Thursday, 28 July 2016

"Private sector workers have rejected Trade Unions"

This is a charge casually made by politicians, or written about in the media.  I can understand why the lay-person to may think the same, as only around 15% of private sector workers are in an independent union.

But the 15% figure really doesn't tell us the story.

The statutory procedure for union recognition has been in place for sixteen years.  Since that time, several hundred recognition agreements in the private sector have been achieved in this way.  

The CAC have confirmed a consistent trend during this time.  In every year of the CAC, around 65% of private sector workplaces voted YES and achieved union recognition when they were balloted.

But that doesn't mean that 35% of workplaces voted no. Overwhelmingly, the vast majority of these workplaces also voted YES, but the 40% turnout threshold wasn't met. Overall, it is clear that private sector workers do want unions to negotiate pay and conditions.

It is extremely misleading to say that "private sector workers have rejected Trade Unions.". The vast majority of them are simply denied the choice. As things stand, it is incredibly difficult for unions to enable a non-union workplace to have that choice.  Without political change, the vast majority of private sector workers are never going to be asked.

It's not just the UK where workers want unions but can't have them. For example, polling on this issue shows a very similar situation in America. Meanwhile, the media narrative is that unions are suffering terminal decline.

The view that private sector workers don't want representation is a convienient excuse for the likes of the CBI to dismiss unions as irrelevant. That is one thing that unions could never be.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Has Labour become a "hard left" political party?

Anthony Painter has just articulated why Labour may split.  Anthony is an influential figure within the party. His book, "Left without a future?" contains many thoughtful and interesting ideas, particularly around "predistribution". Anthony is very much a pragmatist.  His assessment of where the party currently is appears to be widely shared, and as such is deserving of scrutiny.

He makes two key points in his latest blog- a post that the Guardian is linking to.

"The evidence is that the Labour Party is now a far left socialist party. It was previously a soft left social democratic party.... This leadership election – whether Smith or Corbyn wins – is likely to reinforce this fact."

Anthony uses the word "fact". So what factual evidence is there that Labour is now a "far left socialist party"?

To answer this, we need to ask "what is the far-left?"

The UK left has always been dominated by those of us who believe in a mixed economy. These people believe in reforming and shaping capitalism.   Then there's the "hard left" - the "revolutionary left" of the SWP, or the democratic Marxists who want the complete eradication of capitalism.

There is not a single MP or Labour affiliate that wants capitalism completely abolished.  The "hard-left" in 2016 is a fragmented assortment of bitterly divided small groupings.

There can be no more than 5000 "hard left" activists across the UK. There are perhaps a dozen or so "hard left" activists in each constituency. They are being very vocal indeed and may be making some "coup" MP's feel very uncomfortable.  There are (and have always been) SWP banners at mainstream left gatherings....perhaps giving some the impression they are well supported...when in truth they are far, far from it.

Jeremy Corbyn is currently talking about tax-breaks and equal pay audits.  The stuff of revolution?

What are the "hard left" policies or long term Marxist ambitions of the Labour Party? No, I don't know either!

The "hard-left" is wholly absent from mainstream UK politics. In view of this fact, it can only be nonsense to say that Labour is now "far left" or "hard left". OK, we've got large differences on foreign policy and defence, but within the Social Democratic tradition, that's nothing new.

The terms "far" or "hard" left are being very casually used, causing untold electoral harm to our prospects.  The frightening sounding charge that we are "hard left" is unhelpful and untrue.

But Anthony's sincere belief of "far left" takeover leads him and others to a dangerous conclusion:

"For members and party representatives a key question will emerge: do you want to remain in a far left party or do you believe you can change it back to its social democratic ethos?"

I'm a bread and butter Trade Unionist, proud that in private sector workplaces we deliver a fairer share for workers of the wealth they create. That's a part of what makes me a Social Democrat / Democratic Socialist.  I haven't changed, and I've been in the party 19 years.  The affiliates haven't changed.

