MPs “Abolish ‘zero-hours’ contacts”

Ian Davidson MP called for 'zero-hours' contracts to be abolished.

Ian Davidson MP called for ‘zero-hours’ contracts to be abolished.

By Tony Burke, Chair, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

MPs sitting on the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee, have slammed the use of zero-hours contracts and has called on the government to abolish such “contracts”.

The MPs branded some businesses using the zero hours contracts as “unscrupulous” and were taking advantage of the controversial employment agreements.

According to the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee, zero-hour contracts mean that the relationship between employers and workers is “unbalanced”.

The MPs said such companies had the advantages of flexibility, few costs and the workers lived “in fear” of dismissal, denied access to due rights of employment and, in some cases, earning less than the minimum wage.

The MPs report found that two in ten – 20% of workers on the contracts are paid less than their permanent equivalents doing the same job.

“The overwhelming majority of zero hours contracts are abusive and exploitative and should be abolished,” said Ian Davidson MP, the Labour Party committee chair.

Davidson went onto say: “In most cases their use is evidence of sloppy, lazy or incompetent management, who intimidate their workforce by keeping them insecure. Zero hours contracts put workers in such a vulnerable position that they are unable even to assert their lawful right to the meagre benefits these contracts offer.

“We heard how workers, without any kind of job security, were fearful of questioning the terms of their employment, even when they knew they were being treated unfairly, and that they were reluctant to challenge unsafe working conditions. Many felt that they could not turn down work, no matter how short the notice or however inconvenient the shift offered, in case doing so jeopardised future offers of work.

He went on: “Our detailed recommendations would improve the operation of zero hours contracts but our overriding conclusion is that, in the majority of cases, zero hours contracts need not and should not be used at all.”

The group of MPs also slammed the government’s recent consultation into the controversial employment contracts for being “too narrow”.

The committee said it focused on the issues of exclusivity and transparency, but argued that addressing these issues “will do little to help workers who are exploited by unscrupulous employers”.

The ‘interim report’ recommended that workers should be told from the outset of their employment what type of contract they are on and a written contract setting out the terms and conditions must follow within two months.

The group also said that there should be a minimum notice period of work and workers should not be punished for turning down offers of work made within that period.

In addition, the MPs said travel time between appointments should be paid and pay for zero hours workers should “accurately reflect” the number of hours that are worked to fulfil contracted duties.

Davidson added: “Our detailed recommendations would improve the operation of zero hours contracts but our overriding conclusion is that, in the majority of cases, zero hours contracts need not and should not be used at all.”

The problem with finding out how many workers in the UK are on zero hours contracts is that there is no legal definition for the employment agreements.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) revised its estimation in March of the number of people on zero hours contacts in 2010 from 183,000 to 585,000.

But other organisations have argued that the number of employees on the contracts is even greater. Unite has argued that its own survey showed that Elsewhere, the trade union Unite has claimed that as many as five and a half million workers in the country were working on zero hours contracts.

But according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), there are around 750,000 workers who have signed up to the employment agreements.

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London May Day 2014

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50080 MAYDAY FLYER A5_Page_2

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ILO Slams Qatar Employment Rights; 900 Workers Dead; Conditions Described as “Hellholes”

Qatar, the host country of the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been told it must overhaul its employment laws as they fly in the face trade union rights. The  mounting pressure on Qatar comes from the International Labour Organization’s (ILO).

Their freedom of association committee of the ILO has urged Qatar to remove restrictions on forming unions and taking strike action and protecting workers against discrimination.

“The committee requests the government to initiate without delay a labour reform, and expects that this process will include the full participation of the social partners,” it said in a report.

Qatar’s treatment of workers is now in the spotlight due to its infrastructure-building programme as it prepares to host football’s showcase in 2022.

The committee underlined that according to the Gulf emirate’s own figures, migrant workers account for 93% of the country’s labour force.

Most of them are from South Asia, and are brought in under the “kafala” visa-sponsorship system, which ties them to their employers.

“The committee urges the government to eliminate any restrictions placed on the freedom of association rights of migrant workers. The right of workers, without distinction whatsoever, to establish and join organizations implies that anyone legally residing in the country benefits from trade union rights without any distinction based on nationality,” says the ILO.

