Friday, 17 October 2014

Local coalition of unions &campaigners call on MP's for Burton & Swad to declare their positions on TTIP

Dear Editor

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a so-called ‘free trade’ deal currently being negotiated by the EU and US. This deal will give big business more power over our society, our environment, our public services, and our democracy.

The major focus of TTIP is reducing ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’. In practice, this is likely to mean slashing rules and regulations introduced by democratic processes to reign in corporate power. The aim of this deal is to open up new markets for corporations. While proponents argue that this will mean more jobs and growth, there is little evidence for this. In reality, TTIP will mean more profits and power for wealthy corporations, with potentially disastrous consequences for the rest of us.
The agreement will take away the ability of member states to decide what sectors remain in public hands.

TTIP opens up new sectors to the perils of privatisation and the markets and this includes our NHS.
East Staffordshire Trades Council is calling on local MPs to declare their positions on TTIP and to pressure the Prime Minister David Cameron to exercise his power of Veto to ensure that the NHS is left out of TTIP.


Paul Walker - Chair East Staffordshire Trades Council
William Walker -Vice Chair East Staffordshire Trades Council
Rick Coyle - Unite Regional Officer
Jon Wheale - Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Burton and Uttoxeter
Cheryl Pidgeon - Labour Parliamentary Candidate for South Derbyshire
Barry Downey -Fire Brigades Union National Executive Council Member for the West Midlands
Richard Williams – Fire Brigades Union Staffordshire Brigade Secretary
Peter Goulden – Fire Brigades Union Regional Treasurer and Treasurer of East Staffordshire Trades Council
Stephanie Foster – Unite the Union
Phil Salt-Unite - Burton Brewery Branch
Chris Fletcher-Unite Burton Brewery Branch
Steve Adcock-Unite Burton Brewery Branch
Unite Argos Branch
Burton RMT
Gareth Studden - Cancer Not For Profit Campaigner
Mick Casey - Secretary East Staffordshire Trades Council
Keith Venables - Derbyshire SOS NHS
Christine Jordan - Derbyshire SOS NHS
Andrew Bettridge -The Labour Party
Craig Jones - Secretary Burton and UttoxeterLabour Party
Cillr Peter Davis - Labour
Philippa Saddington - National Union of Teachers (NUT)
Bob Saddingtion - NUT Retired Member
Bill Upton - RMT Burton Branch Secretary
Ken Usher - RMT Regional Organiser
Steve Elsey - Staffordshire UNISON Branch Secretary
Andy Bently - Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUS) Staffordshire Organiser
Paul Giles - Cancer Not For Profit Campaigner
Frank Keogh - Unite Regional Officer
Trudie McGuinness - Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Staffordshire Moorlands and Cancer Not For Profit Campaigner.
Chris Sheldon - Derbyshire CWU Branch Secretary
Richard Duffy - C/O National Health Action Party Stafford/Staffordshire
Mr and Mrs MC Gregory-Cancer Not For Profit Campaigners
Cllr Maureen Bowen-Secretary USDAW West Midlands Sainsbury’s

 * This letter was sent to the Burton Mail on 10th October.  They have not printed it. The letter is now being shared on social media and distributed in local workplaces.

* Edit - the following article was published in the Burton Mail on 18th October

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The truth behind last weeks riot van in Burton

Something really quite bizarre happened in Burton last week.

low-key peace vigil was organised by a group of local residents, concerned about the plight of Palestinian civilians.  The local TUC were also involved in it's organisation.

This, of course, is not unusual. All over the world, a great many people are trying to draw attention to this issue.

But what happened in Burton was far from the usual.

Close to the meeting venue was a riot van.  Across Burton that night were an additional eight squad cars, each loaded with officers, ready to assist the riot van officers.

Inside the venue (a hotel meeting room) were two plain clothed police officers. A further four officers were outside the hotel.

The officers were very pleasant, albeit somewhat embarrassed.

The police explained that the "local MP" had "tipped us off that over 80 people would be coming to the meeting to undertake in radical actions".

The ordinary members of the public present (about 40 in total) were shocked, and many complained of feeling "criminalised" by their parliamentary representative.   Everybody at the meeting shared the view that the MP could not possibly have had any soundly based cause for concern.