Members haven't changed either, albeit that there's now shed loads more of them.  Widespread talk of "entryism" is greatly wide of the mark, and is not supported by rational evidence.

We are still a Social Democratic party, albeit one that's building a clearer identity about who we are and why we are so passionate.   Passion and direction have both been absent for a long time, yet both are a necessary part of any movement.  

For twenty years, the party has been dominated by decent pragmatists - the ones who are 100% focused on electability, and how best we manage the Social Democratic society our movement built. It's been about seriously and authentically being a party of government, or a serious party of opposition that is ready to govern.

Labour is now controlled by those who felt airbrushed and excluded from the party during this time.  Now we have vision, and talk about "why" rather than "how".   Without the "why", core support has drained away (still is draining), and millions don't know what we are for. We've lost two elections, lost Scotland, and it's obvious to most members that the party establishment has no answers.

Pragmatic / moderate centre-left parties across Europe are losing support at an alarming rate.  It's politicians with clear and passionate beliefs that are surging in popularity.

Finally we are talking about what we are for, and the big issues that need addressing. Why we are passionate.  What sort of society we want. Vision. What we are against. People are flocking to join.  It isn't a cult based around one evidenced by almost the same thing happening in America.

I can understand why many feel they are getting their party back, and why others feel they are losing it.  But I see this as a yin and yang situation. A campaigning movement or a party of government? tTimes change, and to my mind it's clear that we must be both.

There's a real power struggle over the extent to which policy rests with the members or the PLP.  But this debate does not mean we are no longer a Social Democratic party, nor does it mean Labour suddenly disagrees with the parliamentary route to power.  Mass membership may mean that we can begin to build new ways to influence or set the political agenda, irrespective of whether the LP is in power. Mass membership is the strongest possible bulwark there is against entryism, and all of us ought to be delighted at the dramatic surge in ordinary people joining us.

The public and the party need to see the visible yin and yang of sensible moderates and passionate socialists working together. We don't have to like each other, but the millions that need us demand we work respectfully together. We need a split like we need a hole in the head.  Whatever the outcome of the leadership election, there will be no good reason why Social Democrats should leave the party.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

I can't think of a reputable reason why we don't have full employment rights from day one in the job

The man I spoke to today faces a horrible dilemma.

Six months into the job, and only today has the employer provided a contract of employment.

It states that the man has agreed to opt out of the Working Time Directive. He hasn't.

It doesn't say how many hours work per week are guaranteed.  During the last six months, hours worked have varied, but are seldom less than 50pw.  The pay is always the same.

It does say that overtime when required (including weekends) is compulsory.  It appears that the employer expects it to be unpaid, just like it has been during the last six months.

I've advised him of his rights to address these issues.  And yes, I can help him get paid for the hours he's worked...get the company to agree he hasn't opted out of the WTD....and get confirmation of the correct weekly hours etc.

What I can't do is be sure they won't respond spitefully.

If they dismiss him for "poor work" or "misconduct" after he raises these things, the likelihood is that the law will be fine with that.  This poor guy now has a very stressful decision to make about his next steps.

It's awful that there is a wait of two years before getting most unfair dismissal rights. Even under the last Labour government it was one year, and these things still happened with depressing regularity.

The following words are from this employers solicitors website:

"You may be aware that if you sack an employee, they only have the right to claim unfair dismissal if they’ve been employed for more than 2 years.  This minimum length of service is known as the qualifying period. This means that it’s relatively safe to sack someone who has not yet been employed for the qualifying period, even if you don’t have a fair reason for dismissing them."

My phone call today wasn't about a zero hour contract or an Agency contract. This is a worker with a "proper job"; a permanent contract. I feel for this man. Why should he be forced to choose between being exploited or the risk of being punished for objecting?  He's got eighteen months to go before he has proper employment rights, and that's a long, long time with a bad boss.

This sort of thing causes great anxiety, and can make people ill.

I can't think of a reputable reason why we don't have full employment rights from day one in the job.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The surge in popularity for "the movement" #themovement

The extraordinary surge in membership of the Labour Party is easily explained.

