A ‘watered down’ motion that almost saw East Sussex County Council oppose the ‘nasty’ Trade Union Bill was branded ‘farcical’ by Labour.
It had originally requested that the leader of the council write to the Government calling for the legislation to be scrapped and was put forward by Tory lead member for resources David Elkin after a similarly worded motion was proposed by Labour group leader Trevor Webb.
But when it came to Full Council on Tuesday a further amendment suggesting individual councillors write to the Government to express support or opposition to the bill instead was put forward by lead member for the local economy Rupert Simmons and was supported at the end of the debate by Cllr Elkin.
The amendment was approved by 23 votes to 22, while a vote on the substantive motion incorporating the amendment was tied, but then passed on the chairman’s casting vote.
Cllr Simmons called for an ‘amount of moderation’, said they had to set an example, and added: “Where is the need to be divisive? Where is the need to be disruptive?”
But Labour’s Michael Wincott described the amendment as ‘farcical’ and ‘pointless’. He said, “Who would have thought it, one cabinet member disagrees with another.
“Who would have thought it. Panic at County Hall as the Tories finally, we think, are going to stand up for the working people. They are actually going to stand up for the people who work at County Hall and all of the East Sussex County Council employees. They are going to do something we thought they would never do.
“And then on the day they go: ‘Oh no no no we can’t support that, can’t we say something else. Can’t we water down the amendment so much to render it completely useless?’ Because that’s what they have done.”
Kathryn Field, deputy leader of the Lib Dem group, added, “I arrived this morning having read these papers and thought peace has broken out, we can all go home early. How wrong I was.”
She described the bill as a ‘nasty piece of legislation’ and said it would be a ‘sad day’ if the council approved Cllr Simmons’ amendment.
However Carl Maynard, lead member for transport and environment, said the motion was ‘fanning flames of a fire that is just not there locally’, while Nick Bennett, lead member for learning and school effectiveness, argued it went beyond the scope of their work in the council chamber.
Keith Glazier, leader of the council, felt there was nothing in the bill that would stop them working well with trade unions, and said him writing to the Government would have ‘little or no effect’ and was merely a ‘political stunt’.
He described how he had worked hard to maintain harmony between the council’s political parties and expressed ‘disappointment’ that people had taken the opportunity to ‘fracture’ that.
Tory Roy Galley said the bill was about democracy and accountability and expressed surprise that trade unions, Lib Dems, and the Labour Party were opposing it, but Lib Dem John Ungar questioned how many councillors in the chamber would have been elected if they had to gain support of 40 per cent of the total electorate in their divisions.
Labour’s John Hodges described the bill as ‘abhorrent’ and parts of it ‘absolutely disgusting’, allowing ‘scab labour’ to work in place of striking employees.
Meanwhile Cllr Webb said they could easily have stuck to their original motion but had accepted Cllr Elkin’s, and the Tories were ‘the ones trying to play politics’.
Moving his original motion, Cllr Elkin said, “The notice of motion made its way to my lead member meeting and I was disappointed to find it there because our working relationships with the trade unions are very very good.”
The original motion read, “This council believes that the relationship between employers and their employees in East Sussex through their collective representatives would be damaged by the proposals and calls on the Government to scrap the Trade Union Bill and all associated secondary legislation.”
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