Book Review: Beyond Shareholder Value

BSV_Page_01By Adrian Weir

The TUC has set out a four point campaign – ‘Respect At Work’ – on employment rights that it hopes will inform the debate in the run up to next year’s General Election.

The four elements are:

• stemming the tide of casualisation – including ending the abuse of zero hour contracts and, equal pay for agency workers

• abolition of Employment Tribunal fees

• a new framework of employment rights – including reversal of the coalition attack on statutory redundancy and TUPE and, unfair dismissal protection from day one

• improved worker voice – including promotion of collective bargaining, better information and consultation rights and, worker directors.

It is in connection with the fourth point that Beyond Shareholder Value: The Reasons and Choices For Corporate Governance Reform has been launched by the TUC, a collection of essays on reforming corporate governance that includes some discussion about the possibility of worker directors in the UK.

There is now no question that reform of the way our large corporations are managed is clearly overdue. A recent study by the High Pay Centre found that directors’ pay was now running at almost 180 times that of the lowest paid workers. In the discussion in this book the point is made that thirty or so years ago directors’ pay may have seemed reasonable in relation to other wage earners but has grown exponentially under neo-liberalism, prompting some to argue that if they could have got way with before they probably would have done – but there were social brakes, there are no such brakes now.

At the public launch of the book, Labour’s Shadow Business Minster, Iain Wright MP, was moved to promise a worker representative on company remuneration committees and even Tory Jesse Norman MP spoke about crony capitalism – the broken link between corporate reward and company performance!

Readers will soon discover that the debate on reform of corporate governance may be divided into two schools of thought – reform to improve economic performance and reform to provide worker voice – although of course there is some cross over between the two positions. In the former camp, some reformists argue against the corporate greed discussed above.

Others are more concerned about, the central thesis of the booklet, moving away from a duty to solely promote shareholder value and open up duties to other stakeholders.

An exclusive focus on shareholder value is said to promote short termism in that directors in the UK work to the publication of quarterly reports and eschew long term measures that may not synchronise with a quarterly reporting structure. Corporate bonuses are structured to short term results.

Further, how does the advent of high frequency share trading in the Anglo-American world fit in with the long term? Colin Crouch’s essay also raises the dubious practice of private equity investment delisting Stock Exchange listed companies often to strip out the assets before returning to the significantly poorer corporation to the market.

The cross over for advocates of improved economic performance and worker voice is found with those who argue that an involved workforce with access to the highest levels of decision making bring to the table knowledge and information otherwise unavailable to management.

Worker voice is the key to open improved performance.

There are statutory provisions for worker directors in 19 European countries; 14 with widespread rights across the public and private sectors – Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia plus a further 5 with more limited rights – Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

It’s clear from this list that although worker directors do not guarantee improved economic performance, those countries that are economic high flyers are also the ones that have a system of industrial democracy that includes worker directors. Michael Gold’s essay is a very interesting piece of work. He argues that our system corporate governance denies to workers the fourth element that makes a democratic whole.

Firstly, we have civil citizenship, the rights to individual freedom; secondly, we have political citizenship, the right to vote; and, thirdly, we have social citizenship, the right to social welfare (gradually being eroded in the UK of course).

In the UK what is missing is citizenship at work that meaningful participation rights, including worker directors, would go some way in meeting. At the level of mobilising workers to support the demand for a voice we should leave the argument linking worker directors with improved economic performance slightly to one side, important though it is, see Frances O’Grady’s essay on promoting a high investment, high skill and high productivity economy.

We should shift the argument to a rights issue, workers’ rights to seats on the board to act as a counter veiling power to the obsession with short termism and board room excess.

These issues have contributed to the crisis, a crisis under which working people are bearing the brunt with overbearing austerity measures and attacks on their limited rights at work.

Click here on on the graphic to download a copy of “Beyond Shareholder Value: The Reasons and Choices For Corporate Governance Reform” is by J Williamson, C Driver & P Kenway (eds)

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Tory MPs failed to win 50% mandate

Len McCluskey

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey

Not a single Tory cabinet member achieved the 50 percent voting threshold they wish to impose on workers taking industrial action, reveals new research from Unite.

Following Tory calls to harden Britain’s draconian anti-trade union laws, Unite has analysed the 2010 general election results, finding that when total potential turnout is included not a single Tory MP won 50 percent.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: “It is utter hypocrisy for the government to talk about mandates for trade unions when not a single member of the present cabinet would have been elected using the same criteria.

“The fact is not a single councillor in England has won 50 percent of the electorate, not a single MEP has reached the 50 percent threshold, Boris Johnson scraped in with just 37 percent in 2008 and the government’s flagship Police Crime Commissioner election gained a risible 17 percent of the vote.

