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In an attempt to extend the current “right of access’ laws and to stop unions from entering construction sites without 24 hours notice Australian employers areÂ pushing the right wing Government of Tony Abbott to force union officials to wait at least 24 hours before accessing construction sites on health and safety grounds.
The Australian Industry Group has accusedÂ unions of using union access rights under health and safety laws to circumvent right-of-entry restrictions in operation under the Fair Work Act.
Â Union officials are required to give 24 hoursâ notice to enter workplaces under the Fair Work Act.
In a submission to the Council of Australian Governments review of work health and safety laws, the AIG allegesÂ âwidespread misuseââ by construction unions of entry rights was leading to employer cynicism when unions raised safety issues.
âIt is Ai Groupâs view that all union access to a site for WHS purposes should be subject to the notice period in the Fair Work Act for entry to investigate suspected breaches of workplace relations laws or to hold discussions with employees â not less than 24 hours, and no more than 14 days,ââ it says.
As is happening in other neo-liberal economies employers theÂ Australian government have opened a full on attack on trade union rights and employment rights.
Details of the Fair Work Laws can be found by clicking here.
By Tony Burke, Chair, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom
The review of rules governing industrial disputes, lead by Bruce Carr Q.C. collapsed today when Carr pulled the plug on the review stating: âI am (also) concerned about the ability of the review to operate in a progressively politicised environment in the run-up to the general election and in circumstances in which the main parties will wish to legitimately set out their respective manifesto commitments and have already started to do soâ.
In the wake of the Grangemouth/Falkirk row last year Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and business secretary Vince Cable, asked Carr to examine union laws and come up with recommendations relating to union conduct during industrial disputes.
However, the review was described by the TUC and unions as headline grabbing union bashing and a âpolitical stuntâ and refused to give evidence.
The employers body the CBI also saw the review for what it was steered clear and Vince Cable himself appears to have given the review a wide berth.
It is rumoured that Carr received just six responses.
Carr had been âhandpickedâ last year by the Government to deliver a report which they hoped would be used to bash unions in the run up to the General Election.
Now their strategy is in tatters, but as Len McCluskey of Unite has warned: âThe Tories remain intent on going into the general election in 2015 with a vicious anti-worker programmeâ.
Whitehall sources are saying that Maudeâs union-bashing comments in recent week have ârendered Carr’s own review “meaninglessâ.
Carr has told ministers that he would not come up with any recommendations for legal changes.
Maude had publically insisted the review would be âneutralâ but Carr buried that idea in his full statement on the Reviewâs website.
“Any recommendations which might be put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would be capable of being construed as the review making a political rather than an evidence-based judgment, whichever direction such recommendations might takeâ.
Carr had raised his concerns that the review had been compromised after Maude (egged on by Boris Johnson and others) announced a package of new anti-union laws designed to make it harder for unions to win ballots for industrial action, by raising ballot thresholds.
Carr will produce a “scaled down report” which sets out the “limited evidence” he has gathered.Â Also a result of Carr dumping the review â the investigation into the events of the dispute at Grangemouth has been dropped.
The precise terms of reference involved examining “the alleged use of extreme tactics in industrial disputes, including so-called ‘leverage’ tactics; and the effectiveness of the existing legal framework to prevent inappropriate or intimidatory actions in trade disputes”.
In response to the collapse of the Carr review Len McCluskey Unite General Secretary said: âThe Tories have spectacularly shot themselves in the foot on this.Â In their haste to attack trade unions, they have embarrassed their own appointee, Bruce Carr, into accepting this report for what it was all along â a desperate pre-election stunt to smear democratic trades unions and their members.
âThis was always a purely political exercise with neither the CBI nor the TUC prepared to get involved.Â Now Bruce Carr has moved to distance himself from what was nothing more than a pre-meditated effort by the Tory party to get a QC to sanction laws further restricting the rights of unions.
âThe UKâs trade unions are already the most highly regulated in the world, leaving the UKâs workers among the easiest and cheapest to sack.Â But while Bruce Carr may have thrown in the towel, the Tories remain intent on going into the general election in 2015 with a vicious anti-worker programme.
âNow at least voters can see their agenda for what it is â a determination to impede all protest against unethical behaviour by employers, and the removal of the last vestiges of protection against abuse that the working people of this country possess.â
The TUCâs Frances OâGrady called on the Tories to repay the cost of setting up the enquiry and said that: âBruce Carr has been cynically used by the government in a party political stunt for the Conservative Party.
âHe is right to recognise this âpoliticisationâ, so I am not surprised at his decision not to make any recommendations and to simply review the few submissions sent to him.
âBut the politicisation is not new, it was built in from the start. Contrary to Nick Cleggâs assurance, employer behaviour such as blacklisting was not even mentioned in the terms of reference for the review. And now Mr Carr has found his work entirely pre-empted by a Conservative Party press release.
