Zero-hours contracts – are they banned or not?

By Pat Rafferty, Unite Scotland Regional Secretary

The number of people on zero-hours contracts in Scotland has risen by 10 per cent over the last year: according to the Office for National Statistics, 70,000 people are on a zero-hours contract.

This represents a 10 per cent increase on the previous year’s figure of 64,000. It’s a worrying trend which we fear will only increase as Boris Johnson sets about delivering his Brexit dream of a low-wage and low-tax economy with minimal employment rights for workers.

This is where the Scottish government’s Fair Work First policy comes into play in the absence of employment law being devolved — which Unite supports. The policy sees conditions attached to workers’ pay and conditions for firms seeking grants or public contracts. It includes paying employees the Scottish Living Wage and perhaps this contractual clause is helping.

There has been progress in the percentage of workers earning less than the Living Wage falling to 16.9 per cent from 19.4 per cent in Scotland. But it’s important to highlight that the majority of work paid less than the living wage is in the private sector in Scotland where 343,000 or 24.8 per cent of workers still earn less than the living wage compared to 3.2 per cent in the public sector.

However, the rate of pay is only one element of the wider workplace contract and this is why we are concerned that the Scottish government’s policy doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. Unite has repeatedly asked the Scottish government for clarity on whether the new criteria are being actively applied.

There remains a great deal of confusion on what now determines whether a company gets public funds through an enterprise agency grant or on what grounds a company will be refused a public procurement contract through the new Fair Work First criteria.

For example, zero-hours contracts are not banned but instead the Scottish government says that there should be “no inappropriate use.” From our perspective any use is inappropriate and it should be leading by example by pledging to ban the use of these contracts — instead of leaving a back-door open.

We have written to government ministers on a number of occasions in order to dig a little bit deeper on what this criteria now means such as Fergus Ewing, the cabinet secretary for the rural economy, regarding the £1.7 million award to Bhagat Holdings Limited. The company has taken over the site of the former Pinneys of Scotland seafood plant in Annan.

Unite is pleased that around 120 much needed jobs are likely to be created and it’s right that levers are used to attract investment. However, we have got to demand that in return for taxpayers’ money, zero-hours contracts will be banned completely and that trade unions must have access to the workforce as conditions.

The Scottish government when asked directly on these issues in parliament stated that it will “attach conditionality to as many grants, funding streams and public contracts as we can by the end of this parliamentary session.” In our opinion this is evasive and elastic in terms of the timeline for implementation.

Despite the positive words of intent from the Scottish government that’s all it appears to be — warm words. In the context of Brexit and the Tory government it’s vital that the Scottish government proactively does all it can to protect and support workers including those who represent them.

The time for action is now. Unite is determined to hold every government to account and we will not let the Scottish government off the hook on creating decent working standards and conditions for all who live here.

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Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey presents the case for joining a trade union in a new book, entitled ‘Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist’, published on 28th January. 

Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in the labour movement, McCluskey looks at the history of the trade unions, what they do and how they give a voice to working people, as democratic organisations.

He considers the changing world of work, the challenges and opportunities of automation and why being trade unionists can enable us to help shape the future.

McCluskey sets out why being a trade unionist is a political role that compliments an industrial one and why the historic links between the labour movement and the Labour Party matter.

Ultimately, McCluskey explains how being a trade unionist means putting equality at work and in society front and centre, fighting for an end to discrimination, and to inequality in wages and power.

Commenting on ‘Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist’, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: A brilliant, accessible and thought-provoking book – and a reminder that unions will always be the best way for working-class people to win justice. 

 “Featuring a wealth of historical material, this lively and personal account shows how organised labour can thrive in the future. A must-read for trade unionists, activists and anybody who wants to build a more equal society.”

Kevin Maguire, the Daily Mirror’s associate editor, said: Len McCluskey is Britain’s best known, and arguably most powerful, trade union leader for good reason. He engagingly mixes personal experiences with unflinching conviction to present a compelling argument for the value of organised labour – whichever political party is in Government.”

Why You Should be a Trade Unionist’ is published by Verso Books and is available to order here.

For book related enquiries please contact Maya Osborne on 0207 437 3546. Email: Maya@verso.co.uk

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Ukraine Unions Mobilise Against Anti Union Laws

Kyiv, January 15, 2020: the IUF-affiliated Agro-Industrial Workers’ Union of Ukraine (AIWU Ukraine) in a joint union protest against the draft labour law.

