THE UK Government’s “draconian” anti-strike law has passed its first hurdle and is now on its way to the House of Lords - but what does it mean for Scottish workers and devolution?

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), spoke to The National and gave her assessment of the legislation and what impact it will have on trade union’s ability to organise if it becomes law.

She raised concerns over the repercussions the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will have for devolution and called on the Scottish Government to guarantee they will resist the legislation at all costs.

And she raised the possibility the bill could be faced with a legal challenge, when - or if - it becomes law. 

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Read below to find out all you need to know about the Tories controversial anti-strike bill.

What does the anti-strike bill do?

THE legislation allows UK ministers to set “minimum service levels” within certain sectors - health, education, fire and rescue, border force, and nuclear decommissioning.

However, the bill itself does not set out what exactly those minimum levels are, something Foyer described as a “serious issue”.

She said: “The minimum standards that are required across different areas are best determined by local management and their employees, these things are best determined on the ground.

“What the bill’s actually going to do is give an incredible amount of power to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State at [the Department for Business], who's basically going to be able to determine minimum service levels across a whole range of public services.”

Foyer added that it was “debatable” whether the service areas picked by the UK Government count as emergency, but added that Shapps will be the one to determine the minimum service levels “not the employers or the workforce”.

The National: The bill will give the Business Secretary powers to set minimum service levels in certain sectorsThe bill will give the Business Secretary powers to set minimum service levels in certain sectors

“We could end up with a situation where the minimum standard is actually higher than the standard of service on a daily basis,” Foyer added.

“As we know after 10 years of Tory austerity, attacking our public services, the real people that should be taking a long look at themselves in terms of maintaining minimum standards are this Tory government.

“Not the hard working people who work in those services, and who as well as trying to make sure that they get a decent level of pay and conditions are also actually in many cases striking and campaigning for more sustainable resources so that they can do their job properly within those services.”

What impact will the anti-strike bill have for workers in Scotland?

Shapps will effectively be able to name who is allowed to take strike action and who isn’t, Foyer said.

She added: “There's a real, real slap in the face for workers who were on the frontline during the pandemic, who put themselves and the families at risk to give us key essential public services.

“These workers are now being told that they may be sacked for taking lawful industrial action.

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“That is a situation that we can countenance and we're going to fight this attack on workers' rights every single step of the way.

“What it means [for Scotland] is that the Secretary of State Grant Shapps down in the UK Government is going to get to determine, over and above the heads of Scottish ministers, standard levels in devolved areas like health, areas of local government and education.

“These areas and the service that's given within them should be, as is our devolution settlement, these should be determined by Scottish ministers and the Scottish Government.”

What consequences does the legislation have for Scottish devolution?

Since Brexit, numerous pieces of legislation have started to “undermine devolution”, with the anti-strikes bill the latest on the list, Foyer explained.

“I would see this as part of a pattern,” she said. “I think there's a complete disregard by our current UK Government, Section 35 that we saw that used for the first time the other week, we've seen a whole range of things around contracting and procurement.

“These are the sorts of things that really are starting to eat into the devolution settlement, and I would like to see that being stood against and fought back against.”

The STUC boss said she would be seeking guarantees from the Scottish Government that they will “do everything within their power to resist and not implement this draconian legislation”.

She said: “It goes against everything that they're trying to achieve in terms of becoming a fair work world leader by 2025, which is their stated aim.

“They also have an aim to achieve more collective bargaining coverage here in Scotland, for example, which is really undermined by pieces of legislation like this.

“And regardless of whether employment law is devolved or not at the moment, as I said before, when you're talking about areas of service delivery that are devolved then our view as you know, and I'm sure the Scottish Government will agree with us, that it's really for Scottish ministers to determine service standards across areas like health, education and other areas that are devolved to Scotland.”

Foyer also said the STUC is calling for a manifesto commitment from Labour ahead of the next General Election to devolve employment law to the Scottish Parliament.

Northern Ireland, where employment law is devolved, “haven’t had to deal with any of this”, Foyer added. 

