Saturday, 30 April 2016

Tory policy on Unions through history

Conservative governments have not dared all-out assaults on unions. Instead they have consistently favoured a series of salami style attacks. Evidenced by their record in office, Conservative policy towards Unions is a matter of fact rather than opinion:

1980 Employment Act
  • Definition of lawful picketing restricted to own place of work
  • 80% ballot needed to legalise a closed shop
  • Funds offered for union ballots
  • Restricted right to take secondary action
  • Code of practice (six pickets)
  • Repeal of statutory recognition procedure
  • Restricts unfair dismissal and maternity rights
  • Unfair dismissal rights from 1 year to 6 months in companies under 20
1982 Employment Act
  • Further restrictions on industrial action - eg. definition of trade dispute
  • Further restricted action to 'own' employer
  • Employers could obtain injunctions against unions and sue unions for damages
  • 80% rule extended to ALL closed shops every 5 years
  • Compensation for dismissal because of closed shop
  • Removed union only labour clauses in commercial contracts
1984 Trade Union Act
  • EC elections every 5 years by secret ballot
  • Political fund ballots every 10 years
  • Secret ballots before industrial action
1986 Public Order Act
  • New criminal offences in relation to picketing
1988 Employment Act
  • Unions to compensate members disciplined for non-compliance with majority decisions
  • Members can seek injunction if no pre-strike ballot
  • Union finances to be open to inspection
  • Unions prevented from paying members’ or officials’ fines
  • Action to preserve post entry closed shop made unlawful
  • New restrictions on industrial action and election ballots
  • Ballots for separate workplaces
  • Ballots for non-voting EC members
  • Election addresses controlled
  • Independent scrutiny
  • Establishment of CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members)
1989 Employment Act
  • Tribunal pre-hearing review and proposed deposit of £150
  • Exemption of small employer from providing details of disciplinary procedures
  • Restricts time off with pay for union duties
  • Written reasons for dismissal now require 2 years' service
  • Redundancy rebates abolished
  • Abolition of training commission
1990 Employment Act
  • Attack on pre-entry closed shop - unlawful to refuse to employ non-union member
  • All secondary action now unlawful
  • Unions liable for action induced by ANY official unless written repudiation using statutory form of words sent to all members
  • Selective dismissal of strikers taking unofficial action
  • Extended power of CROTUM
1992 Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act
  • Brings together all collective employment rights including trade union finances and elections; union members' rights including dismissal, time off; redundancy consultation; ACAS, CAC and CROTUM; industrial action legislation
  • Does not cover individual rights like unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, maternity etc (these are covered by 1978 EPCA)
1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act
  • Individuals can seek injunction against unlawful action
  • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action
  • Members to be involved in ballot to be identified
  • Attack on Bridlington procedures
  • Written consent for check-off every three years
  • Financial records, including salaries, to be available
  • Checks on election ballots
  • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots
  • All industrial action ballots to be postal
  • Postal ballots on union mergers
  • New powers for Certification Officer to check union finances
  • Higher penalties against unions failing to keep proper accounts
  • ‘Wilson/Palmer’ Amendment (sweeteners to those moving to individual contracts)
  • Unlawful to dismiss heath & safety rep in course of duties and those walking off unsafe site
  • Right of individual to challenge collective agreement in contravention of equal treatment terms
  • Changes to Transfer of Undertakings Regulations
  • Changes to redundancy terms (consultation)
  • Abolition of Wages Councils
  • Changes to Tribunals and EAT procedures

The Labour government of 1997-2010 left the vast majority of the anti-union laws untouched.  However a raft of positive "individual rights" for workers were introduced in addition to union recognition laws.

The Conservative/LibDem coalition of 2010-2015 continued the attack, with obscene charges for employment Tribunals.  This has taken justice away from millions of workers. The number of cases brought to Tribunal has reduced by over 80%     Thankfully the coalition retreated from it's desire to introduce "no fault dismissals", but the very adoption of this idea shows very clearly whose side these they are on.

Of course, we are currently seeing The Trade Union Bill seeking to make it very much more difficult to take strike action.  The bill is broad and contains many spiteful measures.  Attacks on unions, both in the media and in legislation, get more confident and more outrageous where unions become weaker.