“This government has no mandate to attack trade unions or the workers who have been forced to take industrial action today in their fight to end poverty pay.”

The study shows that the cabinet member with the lowest percentage of the vote was David Jones, the Welsh Secretary who secured the support of just 27 percent of the electorate in his seat of Clwyd West in 2010. Not far behind comes the recently appointed Secretary of State for Culture Sajid Javid who came to office with the support of only 30.8 percent of the electorate in his constituency of Bromsgrove in 2010.

The member of the cabinet who comes closest to winning a 50 percent mandate is Home Secretary Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead, although even she falls short of by 7 percent.

Those MPs who have been most vocal in their attacks on workers taking action today, achieved the most risible results.

Union bashing Priti Patel managed to win the support of just over a third (36.6 percent) of the electorate in Witham, while the architect of the Conservative party’s manifesto Oliver Letwin gained the support of just 35.5 percent of the electorate in Dorset.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: “Britain’s anti-trade union laws are already amongst the most restrictive in Europe. Tory attempts to further curtail the rights of working people to democratically organise risks placing Cameron’s Britain alongside nations like Kazakhstan, Albania and Niger where the right for public servants to take action is forbidden.”

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CTUF At Durham Miners Gala!

CTUF DurhamGala2014 Flyer LR

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Thompsons : Zero-hours contracts have reached epidemic proportions.

Stephen-Cavalier“Allowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless” says Steve Cavalier, Chief Executive of Thompsons Solictors

Employers are to be banned from preventing staff with zero-hours contracts seeking work elsewhere, under plans announced by Business Secretary, Vince Cable.

The legislation is said to give greater flexibility to workers who are currently tied to a single employer, but Mr Cable has resisted calls for a blanket ban on zero-hours contracts altogether.

A zero-hours contract currently means that employees are contracted to one single employer with no guarantee of regular work or pay.

Workers are bound by an exclusivity clause to that company, meaning they cannot look for work elsewhere, and are subject to financial insecurity and instability in their home life.

Chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, Stephen Cavalier, said: “Banning exclusivity clauses, which trap employees into working for one employer, is no more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. The truth is that this is a distraction and the announcement does not, by any means, go far enough.

“Allowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless ‘concession’. It does nothing about job insecurity. Workers will still have no idea how many hours they will be working from one week to the next, let alone how much money they will be earning.

“Under this government zero-hours contracts have reached epidemic proportions, creating widespread insecurity and allowing large companies to exploit those desperate for work.

“It is society’s most vulnerable who are typically forced to accept zero-hours contracts and we should be offering them the greatest protection, not opening them up to be being ripped off by more unscrupulous employers.

“Even this government knows zero-hours contracts are a blight on the Labour Market, but it is too much in the pocket of big business to tackle the problem.”

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CTUF @ the Unite Conference

CTUF Conference2014 Flyer aw-4

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Miliband Calls For Inquiry Into Orgreave

Miner Dispute Orgreave 1984Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for a “proper investigation” into police malpractice during the 1984-85 miners’ strike and the events surrounding clashes between police and striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant 30 years ago this week.

On 18th June 1984, 10,000 striking miners pickiting the Orgreave plant, faced upwards of 4,000 police commanded by South Yorkshire police.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who defended miners subsequently charged with riot, said she believed there were 8,000 officers present. Mounted officers with drew batons and charged into the miners, and officers on foot beat miners about the head with truncheons.

In 2012 South Yorkshire police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over allegations that police officers had assaulted miners at Orgreave, then committed perjury and misconduct in a public office, and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecutions of 95 miners on riot charges, which collapsed in court.

But the foot dragging continues with the IPCC saying it is still “scoping” evidence to determine whether to hold an investigation. Miliband is the most senior politician to back the growing campaign to have police conduct at Orgreave fully investigated.

Miliband in a speech to miners and representatives of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign at Hatfield Main colliery in his Doncaster constituency, said the miners’ strike,was “a just cause”.

“You were fighting for justice, for your community, for equality, for all the things that mattered,” Miliband said. “The values you fought for are the values that we have to take forward for the future”.

“Very specifically,” Miliband said, “there does need to be a proper investigation about what happened at Orgreave. We support that proper investigation taking place, as a matter of truth and a matter of justice.”

No police officer has ever been disciplined or charged with any offence arising out of Orgreave, but 95 miners were charged with riot, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The trials all collapsed in July 1985, after defence questioning that had exposed police testimony at odds with the film of what happened, partially identical statements by different officers, officers saying they had had statements dictated to them, an allegedly forged signature by a police officer on a statement, and generally unconvincing police evidence in the witness box.

