If you think Department for Work and Pensions staff in Wolverhampton, Walsall and Stockport are striking over the appalling state of the so-called ‘benefit’ they are employed to enforce… think again.
They’re striking to get an improvement in their own working conditions.
Apparently people being forced to suffer because of the conditions forced on them will just have to fend for themselves. Charming!
According to Welfare Weekly, “Universal Credit staff working at two centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton will take two further days of strike action this week, after losing patience with the government in their campaign for more staff and better working conditions.
“The walk-out will take place between Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29, after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to meet the demands of workers.
“Staff walked out in March 2019, accusing the DWP of treating them with “utter contempt”.”
So they should understand how UC claimants feel, then.
The Mirror has said the strike will be joined by workers at a call centre in Stockport.
Organiser the PCS union has said the action has been motivated by cuts, workload increases and the victimisation of union representatives.
It says this is making it impossible for its members to properly support UC claimants.
The DWP, on the other hand, has said staffing levels are sufficient but it will monitor the situation and hold regular meetings with the union, in order to resolve the issues.
Meanwhile, UC claimants will undoubtedly continue to suffer with benefit claims rejected on false pretences. Will the DWP try to use employees’ claims of overwork as an excuse?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Ramsgate ferry terminal: The Seaborne contract requires the waters surrounding it to be dredged – who’s paying for that, then?
The Conservative government has often been accused of making up its policies on the back of a cigarette packet so perhaps it’s no surprise that the ferry-free freight company hired to provide a service following a “no deal” Brexit seems to have cut-and-pasted its terms and conditions from a takeaway website.
Seaborne Freight was awarded a £13.8 million contract to ease the pressure on Dover when Britain pulls out of the EU – despite never having run a Channel service.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling insisted the company had been properly vetted before being chosen, but now we find the terms and conditions on its website appeared to have been lifted from a takeaway delivery service.
The ‘placing an order’ section stated that “it is the responsibility of the customer to ensure delivery address details are correct and detailed enough for the delivery driver to locate the address in adequate time.
“You must always provide a valid contact number and email when ordering online. Please provide additional delivery instructions in the relevant section on our checkout page. In the event that your address cannot be found, undelivered orders will be chargeable.”
I hope you’re laughing. This is very funny indeed, especially if you don’t like the Tories and their corrupt little deals. And of course, you’re paying for it so you might as well have a giggle.
Not the right kind of tree-hugger: This is an artist’s impression of what Jeremy Hunt looked like, hiding behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch.
Don’t get your hopes up too high.
The debate on whether Jeremy Hunt should get the boot will take place on Monday (September 14), but is taking place as a result of a petition on the government’s website – meaning nothing is likely to come of it, even if the vote is in favour of his removal.
Remember the debate on the first ‘Wow’ petition? The demand for a cumulative impact assessment on all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, made by the then-Coalition Government. The motion was passed resoundingly – and the Coalition Government did nothing. There has been no such assessment. David Cameron’s aides said the vote was “advisory”.
Still, the exposure certainly won’t do Mr Hunt, the well-known Murdoch minion and humorous misprint, any good at all.
The petition, created by Dr Ash Sadighi, states that “Jeremy Hunt has alienated the entire workforce of the NHS by threatening to impose a harsh contract and conditions on first consultants and soon the rest of the NHS staff” and calls for a vote of ‘no confidence’. It has attracted 219,488 signatures – more than double the 100,000 required, well ahead of its January 20, 2016 deadline.
The Conservative Government has already responded to the petition with a lengthy justification of the decision to require contractual changes that will worsen the conditions of work for NHS staff. You can read it here.
It is interesting that this statement contradicts itself by suggesting that, in order to counter the claimed fact that, “if you are admitted to hospital on a weekend, you have a 16 per cent greater chance of dying”, the government wanted to end a contract “that allows senior doctors to refuse to work non-emergency work in the evenings, at nights and at weekends” [italics mine].
That’s non-emergency work. Obviously, life-threatening conditions don’t come under this category and so ending this contract would do nothing to alleviate the problem that has been identified.
What, then, would be the reason for worsening the conditions for medical staff?
Could it be another attempt to “sour the milk” at the NHS, making it less attractive for medical staff in order to scare away the talented physicians that are needed in order to make the system work?
Could it be that the long-term aim is to make private healthcare a more attractive option – to both staff and patients – despite the increased personal costs that this involves?