These attacks are not a UK phenomena.  There are similar anti-union attacks taking place by right-wing governments around the world, eg America, Canada, Australia.  It seems these politicians are getting the same instructions from the same forces of global capital.

But none of this is new. According to the The Institute of Employment Rights , union bashing started 5000 years ago! Here are some examples:
  • Anti-union laws go back to the time of the Pyramids: 5,000 years ago
  • 1306: Royal Proclamation Against Congregations and Chapter
  • 1799-1800: Anti-combination laws
  • 1859: Tolpuddle Martyrs transported to Australia for swearing illegal oaths ie. organising a union
  • 1906: Taff Vale Railway Company vs Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS, forerunner of RMT) judgment: unions liable for loss of employers’ profits caused by strikes; overturned by Trades Disputes Act 1906
  • 1909: Osborne judgment: trade unions could no longer use their funds for political purposes; overturned by Trade Union Act 1913, which allowed unions to have political funds that members can opt out of
  • 1927 - Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927 was a wide ranging and vindictive attack on unions and Labour party funding. "Sympathy action",picketing and the right to strike were massively attacked. The new law criminalised "unlawful" unofficial action and allowed for prison sentences of upto two years.
This excellent site is very informative about UK union history

Our history informs our future.  Without doubt, right wing attacks upon unions will never go away.   Thresholds for legal industrial action would gradually get increased once introduced, as has happened in Republican controlled states in America,  Many people say Unions should not be involved in politics.  These people don't appear to be very well informed!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The MD was literally "taking the p***" !

I will always remember the time I was covering for a colleague who was on holiday.  One of his members rang me to provide an update with her ongoing situation.

She was glowing about my colleague:

"He came in and just SHOOK THE PLACE.  It was amazing. Nobody has taken management on before, and nobody here would dare take management apart like he did. Wow!  Everyone is talking about it. We just can't believe that they've now had to change things."

I asked what it had all been about,   In her words, "management were literally taking the p***"

Then followed an extraordinary story. The MD had introduced a "random" drugs testing policy of the most humiliating kind.    

The "random" person selected was always female.  The MD would simply approach a female worker of his choice, and hand them a tube.   He would then expect it to be returned to him directly within the hour.   There were two-hundred workers at this site, yet it tended to be a group of particular women who were singled out.

This was not a union company.  Several workers joined the union in the hope that something could be done. No union official had set foot in the place before.

Well, I don't know what my colleague said, and I don't know what steps he took.

But I do know that the issue was resolved and that the grubby behaviour of the boss was forced to stop.

Thinking back to this story has made me consider the bigger picture:

It wasn't until 1999 that workers had the legal right to be represented in a grievance or disciplinary hearing by a Trade Union.  If these women had approached a union in 1998 or 1898 then there would have been no chance of getting a rep through the door.

And that's the point.  Since 1999, unions have been able to send reps into non-union workplaces... and change things.   Throughout industrial history prior to 1999, non-union workplaces were simply out of bounds to Trade Unions.

UK employment law is disgraceful as it is deliberately stacked in favour of the employers.  But with regards to this particular development, a very positive change has taken place that deserves to be more widely acknowledged.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Disgusted at the treatment of a disabled shop worker...

I've been supporting a disabled woman who is part time and supposedly works a 24hr week.  Her colleague is also part time.

Part time.  But both have been working over 70 hours per week !

So how does that work?

Well, two colleagues have become ex-colleagues, creating a staff shortage.   Have regional management moved quickly to move new staff in?  No. Have management temporarily transferred staff in from nearby branches? No.

What they have done is force these two workers to almost treble the weekly hours they work.  It's been going on for a month now, and the workers believe that management couldn't care less.

Both are exhausted, and our disabled member is in serious discomfort.  Health will deteriorate considerably if this goes on much longer.

Not only are the hours excessive and forced, they are unlawful.  The shop shuts late and opens early. The two workers are expected to open and close the shop.  There is not nearly enough time to have 11 hours rest or more between shifts, This is a clear breach of the Working Time Regulations.

But most workplace rights aren't worth a bean unless there's a union there to enforce them. Like most private sector workplaces, there is no union recognition. This employer is abusing it's staff because it can.  It is easier for management to take advantage of workers rather than fix the problem.  Doing the management work of fixing the problem would be more profitable in the long run.  Is this what politicians call "private sector efficiency"?

