Tag Archives: collective bargaining

POLL: What do you think of Labour’s plan for employment reform?


John McDonnell has outlined Labour’s proposed employment measures to bolster the strength of unions and transform the gig economy in a speech to the Trades Union Congress.

If you’ve managed to miss the details, here’s a short video about the headlines:

And here‘s The Guardian with some of the finer details:

“A Labour government would ban zero-hours contracts, repeal the Trade Union Act, clamp down on bogus self-employment, end private finance initiatives and set up a department for employment to implement the policies, he said. There would be a particular emphasis on workers in the gig economy.

Workers in jobs with flexible hours and short-term contracts could be given similar rights to those in permanent work, including eligibility for sick pay, parental pay and similar benefits, he said.

Government contracts would only be given to firms that allowed collective bargaining and a Labour government would relaunch employee ownership funds, under which staff at larger companies would receive shares in order to give them a stake in the profits and management of their firms.

McDonnell also repeated a promise that Labour would spend £500bn over a decade to fix Britain’s crumbling infrastructure.

This would include road and rail, digital, research and development and alternative energy sources, he said, adding that the £500bn figure was supported by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), with whom Labour was working to develop the proposals.”

That’s fine – but are these plans any good?

Let’s have a poll:

Feel free to use the ‘comment’ column to detail the reasons for your response.

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Labour MPs call for change in party policy – LabourList

Off the rails: Should railway companies be renationalised in the national interest?

Off the rails: Should railway companies be renationalised in the national interest?

A group of 15 Labour MPs have issued a public statement this morning, expressing concern about elements of Labour’s policy agenda, and urging a change of course in three key areas, according to LabourList.

The letter – signed by MPs on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party – calls for an alternative to Labour’s current deficit reduction plans, public ownership of the railways and a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace.

Here’s the statement in full, which outlines the signatories preferred alternative approach:

1 An alternative to the continuation of austerity and spending cuts till 2019-20

All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20, even though wages have already fallen 8% in real terms, business investment is still below pre-crash levels, unemployment is still 2million, the trade deficit in manufactured goods at over £100bn is now the largest in modern history, and household debt is now over £2trillion and still rising.

The Tories want to continue with these cuts because it gives them political cover to achieve their real objective which is to shrink the State and squeeze the public sector back to where it was in the 1930s.

It isn’t even as though the deficit is being reduced by these savage cuts. Because the reduction in the government’s tax revenues as a result of shrinking incomes exceed the spending cuts, the deficit (which is still nearly £100bn) is likely to rise, not fall, in 2014-15 and in future years.

There is an alternative way out of endless austerity. We need public investment to kickstart the economy out of faltering growth and to generate real job creation and rising incomes.

It can readily be funded. With interest rates at 0.5%, a £30bn investment package can be financed for just £150m a year, enough to create more than a million real jobs within 2-3 years. And even without any increase in public borrowing at all, the same sum could equally be funded either through the two banks which are already in public ownership, or through printing money (quantitative easing) to be used directly for industrial investment rather than for bond-buying by the banks as hitherto, or through taxing the ultra-rich by a special levy.

2 Returning rail franchises when expired to public ownership rather than subjecting them to competition

The essence of rail reform must be to reverse fragmentation, to reintegrate the system under public ownership, and to run it in the public interest. At present Britain has the highest fares in Europe. The additional costs of privatisation to public funds are estimated at more than £11bn, or around £1.2bn a year, so that the costs to the taxpayer are now three times as much as under British Rail.

Since 2010 rail fares have increased 25%, yet at the same time more than £200m a year has been paid out in dividends to shareholders or overseas state-owned rail companies which now hold two-thirds of the current rail franchises. Over 80% of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.

The most obvious and simplest way to achieve this is by letting the rail franchises expire and then taking them back into public ownership at no cost whatever to the taxpayer. To subject them to a public bidding competition with private bidders is not only wholly unnecessary but sends out the wrong signals, as though we’re not confident of our own ideology. The Tories certainly didn’t offer a competitive option when they forced through privatisation!