This seems likely.
But of course, this issue is only one of many in which the Health Secretary has demonstrated his incompetence. Remember the series of inaccurate (to the point of being laughable, if the consequences weren’t so dangerous for patients) statements he issued on Twitter at the beginning of the year?
Remember his confession that he would rather burden Accident and Emergency departments with non-emergency concerns affecting his family, rather than wait for an appointment with a doctor?
There is no mention of these in the Conservative Government’s response to this petition, even though they also create serious concern about the abilities of this man.
Let us hope that Mr Hunt’s inadequacies are fully aired on Monday. Feel free to contact your MP if you want particular issues raised.
The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority has unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of work for 19 of its staff, removing enhanced rates of pay for weekend work.
The organisation’s bosses reckon they do not have the cash to continue with a pay condition that used to be mandatory across the United Kingdom; if you worked Saturdays, you got time-and-a-half, and on Sundays, double-time.
What was their pay cut, then?
The article in this week’s Brecon and Radnor Express doesn’t mention one. It states: “Following a consultation with staff, the authority amended its proposals and agreed to continue paying the enhanced time-and-a-half rate for working bank holidays [bank holiday work used to be paid on the double-time rate, This Writer believes]… [Staff] have been given until this week to accept the new terms and conditions.”
This is the kind of unacceptable behaviour that working people have been forced to endure for too long, under successive right-wing governments that have legislated against trade unions and industrial action.
The current Conservative Party manifesto gives a prime example of ‘boss’ thinking: “We will protect you from disruptive and undemocratic strike action. Strikes should only ever be the result of a clear, positive decision based on a ballot in which at least half the workforce has voted. This turnout threshold will be an important and fair step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.
“We will, in addition, tackle the disproportionate impact of strikes in essential public services by introducing a tougher threshold in health, education, fire and transport. Industrial action in these essential services would require the support of at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots – as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote.”
A “fair step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions”? Really?
Apply the same rules to political elections and none of the Conservative Party would be elected at all. None of that party’s expensive and pointless ‘Police and Crime Commissioners’ would have been elected, either.
There is nothing “fair” about this Conservative proposal – and I expect the workers at the Brecon Beacons National Park to agree.
Picket line: FBU members on strike in June 2014. The government was imposing new conditions of employment that would have ensured far fewer firefighters would qualify for their pensions in the future.
Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, states a very good case for trade unions, as follows: “Unions are essential for three reasons. The first is to ensure fair pay and conditions. Many of the things that people take for granted now, from sick pay to holiday pay to employment rights only happened because of trade unions.
“Secondly, collective bargaining is essential if working people are to stand up to employers who can otherwise use their relative power to suppress wages on an individual basis. Unions are, therefore, essential for the improvement of the incomes of wage earners and one reason why we have growing inequality in the UK is the loss of union representation.”
[Going back to the national park, the newspaper article quoted the authority as saying its change would bring it into line with “much of the public sector across Wales”. Clearly, the public sector in Wales needed collective bargaining; they have been picked off, one organisation at a time, by cynical bosses.]
“Third, unions are economically efficient. They reduce employer negotiating time. They reduce the number of disputes by resolving vast numbers of them by their interventions. And they reduce the inefficiency that results from the uncertainty of individual negotiations and resulting grievances.”
Mr Murphy continues: “This is class warfare and it will harm the UK by reducing wages, increasing inequality, denying representation to people who need it and reducing efficiency in the workplace.
“No logic can support this policy. Dogma based on class hatred can.”
Don’t you just hate it when politicians rig the statistics to show ‘facts’ that are demonstrably untrue?
According to the Conservative Party, the number of children in poverty has fallen by 300,000 under the Coalition Government – but poverty is measured as a percentage of average income; when the nation’s average income drops, poverty is said to have dropped as well, even though this is clearly untrue.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Those with less than 60 per cent of median income are classified as poor. This ‘poverty line’ is the agreed international measure used throughout the European Union.”
Here in the UK, wages have suffered their longest-sustained fall for no less than 150 years.
Average incomes in the years up to 2012. This is the most up-to-date graph I have. Source: ONS.
So no wonder the BBC and the Mirror are reporting that children are arriving at school in “Victorian squalor”. This is what the Coalition Government wants.
The BBC reported: “Claims about poverty in the school-age population will be heard at the NASUWT teachers’ union annual conference in Cardiff. The union asked members for their experiences and received almost 2,500 responses. It was not a representative sample of teachers, but among those replying more than two in three reported seeing pupils come to school hungry.