The worker with disabilities has now written to management, giving them seven days notice of her intention to revert to her contractual hours, and politely making clear that her health could not permit her to continue working excessive hours for any longer.

Managements response has knocked the stuffing out of her:

"In order to satisfy your working hours request, it is necessary for us to change your location.  From next Monday you will be based at our **** store,".   The new work location is several miles away, and bus routes are not good.  This will add least an hour to the working day for this disabled worker. Shifts are also likely to change, so the extent to extra travel is not known but is certainly a huge source of anxiety.

I've checked the contract of employment, and yes, management can do this at any time to "meet the needs of the business",

Yes there's a grievance procedure...yes there's some stuff that can be done, but no there is no chance of this getting resolved anytime soon.

This sort of routine mistreatment of workers....not to mention blatant flouting of the working time regs,could so easily be stamped out if there was a union rep in every workplace.

It's certainly a step forward that since 1999 there have been laws to win union recognition..   But the hoops workers have to go through to achieve it are impossibly difficult for most private sector workers.  Within retail, hospitality and cleaning sectors, so many contracts are zero hour or temporary that any effort to organise is extremely difficult.

Our weak employment laws give some workers some redress in some situations. But if we ensured collective representation in every organisation, most issues could be prevented before they occurred. It's so frustrating. When Unions help members in non-organised workplaces, many of the issues are things that wouldn't have happened in the first place if there was union-recognition and an onsite Rep.

It is a basic human right that workers have a voice and are able to express a collective opinion at work.  It's shameful that UK employment law makes this so difficult to achieve in most circumstances.  Unions of workers who are organised simply don't have the resources to organise those who are not.

People shouldn't have to take risks to secure basic human rights. And if there's an argument against that, I'd like to hear it.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

How a pay rise of 16.9% was won....

I posted recently about helping to secure a pay rise of 16.9%. I've been asked how it happened.  There was no strike or strike threat....

The site was part of a national distribution company. So although there was "site bargaining" for pay and conditions, the reality is that the employer nationally tries to keep control of bargaining at all sites.   To deliver this, large employers with this set up tend to set a limit that pay can increase by.   In other words, site management pretend they have a free hand to negotiate, but they will have been told something like  "no more than 1.8% this year".

In this case, the employer nationally had set the limit at 2%.

Having been told not to exceed 2%, there was little we were capable of doing that was likely to have moved local management from it's entrenched position.

But being creative can be very effective.  Sometimes you have to carefully nurture an employers ego...

After a huge amount of professional work by Unite, site management became persuaded that yes, a pay rise of over 15% would be the minimum required to stop drivers leaving. They were hugely frustrated they were unable to go beyond 2%.

I made a suggestion:

How about Unite agree to the 2%, and as soon as that is voted on and paid, you then announce a "market rate uplift review", which will be around 15%.

It worked. Naturally, they had to run it past the board.  The board's ego were satisfied that our approach did not impact upon the 2% cap that they had set.  I think it helped that we suggested that as the "market rate uplift review" would take place outside of pay negotiations, it would not set a precedent for pay negs at any other site.

It was quite a job getting members to agree to just 2% given that expectations were far higher. With some reluctance, the membership took a leap of faith and voted YES. In turn, our negotiating team took a leap of faith and decided to trust management.  After all, a nod and a wink that an extra 14.9% is coming is worth a punt....

All came good. Within eight weeks of putting the 2% to our members, pay was increased by a further 14.9%, resulting in a total uplift of 16.9%.

To my astonishment, one member complained bitterly,"'ve done f*** all for bank holiday pay Rick."   This rendered me speechless, something that rarely happens!  I will take that conversation with me to my grave.   It's fair to say that the work of a TU official is not always welcomed with a warm thank-you !!

Getting such a great outcome in one negotiation isn't something I can help to pull off very often. That said, creativity in getting around board imposed pay ceilings is becoming increasingly common in private sector collective bargaining.

In a Burton factory in 2015, for similar reasons the local employer was not allowed to go beyond 1.4%. Unite members had drawn a line in the sand and would not accept anything below 2%.  It was a tricky situation and I was asked to get involved as part of the formal disputes procedure.  In my world, this is called a "FTA" - a Failure To Agree.   This is the beginning of a process that has a number of stages, but can result in an official industrial action ballot.

The local management had no control over pay rates (unless we count the annual attempt they make to offer less than the ceiling they have been given.). I asked if the management had control over other site budgets...