âThe Conservative Party should now repay to the taxpayer the costs of the enquiry.â
Meanwhile Mark Serwotka of the PCS union said:”The Tories handpicked Bruce Carr to do their bidding but even he couldn’t stomach their anti-union rhetoric, exposing the review as a facade for an attack not just on more than 6 million trade union members but on all working people and their communities.”
Construction union General SecretaryÂ Steve Murphy said: Â âThe collapse of the Carr Review, demonstrates that the Conservativesâ own placeman, realises that their proposed attacks on workerâs rights, especially the right to strike, cannot be justified by anyone who believes in basic human rights.â
The UK Supreme Court ruling that a National Assembly for Wales Bill to protect agricultural workers through setting up an Agricultural Advisory Panel is lawful is not only good news for rural workers and workplace rights but for devolution in Wales as a whole.
Following the 2010 General Election the UK Government were all too clear in their intention to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for England and Wales, whilst the Welsh Government have long remained committed to retaining protections for agricultural workers in Wales through an AWB. Following the enactment of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which abolished the AWB in England and Wales, the Welsh Government brought forward the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill last July.
At the start of July this year, the Supreme Court judges unanimously concluded that the Bill falls within the competence of the National Assembly for Wales following the referral of the then UK Government Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, arguing that the Bill was a matter of employment law rather than agriculture which would mean that it was not within the scope of the Assemblyâs powers.
The consultation process prior to legislating demonstrated that the purpose of the Bill was to regulate agricultural wages so that the industry in Wales would be supported and protected. The judges found that the legal and practical effects of the Bill are consistent with that purpose.
The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill will allow Welsh Ministers to create an Agricultural Advisory Panel, to make future wages orders and to promote skills development and career progression within the agricultural sector. The Bill is received Royal Assent on 30th July and following this, the Welsh Government will launch a twelve week formal public consultation on the proposed constitution and functions of the Agricultural Advisory Panel. It is worth noting that until a new order is made by Welsh Ministers, the provisions of the 2012 Order remain active in Wales.
Not only does the legislative victory in the Supreme Court mark significant and all too rare gains in industry wide collective bargaining in the UK, the judgement itself evokes wider discussion concerning the possible potential for further devolved legislation in the interests of workers in Wales and in relation to advancing workplace rights within Wales.
Following this and earlier judgements where Welsh legislation has been challenged by the UK Government, the Supreme Court has held consistently that it is the words of the Government of Wales Act 2006 that must be looked to ascertain whether an Assembly Bill is within competence. With this in mind, the judgement made it clear that the Bill not only meets the criteria set out but goes further by setting out that it does not matter whether in principle the subject in question might also be capable of being classified as relating to an area which has not been specifically devolved, stating:
âProvided that the Bill fairly and realistically satisfies the test set out in section 108 (4) and (7) and is not within an exception, it does not matter whether it might also be capable of being classified as relating to a subject which has not been devolved, such as employment and industrial relationsâ
Indeed the judgement went on to outline that while there may be exceptions listed in respect of specific aspects of employment, such as occupational and personal pension schemes; âThere is however no general exception in respect of employment or the remuneration of employeesâ and âthe fact that those particular aspects are specified tends to suggest that there was no intention to create a more general limitation on legislative competenceâŚ employment and industrial relations are neither listed as devolved subjects, nor specified as exceptions.â
The Supreme Court judgement on this particular piece of legislation therefore goes well beyond what many may have expected as it does appear to make clear that there is greater flexibility to legislate in relation to employment matters in the National Assembly for Wales than perhaps has been previously thought. The potential scope for the Welsh Government to legislate on zero hour contracts within specific sectors has already been mooted on the back of this judgement.
One final point to make is, whilst the decision of the Supreme Court and the broader interpretation of Welsh legislative powers in the judgement is to be very much welcomed, the fact that this was yet another piece of Welsh legislation referred to the Supreme Court by the UK Government raises important questions over Walesâ devolution settlement. Certainly, that this Bill found its way to the Supreme Court in the first place adds weight to the argument of the need for a fundamental constitutional move towards a reserved powers model for Wales
The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonaldâs could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators â a decision that, if upheld, would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.
Business groups called the decision outrageous. Some legal experts described it as a far-reaching move that could signal the labor boardâs willingness to hold many other companies to the same standard of âjoint employer,â making businesses that use subcontractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations.
The ruling comes after the labor boardâs legal team investigated myriad complaints that fast-food workers brought in the last 20 months, accusing McDonaldâs and its franchisees of unfair labor practices.
Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor boardâs general counsel, said he found merit in 43 of the 181 claims, accusing McDonaldâs restaurants of illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities.
