Last week in the Scottish Parliament, I had the chance to discuss workers’ rights and industrial relations.
Now, like many of you I’m sure, when I think back to the 1970s, I think of the hairstyles and the fashions, and I think that it was the decade that common sense forgot, but the thing which makes me think that most of all, is the memory of the industrial relations we experienced, and suffered, during that decade.
I remember only too well the strikes and the picket lines, the three day week, the power cuts and how great industries were brought to their knees.
And all this happened in the 10 years before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and unemployment rose to a peak. In fact, it is no coincidence that these days of industrial unrest preceded the events of the 1980’s because it clearly caused them.
Such industrial relations made the country an economic failure. It was with that in mind that great effort has been put into ensuring that employment rights and access to justice in the workplace are carried out in a way that does not destroy public service or undermine the means of production in this country.
Successive Conservative Governments have established an exceptionally good record on these matters. Our party has sought to liberalise the workplace and to maximise the opportunities available for people to get into work, or back to work. All this has happened against a backdrop of good industrial relations and historically low numbers of days lost to strikes.
It is vital that we recognise the policies which are in place have resulted in 2 million new private sector jobs being created during the last UK Parliament, and that employment in Scotland has increased by 42,000 in the past year alone. High employment rates in the UK and Scotland exist largely because of the UK Government’s fiscal discipline and the robust economic plan that it has stuck to for five years.
The Conservatives support the conclusions of the Smith commission that employment law should remain reserved to the UK Parliament within a UK framework. Of course, the Smith commission recommended that the underlying reserved rights and duties of tribunals should continue to be reserved, while the management and operation of reserved tribunals can be devolved. We need to ensure that that is taken forward and made to work for the benefit of all.
Good relations between employers and employees are good for the workforce, they are also extremely good for the economy. The rights of trade unionists are important, but they require to be balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who, in the past, have often had to pick up the bill.
At that point, the Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment, Annabelle Ewing, felt the need to ask me, “Is the member suggesting that the definition of “hard-working taxpayers” excludes trade unionists? Is that what he is really saying to the people of Scotland today?” Well, no. The minister must realise that we are entirely inclusive in our approach. We are not exclusive and divisive in the way her government chooses to be.
I also agree that businesses should pay a living wage when they can afford to do so. However, if we look at the economy as a whole, we must realise that many small businesses who are also small employers, can find it extremely hard to achieve that objective and we should not bully or cajole businesses into paying the living wage before they are ready, damaging their businesses and threatening jobs in the process.
I welcome the UK Government’s legislation to ban exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts to ensure that workers throughout the UK have a fairer deal and greater flexibility in choosing a work pattern that is suited to their individual needs.
Scotland will be best served by finding a UK-wide way of legislating for employment rights and access to justice. Only two days before, in a debate about our future in the European Union, we heard Government ministers and Scottish National Party back benchers argue the case that we should have European-wide standardisation when it comes to workers’ rights. It is wilfully ignorant to ask for EU-wide standardisation and not understand the benefits of UK-wide standardisation.
As ever, the Nationalists were peddling the myth of Scottish moral superiority as an excuse for simply driving a wedge into the UK’s single workplace.
This is the inevitable outcome of the failure of their socialist philosophy—the economically illiterate and the morally bankrupt re-peddling the myths of the past. Let us grasp the opportunity afforded us by the Conservative Government to take forward the rights of workers, the most important of which is the right to full employment. Are we the only party in Scotland to support that right?