Michael Mansfield QC, who defended some of the accused miners, described it as “the biggest frame-up ever”.

In June 1991, without admitting liability, South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 to 39 miners who had sued for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. Chris Kitchen, the NUM general secretary, said: “The IPCC must investigate. Some of the men assaulted and falsely accused have had anger festering for 30 years. There is no time limit on injustice. Recognising the truth is part of a healing process.”

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TUC: Tribunal fees stopping wronged workers from seeking justice

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Employers who bully, harass or cheat their workers out of their wages are increasingly likely to escape punishment as people wronged at work are prevented from seeking justice by the high cost of taking a tribunal case, says the TUC.

Citing the new figures published by the Ministry of Justice, the TUC said that the 59 per cent drop in the number of single claims being taken to employment tribunals – from 13,739 between January and March 2013 to 5,619 in the first three months of 2014 – showed that fees were deterring many workers from taking their employers to court.

Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If an employer breaks the law and sacks someone unfairly, sexually harasses them or cheats them out of their wages, it’s understandable that an individual should want to seek some kind of redress.

“In the past there were no fees, and workers who felt they’d been wronged could have their case heard and the tribunal would either find for them or in their employer’s favour. But last summer, the government decided to restrict justice to those who could afford to pay a fee.

“Today’s figures show that many people – especially low-paid workers trying to claw back wages they are owed by their bosses – are being put off making a claim, often because the cost of going to a tribunal is more than the sum of their outstanding wages.

“The huge drop in cases taken certainly doesn’t mean that Britain’s bosses have got a whole lot nicer in the past year. It’s simply because pursuing a complaint against a bad employer has become too expensive for many workers, and that is just plain wrong.”

The figures show an 85 per cent fall in the number of claims for unpaid wages – with just 3,133 claims made in the first three months of 2014, compared with the 21,213 cases lodged during the same period a year previously.

Over the same period, sex discrimination cases plummeted from 6,017 to 1,222 (an 80 per cent fall) and unfair dismissal cases were down by 62 per cent  (from 11,041 to 4,235).

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New Legal Report: Right To Strike Backed By International Law

1143911766strike3A new 122-page ITUC legal report, confirming that the right to strike is protected under international law, has been released today as employers try to overturn decades of jurisprudence at the International Labour Organisation.

Employer representatives at the ILO are continuing their efforts to strip back ILO Convention 87 on Freedom Of Association, which guarantees workers the right to take strike action, as the UN agency holds its 103rd International Labour Conference in Geneva this month.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said from the ILO Conference, “Employers have been holding the ILO system to ransom, trying to discard more than 50 years of international law by removing the guarantee of one of the most fundamental human rights. ILO standards are increasingly important as benchmarks in international trade and investment agreements as well as guidelines for responsible business, and ultra-conservative employer groups want to remove any real meaning from them. The ITUC and its member organisations are determined to see this challenge off and ensure that workers everywhere cannot simply be forced to keep working when their bosses refuse to ensure fair pay and dignity and safety at work.”

As the ITUC’s new Global Rights Index shows, the right to strike is frequently restricted in law and violated in practice around the world. In Cambodia, employers even recently called on the government to denounce ILO Convention 87, while bringing lawsuits against union that took to the streets to protest against poverty wages in the garment industry.

“The employers’ arguments at the ILO are legally unfounded. I am confident that the ITUC’s case, set out in our new report, would prevail before any international tribunal,” said Burrow.

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Orgreave: 30th Anniversary Picnic & Festival – June 14th


Click here or on the poster and download the full programme for the event.

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United Nations Forced To Recognise Trade Unions

UNIn a hard fought campaign staff unions at the United Nations have had their trade unions re-recognised as well as winning improvements on consultation and dispute resolution.

Last year, the United Nations in an astonishing act of hypocrisy de-recognised the staff unions federation, the CCISUA which is affiliated to the GFTU here in the UK. A major campaign was launched to support the staff unions – which the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom fully supported.

A major lobbying campaign was started involving the ITUC, the TUC, GFTU and many trade unions world-wide who wrote to the UN Secretary General to complain about the disgraceful decision.

UK ministers were also lobbied – not least because the TUC suspected Foreign Secretary William Hague of having been a ‘behind-the-scenes promoter of derecognition’.

A LabourStart petition calling for union rights at the UN attracted 14,000 signatures.

Ian Richards, the President of the Co-ordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations said: “We know that management only came back to the table because unions, organisations and working people around the world were united in their anger at the way the Secretary-General withdrew trade union recognition last June.”


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