A very simple something is being done....for the first time in decades. 

People are starting to hear about what the movement actually is!

It shouldn't be a surprise that tens of millions of people have no idea what it is. So why vote for it? Why support it by getting involved in a Trade Union or the Labour Party?

Ours is an essential, permanent mission to deliver everything decent that unregulated capitalism never will:

* Steady jobs, providing reliable incomes for stable, decent family lives.

* Fair distribution of the wealth created by capitalism.

* Dignity and safety when falling on hard times.

* Improving health and education, provided universally and free.

* Working towards first class public services, transport and national infrastructure.

* Leisure, leisure time and access to leisure for all.

Supporters of our movement differ on how we deliver.  I favour universal collective bargaining and free Trade Unions working towards the first two of these objectives, with a committed Labour government working towards the rest.  I think capitalism would then deliver on leisure, with the state stepping in for the bits the market won't do, eg public parks, libraries etc.

Our work will never be finished. When we are strong, we deliver social progress. When we are weaker, we do our best to resist the rolling back of previous progress.  We've largely been in "resist" mode since 1980, allowing those threatened by the movement to dismiss us as a protest movement.  This is nonsense.

In the UK, the Labour Party is the main political voice of our movement, although of course it must also reach out far beyond to gain power.  Together we are the only possible vehicle for positive transformation of society.  The very idea that our movement wants protest over power - a common criticism, indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what our movement is for.

Our movement is permanently necessary and permanently relevant. It will still be here long after the death of anyone just born. With the exception of the Royal Family, Unions are the most enduring institutions this country has ever known.

Now that some people are managing to articulate what we are for, very suddenly Labour is the biggest political party in Europe.

The better understood our global movement is, the less people tolerate the daily abuse thrown at it by the media.  Wherever our movement is weaker, the attacks upon us are bolder.

Be it flag waving nationalists or foreigner bashing right-wingers, the political groupings doing well across Europe are the ones who very clearly stand for something.

For far too long there's been woefully little promotion about what the labour movement is, or what the Labour Party is for.  That's helped enable a gradual unpicking of our historic achievements. The return of mass poverty, a severe housing crises and ever creeping privatisation being just some of the awful consequences.

Those of us who understand our movement are hugely proud of it, so let's shout it from the rooftops and keep growing.

What does #themovement mean to you?

Friday, 15 July 2016

My complaint to the BBC about it's industrial coverage

BBC Complaints,                                                                                                      
PO Box 1922, 
DL3 0UR.                                                                           

15th July 2016.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am writing to raise a formal complaint.

Several years back, the BBC stopped employing industrial correspondents.

This is a crucial role. Without it, workplace trends and developments are absent from our media.

There have been profound developments in our workplaces during the last quarter of a century. Occupational sick pay is becoming rare. Overtime is often unpaid. Bullying is rife. Job security has been greatly, greatly reduced. Workers with less than two years service have virtually no rights at all, and are routinely sacked at will. Hundreds of thousands of Agency workers are in a permanent placement, but never get a permanent job. A seventeen year old owed £15 in unpaid wages is now expected to pay a small fortune to take the matter to a Tribunal.

The vast majority of workers aged under forty face an inadequate pension when they retire. The new “pensions” are not even pensions, they are a risky savings plan. The “pension” may be taken as a lump sum, thus not necessarily providing an income in old age. Even the smartest and most sensible people have no way of planning for the future, as the value of the “pension pot” is impossible to predict.

The impact of technology is blurring the divide between work and leisure, resulting in longer hours and additional pressures upon family life. However in other ways these developments can be positive.

None of these issues are trivial. My complaint is that all of these issues are woefully under-reported, not reported, or misreported, largely due to the absence of industrial correspondents.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Unions do some astonishingly clever work, and in 2015 delivered record amounts of compensation for members. For Unite The Union, the figure was £165m in 2015 alone. Great legal victories have recently been won by Union solicitors, which have resulted in major improvements to the way holiday pay must be calculated. The new laws on holiday pay remain widely flouted by the employers. It’s quite a complex story, and who in the media other than a specialist industrial correspondent could tell it?