“Almost one in four of the teachers who responded said they had brought in food for pupils who were hungry, and an even higher proportion had seen the school feeding pupils.
“More than three in four had seen pupils arriving at school with “inappropriate clothing” such as no socks or coats in bad weather.
“Similar numbers claimed that a bad diet meant that pupils were unable to concentrate on their work.”
The Liberal Democrats said they had helped families by introducing free school meals for all infant children. That’s the caring side of the Coalition Government for you. Rather than sort out the underlying problems – that they created – they put a patch on it and say it’s solved.
Meanwhile, a Tory spokesman said – get this: “Because of our policies, there are more jobs than ever before, wages are rising faster than prices and with the lowest inflation on record, family budgets are starting to go further. The NASUWT should recognise how the Conservatives have rescued the economy, and through that, delivering the jobs that secure a better future for families.”
Jobs that pay far too little to make any real difference – 28 per cent of them are on insecure zero-hours contracts.
Who do these selfish toffs think they’re fooling?
We must get rid of them before they cause any more harm to our children.
What Britain Wants: Delegates at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester were outnumbered three-to-one by the 50,000 demonstrators against the party’s austerity policies, who chanted “Out, Tory scum!”
Do rank-and-file Tories really believe their party’s “achievements” in taxation will propel it to victory in the next election?
To recap: The Coalition government has cut taxes to allow 13,000 income-millionaires an extra £100,000 each, but at the other end of the income scale, raising the tax threshold nominally gave the poorest in society an extra £600 per year – which has been completely wiped out by the rising cost of living and cuts in social security benefits. Most people in the UK earn less than the average wage so it is easy to conclude that many more people will be affected.
It might be a mouth-watering policy for the ‘have-yachts’ who now appear to comprise the majority of party membership after the mass defections and membership card-burning displays of recent months, but party leaders know that they need to keep that sort of thing quiet and woo the masses with a more attractive proposition.
They’re not stupid. They have learned a trick or two from David Cameron’s short-lived “detoxification” before they came back into public office, and they believe their “bait and switch” tactic is serving them well. They need a user-friendly “bait” to get the average citizens’ votes, after which they can “switch” back to the terrifying policies of oppression that we have tasted – yes, only tasted – over the last three years.
So Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardiantells us: “The high-speed rail link is to be rebranded ‘the north-south railway’ in an attempt to convince voters that the Tories want an economic recovery for all regions of the country.”
And Andrew Gimson on ConservativeHomestates: “There is a bit of window-dressing about cautions, which is meant to show that the Tories are tough on crime. And there is an irresponsible scheme to help people buy over-priced houses, which is meant to show that the party is on the side of people who do not have rich parents.
“If I were a floating voter, I think I would find these attempts to gain my support rather patronising,” he adds – and we can all agree with that.
Then he has to ruin it with: “Why can the party not rely on the substantial reforms being made in such fields as taxation, welfare, education and health?”
Simple answer: Because nobody wanted them.
We have already covered taxation in part. To the regressive changes in income tax that have helped the rich and attacked the poor, we should add the non-attempt to handle tax avoidance, which amounts to a few weasel words spoken for the benefit of the public while the ‘Big Four’ accountancy (and tax avoidance) firms continue to write the law on the subject, ensuring that their schemes – together with the people and firms on them – continue to avoid the attention of HM Revenue and Customs.
Is that fair? Do you think it will appeal to the poverty-stricken voter-on-the-street?
Welfare: George Osborne was set to unveil a new intensification of Workfare today (Monday), in which everyone who has been unemployed for more than two years will have to go on work placements in order to receive their benefits. This is, of course, utterly pointless. Such schemes ensure that fewer real jobs are available (why should an employer pay anyone a living wage when the government is supplying a steady stream of workers for free?) and have proved worse than useless at getting anyone into the few positions that remain. The announcement may cheer the Tory faithful but Andrew Gimson’s article suggests that these people are further out of touch than their MPs!
It is interesting that the new plan is not being unveiled by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but by his rival. It seems that Smith really has been ‘Returned To Unit’ for the time being – perhaps because he has done more to re-toxify the Tory brand than most of the party’s other front-benchers put together!
