Saturday, 28 April 2012

My clash with the Daily Mail - what happened next

Back in September I wrote this article about the way Unite members and I had been disgracefully misrepresented by the Daily Mail

Nobody encouraged me with my decision to take a complaint to the PCC, a typical comment being that there was no point, it was a toothless organisation, and that it's impossible to stop the Mail distorting the truth to suit it's own agenda.

Well, I can't claim a glorious victory.  But the process - which took five months (!), involved many exchanges of letters between myself, the PCC and the Editor of the paper.  I certainly put them to a lot of time, trouble, and ( I suspect ) cash.

I did eventually manage to extract a virtually meaningless form of apology from the Daily Mail, which they printed in their corrections column.  They were..."Very happy to confirm that the use of "Human Rights abuse" in quotation marks was not something that anybody had said, but rather had been used to summarize the story"

The Mail insist I was wrong to say they invented the "Human Rights abuse" angle.  They claim that they bought the story from Cavendish.  If this is true, then there is an issue of press agencies twisting the news so that newspapers will want to buy the story from them.  My response - that the Mail had a journalistic duty to check it's own sources and not simply take what Cavendish said at face value - was brushed aside.

The reason I pushed the complaint all the way to the PCC full committee stage was that I object to this paper routinely using quotation marks in headlines, and prominently in the opening paragraph of a story, when nobody at all has said the quote, and where no source is given or could be given as none exists.

The PCC decision on this point was to defend the Daily Mail. The PCC agree that it is reasonable for quotation marks to be used to summarize a story.  I can't accept that the public would agree with this - most people expect that if something appears in quotes, it means that somebody has actually said it!

But I'm glad I pursued the complaint.   For me the positive outcome is that it's highlighted a major journalistic tool of distortion used by the paper to twist the news to suit it's political agenda. This tool is just one of many. But it's also something of a favourite, and is used every day by the paper.  The more readers are educated to spot it, the more difficult it becomes for them to use it.

This is what I was getting at back in September when I argued we need to start nailing these distortions.

The next thing we need to do is to figure out each of the tactics used to twist and distort, then educate people about them.  Once people are wise to these tactics and can see them for themselves, more people will start filing formal complaints or use social media to highlight the distortion.   The Mail's journalism is far from reputable, and once more people start to realise this and start to complain, it could damage the brand and force them into a more balanced direction....

Thursday, 26 April 2012

How Trade Unionism can defeat recession, deliver social justice and grow the economy

Over 90% of housing benefit recipients are in work. It is a Tory myth that the answer to "making work pay" is something to do with the benefits system.

Multi-billion profit making employers ALL pay poverty wages to a proportion of the workforce. Those workers then get propped up by the state. The scale of the problem varies from company to company, with cleaners, security and catering staff topping the list of most likely to be exploited.  In retail, call-sector and service sectors, the vast majority of the workforce are under-paid.  The fact that hundreds of thousands of full-time workers in the banking and finance sector live in poverty underlines my point.

Who can argue that it is in the best interests of taxpayers that we all pay towards the welfare of poverty-paid full-time workers from Tesco, Vodafone or Barclays Bank?

Unions have been truly battered within the private sector, and membership is about 15%.   Collective bargaining has been systematically attacked both by government and by employers since 1979.   The share of the national wealth given to wages has plummeted as a result, inequality has soared, and the burden upon society has become huge in propping up the poverty pay of the richest companies.    Anyone remember "wage inflation" ?  Economists in the 70's wrongly believed that unions caused inflation, and this was part of the political narrative to justify the destruction of industry wide collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining across the private sector would solve the problem of poverty pay in wealthy organisations. Pay would also improve for millions of other workers. But Unions don't have the resources to achieve this themselves.  Collective bargaining needs to be championed by government as a major instrument of pay policy. I passionately believe that this is a direction of policy that Labour should adopt.

The reason employers resist union organising drives so aggressively is that they understand very well that Unions work.  They know that unions push pay and other conditions up. They also fear - quite legitimately, that this could make them less competitive compared to non-union competitors.

