Growing up in the 1970s means I’m no stranger to industrial disputes. All of us who lived through that era recall strikes not just in the pits but even then, in the NHS and Fire Service. There were issues and no one now would argue for a return to strikes called by a show of hands or the absence of a ballot. Some changes there had to be, but the pendulum has swung far too much the other way.
Unions are under the cosh, as we see with the RMT as this Tory Government pursues them, as Thatcher’s did the NUM. The rail strikes are as much brought about by government diktat to the rail operators as through the workforce seeking a pay rise. Agreements made have been overruled by Ministers and the disputes as much about protecting services as winning a wage rise.
In many sectors unions have ceased to exist, all of which has weakened workers’ rights. That weakening of employment laws has brought us to the age of the gig economy, zero hours contracts and fire and re-hire, and bringing with it misery and penury for many. The scandal of P and O laying off their UK workforce and to replace them with low waged foreign workers was an abuse of our own and exploitation of others.
But that management tactic has happened locally with it being replicated in the offshore wind sector, even in the Firth of Forth. Understandable fears also exist that with most of the turbines being sited beyond territorial waters of 12 miles and where the minimum wage doesn’t apply, then once again it will be low waged foreign labour who’ll be employed. Meaning that not just the profits but the jobs will pass us by.
It’s why employment laws need to be enhanced and powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Tory opposition was to be expected but that Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour now neither see the need for change nor to have the powers here in Scotland’s shameful.
Workers are being exploited and abused, and powers to address that are urgently required.