From the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) 

The government of Ukraine is preparing a massive legislative assault on fundamental trade union rights. A draft labour law submitted to parliament on December 27th, with no prior consultation with unions, would undermine fundamental rights by, among other measures: excluding unions from the workplace and eliminating collective bargaining; encouraging unfair dismissals while promoting fixed-term and zero-hour contracts; facilitating the transfer of employees without their consent; imposing a massive expansion of overtime; and eliminating many social protections, for example by facilitating the dismissal of mothers with small children.

The proposed law is in flagrant violation of ILO Conventions 87, 98 and 131 on Minimum Wage Fixing as well as the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The IUF, our members in Ukraine and unions internationally are calling on the government to immediately abandon the draft labour law and respect international standards and commitments made to unions at national level.

Kyiv, January 15th, 2020: the IUF-affiliated Agro-Industrial Workers’ Union of Ukraine (AIWU Ukraine) in a joint union protest against the draft labour law.

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ASLEF Says Anti Union Laws Amount To ‘Slave Labour’

ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan

Draconian new rail anti-strike laws planned by the government amount to “slavery and forced labour,” Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said yesterday.

He said that this new Tory legislation would require rail unions to sign “minimum service agreements” guaranteeing maintenance of services during strike action.

If such an agreement was not honoured, a strike would be deemed unlawful and unions could face court injunctions or damages.

Mr Whelan told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I’m at war with the ethos of forced labour, any form of indenture or slavery.

“I think that’s what they’re trying to do. The reality is that it’s not a well-known fact that only Lithuania has worse labour laws than we do.

“Now you want to take the actual opportunity to strike against bad employers away.”

He agreed that “slavery” was a strong word to use and added: “That’s the strength of feeling. When I talk to people not just in my industry but elsewhere, that is the feeling of how it is.

“I think it’s a form of forced labour. We have no right to strike in the UK now, we only have the right not to be sued if we jump through a multitude of hoops that are put in place.”

Previously Mr Whelan had described the latest anti-strike proposals as a “declaration of war” against rail workers.

The proposals have been widely criticised, with Labour peers condemning the plans as “reprehensible.”

They follow widespread strike action on England’s rail network, particularly by the RMT in its campaign to protect passenger safety by keeping the jobs of guards on trains.

The government is pressing privateer rail operators to get rid of guards despite their proven role in helping passengers to safety in emergency incidents, which have included derailments and collisions.

Most recently RMT staged 27 days of strike action on South Western Railway in the long-running dispute over guards.

Operators in Wales and Scotland have reached agreement with RMT on the guards’ issue.

From the Morning Star January 20th.

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Hansard Report: Lord John Hendy (Lab) on the Queens Speech – Employment Rights, January 9th 2020

Lord John Hendy QC

My Lords, I will make two points on the proposed employment Bill and three on the proposed restrictions on the right to strike on the railways. I declare an interest as having spent 40 years in practice at the Bar, doing many cases for trade unions and their members.

First, the employment Bill is said to “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work”, a phrase repeated by the Minister in opening this debate. Will the employment Bill guarantee full non-regression of existing EU-derived workers’ rights and dynamic alignment with any future improvements to EU workers’ rights? I understood that was the Conservative Party’s position in the recent election; its manifesto states that the UK’s future relationship with the EU will “Raise standards in areas like workers’ rights”.

If either protection is denied to Britain’s 32.7 million workers then, by definition, they will enjoy fewer rights in the future than their European counterparts. That will refute the promise to make Britain the best place in the world to work and make clear the nature of the Government’s commitment to those working-class voters who lent them their votes in the last election.

Secondly, there is the Oliver Twist clause. The employment Bill proposes to introduce a right “for all workers to request a more predictable contract”.

While a right to make a request might have afforded Oliver Twist some comfort in the workhouse, it will be purely rhetorical in the modern workplace. What is  ​required here is a correlative duty on the part of the employer to concede the more predictable contract sought, so far as is reasonably practicable. If there is no agreement, the matter must be determined by an employment tribunal. I trust that the proposed Bill will contain such a provision to give some content to an otherwise empty right.

What is more remarkable about this Oliver Twist provision is the glaring omission of any reference to the EU directive on transparent and predictable working conditions which came into effect last summer. The directive is precisely on point, yet mention of it is omitted. Why? Can it be that the Government have decided that, far from raising standards in areas such as workers’ rights, their intention is to deny British workers these modest EU rights even before Brexit is finalised?