It is, however, a sad example of the power of media censorship that people are more stirred up by his bedroom tax than they are about the fact that his Unum-inspired and Atos-driven work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance claimants have led to so many thousands of deaths – yes, deaths – that the government is refusing to release the fatality statistics.
Education: Michael Gove is working hard to dismantle state education, so schools may be run for profit, rather than to educate our children. He has distorted international statistics to make it seem that our performance had worsened when in fact it had improved – and got an official warning about it from the UK Statistics Authority. He lied about the advantages of schools becoming academies – all schools already control the length of the school day, teachers’ pay and the curriculum. His claim that autonomy would improve performance remains entirely unfounded – non-academy schools outperform them. His expensive Free Schools experiment is pointless if intended to improve education – in Sweden a similar experiment increased racial and social divisions while education standards dropped. American ‘Charter’ schools were also held up as examples of “extraordinary” change, but almost half showed no improvement and more than one-third worsened. Gove’s next stop, following the ‘Charter’ schools’ example, will be privatisation – schools-for-profit. Meanwhile, he intends to worsen academic achievement by promoting an outdated, learn-by-rote, system of teaching that is scorned by the other countries he says he admires, in favour of creativity. And he has undermined not only teacher morale and conditions, but also the morale of his own civil servants. Our children don’t even have the right to a qualified teacher any more. Now he wants performance-related-pay, rather than national pay awards – further undermining teachers and teaching standards.
And Tory policy on health has been the biggest betrayal of the lot: If David Cameron had any support at all in 2010, it was because he had promised to support the National Health Service in the then-upcoming time of austerity. He promised no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, even though he knew his then-health spokesman, Andrew Lansley, had been working on exactly that for many years. After worming his way into Number 10, they immediately embarked on the piecemeal privatisation of this country’s greatest asset, and this is now well under way, with contracts worth billions of pounds awarded to private companies for work that was previously carried out by the nationalised service, and a quarter of the commissioning groups – that we were told would be run by GPs and other health specialists – now run by the private accounting firm (also one of the Big Four and a subsidiary of Atos) KPMG.
Even their performance on the economy – which both Cameron and Osborne made the yardstick for determining this Parliament’s success – has been poor. The current upturn has nothing to do with Osborne’s policies and everything to do with the UK’s current position in the economic cycle – in short, things had to get better eventually.
This is why the Tories are gathering under the false slogan “For Hard-Working People”, rather than the more appropriate “For The Idle Rich” that Andrew Rawnsley suggests. The party’s leaders understand what their dwindling support base does not – that they need the masses to believe the Conservatives are on their side.
This is why they can only wheel out watered-down or repackaged policies that they hope will please the crowds – the party’s leaders understand that anything more solid will turn us away.
If you get the chance, have a good look at the speakers in this year’s conference. Every one of them will be terrified that their message isn’t strong enough or that the public will see through it – and remove their snouts from the trough in 2015.
The fact is, they had already blown it – long before they got anywhere near Manchester.
End of an institution: We can all wave goodbye to friendly Postman Pat; the new post-privatisation Royal Mail will be run according to strict for-profit rules and rural areas in particular are likely to suffer.
Is anybody happy that the Royal Mail is to be privatised?
Personally, I see no cause for celebration. Polls show that 70 per cent of the public are against privatisation – no matter which political party they support – and 96 per cent of the workforce don’t want it either, despite being offered shares in the new company. They’re not stupid. They know that workers in other privatised services have not been able to keep their shares. Will they be able to take the shares with them if they leave?
And what will happen to workforce terms and conditions?
Other people buying shares will have to pay at least £750 to get the smallest stake in the new company – that puts the sell-off well out of the reach of most people in these depressed times. It is a privatisation for financiers, lawyers and accountants. They won’t want to share the profit pot with staff – and profits are at a record high of £400 million per year.
Meanwhile, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government recently nationalised the Royal Mail’s pension fund obligations (its debt) so that taxpayers across the country will have to pay for it. The privatisation means any profits will go to those who can afford to buy the shares. This is bad business. Don’t these two political parties always claim they are the experts when it comes to money? It seems a strange claim to make in the light of such reckless endangerment of public funds.
What of the future? We have seen where privatisation leads, with the flotation of the railways, the energy and water companies on the stock exchange – shares have ended up in the hands of foreign multinationals who have pushed prices up and up, while providing ever-poorer services, and the companies concerned have continued to demand money from the government for any investment; this is because all the profits go to shareholders, who then feel justified in granting huge pay packets to their chief officers.
