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STUC Conference ’18 Victory over SNP cuts to facility time shows worker solidarity ‘always wins’

Shop stewards at the STUC conference describe how they won in West Dunbartonshire

A VICTORY over SNP plans to cut facility time shows that workers will “always win” when they stand together, shop stewards said.

At the Scottish TUC Congress today, the federation’s general secretary Grahame Smith announced that West Dunbartonshire Council had abandoned a proposal to slash paid time for union conveners.

He was speaking shortly before Nicola Sturgeon addressed the congress. It was expected that union reps from West Dunbartonshire would challenge the SNP First Minister over the plans.

But instead she won applause from delegates as she stressed: “Facility time is not a luxury — facility time is a vital part of any fair work agenda.

“It’s not just important to trade unions. It’s important to the organisations that employ workers as well.

“Facility time must be respected and it must be honoured. That’s my message to the public sector.”

Speaking to the Star, West Dunbartonshire Unite convener Charlie McDonald hailed the announcement as “an absolute victory for common sense.”

He said the decision to cut the number of convener posts from 3.4 to just two “awoke a sleeping giant” among the local community.

“The people of West Dunbartonshire became aware that the council was going to attack the people who protect them: the workforce,” he said.

“It’s always been my philosophy that if workers stand together, we will always win the fight. But with this, the community has been involved because they’ve seen what austerity means in West Dunbartonshire.”

But he warned the fight was “not finished” and had to be “kept alive” to resist the council’s “unacceptable” wider cuts to local services.

Asked after her speech about the council’s U-turn, Ms Sturgeon said: “West Dunbartonshire have come to the right decision today and that is the most important thing.”

A statement from the council’s SNP members said the cuts would be “reversed” following “a mixture of supportive and challenging correspondence.”

Ms Sturgeon also addressed the issue of the threatened BiFab engineering yards, which are proposing to lay off their workers in spite of government assistance last autumn.

“As I speak, efforts are continuing to secure the future of BiFab,” she said. She said there was “no magic bullet” but promised that her government would “continue to do everything that it can.”

After her speech, Ms Sturgeon met union reps from the troubled yards.

Michael Sullivan, a GMB convener at BiFab, told the Star: “We believe that BiFab will try and close the yards rather than keep a reduced workforce on. So we’re going to be asking her to … get some grants to keep the workforce on, to reinstate and organise the yards.”

Mr Sullivan suggested the Scottish government could “take over the leases” of the BiFab yards.

Ms Sturgeon won applause for speaking in support of collective bargaining and warning that “abhorrence” at atrocities in Syria should not be a “blank cheque” for Western bombing raids.

But she was challenged by Unite official Jackson Cullinane over the use of umbrella companies on government-funded projects.

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