The Trade Union Bill Debate
Plenary Tuesday 09 May 201715:12:16
Spoken Contribution – 15:12:16
The Trade Union Bill that the Welsh Government has brought here to debate today is a piece of legislation that has been scrutinised at some length in the Equalities and Local Government Committee, of which I’m a member, as well as the constitutional committee, of which I’m not, so I can only talk about it from the side of the committee I am on.
We heard a lot of evidence, and a clear consensus did emerge on both the employers and the unions’ side in favour of this Bill. UKIP broadly supports this Bill as we believe it does further the cause of improving working conditions in Wales, which is a laudable aim. Of course, we should strive to improve working conditions for all workers, not just the ones in the public sector, who happen to be in trade unions. But there is no logical sense in deliberately worsening conditions for the public sector workers, and a worsening of conditions is what the Minister, Mark Drakeford, has told us will happen if the Conservative Government’s UK legislation is not repealed. Nearly all of the witness we heard in committee tended to concur with this view, including, notably, the employers themselves.
There was an issue over legal competence. Did the Assembly rightly have legal competence over employment practices in the Welsh public sector, or did competence rightly lie with Westminster? Well, the committee was assured by Mark Drakeford that there was a strong legal case that the competence lay here. So, we in UKIP have taken him in good faith, and we backed the Bill on that basis, although, ultimately, it may be the courts who decide who is right.
What wasn’t really mentioned in the committee stage and hasn’t really cropped up today was that the Conservatives’ UK Trade Union Act, passed last year, is all a bit of a red herring. The original intention behind the Act was to cut off some of the funding for the Labour Party from the unions. But because Theresa May wanted Labour support over Brexit, this part of the Bill was kept from the legislation eventually passed by Westminster. What we were left with was a series of quibbles over things like facility time, the check-off and the turn-out threshold for legal strike ballots. In our view, workers should have the legal right to strike if a ballot has been won, and should not be constrained by some arbitrarily set threshold. Facility time, probably, in general allows union reps to deal with worker management issues before they come to strikes—a point that Hannah Blythyn made when this subject was first debated, and she’s made effectively again today. Facility time, if it could be calculated, probably saves public money, and also, in this respect, aids the delivery of public services. What we don’t want to do now is waste time by endlessly trying to record, minute and calculate facility time. This would actually constitute a real waste of public money. The check-off is simply an automatic deduction from a worker’s salary—little difference, in essence, from any other deduction. Nobody from the employers’ side in the committee hearings expressed any desire to end or limit the check-off. So, in summary, we support the principle of workers’ rights, and we also support the effective delivery of public services. We think this Bill will aid both, so we support the general principles of the Bill.