So the taxpayer continues shelling out for these so-called private utilities while the new owners have the time of their lives at our expense. The workers – and the service – suffer.
This is a change that will affect everyone. I hope everyone remembers who inflicted it on us, when they come to vote at the general election in 2015.
Skewed view: This image (not mine) provides a startlingly accurate representation of the way British Conservatives see Europe. Do you honestly think they can be trusted to honour the human rights that European laws have granted us?
You do realise what David Cameron means when he says he wants to re-negotiate our membership of the European Union, don’t you?
For a start, he means he wants to abolish laws that protect the human rights your ancestors fought tooth and nail to win for you.
He won’t make any deals in your interest. That’s not in his nature.
If he gets his way, you could lose the right to:
Written terms and conditions of work, and a job description – and the right to the same terms and conditions if transferred to a different employer.
Four weeks’ paid leave from work per year.
Not be sacked for being pregnant, or for taking time off for ante-natal appointments.
Come back to work after maternity leave, on the same pay, terms and conditions as before the leave started.
Health and safety protection for pregnant women, new and breastfeeding mothers.
Equal treatment for workers employed through an agency.
Tea and lunch breaks during the working day for anyone working six hours or more
One day off per week.
Time off for urgent family reasons.
In addition, Cameron could relieve employeers of the legal obligation to ensure the health and safety of their workers, including undertaking risk assessments, acting to minimise risks, informing workers of risks, and consulting on health and safety with employees and their representatives. In his cost-cutting brave new Britain you’d just have to take your chances.
Health and safety representatives from trade unions could lose the right to ask employers to make changes in order to protect workers’ health and safety, and they would lose their protection against unfair treatment by their employer for carrying out their duties in relation to this.
The ban on forcing children less than 13 years of age into work could be lost, along with the limit on the hours children aged 13 or more and young people can work.
Children who could then be forced into work, regardless of the effect on their education, would have no rules protecting their health and safety, and the rules that say they can only be employed doing “light work” could also be abolished.
Protection from discrimination or harassment at work on grounds of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation – direct or indirect – could be dropped.
And the right of disabled people to expect their employers to make reasonable adjustments for them at work could also be abolished.
These are just your rights at work!
Cameron himself has said, as leader of the Opposition: “I do not believe it is appropriate for social and employment legislation to be dealt with at the European level. It will be a top priority for the next Conservative government to restore social and employment legislation to national control.”
And as Prime Minister: “Complex rules restricting our labour markets are not some naturally occurring phenomenon. Just as excessive regulation is not some external plague that’s been visited on our businesses.”
To find out what he meant by those words, we must turn to the former leader of the British Conservative MEPs, Martin Callanan, who said: “One of the best ways for the EU to speed up growth is to … scrap the Working Time Directive, the Agency Workers Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive and all of the other barriers to actually employing people if we really want to create jobs in Europe.”
Of course, they distort the facts. These rules aren’t barriers to employing people at all; they are structures within which people may be employed responsibly.
The Tories want to ban responsibility in the workplace. They want a return to dangerous employment conditions, abuse of workers and the removal of any legal protection from such abuse that they may have.
They will tear apart your rights at work.
So, if you are living in the UK and you’ve got a job, please take a moment to consider what this means for you. You might agree with the Coalition on its benefits policy that has led to thousands of deaths of sick and disabled people; you might agree with its bedroom tax and too-low benefit cap that has led to a rapid rise in debt and homelessness among the unemployed and those on low wages.
But now you know they’re coming for you, too.
What are you going to do about it?
Are you going to sit on your thumbs and do nothing – just meekly wait for them to rock up and tell you they’ve abolished all your rights at work and you can now go and slave for them in appalling conditions with absolutely no legal protection at all?
In other words, when it’s you that’s threatened, are you going to let it happen, just like you let it happen to the sick, disabled, unemployed and low-waged?
Or are you going to take action and make a difference?
It doesn’t take much. You could write to David Cameron and to your MP at the House of Commons. You could email them – just look up the addresses on They Work For You, or you could add your name to the letter being created by Unions Together. Yes, I know Mr Cameron says the unions are a bad thing, but in this case the enemy of your enemy is your friend.
As the leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, Glenis Willmott MEP, says: “Our rights at work are not ‘red tape’ to be slashed away. Don’t let Cameron and the Tories get away with this great European scam.”
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