Industrial disputes are usually complicated, and as such are very difficult for any well intentioned reporter to cover fairly. The nation is considerably less well informed without the industrial correspondent. Given the well known hostility to workers organisations in other UK media, the withdrawal of the BBC from serious and proper coverage is something that is clearly against the national interest.

The BBC still finds value in employing a team of Royal correspondents. I am unclear as to what particular complexities are required of the role. I am unclear as to why the BBC feel that general reporters cannot cover royal stories about the latest baby, choice of dress, public appearance, health news or other story. I am not saying that there should not be Royal correspondents, rather, I am observing that there appears no justification on grounds of cost that there can be no industrial correspondents.

Democracy is cheapened by the failure of the BBC to bother covering workplace trends. Most people simply don’t know about massive changes such as hefty charges to get your injustice heard in a Tribunal. If that particular change had been properly covered during the days of the industrial correspondent, the controversial policy would likely have resulted in a national outcry.

To resolve my complaint, I am requesting the BBC undertake a high-level review to examine the case for re-establishing this vital public service. If you are prepared to do this, I trust that you can confirm that the conclusion of the review will be made available to the public.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Mr R Coyle.

Further reading :

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Another "kitchen sink dismissal" hearing...

This what I call a dismissal meeting where the employer cannot hide it's feelings, and throws everything it can think of at the person they want shot of.

I'm dealing with one, and it's been extremely time consuming - with over 100 pages of A4 to take in before I got actively involved.

In this case there's five disciplinary charges, each very serious.  If done properly, any four of these could potentially be a "safe" dismissal.

Charge 1:

Bullying, backed up by three witness statements.  The statements just happened to surface about a week before the disciplinary letter was sent.  We now have a statement from one of the three admitting that they were forced into making the statement!  This matter is now subject to grievance, so the employer couldn't talk about it at the dismissal hearing.

Charge 2:

Not content with "gross misconduct", the employer has also tried "dismissal on grounds of capability". They say the objectives set via performance management have neither been met, or attempted, thus making this charge "gross misconduct" and "capability" -  a typical kitchen sink line to take!

A grievance has been raised, as my member has never seen the objectives and did not agree to them. The company claim it was emailed, but no record of any discussion or email appears to exist.

I was able to prevent this issue from being discussed at the disciplinary.

Charge 3:

"Colleagues complain you are unhelpful". Again, very recent witness statements just happened to have surfaced during the previous week.  I pointed out that it was inappropriate that the first occasion to discuss was the dismissal meeting, and insisted they track back and have a proper investigation before going down this path.

So this became another thing they couldn't talk about...

Charge 4:

To my amusement, this was the same charge that had already been heard under gross misconduct three weeks previously, where the worker was downgraded. That's still subject to appeal.

I pointed out that you cannot be disciplined for the same thing twice, and after discussion they agreed we couldn't talk about it again, and the allegation was withdrawn.

Charge 5:

The detail escapes me now, but I do remember that I didn't let them talk about it!

The employer agreed to adjourn the hearing.  In the meantime, the lady in question remains suspended on full pay, and the matter looks set to drag on for several weeks, possibly much longer. Hopefully I've helped pave the way for a settlement agreement, which potentially will be the best solution for all.

In the meantime, it's a real mess.

I can't think of any good reason why "kitchen sink" dismissals are attempted. Driven by unpleasantness, they cause great distress to the person getting the letter, and often end up making a dismissal less rather than more likely. Usually, there's no winner.

Employers.  A fair number of them really are useless.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

A very busy week of collective bargaining......

I've (hopefully) helped resolve two "failures to agree" during the last week.

Company 1

The workers are contracted to work a minimum of 45 hours pw, although typically they do more like 55.  Through negotiations, a 2% rise was possible on basic pay.   The company does not pay overtime.

