Tag Archives: industrial action

National Park pay cut highlights the need to strengthen trade unions

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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.

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.”

Agreed.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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The lies that smashed the unions and destroyed our coal industry

So now we know that Margaret Thatcher lied about the scale of her attack on the British mining industry.

She told the country that only 20 pits were to be closed, when in secret she and National Coal Board chief Ian Macgregor had planned to close no less than 75.

The revelation vindicates then-National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill, who claimed at the time that there was a “secret hit-list” of more than 70 pits marked for closure.

Documents released under what used to be called the Thirty Year Rule show that under the plan, two-thirds of Welsh miners would become redundant, a third of those in Scotland, almost half of those in north east England, half in South Yorkshire and almost half in the South Midlands. The entire Kent coalfield would close.

The workforce was to be cut by about a third, from 202,000 to 138,000.

Thatcher went on to use the lie as an excuse to break the power of the trade unions, setting the scene for the long decline in employees’ rights that has brought us to the current sorry situation in which part-time work, zero-hours contracts and fake ‘self-employed’ status are robbing us of what few entitlements we have left.

She used the police as a political weapon to attack picket lines, sowing seeds of distrust that persist to this day. How many people who saw the scenes of carnage during the miners’ strike can honestly say they trust the police to uphold the law without fear or favour? Is it not more accurate to say they fear the police as agents of a ruling elite?

She destroyed Britain’s ability to provide fuel for our own power stations, leading us into dependence on foreign powers for our energy needs. It is this helplessness – caused by the policies of that Conservative Prime Minister – that has put so many British families into fuel poverty under the current Conservative Prime Minister, forcing them to choose between heating and eating.

In short, Margaret Thatcher owes compensation to a huge number of British people.

Some might consider it a lucky escape for her that she died last year and will avoid our wrath, but then again, considering her state of mind at the end it is unlikely that she would have recognised what it was.

Perhaps it will be possible for some of her victims to claim compensation from her estate; that will be a matter for them.

But other leading Conservatives and civil servants were in on the plot – and they should not be allowed to walk away unpunished. These include:

  • Nigel Lawson (Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time).
  • Norman Tebbit (Employment Secretary).
  • Sir Robert Armstrong (now Baron Armstrong of Ilminster, Secretary of the Cabinet in 1983). Armstrong has denied that there was a cover-up – an astonishing claim when documentation shows there was an agreement not to keep records of the secret meetings in which the plans were hatched and developed.
  • Peter Gregson (although he may also be dead; attempts to determine his status have turned up nothing).
  • Michael Scholar.

These are just the names on the document market ‘Secret’ meeting at No 10 on the BBC News report of the revelation.

They all knew about the lie and could all have told the truth but they did not.

They betrayed Britain.

Will they escape justice?

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Atos workers vote for industrial action

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You know things have come to a pretty pass when the government’s own hit squad plans to strike against low pay.

It seems Atos workers who are members of the PCS union have voted for industrial action after they rejected below-inflation and conditional pay offers from their employer.

This is the company that is under contract to receive £1.6 billion from the UK government, to carry out the hated Work Capability Assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions, mark you.

According to PCS, members working for Atos IT Services and in Atos Healthcare voted to support strike action by a proportion of more than 80 per cent. More than 90 per cent supported action short of a strike.

A union spokesperson said: “As we demonstrated in 2012, members have shown they are prepared to support their elected representatives and defend their interests. Atos should be under no illusions that we are prepared to take action.”

If you’re like me, you don’t know they demonstrated anything at all in 2012 – but I have unearthed a previous press release from PCS that mysteriously doesn’t seem to have made it into the news.

It states that PCS members working for Atos were going to take action over pay on August 13 this year but suspended the action at the 11th hour when Atos made an improved offer.

This involved the immediate payment of the Living Wage (Labour must have been happy at that) to all PCS members with more than three months’ service; a two per cent pay uplift for members who already received more than the Living Wage in April this year; a £320 “non-consolidated payment” to all Atos IT Services staff and a £3100 “non-consolidated payment” to Atos Healthcare staff; a new pay process (for PCS members only – presumably other Atos staff could go whistle) in Healthcare and IT Services; a PCS and Atos working party to develop a more transparent appraisal system; and development of a joint PCS and Atos plan to promote “respect, dignity and fair treatment for all workers”.

This indicates that Atos workers receive a very low wage for what they do. You may find this surprising, considering the size of the contracts awarded by the Coalition government; in 2011-12 Atos received £112.4 million to carry out 738,000 assessments. That comes out at £152.30 per hour-long assessment.

If this money is not going to the so-called ‘medical professionals’ who carry out the assessments or their support staff, it could go a long way towards explaining how Atos boss Thierry Breton managed to bump up his pay package by £280,000 to £2,329,250 this year.

It also shows that the ministers at the DWP (after this blog was upbraided for insulting gutter vermin with a previous comparison, let’s call them pond scum this time around) and their allies at Atos, including Mr Breton, seem to have no problem with treating their own staff almost as badly as they treat claimants of sickness and disability benefits.

The DWP, in partnership with Atos: Making Work Pay Less.

Lobbying Bill rethink – another Tory ‘bait-and-switch’?

Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear concerns over the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.

Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear concerns over the Lobbying and Transparency Bill.

It seems we have all been victims of a Parliamentary stitch-up.

Everyone who was getting hot under the collar last week, because the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill seemed to be attacking the fair and proper work of charities and other organisations, probably breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced it would scrap plans to change the way campaign spending is defined.

The Bill would have restricted any charitable campaigning which “enhances the standing of parties or candidates”, in the full year before an election, to £390,000. That’s a 70 per cent cut – plus it would now include staff costs.

The BBC reported that Andrew Lansley has tabled a series of amendments, including one reverting to the wording set out in existing legislation, defining controlled expenditure as any “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”.

What the BBC does not say, but is clarified in the government press release, is that “the Bill will still bring down the national spending limit for third parties, introduce constituency spending limits and extend the definition of controlled expenditure to cover more than just election material, to include rallies, transport and press conferences“.

In other words, this is a very minor change. Spending is still restricted during election years (and almost every year is an election year); the work of trade unions will be savaged – in a country that already has the most savage anti-union laws in Europe; and all organisations will still have to watch what they say about anything which might be considered an election issue.

Want to campaign to protect the NHS, introduce fair taxation, fight poverty, improve public health or education, reform the financial sector or civil liberties, or fight the privatisation agenda? Then your budget will be scrutinised and you may not go over. And don’t forget there will be limits on spending within constituencies.

This still means that smaller organisations will enjoy greater influence than larger ones and – perhaps most telling of all – it does not clarify the position with regard to the corporate media. Will the mainstream press be curtailed? Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group spend far more than £390,000 every day, and on material that absolutely is “intended to promote or procure electoral success” – for the Conservative Party. Does anybody seriously believe the Tories will enforce action against their supporters?

One tangential element that this does clarify is the BBC’s political stance. Its story makes no mention of the more-than-100 other amendments that have been proposed for the Bill – possibly because they were put forward by MPs who aren’t in the government. Nor does it mention any of the technicalities that water down yesterday’s announcement. Instead, the BBC presents it as a victory for charities, who are getting everything they want. They aren’t.

It’s another Tory ‘bait-and-switch’ trick.

Doubly so, in fact, because this little circus has diverted attention away from the other aspects of the Bill – its clampdown on trade unions and the fact that it does almost nothing to address lobbying, which was supposed to be its reason for existing in the first place!

Joint co-operation between various trade unions will be made more difficult – to such an extent that the Trade Union Congress will effectively be banned in election years (meaning almost every year).

All unions with more than 10,000 members will have to submit an annual ‘Membership Audit Certificate’ to the Certification Officer in addition to the annual return which they already make. The Certification Officer will have the power to require production of ‘relevant’ documents, including membership records and even private correspondence. What is the rationale for these draconian provisions when not a single complaint has been made to the Certification Officer about these matters?

Is the real motive behind this section of the bill to help employers mount injunction proceedings when union members have voted for industrial action, by seizing on minor if not minuscule flaws which the Court of Appeal would previously have considered ‘de minimis’ or ‘accidental’? Isn’t this about inserting yet further minute technical or bureaucratic obstacles or hurdles in the path of trade unions carrying out their perfectly proper and legitimate activities?

And what about the potentional for ‘blacklisting’? If union membership records are to be made publicly available, as seems the case, then it will be possible for businesses to single out job applicants who are union members and refuse them work.

And then we come to the matter of lobbying itself.

This Bill still does not do what it is supposed to do. A register of consultant lobbyists is not adequate to the task and would not have prevented any of the major lobbying scandals in which David Cameron has been embroiled.

Practically all forms of lobbying, including direct donations to political parties by corporate and private interests, will remain totally unaffected by the legislation and corporations could sidestep it easily, simply by bringing their lobbying operations “in house”.

No less than 80 per cent of lobbying activity will not be covered by the bill – and it must be amended to cover this percentage. The only lobbyists that will be affected are registered lobbying agencies, who will presumably suffer large losses as their clients leave. Perhaps the real aim of this part of the bill is to stop lobbying from organisations that don’t have enough money to make it worth the government’s while?

How does this bill prevent wealthy individuals and corporations from buying political influence through party political donations – direct donations to MPs who then coincidentally vote in ways beneficial to their donors – or directly to political parties, such as David Cameron’s “The Leaders Group”?

How will it stop paid lobbyists like David Cameron’s election adviser Lynton Crosby from having influential roles in politics?

How will it stop people with significant lobbying interests, like George Osborne’s father-in-law David Howell, being appointed as advisers and ministers in areas where they have blatant conflicts of interests with their lobbying activities?

How will it increase transparency when it comes to which organisations have been lobbying which politicians on particular issues?

It won’t.

Nor will it stop lobbyists targeting ministers’ political advisers (SPADs), as was witnessed in the Jeremy Hunt Sky TV affair.

Or prevent corporate interests being invited to actually write government legislation on their behalf – for example the ‘big four’ accountancy firms, who run many tax avoidance schemes, actually write UK law on tax avoidance.

An adequate register would cover all of the above, including details of all non-Parliamentary representatives seeking to influence members of the government, how much they paid for the privilege, and what they expected to get for their money.

Then we will have transparency.