But it also questioned rules governing union rights for Qataris.

The committee had scrutinised Qatar’s record during a closed session last month after receiving a complaint from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Unions worldwide say the migrant workers building multi-billion-dollar infrastructure, both for the World Cup and in general, face harsh living and working conditions in energy-rich Qatar.

Also human rights campaigners Amnesty International have said such workers are treated like “animals,” with hundreds perishing on the emirate’s construction sites.

The ITUC has warned that at current rates, as many as 4,000 might die by the time the tournament kicks off in eight years’ time.

The ILO committee said that the emirate had defended its rules and had insisted that the ITUC complaint was “malicious and seeks to undermine the reputation of the state as it prepares to host the World Cup”.

Meanwhile the scandal of how workers are being treated in this Middle East emirate is being exposed as each week goes by by the media and trade unions.

The latest comes from the Daily Record in Scotland which describers working conditions on sites being built for the World Cup as ‘hellholes’.

The Smithsonian Institute in the USA says that already 900 workers have been killed on building sites in the emirate.

Meanwhile FIFA, who controversially award the World Cup finals to the emirate says although it has “some responsibility” it is powerless to do anything – but FIFA is now also becoming mired in allegations of corruption and graft in awarding the World Cup to Qatar.

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When Cameron Says He Is ‘Slashing Red Tape’ – He Is Talking About Employment Rights

EU Elections poster._Page_1

EU Elections poster._Page_2Download these leaflets and use them on your blogsites, Facebook pages, Twitter etc. Fight back against attacks on employment rights!

 

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Profiting From Crisis

profiting_from_crisis_coverSpeculative investors are claiming more than 1.7 billion euros in compensation from Greece, Spain and Cyprus in private international tribunals – for measures implemented to deal with economic crises, says a new report released by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals.

The report ‘Profiting From Crisis – How Corporations And Lawyers Are Scavenging Profits From Europe’s Crisis Countries’ exposes a growing wave of corporate lawsuits against Europe’s struggling economies which could lead to European taxpayers paying out millions of euros in a second major public bailout – this time to speculative investors.

The report argues that these lawsuits provide a salutary warning of the potential high costs of the proposed trade deal between the US and the EU, which start its fourth round of negotiations talks aimed at securing a free trade agreement..

Pia Eberhardt, trade campaigner with Corporate European Observatory and co-author of the report said: “Speculative investors are already using investment agreements to raid the cash-strapped public treasuries in Europe’s crisis countries. It would be political madness to grant corporations the same excessive rights in the even more far-reaching EU-US trade deal.”

Profiting from Crisis examines a number of investor disputes launched against Spain, Greece and Cyprus in the wake of the European economic crisis. In most cases, the investors were not long-term investors, but rather invested as the crisis emerged and were therefore fully aware of the risks. They have used the investment agreements as a legal escape route to extract further wealth from crisis countries when their risky investment didn’t pay off, explains the report.

For example, in Greece, Poštová Bank from Slovakia bought Greek debt after the bond value had already been downgraded, and was then offered a very generous debt restructuring package, yet sought to extract an even better deal by suing Greece, using the bilateral investment treaty between Slovakia and Greece.

Cecilia Olivet, co-author of the report for the Transnational Institute said: “At a time when ordinary people across Europe have been stripped of many basic social rights, it is perverse that the EU supports an international investment regime which provides VIP protection to largely speculative foreign investors. It is time to reject a privatised justice system that supports predatory corporate vultures and undermines crucial regulation in the public interest.”

‘Profiting From Crisis’ also unveils how speculative investors have been backed by international law firms that actively encourage investor-state lawsuits. Law firms benefit – whether attacking or defending states – and are reaping substantial financial rewards in the process. UK based Herbert Smith Freehills, hired to represent Spain in at least two cases, for example, could earn up to 1.6 million euros for the cases.

Growing controversy around the EU-US trade talks has forced the European Commission to temporarily halt negotiations on the investor rights chapter in the proposed transatlantic deal and announce a public consultation on the issue expected to start this month.