Anyway, the franchise process, so far from being economic, encourages the gaming of wildly optimistic passenger number projections and this, combined with huge legal contract complexity which is bureaucratic and wasteful both in time and money (except for the lawyers and accountants), has led in the past to franchise failures and operating chaos, most notably on the East and West Coast lines. From past experience public ownership has consistently worked better, and we should not gratuitously throw obstacles in our own path in getting there.

3 The need for the restoration of collective bargaining and employment rights as a check against excessive corporate power

When the Thatcher government came to office in 1979, 82% of workers in the UK had their main terms and conditions determined by a union-negotiated collective agreement. The latest figures now show that the coverage is down to just 23%. One very significant result is that the share of national income going to salaries and wages has fallen dramatically from 65% in 1980 to 53% in 2012 – a loss to employees of some £180bn!

This has happened partly from the collapse in trade union membership from 55% of the workforce in 1979 to 23% in 2012. But it has also happened partly as a result of the anti-trade union laws introduced in the 1980-90s and partly because the state has withdrawn support for collective bargaining as part of the free market ideology of de-regulation of all markets, including the labour market. It is somewhat ironic however that de-regulation of the labour market requires the tightest regulation of one of the key players in that market, the trade union movement.

An incoming Labour government should choose to enhance the role of trade unions because trade union rights are human rights, a trade union presence creates more just and equal workplaces, and trade union collective bargaining is more redistributive than statutory wage setting and will assist on the road from austerity. We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.

Diane Abbott
Dave Anderson
Katy Clark
Jeremy Corbyn
Fabian Hamilton
Kelvin Hopkins
Ian Lavery
John McDonnell
Michael Meacher
Ian Mearns
Grahame Morris
Linda Riordan
Steve Rotherham
Jim Sheridan
Chris Williamson

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My letter to MEPs over the transatlantic trade stitch-up

Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the 'little' people - the populations they are treading on - are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]

Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]

Your rights and freedoms have been under attack from all sides.

Not only has the government been able to pass the ‘gagging’ bill, preventing you from organising large-scale campaigns against repressive right-wing Conservative and Liberal Democrat legislation; not only are the police lobbying a sympathetic Home Secretary (there’s no restriction on their campaigning powers) for permission to use water cannons to suppress public on-street political protests; not only is the government hiding legislation to shackle news reporters and ignore the democratic process within a Bill that is supposed to be about cutting ‘red tape’; but negotiations to barter away your rights in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are still taking place.

Now, dear reader, you have probably written to your elected representatives at the European Parliament already. You haven’t? In that case, please look them up here – MEPs are elected on a regional basis so you should write to everyone representing your constituency – and get writing.

For information, here’s the letter I wrote to my own MEPs. Do not copy this, paste it into your email program and send it as your own! You will be ignored. The best way to grab their attention is to put in your own words your concerns about this issue. Use what follows as reference, but say it your own way.

Readers of Vox Political have been accused of improper behaviour before, because they copied and pasted rather than using their own words. Let’s not allow that again.

Here’s my letter; see if you can improve on it:

May I draw your attention to the detrimental effects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This agreement, currently in negotiation between the USA and the European Union, has as its stated aim opening up markets for services, investment and public procurement.

Much of the groundwork has been carried out in secret, hidden from public scrutiny, but the information that has been made available has aroused serious concern that this agreement will weaken existing standards and regulations that protect workers and consumers in the EU.

In particular, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow any foreign company operating in the UK to make a claim against the government for loss of future profits resulting from any regulatory action by the government, such as new legislation. Such claims would be considered by an unelected, unaccountable tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are likely to favour the corporations and would override national laws.

ISDS was set up to protect companies operating in countries with a history of political instability where the rule of law could not be guaranteed. This does not apply to either the US or the EU and you should interpret this mechanism only as a device for subverting our national and supranational legislation.