I turn to the proposal to further restrict the right to strike. Only four years ago, the Trade Union Act 2016 added further obstacles to strike action in relation to “important public services”, which included passenger railway services. Yet now railway workers, successors in title to those who were penalised in the Taff Vale judgment in 1901, face yet more restrictions on their right to strike, on the footing that they are engaged in an essential public service—uniquely, it seems, since no other workers have been so designated.

I will add three points to those made by my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port this morning. First, the International Labour Organization has made it clear that railways are not an essential public service in international labour law, so it is illegitimate to restrict the right to industrial action on that ground. This proposition has recently been adopted as binding by the European Court of Human Rights in Ognevenko v Russia, which reiterated that the right to strike is protected by Article 11 of the convention in a case which concerned a ban on strikes on the Russian railways. The Government will have to think carefully whether the certificate of conformity with the convention can be given to this legislation, unless, having exited the EU, they propose to repeal the Human Rights Act and de-ratify the European convention. Is that their intention?

Secondly, the proposal is for a minimum service agreement to establish what is required. How do the Government envisage such agreement being reached? In circumstances where the union and the employer have failed to agree the underlying industrial dispute, what chance is there of agreeing a minimum service provision during a strike? Will the Government specify a disputes procedure—perhaps concluding in binding arbitration—if the parties fail to agree the minimum service agreement? If the Government believe that the parties can be induced to reach a minimum service agreement, why not provide such an inducement to resolve the industrial dispute?

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Employment Rights Or More Likely Employment Wrongs

By Adrian Weir, Assistant Secretary, Campaign for Trade Union Freedom

In the less than a month since the General Election the Johnson regime has given strong indications where it will legislate on employment rights. Either contained within, or associated with it, Johnson’s Queen’s Speech set out three distinct areas:

  • family friendly rights and the minimum wage
  • Euro rights and a new Employment Bill
  • the right to strike.

Firstly, Elizabeth Windsor announced in Parliament that Johnson’s government “will bring forward measures to support working families … increasing the National Living Wage … Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working, to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers …”

We have of course been here before during the Blair and Mandelson years. Whilst acknowledging the success of the National Minimum Wage family friendly rights were one third of the new rights contained within their Employment Act offered to the union movement on a take it or leave basis.

Family friendly provisions are of course important in their own right and although it would never be clearly spelt out by the movers these rights should not to be used as a virtual trade-off for a diminution of other rights at work, for example, the right to strike.

Without knowing the detail of what’s on offer, it’s almost possible now to hear Andrea Ledsom arguing that she has clipped the unions’ wings but has improved the position at work for hard working families.

Secondly, it was clear from the Queen’s Speech that employment rights derived from the European Union – working time, holiday pay, maternity rights, discrimination – would not be contained within the Withdrawal Agreement Bill but have been hived off to a yet to be published Employment Bill. Also said to be in this Employment Bill will be provisions for a new employment rights enforcement body, extended redundancy protections and a new right for workers to request “a more predictable contract” although we can rest easy that this will not be a ban a zero hours contracts as, for example, has happened in New Zealand.

If the government is serious about protecting the EU derived rights, and I know most readers will that believe that Ledsom speaks with a forked tongue, it must ensure that its Employment Bill is made law before the expiry of the implementation period on 31 December 2020. So how comprehensive or wide-ranging will the other new rights be in set out in the same Bill that has to be made law within the year?

Finally, there is the proposal to initiate further restrictions on the right to strike. This is to be achieved by the enforcement of Minimum Service Agreements that would ensure a partial provision of a service that may otherwise be strikebound. Although in its General Election campaign the Tories’ said they would “legislate to oblige rail employers and unions to enter into Minimum Service Agreements” by the time of the Queen’s Speech this had become a proposal “to ensure people can depend on the transport network, measures will be developed to provide for minimum levels of service during transport strikes.”

It’s unclear if this proposal is aimed just at the rail unions, which is the line pursued by the presumably well-briefed media, or will the weirdos and oddballs advising Ledsom recommend targeting bus workers’ unions; ferry and dock workers’ unions; civil aviation workers’ unions?

