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Scotland's response to the Trade Union Bill

If your business has a nationwide presence, you are likely to have employees located across the UK. However, many employers are not aware of subtle differences in the law that can apply to the different nations. 

In the second in our series of articles highlighting these differences we consider Scotland’s response to the Trade Union Bill. 


The UK government launched the Trade Union Bill in July 2015. This Bill seeks to impose new restrictions on industrial action. For further detail of the reforms, please see our previous article

Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, has commented that the purpose of the changes is "so that strikes will only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored." The Conservative government are clearly advocating a pro-business agenda. 

Scotland's response

In Scotland there is a strong voice of opposition to the Trade Union Bill. This includes the Scottish government, all 32 Scottish Councils, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), and a number of the main political parties in Scotland.

In recent years, the Scottish government has been working in partnership with trade unions to improve the landscape of industrial relations in Scotland. This approach has been met with much success - the number of days lost to industrial disputes in Scotland decreased by 84% between 2007 and 2014 and is the lowest of all the UK nations. The Scottish government is concerned that the Trade Union Bill will undermine this progress. 

As a result, the resounding message is that this Bill is not welcome in Scotland. The Scottish government has announced that it will "vigorously oppose this legislation" as it considers it to be an "attack on workers". Most recently, in a letter to the UK government, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training requested that Scotland be excluded from the entire Bill. She cites undermining the effective trade union engagement achieved in Scotland as a key reason. We will have to await the UK government’s response.  

In any event, all 32 Scottish Councils have stated that they will refuse to implement the provisions of the Bill when it comes into force. Ultimately, this could make the legislation unworkable in Scotland. 

What does the future hold?

The Trade Union Bill is scheduled to have its third reading on 3 November 2015. As the Conservative government hold a majority it is likely that the Bill will ultimately be passed by the House of Commons with many of the new restrictions intact. 

As currently drafted, the Bill’s provisions would apply equally to all parts of the UK once it comes into force. However, in practice Scotland may follow its own path for navigating industrial relations. The Scottish government will no doubt be reluctant to risk the good relations it has established with the trade unions in Scotland.

In any event, the Bill’s enactment is unlikely to silence opposition in Scotland. Unions in Scotland are demanding that the Scottish government refuses to implement the Bill. As a result, if Scotland’s request to be excluded from the Bill is unsuccessful, we may see the devolved powers in Scotland used to find a creative solution to these legislative changes. This would not be the first time that the Scottish government has advocated a different agenda to that of the UK government. 

We have expertise in Scottish employment law issues, with offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss any matters affecting your business.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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