It is widely believed that the TTIP will be used by our Conservative-led government as a means of locking-in its detrimental changes to the National Health Service. I am sure I do not have to rehearse the arguments that introducing private companies to the health service in England is leading to a patchwork system in which care is provided entirely on the basis of profitability. There is now no obligation on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a high-quality service across the whole of the UK, and the new system encourages Clinical Commissioning Groups and medical practices to exclude from their lists patients with conditions that are expensive to treat. The TTIP will forbid the UK government from improving this system with legitimate public health regulation, health protection and health promotion policies as private health companies will be able to sue the state for loss of future profits. ISDS would make it impossible for CCGs to cancel contracts with private providers, even when those firms were providing inadequate standards of patient care, because they would then face a legal challenge for loss of earnings that they could not fund. It will also limit the government’s ability to regulate professional standards and qualifications regarded for healthcare workers and lower the quality of patient care. In short, it would be impossible to reverse the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, and its marketisation of the NHS. Do you want the health of your constituents to depend on a foreign company’s balance sheet?

You may wish to take heart from comments by the British Medical Association that it believes the NHS will be exempt from the TTIP. There is no evidence to support this statement. In fact, David Cameron stated in reply to a Parliamentary question in June 2013: “I am not aware of a specific exemption for any particular area, but I think that the health service would be treated in the same way in relation to EU-US negotiations as it is in relation to EU rules.”

In fact, as comments from the chairman of the Liberalisation of Trade in Services Committee (LOTIS) and financial services pressure group TheCityUK make clear, no issue had been identified that would allow exclusion of any sector from the second round of TTIP negotiations in November last year. You should also note that the Lisbon Treaty provides no protection for the NHS, despite the arguments of some people.

Furthermore, evidence to the House of Lords European Sub-Committee on External Affairs has shown that public health measures such as warnings on food labels, pesticides and chemicals, and other potentially toxic or unhealthy products may be restricted to bring the EU in line with the narrow approach to risk assessment taken in America (that promotes sales) and away from the EU’s broader precautionary principle (that promotes safety). Are you in favour of sales or the safety of your constituents?

You will know that the USA has not implemented fundamental labour rights such as the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Regulatory harmonisation brought about by the TTIP will lower European labour rights to American standards – the agreement will always bring standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that workers in all sectors, including (again) health, will lose vital rights in their struggle for fair pay and conditions of work. Do you support attacks on workers’ rights?

To sum up: The TTIP is ill-judged in its entirety and neither the UK nor the European Union should have anything to do with it. It would give huge power to transnational corporations while stripping away member states’ rights to regulate them and, in that sense alone, represents an enormous threat to democracy. British people fought long, arduous battles to gain the few rights they have, and neither you nor anybody else in the European Union have a mandate to sign those rights away.

This agreement may safeguard the profits of large multinational companies, ensuring that huge amounts of money go into their shareholders’ bank accounts (wherever they may be), but it will undermine the wages of everybody who works for them – again, according to the principle of the lowest common denominator. Yet it is workers’ wages that support national economies – by necessity they spend most (if not all) of their income as soon as they get it, on rent, utility bills, groceries and other vital supplies. The TTIP will harm national economies.

There is an argument that the TTIP will create growth and jobs – but there is little evidence for this, and even that is poor. The European Commission’s own impact assessment admits that a 0.5 per cent increase in growth would be “optimistic”, and independent research suggests that a meagre 0.01 per cent increase in the growth rate over 10 years is more likely. The North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico led to a net loss of almost a million jobs in the US.

Negotiations on the TTIP represent a test on where your loyalties lie. Do you support the people who elected you – or are you a puppet of the corporations?

As my representative, I am asking you to take all steps necessary to publicise this attack on democracy and on our sovereignty, and to take any action – individually or collectively – to put an end to it.

Please let me know what you intend to do.

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