Edinburgh's green freeport: Union demands urgent meeting with Scottish Government over protections for workers' rights

Unite wants guarantees over jobs promised for Edinburgh
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A leading trade union has demanded guarantees over workers’ rights at Scotland’s new green freeports on the Firth of Forth and the Cromarty Firth.

Unite has requested an urgent meeting with the Scottish Government following Friday’s announcement of the new special business zones, which will offer tax and customs incentives to firms in return for investment. The union highlighted a number of major concerns surrounding employment and collective bargaining rights and said it was “absolutely unclear” if the Scottish Government could enforce protection for workers.

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The Forth green freeport bid, which covers Leith, Edinburgh Airport, Rosyth and Grangemouth, claimed it would generate 50,000 new green jobs and the Cromarty bid promised 25,000 jobs. The Scottish Government has said the bids had to set out how they would support high-quality employment opportunities with fair work conditions at their core. But Unite believes there are minimal legal powers for the government to enforce the Real Living Wage in the zones or to enable access for trade unions to collectively bargain on behalf of workers.

The Unite union says guarantees are needed about wages and conditions with Leith's new green freeport.The Unite union says guarantees are needed about wages and conditions with Leith's new green freeport.
The Unite union says guarantees are needed about wages and conditions with Leith's new green freeport.

Companies setting up in the green freeports will pay no stamp duty, no National Insurance, enjoy accelerated capital allowances and have a five-year holiday from business rates. Unite is demanding that the economic benefits must come with protections for workers. It says freeports must not be able to attack workers’ rights or allow undercutting of conditions or pay.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “It remains absolutely unclear if the Scottish Government’s greenports proposal will be legally binding in Scotland particularly over enforcing the Real Living Wage. We have zero clarity on whether trade unions will be able to access and organise workers operating within the zones, and to bargain with employers over pay, terms and conditions.

“The potential creation of 75,000 jobs at face value appears to be a welcome development but at what cost will this come to workers, local businesses and other communities who could be displaced or badly hit? Instead of the so-called levelling-up mantra we could be levelling the ground and creating an employer free-for-all.”

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Meanwhile Leith Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda issued a statement setting out her objections to freeports. She said: “Multi-national businesses, including Ineos, Forth Ports, Babcock, Edinburgh Airport and the Scarborough Muir Group, surely cannot believe their good luck that they will be receiving public money to pay less tax, tariffs and be able to operate with less regulation than other businesses.”

And she said she was shocked at the lack of scrutiny of the claims made about their benefits. “There is mention of high quality jobs but what these quality jobs will look like remains a mystery. Fair work is mentioned with no explanation of how that will be applied. As elected representatives we need to differentiate between a business pitch and a genuine strategy to build our economy and create jobs and this is the reason why I voted against supporting the bid at Council. I want better jobs and a stronger economy for the people of Leith and I see nothing in this bid which guarantees that.”