Scottish Trades Union Congress: First Minister's speech

FM Nicola Sturgeon's speech at the 122nd annual Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Thank you Grahame and thanks to all of you.

After a period which has been utterly dominated by Brexit, it’s good to be here, and take part in an award ceremony like the one we’ve just had.

The work done by Chris, John, James and Khadijah is exceptional. But it is not unique.

The truly inspirational thing about today and hearing their stories, is knowing that there are hundreds and thousands of union reps - in workplaces up and down the country - who are doing equally extraordinary things.

I also want to take the opportunity as First Minister to express to you today my unequivocal 100% support for the importance of facility time. It’s not a ‘perk’ for trade union reps it is a vital part of how you turn the language on Fair Work in to reality in workplaces across the country.

We see the vital importance of trade unions in all of that work. And we see it during the tough times as well - like the ones faced by workers at Michelin and McGills here in Dundee.

Unions have been crucial in supporting and speaking up for those workforces.

I want to pledge again today that the Scottish Government will always do everything we can to support businesses and save jobs.

We’ve demonstrated, for example, with the Dalzell steelworks, Bifab and the aluminum smelter in Fort William, that we are willing to intervene.

Sometimes, as with Bifab, that will mean a commitment for the long term as we work to overcome challenges and rebuild.

And where it’s not possible to keep a business or a plant operating as it is, we’ll always work to secure the next-best outcomes – such as those that are emerging for the Michelin site in future, as a base for remanufacturing and low carbon industries.

The discussions and negotiations in these cases are invariably really tough – and they are of course toughest of all for the workers involved.

But I know from my own experience how valuable the role of trade unions is. You are critical but constructive partners, and you always seek the best outcome for the workers and communities you represent.

So one of the most important things I want to say to you today is 'thank you'.

The Scottish Government recognises the value of everything the trade union movement does for Scotland. You are fundamental to the fairer Scotland that we all want to see.

I’ll say a bit more in a minute about some of the work we are doing, together, to create that fairer Scotland – especially through the promotion of fair work and the living wage.

But – almost inevitably - I do need to start on the topic of Brexit.

I am hugely relieved - as I suspect most of you are – to be addressing you today as the leader of a country which is still in the EU.

The EU’s decision to offer a further 6 month extension is hugely welcome.

However, it places a duty on the UK Government to use this time better than it has used the previous three years.

In particular, it must drop the damaging red lines that have done so much to cause this mess. Instead, it must talk seriously - with all opposition parties and devolved governments - about what our long-term relationship with Europe could reasonably look like.

In addition, it should recognise a fact that has become more and more obvious in recent months, and is gaining increasing support.

Any deal that is arrived at is likely to be very different from what many voters thought they were promised. It should therefore be put to the people again. A second referendum is now the best way of resolving Brexit.

My hope – although this is in no way guaranteed – is that in a second referendum, the UK as a whole would opt to remain.

There are many reasons for that. One of them is that any form of Brexit – no matter how soft – will have damaging consequences for people’s jobs, living standards and opportunities.

Those consequences can be partially mitigated - and the Scottish Government will work to do that - but they can’t be prevented completely, and no-one should pretend that they can.

One of the most shameful aspects of Brexit over the last three years has been the distress it has caused to EU citizens living here. The testimonies the STUC published on Monday highlighted that.

That’s why, two weeks ago, I launched the 'Stay in Scotland' campaign. We want to provide EU citizens with as much reassurance and support as we can.

And it’s why for the last two years, we’ve funded Glasgow Caledonian University to run a pilot project to help migrants and refugees turn their pre-existing qualifications and skills into UK qualifications.

In fact, I can confirm today that we will now provide funding for the next phase of that project.

It is an important way of helping migrants – not just from the EU but from around the world – to settle in Scotland and to contribute the full range of their skills and talents.

And it also reaffirms the message we want to send to the world – a message that I know will be endorsed by this Congress.

No one pretends Scotland is immune from racism.

But the message as leaders we send is this.

Scotland is an open country. We are a welcoming country.

We want people to come to Scotland. And we want people to stay here.

Diversity is not a weakness.

Diversity is a strength to be celebrated.

