Fraser gave an historical analysis, showing how overpowered trade unions in the 1970s almost brought this nation to its knees and how we now enjoy strong and stable industrial relations—although Neil Findlay made it clear that he wants to take us back to the 1970s, when the UK was the sick person of Europe.
I also pay tribute to a magnificent maiden speech from Michelle Ballantyne, who brings a wealth of experience from the health sector and business to the chamber. I look forward to further contributions from her in due course.
As we leave the EU, it is worth remembering that it has been because of successive British Governments of all stripes that we have such strong employment rights. Our commitment to workers’ rights traces its roots to before our membership of the European Union, with legislation on equal pay and to ban race discrimination. The fact is that Britain regularly gives workers more than the European Union’s minimum standards: more statutory annual leave, more paternity leave and more flexibility around sharing paternity leave.
Everything that Maurice Golden listed was introduced by a Labour Government and resisted by Tory politicians across the piece. If we are in the unfortunate situation of tedious Theresa getting back into power, we will see workers’ rights rolled back even further. Is it not the case that, for working people, the best thing to do is to vote Labour next week?
I wonder if there is an election going on.
Mr Findlay should have reflected on my earlier words about Governments “of all stripes”, but I make it clear, also, that the UK Government is going to extend workers’ rights more than any Government has done before.
On Neil Findlay’s earlier point about Attlee’s commitment to building houses, I wonder why he did not reflect on the last Labour Government’s housebuilding plans for council houses: during the entire new Labour period in office, it built fewer council houses than were built in one single year of Margaret Thatcher’s Government. There is Labour’s record in office for all to see.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that the rights that we have built up over decades will be protected. All existing EU law will be converted into UK law, and all workers’ rights will still be in force.
Maintaining workers’ rights is one thing, but the Prime Minister has put herself on the side of working people by setting out how she will strengthen their rights, including through the right to bereavement leave, the right to time off for training, the right to representation on company boards and the right for every employee to receive information on key decisions. Those measures are important, because we want to see better relations between employers and employees.
Will the member give way?
I need to make some progress.
We recognise that trade unions play an important role in the process and that trade unionists work hard for their members, but we must ensure that trade union bosses are also working in the best interests of workers and are not intertwined with one particular political party.
As a member of Unite, I might have been at the same trade union meeting as Neil Findlay at some point and I have received support and advice from trade union colleagues, which I value. Trade unions are at their best when they are standing up for workers and when they represent the many, not the few. Unfortunately, the trade union elite are determined to pursue a narrow political agenda that can, at times, be to the detriment of workers. We need to move forward, which is why we want to ensure that hardworking people are protected from undemocratic strike action. Increased ballot thresholds, a greater notice period and a sensible ballot mandate will all help to ensure that strikes are legitimate, for the benefit of all workers.
Underlying all that is our commitment to increase the national living wage in line with median earnings until the end of the next Parliament.
Ultimately, the value that the UK Conservative Government will bring will mean more rights, more protection, more money and a plan that puts workers first.
Will the member give way?
The member is in his very last second.
That is what the Conservatives are delivering for hardworking families.
While other parties gripe and groan about leaving the EU, we see the opportunity to safeguard and strengthen workers’ rights. While they scheme and scaremonger for political advantage, we grow the economy. That is what the UK Government has been delivering, and that is what the SNP Government should be delivering.16:52
I thank all the members who have contributed to this important debate. In particular, I thank Michelle Ballantyne, who gave an interesting and articulate speech. I particularly liked the quote that she read out about the fact that although we will not agree on everything, we should respect each other—I certainly agree with that. I also congratulate her on her political legacy. She might be surprised to hear me say that, given that she has just joined this Parliament but, having stood 43 years ago for what I think she called the litter-picking party, she will have rejoiced at the recent success of the Rubbish Party in the East Ayrshire Council election. I welcome Michelle to the Parliament.
Despite that, this is an important debate. Basic questions arise for people, such as, “Will my job be safe? Will I be able to get a job? Are my rights protected? What avenues of recourse are available when things do go wrong?” That is why we have brought the debate to the Parliament.
We are passionately committed to protecting workers’ rights. We believe that every worker should be treated fairly and equally and that they deserve the right to safe, secure, well-paid work with statutory benefits and protections.
Research shows that fair work can not only reduce absenteeism, improve staff morale and promote loyalty but have wider impacts, such as improving people’s health and wellbeing. For example, Family Friendly Working Scotland reports that 65 per cent of employers indicate that flexible working has a positive effect on recruitment and retention. Just last month, the Poverty Alliance issued the results of a living wage poll in which eight out of 10 respondents said that being paid a real living wage—not the national living wage—would make them feel more valued at work, 74 per cent said that they would be more committed to a job, and 66 per cent said that they would be more productive at work. That is the message that I and my colleagues are taking to businesses. Paying the living wage is as much in their interest as it is in their employees’ interests.
There are many examples of Scotland-based companies seeing such approaches deliver real benefits. This month, I visited the 800th Scotland-based living wage accredited employer, which is Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh. That was a real milestone for fair pay in Scotland. Of course, out of all the countries in the UK, Scotland has the highest proportion of people who are paid the living wage. That point has not been made so far in the debate, and it is very important.
