EIS members on a picket line recently outside Vale of Leven Academy.

Industrial relations

SNP praised for attack on unpaid work but then slated by council trade unions

By Bill Heaney

March 11, 2018 – Companies such as hotels, public houses and cafes which are said to be the biggest culprits, may soon no longer be allowed to employ staff on unpaid trial shifts.

SNP MP Stewart McDonald is leading the campaign to outlaw it this week in a House of Commons debate.

A huge petition with the support of 120,000 people has urged the government to introduce a new law which would ban ruthless businesses from forcing people to work for free for up to 40 hours in ‘trial shifts’, with no guarantee of a job at the end.

“If thousands more of us join they won’t be able to ignore us. As soon as we reach 150,000, we’ll deliver the petition to Westminster,” a spokesperson for the petition organisers 38 Degrees said on Sunday.

Stewart McDonald MP SNP

Glasgow MP McDonald (pictured) said: “Only with enough MPs present and voting in favour of the Bill can we have any hope of turning it into law.

“The influence that 38 Degrees members and supporters have really gets the attention of MPs and the wider public. Together we can end unpaid trial shifts.”

The petition states: “This is exploitation. Ruthless businesses are telling people they have to work for free for up to 40 hours as a ‘trial shift’ before they can get a job. And people who are desperate for work are doing these shifts for no pay, with the hope of a job at the end. It’s shocking, but right now it’s completely legal.

“We all want to know that the hard-working people who serve us in cafes and restaurants are paid and treated well. Right now, that isn’t always the case, but together we can make sure that people are always paid for the work they do.”

The new legislation would make sure trial shifts pay at least the minimum wage.

This new law is being proposed as a “Private Members’ Bill”. It’s a parliamentary procedure that lets backbench MPs propose new laws, independent of the government’s plans.

This means that it’s left up to each individual MP to decide whether or not to support it.

So far, lots of SNP, Labour and Conservative MPs have said they’ll back this new law – but not enough to get it passed yet.

38 Degrees members have taken action on issues like this before – and won.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Worker is carrying a story attacking the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council for what it calls “an anti-union onslaught”.

The article says the SNP council “has begun scandalous moves to decimate trade union facility time for its workers.

“Justifying this Tory-like attack on trade union representation, the council claimed it had carried out an on-line survey of employees that showed a majority did not believe they were well served by their trade unions. However, only 500 of the 5,500-council staff took part in the survey, and of those a mere 347 – 6% of the workforce – “responded negatively to the skewed internet survey”.

It added: “The initial proposal was to cut the 3.5 full time union conveners to one. The unions involved are Unison, GMB, Unite and the EIS.”

A joint trade union statement claimed: “This is a direct attack on the democracy of the trade unions and will undermine our efforts to represent our members.

“We have no confidence in the consultation and we do not accept that this is a fair representation of our membership.

“The SNP have been dishonest in their approach and their commitment to support the trade unions and to adopt the unions anti-austerity campaign.

“This implies that SNP have taken these decisions to ensure they can make cuts to services and staff with no opposition from the trade unions.”

The Socialist Worker maintains: “The unacceptable attack on democracy and workers’ rights comes in the wake of an austerity budget, agreed with Tory support, on March 5th. It was this budget that included within it a proposal to slash union facility time by two-thirds.”

Jim Halfpenny, the co-convener of West Dunbartonshire EIS, is quoted as saying: “It’s unbelievable that the SNP can claim to be pro-trade union and anti-austerity and then carry out not only a cuts budget but one that deliberately seeks to decisively weaken trade union organisation.

“It’s an attack that is worthy of a rabid anti-union Tory government. The proposal must be dumped immediately. Moreover, our refusal to accept cuts to services, as well as our members pay, jobs and terms and conditions, will go on.”


One comment

  1. The SNP have done some very good stuff nationally. Free tuition, free prescriptions, abolition of NHS hospital parking charges, abolition of bridge tolls, nursery provision, mitigation of the bedroom tax,. and an impressive track record of new school building across Scotland together with other much needed job creating infrastructure works such as the Forth Crossing, the M73/ M8 motorway upgrade, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route And much more.

    But all this is being done under an onslaught of austerity cuts by the Westminster Tory government and yes, this makes things very difficult for a devolved government struggles to balance its budget.

    My own view is that whilst the proposal to save money by this option was in all probability well intentioned, it unfortunately sends out the wrong signals, and allows the local administration to be cast by political opponents as being anti trade union, which the SNP is most very definitely not.

    I know who I prefer to look after my interests.

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