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Assembly votes to block changes to strike rules

AMs voted to deny consent for trade union law changes Photo:

A showdown is looming between the Welsh and UK Governments after Assembly Members voted to block planned changes to union laws. Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems joined forces to reject David Cameron's proposed changes. Parliament can ignore the vote but it could lead to a constitutional row.

The UK Government's Trade Union Bill aims to tighten the rules on strike action in public services and make other changes to the way unions operate. Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews said it was 'damaging, divisive and and risks undermining public services and the economy.'

We believe it will lead to a confrontational relationship between employers and workforce. It contrasts sharply with the constructive social partnership approach in Wales – valuing the workforce, supporting public services and encouraging enterprise. Overall, we believe the Bill is flawed and should not be pursued.

– Leighton Andrews AM, Public Services Minister

However the UK Government and Conservative AMs say that the Bill is the direct result of a manifesto pledge backed by voters in last May's UK Election.

It's not just about opposition to the intentions and impact of the Bill though. Welsh Government ministers and trade union leaders argue that the plans impose change in areas that are the responsibility of Cardiff not London.

In the Senedd chamber today (Tuesday) Leighton Andrews forced the issue by introducing a Legislative Consent Motion, which is the accepted means for the Assembly to accept or reject UK Government legislation which affects devolved matters.

Having introduced it, the minister urged AMs to reject it and 43 members did so. 13 Conservatives voted for it.

Such motions have no legal force and MPs can ignore them but they are generally recognised by convention.

In this case the UK Government doesn't recognise that devolved matters are affected at all and the bill will continue its progress through Parliament. A UK Government spokesperson said:

The Trade Union Bill relates to employment rights, duties and industrial relations, all of which are clearly reserved matters for the UK Government under the Welsh devolution settlement.

– UK Government spokesperson

The standoff means that the matter is likely to be referred to the Supreme Court to decide.

The Welsh Government says that if the Bill is enacted without the amendments it demands, it'll introduce its own legislation to overturn the changes as they affect Wales as soon as possible.

Legal advice given to Wales TUC suggests that Welsh ministers can undo the impact of the bill in Wales by introducing its own law. Wales TUC General Secretary Martin Mansfield said that should happen as soon as possible.

This UK government is getting ready to smash holes through the constitution, ride roughshod over our democratic institutions and ignore the will of the Welsh people.

Our challenge to the Welsh government is – bring forward draft Welsh legislation right now so you can immediately reinstate workers’ rights if the UK Bill is forced on us.

– Martin Mansfield, Wales TUC General Secretary