Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill: letter to UK Government

Letter from the Deputy First Minister about lack of engagement with Scottish Ministers and reiterating opposition to the bill.

To: Kevin Hollinrake MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
 Deputy First Minister, John Swinney

Thank you for your letter of 10 January referring to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. I note with disappointment that the Bill was presented for its first reading on the same day, and no attempt was made by UK Ministers to engage with Scottish Ministers in advance of the Bill’s introduction to Parliament.

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is the latest in the series of steps that the UK Government has taken to erode workers’ rights and weaken industrial relations. The UK already has some of the most stringent anti trade union laws in Western Europe, yet this Bill stands to further undermine and weaken the rights of workers. It is our long-standing position that a progressive approach to industrial relations along with greater – not fewer – protections for workers is at the heart of a fairer, more successful society.

The Scottish Government strongly opposes any Bill that undermines legitimate trade union activity and does not respect the Scottish Government’s Fair Work principles. At a time when the UK Government’s relationship with workers and trade unions is at such a low ebb, this Bill pours fuel on the fire, risking more strikes and other disruption, as concluded in the impact assessment of the previous Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. As governments, we should be working with the public sector and Trade Unions to reach fair and reasonable settlements respecting the legitimate interest of workers. The Scottish Government believes that we should respect workers across our economy and seek to negotiate fair resolutions to disputes, particularly at a time of soaring inflation.

As you set out in your letter, the bill legislates with regard to devolved matters, directly affecting areas within the competence and responsibility of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. It would give UK Ministers powers to intervene in devolved public services by setting Minimum Service Levels (MSLs). The effect of these regulations on the functions of the Scottish Government and the operation of devolved public bodies is the purpose of the bill, and is more than “incidental”. We are therefore considering the bill carefully to assess the need for legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament to its provisions.

The bill and the accompanying documents give no indication of how Minimum Service Levels might be defined, leaving this entirely to regulations made by UK Ministers. There is no requirement to reach agreement, or even consult with the Scottish Government in making these regulations despite health, education, elements of transport and fire and rescue services in Scotland being entirely devolved and separate from those elsewhere in the UK. It is therefore clear that the UK Government is not in a position to decide either whether there is a need for MSLs for these devolved areas, or what such MSLs should contain.

I understand that some – but by no means all – of the drafts of consultation documents, planned for issue in the coming weeks, have been shared with Scottish Government officials in the last few days. We are considering these drafts, but this engagement is clearly very late in the planned process.

I welcome your offer of engagement, but I emphasise again the Scottish Government’s opposition to the bill, and the approach to industrial relations it embodies.

I am copying this letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

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