New report exposes umbrella company con-trick

Steve Murphy, UCATT General Secretary

Steve Murphy, UCATT General Secretary

Construction union UCATT have launched a new report into how thousands of construction workers are seeing cuts in their pay as a result of being forced to operate via umbrella companies.

The report ‘The Umbrella Company Con Trick’ was written for UCATT by freelance researcher and journalist Jamie Elliott. The report details how workers operating via an umbrella company are disadvantaged in many different ways:

  • They have to pay both employer’s and employees’ national insurance contributions (25% of eligible earnings).
  • They are officially paid just the minimum wage despite jobs being advertised at well in excess of ÂŁ10 an hour. Wages are then bulked out with expenses, “performance related pay” and other highly confusing terms.
  • Holiday pay is rolled up into the rate, denying workers’ pay when they actually take annual leave.
  • Most contracts are for zero hours, so workers do not know when or for how long they will work.
  • Wage slips are made so vague and confusing that workers struggle to understand how their pay is calculated
  • A fee of up to ÂŁ30 a week is taken from their pay every week to pay for the umbrella company’s services.

The scourge of umbrella companies has become endemic in the construction industry since April this year. This followed a Government decision to prevent employment agencies and payroll companies classifying construction workers who were under “direction or control” as being self-employed. Rather than pay workers in a standard PAYE manner there has been a mass move to pay workers via umbrella companies.

The report found that a worker being paid via umbrella company Crest Plus Exchange earning ÂŁ600 a week was paid just ÂŁ410.14.

If the same worker had been under a standard PAYE they would have received ÂŁ464.76 and if the value of holiday pay is included the pay rate would increase to ÂŁ531.68.

The report also found that the Government is substantially losing out on tax and NI revenues through the use of umbrella companies.

For a worker earning ÂŁ500 a week via an umbrella company the annual loss to the Treasury is ÂŁ3,800 per worker.

Steve Murphy, General Secretary of construction union UCATT, said: “Workers are left feeling robbed when they realise how little they are being paid by umbrella companies.”

A parliamentary launch of the report has been scheduled for Wednesday 29th October.

Speakers include Shabana Mahmood MP Shadow Exchequer Secretary, Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Steve Rotheram MP, Steve Murphy and Jamie Elliott.

Mr Murphy added: “The Government must take urgent action to end the exploitation of workers by employers who are forcing them to be paid via umbrella companies.”

The widespread use of umbrella companies has already led to numerous demonstrations outside major construction sites and further action is likely in the future.

Click here to download a copy of the Umbrella Company Con-Trick . 

 

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Securing a decent deal for workers: Employee representatives on boards

LAB2007By Jim Sheridan MP

There has been a significant decline in democracy in the workplace; brought about by decades of attacks on the trade union movement, employment rights and collective bargaining structures, established to ensure a collective voice at work.

It is clear that employees must be given a stronger voice in the strategic direction of our businesses.

This is why this paper for Class: Centre for Labour and Social Studies examines the concept of workplace democracy, and focuses in particular on the inclusion of employee representatives on company boards, drawing on Sweden as a case study and referencing interviews that have been conducted specifically.

This evidence strongly suggests that this system is beneficial to all involved:

  • Employees are able to present issues at board level
  • Trade unions form better working relationships with management
  • Board members benefit from the expertise of employees working on the shop floor

We have reached a decisive moment, with public opinion turning against companies that exploit their workers. With some cross-party consensus on the inclusion of employee representatives on company boards, there is now scope to re-open some of the discussions around this issue that took place in the 1970s.

As a proud trade unionist, I do not want to see another generation believing that zero hour contracts and poor workplace rights are the norm of working life. We need a change, and I believe this more cooperative approach between management and employees is the way forward.

Also click here to read Jim Sheridan’s  full report.

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Open TISA to public debate, say experts at first global forum

logo

From education to transport, from finance to health. The new Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) is posing serious threats to quality standards in various public sectors that affect the lives of citizens.

This is what has emerged from the first Global Trade in Services Forum, in Geneva on 17th October 2014, co-organised by Public Services International (PSI), Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Our World Is Not For Sale (OWINFS) network.

Leading experts and over 140 representatives from trade unions, civil society and governments expressed their concerns about the new trade agreement, which is being negotiated in secrecy by a small group of governments and supported by a coalition of corporations.