But the Commission has already indicated that it does not want to abandon these controversial corporate rights, but rather reform them.

Pia Eberhardt commented: “The investor-state arbitration system cannot be tamed. Profit-greedy law firms and their corporate clients will always find a way to attack countries for actions that threaten their profits – even when it is much needed legislation to get out of a financial crisis. Corporate super-rights should be abolished.”

Click on the graphic or the link to download the full report.

Thanks also to Peter Rossman and Jennie Formby.

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Legal loophole used to exploit agency workers must be closed

images-1By Billy Hayes, General Secretary, Communications Workers Union

Day-in, day-out agency workers doing exactly the same job as their colleagues are receiving up to £500 less in their pay packet every month. Why the gaping disparity? Because employers are using a clever legal loophole to undercut permanent employees and exploit temporary workers.

This week is part of Fair Pay Fortnight and the Communication Workers Union – who represents over 200,000 postal and telecoms workers – is shining a light on the injustice facing workers on the little known ‘Pay Between Assignment’ (PBA) contracts. These contracts are as appalling as zero hour contracts, permitting employment agencies to pay workers from as little as one hour a week when not on assignments.

The EU’s Temporary Agency Workers Directive was originally passed to protect the rights of agency workers. Yet, the UK’s interpretation of the Directive has turned the intention of the European legislation to work against agency staff instead of for them.

In 2010 the UK Government decided to include two ‘derogations’ (exemptions) in the Agency Worker Regulations (AWR). The first, which was agreed by the TUC, the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) and the Government, allowed a 12 week qualifying period in the UK before agency workers qualified for equal treatment. In many other countries, equal treatment applies from day one of employment.

The second exemption allows for workers on PBA contracts to be exempted from equal treatment on the grounds of pay.

In its truest form, the AWR – based on the EU Directive – was supposed to give a new generation of agency workers hard won rights to equal treatment. It was hailed as an essential piece of legislation. Yet the UK Government’s attempt to evade EU employment law has proved extremely successful. The loophole allows employers a legal framework to exploit agency workers. As a result PBA contracts, previously unheard of in the UK, have now become commonplace.

The union has appealed to offending employers to stop using legal loopholes to reinvent exactly the unequal treatment that European lawmakers intended to ban. However there are still a number of major UK companies who can take their place on the roll call of shame – companies across all industries including telecommunications, food production, logistics firms and manufacturing.

The British loophole was based on the Swedish model, which allowed recruitment agencies to employ workers on a permanent basis, whilst guaranteeing they will be paid between assignments. However, in Sweden agency employees on permanent contracts are guaranteed up to 90%t of their salary when not working. This is patently not the case in the UK.

Critics such as the CBI will continue to claim any change to the status quo will result in a loss of jobs. It’s a familiar argument and one that gets wheeled out anytime there is a call for an improvement in the pay or conditions of low-paid workers. We heard these arguments 15 years ago against the introduction of the national minimum wage but now it is felt to have been a resounding success. As we will be arguing during Fair Pay Fortnight, decent wages benefits workers, the economy and society.

Low-paid agency workers are being used to undercut and undermine permanent employees, who, as union members, have organised to secure higher wages and better conditions.  The number of agency workers in the UK is increasing faster than any other type of employment. In the run up to the 2015 election all political parties will be taking a stand against zero hour contracts. But let’s fight for those workers on PBA contracts as well who are all too often sidelined.

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Workers Uniting Says It Will Oppose TTIP If Labour Standards Are Not Strengthend

UnknownWorkers Uniting the global union created in 2008 by Unite in the UK and Ireland and the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada say they will oppose the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal if Labour standards in the deal are not strengthened and other concerns about the deal are not addressed.

The three million member trans-Atlantic union at its board meeting in London on March 24th issued a call to European Union and U.S. trade negotiators to strengthen social and labour protections in the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“We view TTIP as a threat to the rights of workers in Europe,” said Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union in the UK and Ireland. “We can’t afford to import America’s low labour rights standards.”