The taxpayer - and the government, have a responsibility not to be neutral in this.   The more people earn, the more tax they pay and the more the government has in revenue.  Less is then needed for welfare.  And the more people have to spend, the more they do spend, thus stimulating recovery, economic growth and job creation.

To give an example, in my "patch" in Burton and Uttoxeter, I have one recognition agreement with a major warehouse for a blue-chip company.  Union pay rates are £9.50 per hour.  In the non-union warehouses in Burton on Trent, hardly anybody is paid more than £6.50 per hour.   Unions work.

My suggestions are not a quick fix - that rate of £9.50 has taken ten years of annual pay negotiations to get to where we are, from a starting point of minimum wage.

If the private sector becomes unionised, over time we will have a happier population....a more equal society.  The pressure on the state will reduce, and over time, tax receipts will rise, probably by something like 25%  from private sector workers.  The intense pressure upon family life will be eased, our children will be happier and there will be a boom in our leisure industry.  So what's not to like?

The Trade Unions, far from being the problem depicted by a hostile media, are the solution

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Unite Pinterest Board!

Here it is !

I'm hoping to use it to show the massive variety of wonderful things that the Union does.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

CEO of UK Plc explains the proper process behind his pay rise....

Step 1. We value our team of Directors, we could not make profits without them, and we certainly cannot afford to lose any of us. We aim to be an upper quartile player within the market for our top people, and this way we can keep them. To check we are where we want to be, we've asked Potts&Fryatt to benchmark our pay against the market. We cannot remember how long ago we last did this.

Step 2. Jolly good job we did that benchmarking exercise. We are only in the mid quartile, and we will require a 57% uplift in directors salary in order to stop us all from leaving. This is why we get paid so much, because we have to make all these difficult decisions.  Good, now we are upper quartile where we belong...

Step 3. Clearly it would be unfair not to benchmark more junior staff. Benchmark them against the smaller competitors that are undercutting the business. After all, they are the ones we need to compete with. A constant challenge is explaining to the junior staff that they need to match the market be competitive is to safeguard their own job.

Step 4. Summon the departmental managers. Explain the benchmarking went really well. In fact it shows they are paid over the market mid point, and so is everybody below them. We must be competitive, so we should - at most, be a market mid point player. Tell them to be happy and grateful they've been getting over the odds for all this time. Tell them the Board will sombrely consider the difficult decisions we now face. There is a recession on. Explain that the cuts they and the junior staff now face are essential in the current environment. 

Step 5. Is it really eight months since we benchmarked? Our last modest uplift feels like a good while ago now. For the sake of our company, we need to go back to Potts&Fryatt - a loyal director has a responsibility to ensure we remain not only within - but comfortably within - the upper quartile. 

Step 6. Rats!! This is so unfair. We are back to being mid-quartile again! Damn this market, it really is highly competitive out there. Unless we agree to a further uplift of our own salary of 54%, we will be pegged back to the mid-quartile again, which obviously would be simply dreadful.   

Obviously, every board aspires to be in the upper-quartile for board pay, and our business plan will be ruined if we fail to achieve. Naturally, we don't feel at all comfortable with having to do this. Our jobs are filled with difficult decisions, they really are. Have I mentioned that this is why I must be paid so well?

Step 7. We at UK Plc & Co are a decent bunch, and it's only reasonable that we expect total adherence to our core values. Infact, we've put our values across the workplace via posters, as the plebs wouldn't know any values at all if it wasn't for our moral lead. We are pillars of the community and know it. Discretion and confidentiality are decent values and we will police them robustly. All pay, conditions and bonus arrangements, paid out of the kindness of the company purse, are wholly confidential. Any employee wanting to discuss the bonus of others is obviously some sort of left-wing bully - who would probably benefit from robust performance management.

