Trade union ‘gobsmacked’ by Midlothian Council

Stobhill depot, where GMB recruited members.
Stobhill depot, where GMB recruited members.

A trade union official has blasted Midlothian Council’s “diabolical” attempts to block him from representing local authority workers.

GMB Scotland organiser Barry Fletcher was speaking following a successful motion last week by Councillor Alex Bennett (Lab) to provide full recognition rights to GMB Scotland, after the council’s corporate management team blocked the union last November.

Speaking at last week’s full council meeting, council leader Cath Johnstone (SNP) said she didn’t think it would be helpful for the council to have “more than the three unions it currently recognises”, and she voted against the motion along with five of her SNP colleagues, which was passed.

Mr Fletcher said: “First of all this has never happened before anywhere in a local authority. Secondly it’s diabolical that she is determining which trade union people join by not letting us in.

“I have been working on this for a year and a half, I recruited quite a lot of people at the council’s Stobhill depot, everything was fine. Then in November last year the corporate management team had a meeting and decided that they would not recognise GMB.

“But like Cllr Bennett said at last week’s meeting they do not have that right, the council has that right, they are not the council.

“I then threatened to ballot my members on strike action because of this, then as my last throw of the dice I contacted the Labour group. I had written to Cllr Johnstone asking for an urgent meeting in November to discuss that and she said she doesn’t get involved in that kind of thing. I also wrote to the chief executive Kenneth Lawrie who never replied.”

Mr Fletcher thanked councillors for overturning the decision and hopes it never happens again.

He said: “This has been a year and a half in the process of trying to get this recognition. I would like to thank the councillors who made the right decision to pass this motion.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that any council in Scotland would try and do away with the democratic right for workers to make their own choice.

“It’s just absolutely scandalous. I will be writing to the local government minster to get assurances that this never repeats itself, it has certainly never happened before.”

A Midlothian Council spokeswoman said: “The council confirms that there has been ongoing correspondence between the council and the GMB over the recent period in relation to it being recognised for collective bargaining purposes.

“Following the motion approved by the council at the meeting on March 28, council officers are in contact with the GMB regarding implementation of the motion. The council is also aware that the matter has been considered by COSLA joint secretaries to ensure that the provisions as set out in the Bridlington Agreement relating to trade union membership are adhered to. In addition to the GMB, the council also recognises UNITE, UNISON and UCATT for local government workers.”

Cllr Johnstone said: “The SNP has a proud record of standing up for the rights of its employees in Midlothian Council.

“As council leader it is important to listen to the majority of opinion and act accordingly and democratically, and in this case to take on board the opinions of UNISON, which represents the majority of Midlothian Council staff.

“This is an issue that could have been worked out constructively without being railroaded through outwith protocol, however the SNP remains committed to workers rights and will work constructively with all recognised unions.”