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‘Most pressing priorities’

Unite at STUC: members’ issues top of agenda
Hajera Blagg, Friday, April 22nd, 2016

The Scottish TUC (STUC) conference began this week on Monday (April 18 to 20), when delegates from Unite moved motions on a range of issues from the government’s controversial trade union Bill to manufacturing to the crisis in the oil industry as well as cuts to local government.


‘Breathtaking loss’

Unite led the call on the first day of the conference for an emergency oil and gas summit.


Moving composite D on the offshore industry and oil price crisis, Debbie Figures vice-chair of Unite Scotland, told STUC conference of the ‘breathtaking loss’ of 65,000 jobs because of plunging oil prices and the desperate need for the Scottish and UK governments to get their ‘acts together’ to safeguard skills and jobs.


“We need to protect terms, conditions, skills and safety of offshore production and the industry’s most important resource, its people,” Figures said. “ Let’s be clear conference, the economic benefits of the industry will not be maximised or its fortunes reversed by undermining safety and job security through imposition or by allowing the pool of skilled workers to simply disappear.”


Figures praised the formation of the Offshore Co-ordinating Group by offshore unions to fight for jobs, safety and terms and conditions.

“Trade unions are not a barrier to progress,” she said. “On the contrary, we are part of the solution to ensuring the sector’s economic recovery and politicians and above all the companies offshore should remember that and work with us.”


Also on Monday (April 18), Unite secretary for Scotland Pat Rafferty moved a motion on manufacturing on behalf of the STUC’s general council.

He said that a policy of active industrial engagement by both the Scottish and Westminster governments is urgently needed to free the country from the ‘ghosts’ of its economic past.


With economic activity in manufacturing and construction yet to recover to pre-crash levels, Scotland is increasingly reliant on the services sector where exports have risen from 24 percent in 2002 to 38 percent in 2014. In contrast Scotland’s exports from manufacturing have been broadly flat for over 13 years.


Rafferty also warned that without an urgent change of approach, the opportunity presented by the new apprenticeship levy to reinvigorate Scotland’s skills base will be lost as the ‘lion’s share’ of funding will continue to go to support lower paid, lower skilled work.


‘Ineffective and weak’

“The Scottish government may think it has a strategy but it’s ineffective and weak,” he said. “The £70m investment for our manufacturing sector, while welcome, does not go far enough and there is only minimal detail on a number of key challenges such as supply-chains, investment and skills.

He said that there was a “strong case” for arguing that Scotland should be able to use the levy monies as it sees fit to grow our economy for the long-term.


“That means directing funds towards manufacturing to actively boost high level skills in the emerging workforce,” he said.

Congress held a debate on the issue of Trident on Wednesday (April 20).


The policy eventually voted through at Congress, Rafferty argued, did not fully reflect Unite’s commitment to ensure that members’ livelihoods are protected and therefore the union could not support the position agreed at Congress.


Defending jobs and communities

“Unite’s policy is abundantly clear on the matter of Trident,” he said. “Defending the jobs and communities of our members in defence is our priority.


“The skills, productivity and ingenuity defence workers possess are why they are essential to our manufacturing capabilities and why we have been seeking firm commitments that defence spending ensures that taxpayers’ money goes to support UK defence workers,” Rafferty noted.


“This is not the case at the moment with 12 pence in every pound, and soon to be 25 pence in every pound, supporting overseas defence jobs. We want that money used here to support our members’ jobs in shipbuilding and defence manufacturing.”


Unite regional coordinating officer Jackson Cullinane highlighted a motion moved on the trade union Bill.


“We have pushed for the Scotland government, both on a national and local level, to adopt a stance of non-compliance,” he said. “We have already convinced 17 of Scotland’s 30 local authorities to take this position and reject the trade union Bill’s implementation once it’s made into law.”


Cullinane also noted that Unite brought to the forefront at Congress the issue of cuts to local government in Scotland.


“There have been 40,000 local authority job cuts in Scotland alone, with 20,000 more coming through the pipeline,” he said. “While the SNP has styled itself as the anti-austerity party, they have in fact doubled chancellor Osborne’s cuts to local government funding.


Debt amnesty

“And so Unite has put together a package of measures to fight these cuts,” Cullinane explained. “Chief among these measures is a debt amnesty – a plan which was actually devised directly by our lay members.”


Cullinane noted that Scotland still maintained nearly £2.5bn in pre-devolution debt.


The Unite composite highlighted that pre-devolution debt liabilities carry an average interest rate twice that of post-devolution debt.


“An amnesty on pre-devolution debt interest repayments would create much needed breathing space in extremely pressurised Scottish local government budgets, saving hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs,” Unite argued.


Cullinane said that the issues Unite highlighted at the conferences “flowed directly from our first ever Unite Scotland policy conference earlier this year.


“And so we were able to bring to the forefront our members’ most pressing priorities,” he said.



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