Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Trade Union Bill: Senedd picks a fight

(Pic : Wales Online)

The latest - and slightly controversial - Welsh law was introduced by Finance & Local Government Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) earlier this week.

The Trade Union (Wales) Bill is one of the shortest pieces of legislation introduced in the Assembly at 4 pages long (pdf); explanatory memorandum here (pdf).

In January 2016, the Senedd voted by 43 to 13 to reject a legislative consent motion (LCM) on the UK Government's Trade Union Bill in devolved areas (Assembly rejects Trade Union Bill).

The Bill introduced this week makes a number of amendments to the (UK's) Trade Union Act 2016 and, subsequently, amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. I've outlined what the Welsh Government intend to remove below.

It's estimated the Bill will cost public bodies (including, presumably, the Assembly and Welsh Government) £486,000 in legal familiarisation costs and potentially increasing working days lost to strike action as a result of a disapplication of the 40% support threshold.

In terms of benefits/savings, they're estimated at £858,000 over five years due to the scrapping of reporting requirements for facility time, officials etc. The potential for better industrial relations and a reduced risk of strikes also presents an unquantifiable benefit.

So the Welsh Government estimates their Bill will have a net positive benefit of £384,000 over five years.

You would assume this will have Plaid Cymru's support (and Lib Dem backing by default), but opposition will be stronger than the Fourth Assembly due to UKIP. As you may have noted yesterday, the Conservatives are putting up stiff opposition themselves, leading to - at points - angry exchanges that verged on chest-beating between the First Minister and Andrew RT Davies.

This Bill is certain to be passed, it's a question of what happens next?

It's a racing certainty to end up in the Supreme Court and it's likely to be the first test of the Wales Act - which was given the Assembly's OK yesterday. The UK Government fired a shot across the Welsh Government's bows by talking up how industrial relations laws are non-devolved.

The 1992 Act (alongside all other trade union legislation and employment law) is specifically included as a reserved matter in Section H1 of the Wales Bill/soon-to-be Wales Act. One interpretation is that this means the Welsh Government won't have the ability to legislate or make policy in areas relating to industrial relations despite the LCM vote last term.

The Welsh Government have been careful not to tread too far into non-devolved territory (and, as said, have a mandate due to the rejection of the LCM last year). They've carefully confined their 1992 Act amendments to areas which are devolved - like their proposal to overturn the 40% rule for key workers (health, education, fire services).

All of the other measures in the UK's Trade Union Act – supervision of picket lines, a minimum 50% turn out requirement in ballots for industrial action, two week notice periods ahead of a strike, unions being required to publish political expenditure, and the automatic expiration of a strike mandate at 6-9 months (after which another ballot needs to be held to continue a strike) – will remain in force in Wales and there's nothing AMs can do about it....

....apart from, you know, this thing.


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