One further consequence of Brexit is of course the fact that the UK would no longer be bound by European regulations that protect workers.

The UK Government has said that it won’t use Brexit to reduce workers’ rights.

Some MPs have been open about wanting to slash regulation.

The Prime Minister herself has talked about 'changing the basis of Britain’s economic model'.

And I don’t think she meant it in the same way that the trade union movement would.

The UK Government approach would be disastrous. It would damage the health, welfare and security of workers. And it would harm the productivity of the economy as a whole.

It would also be anathema to the vision for Scotland which all of us share.

Fundamentally, countries like Scotland can’t win – and more importantly, we should never try to win – in a race to the bottom.

Our race to the top must be about innovation, productivity, skills and the quality of work.

That’s why we support Research and Development.

It’s why we work with unions on skills issues.

It’s why we are establishing the new National Manufacturing Institute and the Scottish National Investment Bank.

We know that public support and intervention is essential for long-term economic success.

However we also know how important it is that economic growth and technological change benefit everyone.

Innovation and inclusion must go hand in hand.

There are issues here which are directly relevant to some of the debates and discussions you have had this morning.

For example a key mission of the new national investment bank will be to support the transition to carbon neutral society - a Scottish green deal if you like.

That transition provides huge opportunities for Scotland. We are already developing real strengths in areas like battery storage and smart grids. We’re home to big technological breakthroughs, like floating offshore windfarms and tidal power developments.

Here in Dundee, the Port is seeing new investment in the opportunities from decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure. At the same time, it has demonstrated its potential as a base for assembling offshore wind turbines.

So the move to a carbon neutral economy is happening. And it is already creating jobs in many areas.

But we also know that we need to address two distinct but closely related issues.

First, we need to ensure that low carbon technologies create as many jobs as possible here in Scotland.

So far we have not done as well as we want in building a domestic supply chain for new renewable industries - a huge issue for Bifab, for example.

That’s why we are hosting a summit in early May for developers, manufacturers and the UK government. As more offshore wind farms are built in Scottish waters, we must maximise the benefits they bring to Scotland.

We’re also working with the supply chain as we develop and deliver our Energy Efficiency programmes, because they also have the potential to create thousands of jobs here in Scotland.

However as we seize these economic opportunities, we also have to ensure that people and communities aren’t left behind.

I grew up in Ayrshire in the 70s and 80s. I remember vividly the devasting impacts of deindustrialisation. The fear of unemployment was pervasive. Lasting scars were left in so many communities like mine. And of course elements of that legacy are still with us today.

It is those memories that drive my belief that the decarbonisation of Scotland’s economy must be handled better - and my determination that in Scotland it will be.

That’s why developments such as the National Retraining Partnership are so important. People of all ages must be supported to adapt as new technologies create a demand for new skills

And it is why the Scottish Government has appointed a Just Transition Commission - something that the STUC was instrumental in and which includes two trade union representatives.

We need to ensure that the carbon neutral age doesn’t just make Scotland a greener nation – although it will. It must also make us a healthier, wealthier and fairer nation.

That ambition we have for a just transition, epitomises our wider ambition for Scotland. We want to be a nation that leads the world in technological progress - but which also leads the world in ensuring that this progress can benefit everyone in society.

That’s why we place such an emphasis on fair work.

Yesterday, we saw unemployment in Scotland fall to a record low.

But we know that it’s not just the numbers in work that matter. The quality and security of work matters too. It matters for the success of business and the economy as a whole.

And, most importantly, it matters for the wellbeing of workers, their families and their communities.

When we updated our national performance framework last year, we recognised that.

Our new national purpose explicitly refers to wellbeing alongside sustainable growth. Fair work is one of the national outcomes we are seeking to achieve. And one of the indicators we use to measure performance is the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining.

It’s worth contrasting the National Performance Framework with the UK (anti) Trade Union Act.

The merest glance at that Act tells you how inconceivable it is that this UK Government would see a growth in collective bargaining as a good thing, a sign of a healthy and successful country.

But the Scottish Government – with your encouragement and support – has put that aim right at the heart of our country’s performance framework and said we want to be measured on it.

Increasing collective bargaining, in Scotland, is not just a trade union objective. It is a national objective.

