Sometimes when nothing seems to change, despite years of effort, it’s tempting to give up, to resign yourself to a situation and stop trying. It happens to individuals; it happens to groups and to organisations. It’s understandable, and let’s face it, that often suits those in power – wear people down and they can be easier managed.
Last time in my column I talked about workers’ rights that have been eroded over the years by Westminster Governments, greatly accelerated by last year’s Trade Union Act which reduced the collective power of workers. This was passed despite condemnation from opposition parties, from Scotland’s Parliament, and sustained campaigning by Trade Union members.
So, good to see Trade Unions’ fightbacks achieving success recently:
Last week, the Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – unanimously ruled that the UK Government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced fees for Employment Tribunals four years ago – fees of up to £1200!
The UK Government will now have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking their claims to Tribunals since July 2013. That of course doesn’t help the many folk who couldn’t afford to go to Tribunal because of the personal expense; the number of Employment Tribunals dropped dramatically when they introduced these fees. The Scottish Government had long-planned to remove the costs when the powers are transferred to the Scottish Parliament, but I’m happy that it’s happened even sooner.
So, well done UNISON – thanks to the tenacity and commitment of the Union and members, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work no longer has to pay to challenge their employer at Tribunal.
Earlier this year, the Public and Commercial Services Union mounted a judicial review against the UK Government’s decision in November last year to cut redundancy payments for civil servants. The Government chose to slash civil service redundancy pay by about 30%, only six years after the current civil service redundancy scheme was introduced in 2010! This affects many, many workers, across the public services.
High Court judges found that the UK Government Minister had failed in his legal “duty to consult with a view to reaching agreement”. PCS should have been involved all along so that they could represent their members, but were barred. The UK Government may try and overturn the ruling through the Court of Appeal, or consult on a new redundancy scheme, but surely this time they won’t just ride roughshod over workers’ rights. Well done PCS, standing up for their members and refusing to be bullied.
Both of these cases show just how important Trade Unions are – without them, the UK Government would just be able to steamroller even more unfair policies. I am sure that the Trade Unions generally will support the proposed legislation of my Westminster SNP colleague, Chris Stephens MP, on Fair Rights at Work.
Locally, I am impressed by the local PCS branch – their “Stay in EK” campaign to keep HMRC in the town is excellent, tying in with the recent report by PCS Scotland “Fighting for Tax Jobs, Fighting for Tax Justice”. This report shows the error of the UK Government’s proposals to centralise the tax service and details the potential damage to both East Kilbride and Scotland. I’m pushing for a debate on this when we get back to Parliament – to raise awareness and keep the importance of the EK jobs on the agenda. Never give up!
Talking of persistence, over many, many years: I was at the East Kilbride Peace Tree on Churchill Avenue on Sunday, along with many others, marking the 72nd Anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a thoughtful gathering to remember those affected by war. I hear there may be plans to re-establish an East Kilbride Branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). All the best to those involved – more power to your collective elbows!