“The secrecy of these trade agreements neglects any democratic participation,” says Jane Kelsey, professor of law at the university of Auckland, New Zealand.

“Services are fundamental to people’s daily lives, and what we see in these agreements is an attempt to turn them into commercial products, in ways that benefit just the biggest companies in the world.”

According to Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former Minister of Justice of Germany, trade agreements should be discussed by national parliaments and within the European Parliament in full transparency, or they will just foster protest and not deliver the results their supporters keep promising.

In the United States, “the industry and trade lobbies represent the lion’s share in the trade advisory committee, reaching 85 per cent of the total members” revealed Celeste Drake, trade and globalisation policy specialist at AFL-CIO.

The forum represented a unique opportunity to examine the negative impact of TISA and the darkest side of its privatisation and deregulation agenda, but also to start and elaborate alternatives and solutions to the ongoing process.

“The interest and participation in the forum reflects the growing concern about these secret talks,” says Daniel Bertossa, Director of Policy and Governance at PSI. “It’s clear from today that trade unionists and civil society are angry about what is being negotiated in their name.”For more information:

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Breaking News: EU Publish Negotiating Mandate On TTIP

Breaking News: The EU has made its negotiating mandate mandate for #TTIP public. According to the Trade Commissioner @MalmstromEU – it ‘raises the level of transparency’.

Click here to read the negotiating mandate.

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Cable And Lib-Dem’s Last-Ditch Sop On Employment Rights

Vince Cable - trying to shore up support for Lib-Dems with Employment Law Review! We won't be fooled Vince!

Vince Cable – trying to shore up support for Lib-Dems with Employment Law Review! We won’t be fooled Vince!

The feeble attempt to shore up support is too late for this anti-worker minister, says Adrian Weir, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom Assistant Secretary.

In a forlorn attempt to distance his party from the employment law polices of the coalition government, Vince Cable has announced a “wide-ranging review” of employment law.

The spin on his speech to his party’s conference suggests that far from being wide ranging, the review would concentrate on the contractual status of workers which would by implication include those on zero-hour contacts.

This is clearly no Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus but a cynical ploy to attempt to shore up any support there may be for the Lib Dems on the centre-left.

Cable has presided over a catalogue of anti-worker measures introduced since 2010 by the coalition. In this he has been supported by two Lib- Dem junior ministers responsible for employment relations, Ed Davey until 2012 and subsequently Jo Swinson.

There can be no evasion of responsibility, no blaming the Tories — all the anti-worker changes to the law have been on Cable’s watch assisted by Lib Dem junior helpers.

Early in life of the coalition, the government:

  • announced a moratorium on all new domestic regulation for businesses employing fewer than 10 staff, which also applied to employment law.
  • repealed the planned extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of 17-year-olds
  • decided not to bring forward the dual discrimination provision in the Equality Act
  • decided not to extend the right to request time to train to companies with fewer than 250 staff
  • announced its intention to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board
  • reviewed the compliance and enforcement arrangements for those employment rights enforced by government.

On Cable’s watch, the government also published the so-called Employers’ Charter, setting out for employers that the law was on their side in such issues as discipline, sickness absence and dismissal.

There was of course no corresponding employees’ charter. Instead in November 2011 Cable announced a 15-point plan to reform employment rights. The headline changes to the law arising from this plan were:

  • the raising of the qualifying period to two years for unfair dismissal claims
  • the introduction of fees to take a case to an employment tribunal, firstly lodging a claim and secondly for proceeding to trial. For unfair dismissal there was a ÂŁ250 issue fee and a ÂŁ950 hearing fee. The cost of justice if sacked from work is now ÂŁ1,200
  • allowing employment judges to sit alone on unfair dismissal cases with no more practical advice from a trade union “winger”
  • the minimum consultation period when employers propose 100 or more redundancies has been reduced from 90 to 45 days.

Many of the points in Cable’s 15-point plan looked remarkably similar to the proposals made in the secret Beecroft Report drafted for the Prime Minister by the man behind Wonga.com, leading many to ask who was pulling Cable’s strings.

Another case where Cable was shown not to be in total control was the introduction of the so-called “shares for rights” initiative led by Chancellor George Osborne.