So what was Tory MP Andrew Griffiths playing at?  Does he believe that any association of Asian people and/or Trade Unionists constitutes a threat to public safety? What "radical actions" did he fear might happen inside the meeting room of Grail Court?

Mr Griffiths claims to be a staunch supporter of austerity, yet in this instance he has succeeded in wasting an undisclosed fortune in local police resources, not to mention wasted police time.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"Wanting to be sacked to look after seriously ill partner" -

Here is a situation I dealt with last week:

A driver for a major company had been off work with Cancer for ten months, and was about to return to work.

Heartbreakingly, his wife has now become seriously ill, with a long-term condition.  All he wanted was for his boss to sack him so he could look after his wife. He's been to see him and virtually begged to be sacked.

Being sacked would mean he could claim benefits such as carers allowance and income support straight away.

But no.  The employer was not prepared to carry out this "mercy sacking".   For legal reasons, it was best for the employer that our member resigned.

When the Unite member rang me for advice, his question was "How do I best word my letter of resignation?"

I advised he should not resign, as doing so would give him problems claiming benefits, possibly for upto 26 weeks.  "But they won't sack me!", he protested. "I just want to start the next chapter of my life and get on with it.  I can't wait for them to sack me, it could take months."

And he was right.  A chat with the boss confirmed that they had no intention of dismissal anytime soon.

After making some phone calls, I persuaded the employer to sign a "COT3" agreement, drafted by ACAS.  Not many people have heard of these agreements. They are free, and can be extremely useful.

Basically, what has now happened is that the Unite member has been dismissed (without the unpleasantness of a meeting) but has waived his right to take the employer to a Tribunal.

In addition, we've sorted it that this man is paid his holiday and other contractual pay as a tax-free lump sum.  In this case, this has provided the driver with a final payment around £700 higher than he would have got if he had resigned.   With proof of having been dismissed, he should have no difficulty in claiming benefits straight away.  I don't know how much in benefits this man will be able to claim during the next 26 weeks, but it will be a lot more than if he had resigned and wasn't allowed to claim at all!

The Unite member is now absolutely delighted to have such a huge weight lifted from him.

The law can be harsh and cruel to workers who resign employment with a perfectly good reason. In my experience, workers seldom resign without one. In this instance,  without support from his Union, there would have been absolutely no chance of finding this sensible solution.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

"We will fight the attack on our trade unions and will defend the right to protest" - letter from local Trade Unionists to Burton newspapers

We will fight the attack on our trade unions and will defend the right to protest


Dear Editor

The government's announcement of an inquiry into trade union tactics is further proof of its determination to undermine the right to protest against its austerity program.

The trade unions customary right to strike and the right to protest are fundamental liberties that have already been significantly restricted by anti-union laws and legislation.

As millions of people face falling real wages, unemployment, part-time or casualised low-paid work, and the rapid destruction or privatization of the welfare state, they need trade union organization and the right to protest more than ever.

The governments gagging bill will further restrict the right to protest and the operation of pressure groups..

We will fight back against this attack on the right to protest

The right to protest is a fundamental civil liberty. The right to join a functioning and effective trade union has been a result of generations of working class struggle. We have no intention of giving up this right to a government that does not care about working people.


Paul Walker - RMT Burton Branch Chair

William Walker - Derby Peoples Assembly Against Austerity

Craig Jones - GMB

Zach Wayman – USDAW

Adrian Jenkins - Labour.

Andrew Betteridge -Labour

Keith Venables - Derby Unite Community Branch Secretary

Ellen Clifford - Disable People Against Cuts

Socialist Party - Stoke Branch

Cllr Neil Tilley - NASUWT

Rick Coyle - Unite Regional Officer for Burton and Uttoxeter

Cllr Peter Davis

Cllr Ron Clark – GMB

Dave Nellist – Trade Union and Socialist Coalition

Andy Bentley - National Shop Stewards Network

Becky Lopez - Unison Shop Steward

The press release also contained these quotes:

Paul Walker Burton Branch Chair of the RMT said; ‘Currently trade unions laws in this country are amongst the strictest in Europe.’ ‘Through legislation like the gagging bill this government wants to put further restrictions on the right to protest.’ ‘The right to protest and the right to strike are fundamental civil liberties that have been won for us through struggle and sacrifice.’ ‘We must not let a government with no mandate take it all away.’