How will trade unions and the right to strike be affected?

Foyer also set out how details of the bill which allows employers to give a “work notice” to a trade union in relation to a strike, could stifle union’s abilities to organise industrial action. The legislation allows employers to name individual staff who must attend work on planned strike dates.

She explained: “There are real dangers of potential victimisation of trade union members, activists and reps.

“If you're getting down to producing a list of named individuals in that manner, who can and who can’t participate, you can see how that could be used tactically in the wrong hands to undermine strike action if key activists were being told that they're the ones who have to be in work.

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“It takes a lot of power away from trade unions on the ground. All that's going to do is make disputes even longer, even more protracted, add an extra layer of argument to a dispute and actually make it harder for workers and management to come together to resolve disputes.”

Foyer added that workers and management should be talking to each other about the “substantive issues” causing the strike, not what is and isn’t allowed under the Tory bill.

Does the STUC share concerns that the legislation will rip up protections against fair dismissal?

Foyer said the STUC “absolutely” shares concerns with the Labour party that the legislation will allow employers to sack staff, and says ultimately the bill is “bad for ordinary working people”.

She said: “Anything that a government does that takes away the power or potential power of a group of workers to negotiate with an employer is bad for terms and conditions of employment more widely.

“And then any measures that make it more frightening to take industrial action, or more likely that you may not have as strong employment rates, or maybe sacked or something like that, all of these things are just added, and designed frankly, to create that fear factor that the government wants to create.

“Ultimately we need ordinary working people to come together and stand up against this and say enough is enough. The key solution we need is for people to vote the Tories out of power at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The National: Foyer called on Labour to commit to devolving employment law to Scotland in their next manifestoFoyer called on Labour to commit to devolving employment law to Scotland in their next manifesto (Image: PA)

Will the bill face a legal challenge if it becomes law? And what comes next?

Trade unions are already planning to challenge the legislation if it becomes law, with concerns that the move may be illegal because it would “contravene worker's human rights”. Foyer said the UK-wide TUC and affiliates down south are “working on putting a case together”.

She explained: “That’s because we believe that this is quite possibly illegal what they’re attempting to do here because it contravenes workers' human rights.

“That aside I think workers will challenge this by just continuing to take action where action is necessary.

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“Everything they've thrown at us so far we have overcome as a movement. This is a government that has an ideology. It's been trying to destroy unions for decades and workers' rights because it doesn't want people to have the ability to come together and say no, and demand better.”

Foyer noted that the Tories are trying to legislate away the right to strike and the right to protest, and said the message should be that working people are not “slaves of the Tory government”.

“We will fight back no matter what conditions they try and put in our path, no matter what obstacles they throw at us,” she added.

Will the bill stop workers from striking?

Despite the anti-strike bill’s intention to stop the wave of industrial action across the UK as many sectors are set to walk out over pay and conditions, Foyer is adamant it won’t stop workers from exercising their rights.

“I think this bill is just going to galvanise and provoke ordinary working people,” she said.

“We're at a point where we cannot be pushed any further, people are struggling to feed their families, they are struggling to heat their houses.

“We don't have an economy that works for workers and meanwhile we see chancellor’s that are not paying the tax bills properly, we see a billionaire sitting in the Prime Minister’s seat, these people are not in touch with reality or ordinary working people, they’re sucking the profits out of our society and public services.

The National: Foyer said despite the bill's intentions to stop strikes it will 'galvanise' workersFoyer said despite the bill's intentions to stop strikes it will 'galvanise' workers

“Literally we're watching the billionaire and the boss class offshoring the profits that this country is making when they should be reinvested for the good of everyone in our economy.”

Foyer said there needs to be a “radical rethink” about how to build a fair economy for workers.

“The only way we're going to secure that is by being proactive, and making sure we get rid of this Tory government and then we demand better from every other contender,” she added.

The STUC are due to hold a rally in Glasgow on Wednesday as part of a coordinated bid to “protect the right to strike” across the UK, and will feature speakers including SNP Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn.