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Approval for Trade Union Bill denied

Leighton Andrews AM: Trade Union Bill is ‘damaging and divisive’
Leighton Andrews AM: Trade Union Bill is ‘damaging and divisive’
Leighton Andrews AM: Trade Union Bill is ‘damaging and divisive’

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT voted against legislation which will restrict the powers of Trade Unions – but the UK Government has said that it will continue with the bill, making a Supreme Court showdown increasingly likely.

On Tuesday (Jan 26) Labour Plaid and the Liberal Democrats all voted to withhold Assembly approval of parts of the Trade Union Bill.

Among other controversial points, the bill, which was part of the Conservative Government’s manifesto for the General Election, places new restrictions on public sector strikes, requiring 40% of eligible members to vote in favour of industrial action.

As has been pointed out, this would be a larger mandate than that obtained by the current Westminster Government.

Employment law is not a devolved matter, but the Welsh Government claims that because services such as health and education are devolved, that policy relating to these areas should come under Welsh Government control.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has already said that a Labour-led Welsh Government would take steps to repeal the bill in Wales, in the event that Tuesday’s vote was ignored by the UK Government.

It would then become the responsibility of the UK Government to challenge the matter in the Supreme Court, risking a damaging defeat which would raise questions about the legislation in England.

Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews said: “The Bill is damaging, divisive and risks undermining public services and the economy. We believe it will lead to a confrontational relationship between employers and workforce. It contrasts sharply with the constructive social partnership approach in Wales – valuing the workforce, supporting public services and encouraging enterprise. Overall, we believe the Bill is flawed and should not be pursued.”

“Significant parts of the Bill relate specifically to public services which are clearly devolved. It is not acceptable for the UK Government to try to impose it on Wales. Despite repeated attempts to engage with the Prime Minister and the Minister for State Nick Boles MP, our devolved interests have not been recognised.”

Mid and West AM Rebecca Evans added: “Whatever happened to the Prime Minister’s promised “agenda of respect” between the UK Government and Wales? Those were warm words, but they are certainly not matched by actions. It is not acceptable that the UK Government seeks to force a flawed Bill on Wales.

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“In Wales, we value our public service workforce and we know the value of the services that they provide. This Bill seeks to undermine those workers’ rights, and risks needlessly damaging relationships between employers and employees.”

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Leanne Wood AM said: “Plaid Cymru is against the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill and supports partnership instead. Trade unions play an important role and reducing that role will not help working people with pay or with conditions. The bill intrudes on devolution and public services at the very time when the UK Government claims to be delivering further powers to the National Assembly. All sections of society must reject this bill being imposed on Wales.”

Peter Black AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Social Justice Minister, said: “The Tories’ proposals are fundamentally undemocratic and constitute a massive assault on the civil liberties of our workers. We will fight to protect the human rights of workers and ensure their ability to strike and assemble isn’t diminished.

“I’m pleased the Assembly has voted these terrible proposals down. Conservative Ministers now must respect the voice of this Assembly and not force these draconian plans on Welsh workers.”

Tuesday’s vote is not legally binding, and as a consequence, the UK Government will continue with its plans.

During the debate, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives – the only party to vote against the motion – accused rival parties of using the debate for their own political gain.

Andrew RT Davies said he was in favour of the rights of workers but, he added: “Where I will not stand up and support is for Len McCluskey, or his mob, to use you lot to live their ambitions.”

“Where there is a discrepancy I would suggest is where general secretaries of unions choose to live their political dreams on the back of their members’ subs, and that clearly is not acceptable.”

Mr Davies appeared to be referring to plans to abolish the ‘check off’ system, where Union subs are taken directly from wage packets of members. This was recently the subject of a House of Lords vote, in which a Labour amendment to put the matter before a select committee before progressing was passed by 327 votes to 234.