Rick Coyle, Unite Regional Officer for Burton & Uttoxeter, “The Coalition has slashed the legal aid budget, brought in hefty fees for employment tribunals, and has doubled from one year to two the waiting time before workers get access to most employment rights.  They are intent on pricing people out of justice.  Strike action is rare in modern Britain, yet still the government persists in bashing unions and promoting yet more draconian laws. “


Monday, 3 March 2014

Victory in Hobbycraft!

I was contacted by a worker on nights.   His holiday pay was always short.  The problem was the same for everyone else on nights....

This is because Hobbycraft were not taking shift allowance into account.  This meant that every time a holiday day was used,  the result was a lower pay packet. The way Hobbycraft were calculating holiday pay was unlawful. Holiday pay should reflect all elements of pay,  not just basic pay.

All the workers had tried really hard to resolve this informally. In view of this I advised them all to individually raise a formal grievance.

I was not expecting a difficult or contentious grievance meeting. But here is a taste of senior management-speak,  Hobbycraft style:

"If it is that we have to pay out this extra money,  we will have to claw it back from somewhere else ....perhaps by reducing shift pay or hourly rates.....what are your thoughts to this? "

The tone was calm,  and the meeting professional, but the night shift workers knew that they were being threatened. Each individual grievance was the same,  although sometimes the threats differed.

The night shift held firm,  and no worker withdrew the grievance. 

The result?  The night shift now get full and proper holiday pay.  A payment to each worker has been made in respect of back pay for previous underpayments.

There are some important lessons here:

* Sticking together works. The concept of strength in numbers is as timeless as it is effective.

* For many reasons,  employers get it wrong sometimes. Where this impacts on a group of workers, this means there is a problem that can only be solved by the group. In this common scenario,  Unions are the only answer.

* Hobbycraft too have just learned an important lesson.  They are now clear that members of the Unite Trade Union must receive correct holiday pay!

As a result of one group of workers joining Unite and asking for representation,  management have improved holiday pay calculations for all in the company.  This is a small-scale example, but it proves that it's still very true to say that the existance of Unions benefits all workers, not just those who are members.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

How the Daily Mail misreported the Hobbycraft language ban story to suit it's agenda

You have to be very clever to be able to mislead people without telling lies.  Most of this Daily Mail story is true.

But it carefully tells a very different story to the truth.  Here is how they distorted the facts so the story could fit it's anti-EU, anti-worker view of the world:

Line 1. "Foreign workers employed by arts and craft chain Hobbycraft have been told to speak English or face the sack."

This wording implies that the workers are not speaking English.

So how is this misleading compared to the truth? What is the truth?

The truth is that all workers were given an instruction....that English must be spoken all the time during the working day except in rest areas.  This includes private conversations. Prior to this foreign language ban, English was spoken to a high standard by the workers, virtually all the time, and in any case, always when used for work related communication.

The first line is a deception that hooks readers in straight away. Critically, the wording used does not tell readers that the workers are speaking English to begin with. This is a crucial aspect of the truth - for anyone wanting proper context. The failure to report this fact is a clever way to manipulate readers into reaching the conclusions the DM wants them to.  In fact, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that these workers already speak English to a high standard!

Line 2. "Staff at the supplier's distribution warehouse in Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire, were hauled in for a meeting this week after difficulties arose with different nationalities conversing only in their native tongue."

This is the only line in the story that I believe is fabricated.  Yes, workers were "hauled in" (and threatened.) However,  I am convinced that it is pure fabrication to have written, "after difficulties arose with different nationalities conversing only in their native tongue.". 

Having spoken to workers at the site, nobody has said that there were any individuals who spoke only in their own language.  I believe the DM concocted this part of the story so that the employer is presented as having issued a reasonable request in response to a problem of the workers making.  I do not believe the DM could provide a source to substantiate this claim.