This new law allowed employees to be given at least ÂŁ2,000 in shares in the business, exempt from capital gains tax if they sold.

In return, the employees had to give up their rights on unfair dismissal, statutory redundancy and the right to request flexible working and time off for training.

They would also be required to provide 16 weeks’ notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, instead of the current eight.

“Rights for shares” has sunk without trace but where was Cable’s voice in opposition to the creation of new form of contractual relationship in employment relations?

The government is ploughing on with its so-called reform of employment law. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is at committee stage in the House of Commons and contains the government’s much vaunted, but untrue, claim to deal with exclusivity in zero-hours contracts.

Does Cable need his review of contractual status because he knows this proposed law will not really deal with the problems around zero-hours contracts?

The Deregulation Bill is currently going through the House of Lord, raising particular concerns about the removal of health and safety duties from self-employed people and the removal of an employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations.

Cable, Davey and Swinson are complicit in building this bonfire of employment rights, even if their Tory allies were chucking on the petrol. Few, if any, will be fooled by a last-minute review after five years of remorseless attack.

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Employment Tribunals: Review Date Set

unison-logoA new judicial review launched by Unison over the introduction of Tribunal fees is set to be heard by the High Court on October 21st and 22nd.

It follows the decision of the Court of Appeal last month to stay the appeal of the earlier High Court decision over tribunal fees, in light of new evidence showing a drop in tribunal claims.

The Lord Chancellor agreed with Unison that a new hearing should take place as soon as possible in light of the new evidence.

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “The High Court’s decision to schedule the judicial review within a month of the union filing its claim shows just how important the issue of tribunal fees is.Over the past year we have seen tens of thousands of workers denied access to justice simply because they can no longer afford to bring an employment tribunal claim.

“If the Government doesn’t abolish these unfair fees it is effectively rolling out the welcome mat to unscrupulous employers, and we must do everything possible not to let that happen.”

 Ministry of Justice statistics show a dramatic fall in clams being brought to Employment Tribunals and to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Before the introduction of fees, the Employment Tribunals received on average 48,000 new claims per quarter. The most recent quarterly figures, for April to June 2014 show that in that quarter there were only 8,540 new claims – 81% fewer than the number of claims lodged in the same period of 2013, according to Ministry of Justice figures released last month.

Since the introduction of fees on 29th July 2013, there has been an 86% drop in sex discrimination claims; and an 80% drop in Equal Pay claims.

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ILO hosts top-level talks to restart social dialogue on Greek labour questions

greek_017September 30th. Report from the ILO Website

Government, worker and employer representatives from Greece have agreed to undertake talks on labour issues in the country during a high-level meeting held at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Participants agreed to move forward on discussions concerning key labour law issues, notably in the area of collective dismissals and industrial relations.

Click here to read the conclusions of the meeting.

“Social dialogue is the basis for sustainable policies that can create new jobs,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

“This agreement is a very positive step in getting women and men in Greece back to work.”

Greece has the highest jobless rate in the European Union – at 27 per cent – with 1.3 million people out of work, according to latest figures published by the EU’s statistical agency, Eurostat.

The meeting came after Greece’s Labour and Social Security Minister Ioannis Vroutsis requested the ILO’s assessment of current laws governing layoffs in the private sector.

He also sought a dialogue with labour unions and employers’ associations for proposed changes to Greek laws governing trade unions facilitated by the ILO.

The meeting comes amid the fifth, and possibly final, review of Greece’s economic reform progress by troika auditors consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (aka ‘The Trokia’)

In exchange for multi-billion euro emergency financing, Greece has been implementing an austerity and economic reform programme since 2010.

Greece expects its economy to expand by 0.6 per cent this year in the first growth since 2007.

The government also forecasts expansion of 2.9 per cent next year and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

The meeting gathered the Minister of Labour, high-level representatives of the Greek Government, and leaders of the G.S.E.E./Greek General Confederation of Labour, as well as the SEV/Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and Small and Medium Sized Employers (SMEs) including the ESEE/National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, the G.S.E.V.E.E/Hellenic Confederation of Professional Craftsmen and Merchants, and SETE/Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises.