“American and European workers deserve a better deal,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), which represents workers in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. “Our governments’ narrow focus on greater protections for companies must be transformed to include expanded rights and protections for workers.”



Workers Uniting called for the TTIP to include a tax on financial transactions to support social programmes – a measure already endorsed by 11 European countries.

They also demanded that the European Works Council directive, chemical safety standards, and other European social legislation be expanded to include American workers and that existing procurement regimes be left intact and that public services be excluded from TTIP.

The statement also rejected the proposed Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement, noting that Germany and France oppose this provision as well.

Workers Uniting joins a chorus of opposition from trade unions, including the powerful German metalworkers union, IG Metall to the current TTIP negotiations.

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Big Fall In Employment Tribunal Claims As Fees Bite Hard

TBBy Tony Burke, Chair, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The introduction of Employment Tribunal fees is biting hard according to the Government statistics.

The statistics cover October to December 2013 and show that workers seeking justice through the ET system have been deterred by the fees introduced by the Coalition Government.

Dependent on the claim lodged it could cost a worker upto £1200 to bring a claim to seek justice.

The statistics show:

  • There were 79% fewer claims received (9,801) in October to December 2013 compared to the claims received (45,710) in October to December 2012.
  • There were 75% fewer claims received in October to December 2013 compared to the claims received (38,963) in July to September 2013.
  • There were 63% fewer age discrimination claims, 58% fewer disability discrimination claims, 57% fewer race discrimination claims, 77% fewer sex discrimination claims, and 65% fewer unfair dismissal claims received in October to December 2013 compared to the claims received in October to December 2012.

The Government introduced the fees in July last year based on the argument that it was too easy for disgruntled workers to bring claims, that many claims were frivolous and the fees were meant to deter “unmeritorious claims”.

In a legal challenge brought by Unison recently (and although they lost) the High Court accepted Unison’s argument that the “EU law principle of effectiveness” could be violated by the requirement for an employee to pay fees as a condition for accessing the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The principle would be violated if the fees made it “virtually impossible or excessively difficult” for an employee to exercise rights conferred by EU law, such as in relation to claims for discrimination.

The High Court ruled this legal challenge to be premature but accepted that the “disputed evidence as to the dramatic fall in claims may turn out to be powerful evidence to show that the principle of effectiveness, in the fundamentally important realm of discrimination, is being breached”.

If so, the High Court stated that it expects the government to change the system without any further litigation.

The fact is that now many workers who feel they have been unfairly sacked or discriminated against will now have to stump up fees that few can afford, denying an opportunity to seek redress from bad employers.

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Sinn Fein Proposals On Workers Rights

You can download Sinn Fein’s proposals for workers rights reform in Ireland by clicking here to view the web based document.

 

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Labour MEPs vote to make anti-union discrimination and blacklisting illegal

Glenis Wilmot MEP

Glenis Wilmot MEP

Across the European Union it will be illegal to blacklist workers or discriminate against them on the grounds of trade union membership or trade union activities, after Labour MEPs voted for key data protection legislation on March 12th.

The move comes after it was revealed that thousands of construction workers, members of Unite, Ucatt and GMB had been placed on an industry blacklist due to their involvement and activities with trade unions and campaigning for better health and safety.

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said: “The practice of blacklisting workers in the UK has been operating for decades and saw thousands of construction workers barred from employment on account of their trade union activity, many just for raising legitimate health and safety concerns.

“Now the law is absolutely clear that using information on employees’ political beliefs or trade union membership to blacklist them is illegal, and that Member States must adopt appropriate sanctions to enforce this.”

The blacklisting scandal first came to light in 2009, when a raid on the Consulting Association uncovered a database containing information on workers who were known to be trade union activists.

Several major construction companies secretly shared information with the Consulting Association and used the blacklist to vet new recruits.

Glenis Willmott added: “I submitted amendments to the data protection law that say information on someone’s trade union membership or activity is ‘sensitive information’ which warrants greater protection.

“The amendment adopted states it is against the law to use this information to create or share a blacklist to help vet potential employees.

“We’ve always known that blacklisting is illegal and I’ve been campaigning on the issue for several years, yet so far none of the companies involved has faced justice.”

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