So it’s now supposed that unions will negotiate with the employers they are in dispute with their own strikebreaking arrangements – if there is no MSA the courts would be asked (by the employer, by a passenger, who knows) to declare the strike unlawful. A logical extension would be that if union members declined to honour such a MSA effectively forced upon their union, the union may become liable for their members actions unless the union repudiated its members – although in the recent past many unions have refused point blank to repudiate their members’ actions.

This latest move is part of a restrictive legislative assault begun 40 years ago with no let up, not even during the Blair and Brown years. It is no surprise therefore that workers in the UK have got a progressively smaller share of the national GDP and suffer from some of the most insecure working conditions in Europe.

Labour’s offer on employment rights in 2017 and 2019 represented the most progressive reform of trade union and worker rights in a generation; it would have repealed the Trade Union Act 2016 and many of the anti-union provisions from the Thatcher and Major period and ensured that workers had dignity restored to their working lives.

The task now in the current Labour leadership contests is to ensure that the eventual winners are committed to the employment rights reform proposals of 2017 and 2019 and will oppose any move to impose MSAs on unions and workers in any section of what the government may call “essential public services.”

  • Follow CTUF on Twitter here and Adrian Weir here.

This blog also appears on Labour Outlook

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Trump’s NLRB Declare War On Workers Rights

By William Lewis, Left Voice – published on Portside.org

Sent in by Carolyn Jones

Between 2017 and 2018, workers in two hotels in Stamford, Connecticut voted to join UNITE HERE Local 217. Though they won both elections by a landslide – the Hilton vote count was 110 to 5 while the Sheraton was 69 to 32 – the elections were highly contested by the employers. 

The bosses did everything they could in the month-long election process to dissuade workers from voting yes, from threats and intimidation to bribes, lies, and promises. Each day was another opportunity for management and their “union avoidance consultants” to harass and hoodwink workers; each week was another long slog that exhausted and demoralized the workers, making it more likely that the boss would win.

The foul play of the employers happens not just in Connecticut hotels, but everywhere NLRB elections take place.

The defeat of the UAW at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga earlier this year demonstrates the lengths bosses will go to instigate fear: from insinuations of a plant closure, to the state’s governor speaking at a mandatory meeting, to a barrage of anti-union billboards, TV and radio ads. This is the state of the current NLRB, and why most unions avoid elections. And thanks to President Trump and the new Board this situation is only going to get worse.

On December 13th, 2019 the Trump NLRB – currently four unelected lawyers and an empty seat – changed the rules of the union election process without notice or comment from the public.

Starting in six months, when workers petition for an election, they must wait at least 14 business days until a pre-election hearing. Unelected NLRB Regional Directors can then postpone the hearings with “good cause.” After two weeks or more of waiting for a hearing, the bargaining unit scope and eligibility of each person in the workplace must be litigated and fully resolved. The bosses can also hold up litigation through various legal manoeuvres and extend the process further. If workers persevere through the legal red tape, an election date would finally be scheduled 20 business days after the resolution of the hearing.

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French Pension Strikes: CGT Calls On Public To Join Strikes

By Tony Burke, Chair of Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

French unions are now pressing ahead with more pension strikes despite President Emmanuel Macron’s call on New Years Eve for all sides to reach a ‘compromise’.

In his address to the nation Macron urged the government to find a ‘speedy compromise’ with the French unions and he put the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on the spot saying he ‘expected his government’ find the way get a deal.

Philippe Martinez, the secretary general of the main French union confederation the CGT said he had heard the Macron speech a ‘thousand times before’ and said Macron was ‘stuck in a bubble – thinking that everything is OK in France’. He called for the French public to join the strikes, which began in early December.

The French pension system is complex with different arrangements applying to different groups of workers.

Early retirement plans and pensions are jealously guarded by French workers. Macron succeeded in angering France’s union leaders (even the more moderate ones) with his proposals to roll them up into one scheme and telling them the retirement age, may have to rise from aged 62 to 64 if another way cannot be found to reach an agreement.

Government ministers have tried to pin the blame on Martinez for being ‘obstructive’ – with a junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari accusing Martinez and the CGT of intimidation. Martinez immediately shot back accusing the government of presiding over ‘organised chaos’ and deliberately making the conflict even worse.

Martinez is  a wiley and experienced union leader. He has tapped into the public anger and resentment from French workers at having their pensions and retirements meddled with by a government they do not trust.

And the government strategy is backfiring.