Our claim was for 2.2%.    To settle this, the management agreed that every worker could become a trained First Aider.  Each worker would be paid £250 per year for this, although it wouldn't be compulsory.

As if by magic, this meant that for most members the overall value of the pay offer was now worth 2.2%.   We recommended the offer and members overwhelmingly accepted.  What really pleased me is that I genuinely believe that the factory will become safer as a consequence of the collective bargaining. Result!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

There were two good results for hotel workers in Burton yesterday

Just when you think you've heard everything.....

...the phone rings, and a Unite member has recently returned to her job in a Burton Hotel following Maternity Leave.

Her monthly pay has just gone into her bank account, and it's A LOT lighter than expected, having worked about three works of the month, with the rest as Maternity Leave.  It turns out the entire month has been deliberately paid at the Maternity rate...

"HR say it's not allowed to have a mixed month of Maternity Pay and normal pay.  If there's a mixed month they have to pay at the Mat rate for the whole of the month."

This nonsense left our member several hundred pounds down.

But it was quicker to fix than I feared it might be.

I advised the worker what to say to HR.  Two hours later, I had a call to say that "HR said there has been an admin error and that the cash would be paid by BACS ASAP.    HR weren't very nice about it but at least I'm getting my wages."

The second good result - unfortunately concerns a far more common problem.

Three weeks ago another hotel worker contacted me to tell me about her problems having returned to work after Maternity leave.    After one month of attempting to continue full-time, our member decided that she'd really like to reduce her hours....

Her polite request for part-time working was dismissed out of hand.   Having taken advice from CAB, the worker then put her request into writing and was told :

"unfortunately there is nobody working part-time in your role, and to create part-time working for a role that is not suited to it would be detrimental to the needs of the business."

There was no reputable reason why this job could not be done part time. I wrote a letter of grievance for our member, and three weeks ago it was submitted.

The Unite member starts the hours and shifts that she wants next Monday.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

There's no doubt about it - collective bargaining is the ticket to better pay and enhanced contracts.

Just eighteen months ago, I helped secure union recognition at a logistics company employing sixty lorry drivers.

We've now had two rounds of  "collective bargaining".  And yes, it does worry me that so few people know what collective bargaining even is.

Well, thanks to Unite collectively bargaining for it's members, pay has increased by 18.9%

Yes, that's right. Since the first pay negotiations early in 2015, pay has increased by almost 20%. Not bad this collective bargaining thing, is it?!

The drivers have a 45 hour week, but didn't have guaranteed minimum working day.  So if you have a short run on the first day of the week, eg six hour day, you still have 39 hours to do over your next four days.  Unite have now negotiated a minimum 8 hour day, and are this year pushing for it to be increased to 9.

Talks are currently ongoing about improving the formula used for calculating holiday pay.

Oh, and the drivers now have shop stewards. This has resulted in many advantages. Not only has Health&Safety improved, but the drivers are now much harder to sack. Drivers have access to learning from the ULR (union learning rep). In short, the job is getting better.

But of course, we haven't fixed everything.

Overtime is paid at "flat rate". This means that if you work overtime, you don't get paid anymore than at your usual hourly rate.  Working nights only provides our members with a miserable extra £1 per hour.

There's no additional payments for working bank holidays.  The company sick pay scheme is poor...

...I could go on.  There are always things that can and should be improved.  But without unions, you get what you are given,

So there's plenty of things on our members wish list for future bargaining.  And over time, things at this Staffordshire site are likely to continue to get better.

There's no doubt about it - collective bargaining is the ticket to better pay and better terms and conditions.  And by raising the standards at this logistics company, it helps lift the standard at similar firms in the local area.  Yes...unions are good for non-members in non-union firms too.

Staff recruitment & retention are less of a problem for the employer now.  And with the shop steward in the room when grievances are heard or disciplinary decisions taken....the union serves as a moderating influence on the employer.  And by keeping the employer to it's procedures...unions help protect the employer from tribunal or other legal risks.  That's right, unions are good for employers too.

Making dramatic gains this quickly is unusual.  Normally collective bargaining is about the long term - it's about very gradually making work better. That said, I can think of no workforce that has ever suffered as a result of union recognition.  It is what it is - a universally positive force for good.

Unions.  What's not to like?