The Scottish Government believes that every worker is entitled to a wage that at least covers the cost of living and does not stagnate. That is the only way that we can secure fair work and fair pay for all. We can only do that to the greatest extent possible if employment law is devolved to Scotland.
I would also like to consider what happens when workers are subjected to treatment that is not in keeping with our fair work ideals and that breaches their basic employment rights. We vehemently objected to the UK Government’s introduction of fees for employment tribunals. We recognise that the fees could be a real and, in some cases, insurmountable financial barrier to legitimate claims, which is why we have opted to abolish fees for employment tribunals once we are clear how the transfer of powers and responsibilities will work.
A great deal has been mentioned about trade unions. We believe that strong trade unions play a hugely important role in securing and delivering protections for workers and, like many other members, I am a former trade union member and shop steward. Research shows that a low level of union membership reduces pay not just for union members, but across society.
I return to particular comments that have been made this afternoon about trade unions. We opposed the UK Trade Union Act 2016. The legislation represents a direct threat to unions, to the fundamental rights of workers and to the collaborative approach that we take in Scotland. To reiterate, we support the immediate repeal of the legislation.
In relation to abolition of the act, Graham Simpson said that we should be careful what we wish for and that we would be blighted by huge amounts of industrial unrest. He should do a bit of research before making such statements as, if he or the UK Government had done so, they would have found that statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that the level of industrial dispute in Scotland decreased significantly, by 77 per cent, in the period from 2007 to 2015. From that, it is clear that working with trade unions and treating them with respect is the way to reduce industrial tensions, not introducing negative legislation such as the Trade Union Act 2016.
On other aspects that Conservative members raised, there was no answer from two Conservative spokespeople—I am happy to give way if they would like to intervene—on whether they thought that it was right to charge between £1,000 and £2,000 for the skills charge, which is a tax on employers for employing someone from a particular background. There was no answer on that—whether in relation to fair work, equality or it being good for business—so we have to assume that they support the measure that the UK Government has brought in.
The Conservatives also remained silent on their abortive attempt to introduce increases in national insurance contributions for the self-employed and whether it is the UK Government’s intention to bring that in after the election; and they have not said enough about the employment tribunal charges that I mentioned.
They did, however, mention the importance of a good economy, but it was a one-sided and partial account. There was an absurd mention by Dean Lockhart of a deficit of £15 billion in Scotland—we have no deficit; we balance our budget every year. The UK Government has a national debt of £1.8 trillion—
Dean Lockhart rose—
If I can just finish. It has gone up by £100 billion every year since the Tories got into power. Is Dean Lockhart going to apologise for that?
No. I am going to ask the cabinet secretary what the “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” numbers indicate. A few weeks ago in this chamber, the First Minister stood by the GERS numbers as showing what the notional budget deficit looks like in the Scottish finances. We need a strong economy to support and protect workers’ rights, so is the cabinet secretary concerned that the economy in Scotland is halfway to recession?
In the space of one speech, we have moved from a “budget deficit” to a “notional budget deficit”. That is how the Conservatives play the game—they change the terms the whole time. Of course, there was no mention by the Conservatives of the fact that the UK Government has overseen a massive balance of trade deficit, inflation of nearly 3 per cent and higher unemployment in the rest of the UK than here in Scotland. I agree that we need to have a strong economy, but that is not what we have seen.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
I am sorry, I do not have much time left, but I was just about to mention the Greens and, in particular, Andy Wightman, who talked about wannabe hipsters. I must admit that between Green wannabe hipsters and blue wannabe UKIPers, it was hard to keep up to speed with what was going on.
We heard from Neil Findlay about the minimum wage, which was important, and he mentioned the SNP MPs’ support for that. It is also important to mention that it is the SNP that has achieved the 80 per cent level of payment of the living wage here in Scotland.
While we are trying to make party-political points, where were the Labour Party MPs in the Smith commission when they were asked to support the devolution of employment law to Scotland? They stood with the Tories on that, just as Labour stands with the Tories in West Lothian, as Neil Findlay knows. He will know, too, that the Labour Party-run councils in Glasgow and South Lanarkshire have failed to pay equal pay to many of their female employees. I will take no lessons from Neil Findlay.
The Conservatives’ manifesto states that they would double the immigration skills charge, which is a levy on employers. That will help to destroy the economy and will take away the growth that we want to see. Members will share my concern that it will make it more difficult and expensive for employers in Scotland to recruit the best individuals who they require for their businesses.
Going forward, how can we guarantee the employment rights of migrant workers in Scotland? I ask Richard Leonard how internationalist it is to want to penalise people from other countries by preventing them from having freedom of movement. That is not an internationalist perspective and it does not bolster Richard Leonard’s arguments in favour of the Labour Party. Richard Leonard made a point about the division between Scotland and England, but his party supports an end to freedom of movement, which will impact on workers’ rights across the whole of the UK and the rest of Europe.
The Prime Minister called a general election to strengthen the grip of the Tory party, but its campaign has highlighted fundamental flaws in policies that really matter to workers, such as the minimum wage.
We believe that having the full range of employment powers and the support of the majority of members would lead us to take a different and distinctly Scottish approach to protecting workers’ rights.
We will support the Labour Party’s amendment and the Green Party’s amendment. I urge all members to support them and the Government’s motion, and to support the transfer of powers over employment to Scotland.