Earlier this month I took part in a debate at Holyrood on ‘protecting employee rights and access to justice.’
There is a wide-ranging debate taking place at the moment about the pros and cons of the devolution of employment rights and the potential impact on working people.
As a proud trade unionist, this is something that I care deeply about.
And as Scottish Labour’s Shadow Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment, I was pleased to be able to outline the party’s historical commitment to protecting employee rights and access to justice, as well as setting out what action we believe the Scottish Government needs to be taking in Scotland today in order to preserve these rights.
The Tory Government’s latest proposals to curtail the rights of trade unions are truly abhorrent and do not belong in a democratic society.
Their plans to raise the threshold for key public sector industrial action are an example of this. Higher turnouts in industrial ballots are as desirable as higher turnouts in any other democratic election, but this approach makes no attempt to support overdue reforms.
One reform that I would support would be the introduction of online balloting.
This could attract more people to vote in strike ballots and therefore create the outcomes that the UK Government tells us it so desperately wants.
The Scottish Government would like more powers to be devolved to this Parliament, but its record in disputes that deal with public sector contracts cannot be characterised as anything other than woeful.
This can be shown by their inaction in the cases of the NHS Tayside porters and at the National Museums Scotland.
The Scottish Government has been posted missing in these disputes, so what would the new powers that it so desperately wants for the Scottish Parliament do to help in these situations?
The Government does not use the powers that it already has to resolve significant workplace problems.
One of the finest characteristics of the trade union movement is the collective responsibility that workers throughout the UK feel for those who find themselves in such disputes.
This was most evident during the miners’ strike of 1984-85, which still stains the very fabric of industrial relations in our country.
During my speech, I reiterated Scottish Labour’s call for a public inquiry in the policing of the strike.
Let us be clear that the Scottish Government has the power to do that but, until now, it has lacked the will.
We should remember that people were persecuted for simply taking up their democratic right to strike. I hope that those people get the access to justice that the Scottish Government so desperately wants for others.
Previously, the Government has said that guidance that is linked to public procurement was the way to ensure that no company that is involved in the shameful practice of blacklisting would be awarded a Government contract.
However, the NHS Common Services Agency has awarded a £660 million contract to a consortium of contractors that were involved in the blacklisting scandal. The contract was awarded after the introduction of the Scottish Government’s policy note, so it is clear that the note is not worth the paper that it is written on.
The scandal first came to light in 2009, yet we are still waiting for the Government to grant access to justice for the workers and to establish an inquiry into the practices.
I also called on the Scottish Government to use the powers that it currently has with regard to the living wage.
They have now voted against our proposals on that extremely important matter a total of five times.
We have called on the Scottish Government to establish a unit within Government to actively promote the living wage, and this is something I would be happy to work with them on.
Additional powers are already coming to Scotland regarding employment tribunals.
The introduction of fees has led to an 81% decrease in the number of claim cases, and women have borne the brunt of it.
I believe that these additional powers will give us the opportunity to withdraw the fees that are levied on people who wish to exercise their democratic right, but I also believe that it is an opportunity to reshape the future of the service.
I welcome the debate on where responsibility for employment legislation should be held. However, I do not believe that the Scottish Government has done nearly enough with the powers that it currently has and we urge it to commit to giving workers the access to justice that they require and deserve.
The Government can and should do that now.
You can read my speech in full here.