That matters. It says something really important about our values and priorities as a country.

And it is an achievement that you, Scotland’s trade union movement, should be very proud of.

Your input was also instrumental in the announcement I made last October that the Scottish Government will adopt a Fair Work First approach.

It means that to win public funding – through procurement contracts or business support grants – businesses will have to demonstrate that they’re promoting skills, tackling the gender pay gap, paying the living wage and engaging with their workforce, including through trade unions.

As a first step this year, Scottish Enterprise will be attaching fair work criteria to many of its grants. By 2021, Fair Work First will apply to as many Scottish Government contracts and funding streams as possible. That includes the £11 billion a year we spend on procurement contracts.

We will be using the influence - and crucially the purchasing power - of government to send a clear signal. Progressive employment practices are to be celebrated. Fair work is good for workers, good for wider society, and good for the businesses which promote it.

And it is not optional.

In Scotland, we intend it to be the norm, not an exception.

Of course, fair pay is fundamental to fair work.

Last month, Dundee became the first city anywhere in the UK to gain formal recognition of its plan to become a living wage city. That reflects a partnership between the council, the wider public sector, trade unions and many local businesses.

Across Scotland as a whole, a higher proportion of workers are paid the real living wage than in any other country in the UK.

There’s been important progress in some sectors in recent years. For example we’ve ensured that adult social care workers are paid the living wage, and that’s one reason wages in that sector are higher in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

Of course, we know that the Fair Work Convention’s report on the social care sector raised important concerns on issues such as job security, and the lack of an effective voice for workers in the sector. Similar concerns have been expressed here this week. That is an important reminder that fair work is about more than fair pay, and we will of course consider those issues seriously.

But the payment of a living wage to adult social care workers is an important sign of our commitment to decent pay for all.

And we want to go further still. We want Scotland to be a living wage nation.

We hope that Fair Work First will make a contribution to this.

We are also doing more to promote the living wage in lower-paid sectors. Our work with the Poverty Alliance has included a focus on the hospitality industry over the last year.

And - although the reasons for this are not simply about the living wage - we also need to close the gender pay gap.

That is something which has been a priority for the STUC for well over a century. At your very first congress in 1897, Margaret Irwin, your first secretary, objected to women 'taking men’s work at 50 per cent of their wages'.

The last few months have seen some important developments here.

I want to pay tribute to the courage, determination and persistence of women council workers in my home city of Glasgow.

I am delighted their cases have now been settled. They exemplify the fact that if you organise against injustice you can win.

However, it is wrong that they had to campaign for so long.

And it is unacceptable that in 2019 - 122 years after Margaret Irwin made her speech - Scotland has a gender pay gap of 15%.

That’s why we published a gender pay gap action plan in March, with more than 50 measures, including help for women to return to work after a career break, and support for more flexible working.

We’ve also toughened up the provision in the Scottish Business Pledge that relates to gender equality. Action to tackle the gender pay gap is now a mandatory part of the pledge.

None of these measures fix the gender pay gap on their own – but taken together, they will help us to make progress.

Because, let’s be blunt - the gender pay gap cannot continue to be something we talk about for decades. It is the duty of this generation to end it.

I started today by reflecting on the extraordinary work that union reps do every day in workplaces across the country.

I want to end by highlighting one other point about the modern role of the union movement, and I think it’s well demonstrated by the range of issues I’ve touched on today – welcoming the contribution of migrants; tackling inequality; boosting productivity; valuing care in an ageing society; moving to a carbon neutral age.

Virtually every major issue facing Scotland – and indeed the wider world – is an issue on which the perspective of the trade union movement is vital. We won’t create the society we want to see, if we don’t listen to workers, and act on their needs, priorities and experiences.

The debates at this Congress demonstrate that point. They show you to be a movement rightly proud of your past, but also looking to the challenges of the future.

And so my commitment is that the Scottish Government will always seek to work in partnership with you. I see a strong trade union movement, not just as helpful to, but as indispensable to, a fairer and wealthier society.

For all these reasons it is a pleasure to be here today. I congratulate the award winners once again. I thank everyone here for everything you do for workers across the country.



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