As the political parties return to the campaign trail, we at Thompsons are launching our 2021 Scottish Parliament Election manifesto.
As Scotland’s leading firm of Solicitors dedicated to representing trades union members, victims of workplace injury and mistreatment and survivors of historical sexual abuse we have first-hand experience of the deficiencies in our current laws. We see daily the extent to which the law currently fails to fairly balance the relationship between employer and employee, between victims of accidents and insurers and between the individual and the state.
In particular, during this session, we feel a great deal of frustration, on behalf of our clients, at the Parliament’s failure to push the boundaries to achieve radical change. The failure, again, of the Parliament to pass corporate homicide legislation deeply disappointing. Again and again this issue gets tied up in “legislative competence” issues with politicians and officials refusing to push the boundaries of the devolution settlement to pass legislation that properly protects workers and acts as a real deterrent to bad health and safety practices.
The radicalism of a Parliament which, despite “legislative competence” issues being raised, in 2009 passed the Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act which provided that asymptomatic pleural plaques, pleural thickening and asbestosis shall constitute, and shall be treated as always having constituted, actionable harm for the purposes of an action of damages for personal injury appears to have been lost along the years. Incidentally, this legislation was challenged on “legislative competence” issues. All the way to the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court held that the legislation was, in fact, within competence of the Parliament.
Another issue that regularly hits up against “competence issues” is anything even vaguely related to employment law. That is why we are calling for the full devolution of employment law to the Scottish Parliament. Now that the Tories are full steam ahead, at Westminster, with their Brexit project, we always have to be vigilant for attacks on our hard fought for employment rights. There is a real opportunity for Scotland to re-write our employment laws, making radical change and rebalancing the ever increasing power imbalance between employee and employer
However there are ways in which progressive changes to the employment relationship can be made within the current devolution settlement. This is particularly the case as Scotland rebuilds after the pandemic. With the economy, jobs and infrastructure at the forefront we want to see sectorial bargaining and an agreed baseline level of workplace health and safety standards and terms and conditions of employment tied into all capital and public sector projects. No more zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment and poverty pay. Infrastructure is not just about physical buildings and roads it also has to be about the quality of jobs and the way workers are treated and valued at their work.
Over the years of the Scottish Parliament we have also seen well intentioned legislation failing to really tackle the issues faced by our clients. An example of this is the 2016 reforms to the Fatal Accident Inquiry System. All participants in the Fatal Accident Inquiry process, but in particular the family of the deceased, and those workers involved in the incidents, are left waiting for an inordinate amount of time before the Inquiry is brought before a Sheriff. Too often, by that time the matter gets to a Courtroom, memories have faded and evidence is not at its best. And even then, when a Judgment is finally issued, there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure that identified failings do not happen again to the suggested improvements are made. This system must be overhauled, and it must be overhauled in such a way to ensure that families, and those involved in the inquiry process, are heard, get the answers they need, with an accountability mechanism relating to the Findings, all within a timescale set out in law.
The need for urgent legislative reform is clear. We cannot allow the 6th Scottish Parliament to be as legislation-light as previous Parliaments - where politicians too often blindly follow the Party Whip over properly carrying out their role as Parliamentarians and scrutinising legislation, Government and holding Ministers to account.
Over the next four weeks we will set our case in relation to specific areas of legislative reform.
On behalf of every victim of workplace accident and mistreatment; of every trade union member; and of every survivor of historical sexual abuse we demand that the Government established after 6 May set their minds immediately to reform the law in relation to each of the issues we will highlight over the coming weeks.
- Radical and effective Corporate Homicide legislation that will serve as a real deterrent;
- The devolution of employment laws to Scotland and subsequent rebalancing of the employee/employer relationship;
- An overhaul of our Fatal Accident Inquiry system to create a system that serves the victims’ families, and workers involved, and ensures that lessons are learned;
- Justice for victims of historic sexual abuse;
- Sectorial bargaining within capital and public sector projects and
- A bold and brave new Parliament willing to challenge the boundaries of the devolution settlement and adequately scrutinise Government.
Blog by Jillian Merchant, Solicitor