Welcome to the UK world of one nation conservatism


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Ministers have defended plans to tighten the rules on strike ballots after unions said they would make legal strikes “almost impossible”.

Britain has the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe.

We cannot accept a situation in which our ability to fight back is prevented in this way. The labour movement must unambiguously call for the repeal of the anti-union laws and advocate a positive charter of rights for workers.

IMG_2575Yesterday(15  July 2015)  the government will publish its Trade Unions Bill – a grossly unfair package of measures that will tip the balance of power in the workplace.

The proposals will make getting a much-needed pay rise, stopping job losses or negotiating better conditions at work much more difficult. They’ll make it harder for unions to do their day-to-day job of dealing with problems in the workplace before they escalate into disputes. And they’ll stifle protests against cuts to public services, like closures of SureStart centres, libraries and care services.

It’s a strange choice for the party that wants to position itself as the workers’ champion. Not measures to tackle exploitation at work or boost productivity, but an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties.

It’s also a strange choice of priority with the economic recovery still fragile. Ask anyone running a business and it’s unlikely that messing about with trade union laws will be on their wish-list of things the government could do to help.

The details have been widely trailed, and colleagues will blog on this in more IMG_2609detail when the bill is published.

The thresholds for industrial action ballots have made the headlines, but even when ballots meet the government’s new rules, the bill will allow employers to break strikes by bringing in agency workers. It’s a recipe for chaos – agency workers will be put in a difficult position, and the delicate balance of industrial relations will be irrevocably tipped in favour of employers. Decent employers and agencies are likely to want to keep well away.

The proposals are also expected to restrict and police union members’ rights to peacefully picket. At a time when police resources are already badly stretched, it’s hard to think of a bigger waste of time and public money than looking to lock up peacefully protesting teachers, midwives and cleaners.

If ministers were serious about improving workplace democracy they would instead let workers vote online. In an era of online banking, safe and secure online balloting is a common sense option.

Instead, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the government is determined to weaken trade unions so that they can attack rights, pay and conditions for all workers. Collective bargaining works because both sides have some power – that’s why the vast majority of negotiations result not in strikes but in a deal being reached. And collective bargaining benefits union members and non-members alike.

IMG_2612We will oppose these draconian proposals. Our country has a proud tradition of liberty and democracy – and trade unions are central to that. This year, as we mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, that heritage is as important as ever. Our aim is clear: to stop this unfair, unnecessary legislation getting onto the statute books.

Now you have it the Conservative are showing their true colours by attacking our trade union right to assemble for strike action. This smells of Thatcherism returning from the dead in the form of mummy return after 30 years ago when she tried to smash the trade unions for good. Not forgetting that this establishment only received 24% of the vote and their cheek to state that trade unions should get 50% of the vote from trade unionists where is the democracy.

Many trade unions will recall what Thatcherism did to the coal miners, public services, manufacturing and industries across the England, Wales and Scotland. What thatcher did not count on was unity the trade unions was very strong and she used the SAS to infiltrate the picket lines and in some cases joining the police forces to intimidate strikers.

This new legislation is design toughen up the laws on strike action is to be introduced by this establishment is one of the worst we will witness for a decade by introducing a minimum turnouts in strike ballots, time limits on mandates for industrial action and changes to political levies.

It’s no wonder there is two hidden agenda on the plate which is to interfere with internal affairs of Labour Party funding process. The other is to smash the unions in such a way that trade union members will not allowed to withdraw their labor when employers talks break down and makes it easier to employ temp staff to do the job.

IMG_2611Tories are very happy for millionaires and bankers to donate to the coffers of the conservatives with open arms which tantalise to double standards. Some will recall the Institute of Employment Rights was established in 1989 by those concerned about the alarming erosion of trade union rights in Thatcher’s Britain.

Since then governments have come and gone but what remains stubbornly in place is a framework of law that fails to protect workers from exploitation and abuse at work.

Now we face another general election and we need to raise our voice and tell politicians what we expect from an incoming government. To that end the IER has brought together a high-profile platform of policy-makers, trade union leaders and lawyers to set out the basics of a progressive agenda on labour law. There is much common ground, with attention focusing on some of the worst problems experienced by workers in our deregulated, fragmented, profit-over-people, labour market workplaces.

