The Trade Union (Wales) Bill (‘the Bill’) was introduced into the National Assembly for Wales (‘the Assembly’) by Mark Drakeford AM in January 2017. In this article, Trainee Solicitor Catriona Connor outlines the Bill’s progress through stages two and three.

 The Trade Union (Wales) Bill

The Welsh Government introduced the Trade Union Bill in response to the UK’s Trade Union Act 2016, which it feels conflicts with its approach to managing staff and industrial relations in Welsh public services. The Government’s approach, known as the ‘social partnership model’, emphasises collaboration between employers and trade unions.

The UK Act states that:

  • Union subscription fees will not be deductible from employee wages (this is known as ‘check-off’)
  • The time spent by employees on union activities (‘facility time’) will be published
  • Industrial action affecting ‘important public services’ may only go ahead if supported by an increased threshold of union members.

The Welsh Government’s Bill dis-applies each of these provisions in relation to devolved Welsh authorities. The Bill will go through four stages before it becomes law.

Stage two of the Bill

On 15 June 2017, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee considered the Bill and the nine proposed amendments (see here). 

The first three amendments were tabled by Janet Finch-Saunders AM, and proposed to remove the Bill provisions which dis-apply the removal of check-off, the publication requirement and the increased ballot threshold. These were all rejected. The remaining six amendments to the Bill were tabled by Mark Drakeford AM. These were all accepted.

The rejected amendments include:

  • removal of check-off
  • requirement to publish facility time
  • increase ballot threshold for industrial action.

The accepted amendments include:

  • 3 drafting amendments and a modification of the Bill’s commencement provision
  • Agency workers and industrial action.

The committee voted by majority (with Janet Finch-Saunders AM against) to pass these amendments. The provisions were added to the Bill.

The Bill, as it stood after amendments four - nine were made, then progressed to stage three. 

Stage three of the Bill 

On 11 July 2017, the Assembly had its opportunity to consider the Bill as amended at stage two, and the eight amendments which were proposed to it (see here). This time, all the amendments were brought by Janet Finch-Saunders AM. Three were withdrawn and five were rejected.

The first three amendments mirrored amendments one - three tabled at stage two. These amendments were opposed and on the vote of the Assembly, none of them were agreed. In each case, 12 Assembly Members were for and 43 were against.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM then sought to remove the provisions, added at stage two, which maintain the status quo in Wales in relation to agency workers covering strike action. This was amendment six, and it was not agreed (12 Assembly Members were for it and 42 were against).

Amendments four, five and seven were drafting amendments, but were withdrawn by Janet Finch-Saunders and so the Assembly did not vote on them.

The debate became heated on amendment eight. This amendment proposed that the Bill could not be brought into force until:

  • two years have elapsed since the coming into force of the UK Act
  • and an assessment of the impact of the UK Act has been carried out by the Welsh Ministers and laid before the Assembly.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM argued that this would allow the impact of the Bill to be more thoroughly considered. Sian Gwenllian AM argued that its true purpose was to delay the Bill until the Wales Act 2017 comes into force in April 2018, when employment and industrial relations will be reserved to the UK Parliament. The Assembly will then be unable to bring any legislation relating to that subject.

Amendment eight was not agreed (12 Assembly Members were for it and 42 were against).

Next steps

The Bill has passed stage three without further amendment from its stage two form. It now proceeds to stage four, where its final text will be voted on by the Assembly. If approved, it will become the 31st Act of the Welsh Assembly.