I could go on, but two lines of any Daily Mail report is quite enough for me!

This Daily Mail article generated over 1200 comments, and nearly 6000 shares.  From there it was picked up by other news agencies all over the world and numerous UK radio phone-in shows.  I have done three radio interviews this week as a result of it. A less sensational version also appeared in the Daily Mirror, which attracted 2 comments and 26 shares.   Quite a contrast!

The DM will be delighted that this little story triggered much national debate about "Should foreign workers have to learn English?". 

It's a clear strategy of the Right in the UK....twist any half-truth you can get that might encourage misinformed people to hate....hate benefit claimants, unions, foreigners and the EU. This clever but sinister strategy stops people from talking about the things that are real and actually matter, such as NHS sell off, mass unemployment, zero hour contacts or growing malnutrition in our children.

Had the story been truthfully been told, it might have gone like this,

"Workers who speak good English virtually all the time threatened that all private conversations will be regulated and must also be in English...or face a disciplinary investigation".   

But this truth - the actual truth, would not have cast foreign workers in a bad light.  The truth would not have made nice middle-class Hobbycraft look like it was doing the right thing. Instead, the employer might have looked like an overbearing bully. 

Thanks to the DM, these decent workers have been totally misrepresented to the world. Thousands of misinformed people have written unkind things about them, and have praised the employer.  

Meanwhile the whole episode has enabled Hobbycraft to make some new friends:
Top / All

It's not just the BNP. The British Patriot Society and a host of other far-right organisations have joined in.  

If the story continues to rumble on, the respectable Hobbycraft brand will eventually suffer.  If management are smart, they will think again and build some bridges with it's dismayed Burton workforce. The workers deserve absolutely none of this.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A closer look at the "Hobbycraft foreign language ban" story

There has just been a media story about the Hobbycraft warehouse banning workers from speaking any language other than English

This has brought back memories of my involvement with the first warehouse to do this - Waterstones (Unipart).  As far as I know, these two are the only warehouses in the UK to have introduced such a policy. Both warehouses are based in Burton on Trent...

The fact that both warehouses are based on the same industrial park (Centrum 100) certainly makes this look like a huge coincidence. Hobbycraft are new to Burton - I assume they are not aware of the media storm caused at Waterstones. 

So what is going on here, and why Burton?   Does Burton have particular language problems?

A closer look reveals this is nothing to do with language at all...

Firstly, it's really not that much of a surprise to me, so I don't think it's much of a coincidence. Most warehouses in this area recognise a union. Policies and procedures are discussed in consultation with workers before being announced. That doesn't happen at Hobbycraft or Waterstones.

Waterstones (Unipart) and Hobbycraft are two of the local exceptions to the rule. Both are non-union warehouses, leaving both brands very exposed to disgruntled workers going directly to the local newspapers. 

There is also a very important difference between these two seemingly identical stories. At Waterstones, Unite members resisted and petitioned the policy as part of a union recognition effort, whereas at Hobbycraft Unite have not (yet) been actively involved. The Hobbycraft workers have no representation. Until that changes, they will be stuck with this resented policy.

At Waterstones warehouse, the workers won the issue. The Unite petition was strongly supported, and the company backed down. By the time the workers won, the media had moved on. The workers victory was not reported.  

Management style tends to be more autocratic when there is no mechanism to be challenged or held to account. In logistics, my experience has been that this is always the case.

I'm tempted to call the language ban policy "a classic case of a sledgehammer to crack a nut" . Without doubt, It is overbearing and without justification. But I'd be exaggerating to imply there is a problem that needs fixing. At both warehouses, English is spoken to a high standard by virtually all workers.

Most people outside of these warehouses I speak to either see this as a Human Rights issue, or (more commonly judging by the comments sections of the newspapers) strongly agree with the actions of the employers because of an incorrect assumption that the workers are not speaking English to begin with. 

But few workers I speak to see this as a Human Rights issue.   

In both cases this was never about language.  In both cases, there was no problem that needed to be solved.

In both cases, this was about management flexing it's muscle.  This was just one of many examples that could be given of a "my way or the highway" style of management. 

The truth is really simple.  Management did it...because they could.