Suggestions include strengthening individual rights. Improving access to justice. Removing the benefit conditions that force people into exploitative jobs in profitable companies.

And it’s not just individual rights.

IMG_2610Thatcher attacked trade unions because she knew the power of numbers and the strength of a collective voice.

Without that collective voice the balance of power swings massively in favour of the employer. The result? The growth in inequality, exploitation and bad employment practices that haunt Britain today.

We know that bad practice trickles down far faster than wealth. Last month Britain was criticised for failing to protect workers against unpaid overtime, unpaid holidays, inadequate rest periods, failure to secure a decent standard of living, failure to compensate workers exposed to occupational health risks and much more.

These are problems that should be dealt with by collective bargaining, setting standards at a national level across all sectors of the economy.

That’s why one of our key demands is for a Ministry of Labour at the heart of government, tasked with giving a voice to the UK’s 29 million workers, both in the corridors of power and in the boardrooms of Britain. The minimum demand of the trade union movement to any government elected in May 2015 should be the following essential reforms. These are the least steps necessary to begin to secure social justice, democracy in the workplace, the reduction of inequality and to increase real wages and so stimulate the economy.

 

  1. The right to a decent wage and to a decent income for those not in employment
  2. The effective regulation of zero-hours contracts
  3. The right of every worker to be protected by a collective agreement
  4. The re-establishment of sectoral collective bargaining and Wages Councils
  5. The re-establishment of a Ministry of Labour
  6. The right to strike in accordance with international law
  7. The removal of a qualifying period for unfair dismissal
  8. The restoration of redundancy consultation rights
  9. The right to legal protection for everyone who works, regardless of their legal status (‘employee’, ‘self-employed’, ‘agency worker’ etc)
  10. The right of all workers to access to justice, including the abolition of tribunal fees

Intriguingly Secretary General Francis O’Grady comments:

If David Cameron really wants workers to get a pay rise, then he’s got a funny way of going about it. Over the last five years we have seen a sustained attack on workers’ rights and protection at work, including trade unions.

Unions are the last line of defence for workers, so little wonder that that the Conservative Party’s belief in freedom doesn’t extend to us. Far from stamping out workplace abuses like zero-hours contracts and pregnancy discrimination, the government has made it easier for bosses to sack workers and act with impunity.

Employees now have to wait two years before getting protection from unfair dismissal. New charges as high as £1,200 make it impossible for many to take a case to an employment tribunal, even if they would get their boss bang to rights at a hearing.

And now the Conservative Party has promised even more punitive rules for strike ballots, in a naked bid to wipe out democratic dissent and weaken workers’ bargaining power.

This government is fond of telling us that any job is better than no job, no matter how insecure and low-paid, and has handed employers the kind of absolute power that Victorian mill owners once wielded. Workers deserve better.

For a start we need to scrap tribunal fees that price workers out of justice. And we need to get rid of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal — this should be a day-one right.

Second, we need tougher enforcement of workers’ rights. Since 2010 the budgets of enforcement agencies, including the Health and Safety Executive and Gangmasters Licensing Authority, have been slashed. And we must reverse the trend of casualisation that loads the dice in favour of bad bosses. This means paying agency workers the same rate as permanent staff, clamping down on exploitative zero-hours contracts and calling time on bogus self-employment.

Spare a thought for those self-employed City Link workers who found out on Christmas Eve that they were losing their jobs. Many had worked at the company for years but will hardly get a penny in compensation. Meanwhile, the private equity chiefs behind the collapsed parcel carrier expect to walk away with £20 million.

This is why we need stronger unions and collective bargaining in workplaces across Britain.

Only a strong union voice, up to and including the boardroom, will build a more equal and sustainable post-crash economy that benefits the 99 per cent who, after all, create the wealth in the first place.

Unite General secretary Len McCluskey:

This government will leave behind an economy working for a few at the top while offering no hope to millions. Not by mistake, but by design.