Step 8. Set up an account with Potts&Fryatt to ensure regular benchmarking for director salary. Yes, I know…I know….but this is the only way we can keep moving with the market. Early signs are that this year we will only need an uplift of some 36%, so it's clear that UK directors can and do show restraint, and that benchmarking is the reputable, reliable and cutting edge way to ensure fair pay for directors going forward. 

General advice for implementation:

A HR Director with belief in benchmarking is essential. Since 2003, our HR Directors salary has gone from 54k to 284k. I am totally impressed with his sincere commitment to the principles of Benchmarking - he really does seem to believe in it. I am reassured by that belief. We pay for the best, and I'm sure he must be the best. His salary now indicates he is the best. My salary? I'm not going to answer that - you really shouldn't embarrass a gentleman with a question like that. Leftie types from the BBC may occasionally ask questions, this is just "the politics of envy" from people who don't understand basic market principles. Put them in their place as robustly as you like.

Most company boards aspire to be in the upper quartile for directors pay, so life's a constant struggle to keep it there. Last year we needed to absorb a further 54% increase to keep up. The kindest way, if possible, is not to tell anyone outside of the Board. There is no reason to forever trouble lesser mortals with all of the difficult decisions we are paid to grapple with.

The main thing to remember in these difficult times is this - shareholders and investors do read the papers, so it's very important not to be seen to be soft on pay. Make sure your workers know just how lucky they are to be working at all, ensure they are reminded of this daily. The decency of the core company values can make us all proud, so any breaches from these standards must be taken as gross misconduct. Good management is the delivery of workers smiling through the austerity ahead. 

Now go back to Step 1 and repeat.  It's fine if you want to pay hefty fees to consultants to ensure you get all this right - after all, top tier pay for top tier people is a complex and essential business. Good luck.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Nasty politics this Easter from the Nasty Party

On Good Friday, a shameful charter for bad employers came into effect - the right to unfairly sack people without legal consequence for two years.  All workers employed from Good Friday onwards will be covered by the new law.

Shameful timing from the clever Tories, burying the change while most families tuck into family meals and treats.

No employer needs two years to decide if somebody is upto the job or not.  I've never met an employer that thought they needed more than six months.  Even with full employment rights from day one in the job, it would still be lawful and relatively easy for an employer to dismiss somebody at any time on grounds of "capability" - all they need to do is follow a procedure.  The new law saves them that bother.

Rather than help the economy, this will stagnate it.  Right-wingers love to talk about risk-taking. But people with full-employment rights are now less likely to take those risks and move into new opportunities.  This will be as true of professional people as it will everyone else. A new job is a leap into the unknown.  As for everyone employed from Easter Friday onwards, they will have two years of feeling extremely insecure.  They will be even less likely to spend money and help the recovery.

This is a change in the law that works against natural justice, against the interests of the economy, but does serve the brutal ideological agenda of a new breed of super-rich, reactionary Tories who are intent on rolling-back every single social advance of the last 150 years.

So we could be forgiven for thinking this would be controversial.  A quick google search reveals two pages of firms of Solicitors reporting these changes for clients.  Search deeper, and it's clear that Unions have issued press statements but they have not been reported.  There are very few references to this assault on working people in mainstream media.

Depressingly, I was unable to find any comment from a politician.   Labour seem to be very reluctant to issue regular press statements that comment upon Government policy - a strange strategy for an opposition party...

This is not the end of the Employment Tribunal issue - the coalition is now "consulting" as to it's next steps - likely to include up-front fees for sacked workers before any claim can be registered. Consistent with other aspects of Tory thinking, this will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Champagne will be popped this Easter by our millionaire masters.  One of the many things they will be celebrating is just how easy it has been for them to attack the security of people in their work. This will provide them with great encouragement to go further...

I wish I hadn't put breakfast TV on this morning - now the public is being softened up over the "cost" of Britain having bank holidays!

It's obvious the media cannot be relied upon to alert the public to the nasty agenda of the nasty party. Now, as ever, it's down to ordinary people to do that. And without doubt, we have to up our game...and fast.