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Playfair Qatar – Working With Football Fans To Campaign On Workers’ Rights

playfair_qatar_logo_header1The TUC has launched the campaign – Playfair Qatar – to draw football fans into the protests against Qatar’s treatment of the workforce building the infrastructure for its 2022 World Cup.

The campaign will complement other campaigns already running by bringing in new allies.

Fans – many of whom are also trade unionists – are as outraged as anyone that Qatar’s lax health and safety and repressive “kafala” laws are likely to lead to 4,000 deaths before the 2022 World Cup begins.

Football fans are considered such an important constituency in the battle of the hosting of the World Cup that Qatar has paid a PR agency to set up a “grass roots” blog which also serves as a platform for character assassinations of anyone criticising the country.

The TUC on the other hand, is working with organisations like the Football Supporters’ Federation to get the word out that Qatar’s new laws and promised regulations mean nothing if they’re not enforced, and that pressure must be maintained until we see proof of change (preferably through the legalisation of unions for migrant workers).

The ultimate aim is to build a broad coalition of support to help with future union campaigning and lobbying aimed at construction companies, sponsors and governments.

In discussion with the fans’ groups, the TUC has developed a photo action to allow football fans to express very simply their support for the campaign and get them involved.

We are seeking photos from:

  • Groups of fans, hopefully outside matches
  • Individual fans (in team tops) or groups of fans from offices, branches etc
  • Fans from rival teams “uniting” over the issue (as in the example above)
  • Recreational teams before matches
  • and indeed any other ideas you might have.

The TUC has put the basic components in place, and many fans’ groups have agreed to participate, but we need more help to the promote the campaign.

Please do all you can to spread the word about the action and encourage people to send in photos.

The campaign website – very much focused on drawing in fans – can be found by clicking here.

It would be very helpful if you could also like us on Facebook and follow and promote the Twitter feed @PlayfairQatar

The simple message signs can be downloaded here.

Photos can be sent to photos@playfairqatar.org

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TTIP Statement By German DGB and Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology

The DGB, Germany’s trade union umbrella body and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology have issued this statement relating to the current negotiations on TTIP and especially the ISDS clauses and German Employment Rights.

This is an ‘unofficial’ English translation from an original German text.

Please feel free to repost this statement and pdf  on your blog sites and Facebook, and pass onto groups opposing CETA and TTIP.

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Unite’s Gail Cartmail Speech On TTIP At Labour Conference.

0Our challenge is to grasp that this new generation of free trade treaties is that mainly they are not about trade – many of our member’s jobs rely on trade – we are not anti-trade… they are about de-regulation.

We welcome the commitment in the NPF Report to ensure the exclusion of the NHS from TTIP and conference – we call on Cameron to use his veto to defend our NHS from irreversible privatisation.

 He won’t – TTIP is the Health and Social Care Act on steroids and will finish his wholesale sell off of our NHS.

 There needs to be a wider definition of public services that includes public transport and public utilities that were formally in the public sector.

 We certainly need a robust rejection of the Investor State Dispute Settlement – ISDS.

ISDS – secret courts outside the control of our national judiciary handing down decisions on our national legislation for the benefit of multinational capital.

 Alarmist rhetoric? Here a few examples:

Australia being sued by Philp Morris after introducing plain paper packaging for cigarettes

Slovakia – sued by multi-national insurers after taking back into the public sector its previously privatised public insurance scheme

 El Salvador – sued by a multinational gold miner for trying to protect the purity of its drinking water.

Imagine our NHS sold off – cancer care, safeguarding children, A&E – sold off irreversibly – it’s future in the hands of these secret courts.

 But good news for the Vegetarian Society.

On food standards the US want us to allow their unlabelled hormone enriched beef, chlorinated poultry and GM cereals and salmon onto our dinner plates.

 On labour rights the US has not and will not sign up to ILO core conventions …and right wing Republican senators have said they will block the inclusion of Euro-style rights on worker consultation and health and safety.

 And finally, on the promise of jobs even the most ardent promoters of TTIP admit the estimates are speculative.

 The NPF Report is a start but there is more, much more to be done to address our concerns – concerns that led the recent TUC Congress to unanimously oppose TTIP.

Gail Cartmail debating TTIP on BBC Radio 4. 1:10 into the programme

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