More than half of people in poverty in this country are in work. Getting a job no longer means earning a good living; instead zero-hours, under-employment and phantom self-employment mean hard-working people can’t even expect a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

All this while the corporate elites and our best-known brands refuse to pay their fair share in tax.

People across our nations deserve better. Decent work with a living wage, a secure and affordable home, well-funded public services, an NHS taken out of the grip of private healthcare and a democratic system that gives people a voice in their workplace — not just a vote at election time.

Trade unions are a force for good in today’s society. Now more than ever we need a radical shift in employment legislation that has for decades given a free rein to bosses while workers have seen their rights diminished and trade unions shackled.

The ideologically skewed approach to employment relations of successive governments is at the heart of our broken economy, when in reality there are plenty of examples of where trade unions work positively with industry for mutual benefit — look no further than Unite and the car industry.

Inequality is widely regarded as the most pressing issue facing Western economies — Bank of England governor Mark Carney and US President Barack Obama are only the latest to point out the spiraling economic injustices that are a by-product of the neoliberal experiment.

The proportion of GDP going to pay workers’ wages has dropped dramatically from over 60 per cent 30 years ago to just over 50 per cent today.

And Thomas Piketty has shown that the yawning gap between rich and poor will only get worse without government intervention in the market. The economic crisis of today is not the budget deficit. The budget deficit is, like poverty wages and falling tax intake, a symptom of something far worse.

This government attacks working people and workplace justice; Labour’s answer to the economic crisis must be to empower working people and make work pay. This can only be done with stronger trade unions giving a voice to working people.

The late Tony Benn, a proud Unite member, said that “the crisis we inherit when we come to power must be the occasion for fundamental change — and not the excuse for postponing it.”

I can only echo that call.

 UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis:

There is a great deal of common ground about a new settlement of union and worker rights to reverse the decline in living standards of the last 30 years.

Unison supports the Institute of Employment Rights collective bargaining manifesto and from a public service point of view there are three areas that stand out in 2015: zero-hours, care workers, and the public-sector leadership role.

We need some firm and worked out proposals on zero-hours contracts that heavily restrict their usage and prevent easy loopholes like one-hour contracts.

The best proposals we have seen so far are in the private member’s Bill by Ian Mearns MP.

This gives a right to regular hours at three months, employee employment status, payments for standby time and short-notice cancellations and restrictions on employers moving weekly hours up and down.

Of course we need action too on agency workers, tribunal fees and bogus self-employment, otherwise gains on zero-hours contracts will easily be negated.

Unison members working in social care are on the front line facing austerity and casualisation pressures, with 15-minute visiting slots, zero-hours, unpaid standby time and unpaid travel time to the fore.

Report after report shows the quality of care is affected for the elderly and disabled, yet even with a multitude of regulators there has been little impact on standards, with only 15 formal care sector complaints to the government Pay and Rights help­line last year.

What we need — apart from the obvious case for strong trade unions — is the various public-sector bodies responsible for care commissioning to set both employment and care quality standards (such as Unison’s Ethical Care Charter) as adopted by several councils already.

There is a wider public-sector role on pay and conditions, for in-house staff and contractors, and what we would like to see is a return of the “fair wages” clauses in procurement, which were abolished in 1983.

This would see not just a living wage but a range of standards for sick pay, holidays and pensions set by national agreements like the NJC in local government being carried through the procurement process to stop the current race to the bottom.

There would be massive benefits for millions of women workers too as it would be an easy way to transmit proper equality-proofed pay agreements to the wider economy and rebuild our country.

The Tories’ announcement of a new raft of anti-union laws if they win the election in May means that trade unionism is at stake in the period ahead.

The Tories want to atomise the labour movement, because they know we are the most powerful force opposing their plans for more austerity, more privatisation and more attacks on workers’ living standards.

That’s what is behind their plans to introduce stiff ballot thresholds, slash facility time and scrap check off.

Britain has the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe.

We cannot accept a situation in which our ability to fight back is prevented in this way. The labour movement must unambiguously call for the repeal of the anti-union laws and advocate a positive charter of rights for workers.

 

 

 

 

 

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