Our plan to is to improve conditions of service.  Rather than go for the 2%, we've managed to secure the establishment of an overtime rate.  Overtime will now kick in at 47.5 hours, payable at time and a quarter.   Over the course of this year, that will be much the same as getting a 2% increase.  But for every year in the future, the workers will gain.    The members would like time and a half, kicking in at 45 hours.  But we have to start somewhere, and we can build on this.  Collective bargaining is usually the taking of progress in achievable steps....

In return, we've recommended an offer that includes a low cost of living rise of just 0.7%. There's a small number of part-time workers who won't benefit from the overtime, but we have got them a one-off cash sum equal to 1.3%, which they will get in addition to the 0.7%.

We've also secured some small "bread n butter" wins.  Eg a contractual right to full payment for a shift if it's cancelled within 12 hours notice.   Over time, these little wins really do add up to a much better job....

There's no company sick pay scheme, and that will be a large focus of our efforts in future negotiations.

Last year there was no minimum length of the working day, meaning that you might get a 4 hour job, leaving you with extremely long days the rest of the week.  We secured a minimum day of 8 hours, even if the day was actually less than that.

There's so much good that can be done, without it costing an employer a fortune.

Company 2.

Negotiations dragged on months before I was asked to intervene.  A miserable 1% had been offered, and management were sticking to it.

Company poverty was being pleaded, but our stewards had no financial information about the employer. It appears that this particular division of the company is very profitable.  This employer hides it's great wealth very well as part of tax avoidance. I had a look at the info available at Companies House, and it revealed absolutely nothing of any use.

I put a collective bargaining disclosure request in.  This would have entitled me to details of profits and other info.  This sort of employer hates these requests, and will stop at nothing to avoid giving the info.  I'm told that some will even de-recognise a union rather than give the info.   With membership at over 70%,  I had little fear of that in this situation, but I didn't seriously expect the request to be complied with.  I calculated it would pressure them into the ballpark of reasonable, and so it has proved.

All our members wanted was a rise of 2%, as that's pretty much what other union workers in Burton have had.

It took a long meeting (six hours!) with ACAS to get to what I thought was a reasonable place. We've come away with 2% for this year, and 2% for next year.  Now that the bargaining for this negotiation is complete, the employer is no longer required to process the disclosure request.

Both offers are subject to members voting to accept.  I hope they will.  Neither of these offers could be improved by negotiations alone.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Secured win for drivers...but feel sad

Two months back, a driver told me he'd had his hours cut from 40 to 30 pw.  No conversation, no consultation, just a note on the board informing all ten drivers.  The cut was with immediate effect.

I wasn't that surprised, as charities can be awful employers.

It's taken a long time. but finally this week the grievance hearing was heard.  At first sight, it looks like I helped secure a rosy ending:

* The mans hours have been restored to 40.
* Full back pay is agreed, so that the man hasn't lost a penny.
* The employer has decided to extend this result to the other nine drivers, who are not union members.

Normally, something like this would keep me going all week.

But this vital charity is suffering the effects of the cuts.  It's just lost a third of it's revenue, as the council has been forced to slash financial support.  It's a brutal cut, implemented without phasing.

So cuts to these workers hours and pay are still a possibility...although I'm sure management will do things properly next time.

Charities are suffering savage cuts in the Burton area, and very few people seem to know about it.  I understand that over 40 charities have been hit, with many of them providing vital services to vulnerable and elderly people. I will be talking to East Staffs TUC to see what can be done to change this. I also want to look deeper into this so that I better understand the scale of the crises.  Efforts are also underway to create a Unite Community branch in Burton.

Edit: have just dealt with a Burton charity worker who is expected to give about 10 hours unpaid overtime each week. This charity is financially secure.  The contract of employment states that they can do this.  They have been insisting that they can do this.  I've emailed the Unite member some advice, which she has shown management.  In a nutshell, I've said that a contract of employment cannot override there must be payment (at least the minimum wage) for the hours worked. The employer has backed down.  Don't feel sad about that one!