The culture minister was forced to make concessions to ballet dancers from the Paris Opera who went on strike and performed Swan Lake on the streets of Paris before the Christmas holiday – described as “the most beautiful picket line Paris had seen”.

Other concessions are being proposed by ministers to airline pilots, firefighters and police – but they appear to be set against making concessions to powerful rail and transport workers who have been at the vanguard of the strikes.

If the French unions continue to mobilise their membership and maintain popular public support for another series of national strikes Macron’s reforms to the pension system look doomed.

Trade unions in Europe and in the UK have shown support and solidarity with French workers in this struggle – and are now closely watching developments. The next national strike is scheduled for January 9th which will make the strikes the longest on record since the 1980s.

First published on left Foot Forward. January 2nd.

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TUC Post Election Poll: Voters Backs Workers Rights

By Tony Burke, Chair Campaign For Trade Union Freedom – first published on December 23rd on Left Foot Forward

Since the General Election, we’ve seen a steady drip of leaks and stories on the Johnson government’s attitude to workers’ rights when we leave the EU.

We have already seen reports of threats to ban strikeson the railways, followed by  an announcement in the Queens Speech of a bill on employment rightssometime in 2020 – with an implementation date of December.

Those clauses secured by some Labour MPs in Theresa May’s bill on a ‘level playing field for workers’ rights have been unceremoniously binned by Johnson.

At the time unions warned that a majority Conservative government would rip these clauses and argued that the only real guarantee of a level playing field is by ensuring workers’ rights were written into the treaty itself along with a mechanism for enforcement.

Johnson has set his course for a fight with the EU, who have already said a trade deal (even a basic deal) would be conditional on the UK accepting the EU’s rules on level playing fields on worker, consumer and environmental protections. A no deal Brexit – and a fight with both the UK’s unions and the EU on workers rights is looming.

A new post election poll conducted for the TUC shows that it won’t be plain sailing for the Tories.

According to the poll results published today, the vast majority of voters – including those who switched to or voted Conservative – want workers’ rights protected and enhanced. Voters who switched from Labour to the Conservatives are most likely to want stronger worker rights, higher pay and a ban on zero hours contracts.

The poll was conducted by GQR between December 12th and 16th, and shows that nearly 73% of voters say the government must protect and enhance current workplace rights guaranteed by the EU, such as paid holidays and rights for temporary and agency workers.

This is supported by two-thirds (65%) of people who voted Conservative in 2019, and by 8 in 10 (79%) of those who switched from Labour to Conservative.

The vast majority of voters (71%) also want new rights for gig economy workers, including the majority (65%) of Tory voters and those who moved from Labour to the Conservatives during the election (78%).

There is also widespread support amongst the public for banning zero-hours contracts (66%) and having union rights in every workplace (63%).

And there is overwhelming support (68%) among the public for an immediate increase to the minimum wage of £10 an hour, especially among those who switched from Labour to the Conservatives (76%).

TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“We know there are many in Boris Johnson’s cabinet who want to drive down labour standards. But there is little appetite in Britain – including among Conservative voters – for de-regulation and further tax cuts for the rich.

“The Prime Minister has no more excuses. Voters expect him to protect and strengthen rights at work. And to get on with investing in our public services and boosting wages.”

More media coverage on the TUC Poll can be found at:

LabourList:

https://labourlist.org/2019/12/johnson-under-pressure-to-boost-workers-rights-tuc-poll-finds/

New European:

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/tuc-survey-on-general-election-and-brexit-1-6437765?

The Independent:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-government-zero-hour-contract-ban-latest-a9257281.html

The Times:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tories-must-keep-pledges-to-workers-urges-tuc-hctp05mkp

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Prison Officers Union Found Guilty Of Contempt Of Court

The POA has been found guilty of contempt of court after members walked out of prisons last year according to Union News.

The union, which is banned from taking strike action by the government, says last year’s walk-out over violence in prisons was a health and safety issue, not a strike.

The Secretary of State yesterday claimed the action – and that of POAmembers who in February walked out at Liverpool Prison following the sacking of a member – was in contempt of the High Court injunction preventing strike action.

And today the Divisional Court agreed with the government, saying the action was a breach of the permanent injunction.

The union is to instruct its legal team to appeal the decision.

Last month the courts also ruled against the CWU, claiming it had interfered with the ballot process after the union won a 97% ‘Yes’ vote.

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