In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonaldâs as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chainâs restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.
The fast-food workers who filed cases asserted that McDonaldâs was a joint employer on the grounds that it orders its franchise owners to strictly follow its rules on food, cleanliness and employment practices and that McDonaldâs often owns the restaurants that franchisees use.
McDonaldâs said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships.
Heather Smedstad, a senior vice president for McDonaldâs, said the N.L.R.B.âs move was wrong because the company does not determine or help determine decisions on hiring, wages or other employment matters. âMcDonaldâs also believes that this decision changes the rules for thousands of small businesses, and goes against decades of established law,â she said.
Throughout the debate to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as well as the campaign to pressure McDonaldâs and other restaurant chains to adopt a $15 wage floor, the companies have said that they do not set employee wages, that the franchise owners do. The N.L.R.B.âs decision would weaken that defense considerably.
The new Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill, which has just been introduced to parliament, casts further doubt on the governmentâs conviction to really address zero hours contracts (ZHC).
The latest changes are merely tinkerings that will allow abusive employers to continue to shrug basic employment responsibilities and inflate their profits on the back of their poorly paid and insecure workers. Exclusivity Clauses & Zero Hours Contracts Thompsons, as the leading trade union law firm, has continually argued against the use of zero hours contracts (ZHC) and repeatedly called for them to be outlawed. In our experience they are primarily used by employers as a device for avoiding employment responsibilities rather than out of any genuine need for flexibility.
This Bill, though it outlaws exclusivity clauses in a ZHC, still implicitly approves their widespread use despite the lack of any proof that they are anything more than a cynical race-to-the-bottom on the part of Britainâs most unscrupulous employers.
Thompsons therefore gives a very guarded welcome to the governmentâs move which is senselessly piecemeal and has only been forced on them by the overwhelming weight of common sense. Allowing the most vulnerable in society to commit themselves to an employer even though that employer has not offered any guaranteed hours of work in return is something even this government is embarrassed by – hence the ban.
Chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, Stephen Cavalier has said: âAllowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless âconcessionâ. 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.â
But in what is hardly likely to be an oversight there are plenty of loopholes in the current draft Bill which allow an employer to ‘tick the box’. Offering a ZHC with an exclusivity clause but with a minimal length of working hours âguaranteedâ â insufficient to subsist on or even cover travelling costs, for example â would be fine. Without major revisions to the existing text, this Bill is destined to have almost no impact on the lives of the very people it is aimed at protecting.
The Bill, whilst giving new powers to the Business Secretary to respond to abuses of exclusivity clauses in ZHCâs does not extend far enough. It won’t allow for example for the definition of ZHCâs to be revised and that means that an entirely new and separate piece of legislation would be needed in future to close the loophole above. Tinkering in the face of crisis
The government could change the definition of zero hours contracts now and ban exclusivity clauses but they have ducked the challenge and crafted the legislation in such a way as to tie the hands of a future truly reforming government.
Tom Jones, Thompsonsâ Head of Policy, has said: âIt looks as if again the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has failed to grasp the nettle he has tinkered rather than reformed. Whilst cynically present the Bill as an advance Cable must know it truly isn’t. Either that or he has still not fully understood the nature of abusive employment and the real reasons which lie behind the use of such contracts.
âThe Bill ignores all but one of the recommendations for reform contained in the independent report the government commissioned from Norman Pickavance and reflects the same dogmatic attachment to the mantra that the market knows best and any restriction on an employer is ‘red tape’ that this government is driven by above all.
âWe are looking at a Bill which is severely overdue, incomplete and almost guaranteed to be ineffective.â
As for late payment penalties against employers who refuse to deliver compensation after a ruling from an employment tribunal, also contained in the Bill, Thompsonâs welcome for any move that penalises those who withholding money due to a claimant is tempered by the fact that it is long overdue, is inexplicably limited in scope and puts penalty payments into government coffers rather than claimant hands.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has restricted the scope for penalty measures when late or refused payments in fact blight many other areas of employment law and has dictated that penalty funds should be given to the state rather than the claimant who has suffered the delay.
There is plenty of time on the clock for the government to reconsider these toothless measures, Thompsons would urge parliament to take on unscrupulous employers with the full force of the law by implementing an effective ban on ZHC’s and institute a claimant-compensating penalty system for all areas of late or refused employer payments.
By Jim Sheridan MP
Itâs a question that has grown in importance as we see multinational corporations casting their net across the globe. Who, in reality, makes the rules we live by?
Itâs a question that has grown in importance as we see multinational corporations casting their net across the globe. Who, in reality, makes the rules we live by?
Big business is often at the heart of some lobbying scandal or conspiracy theories about who is at the top of the chain. But we are currently seeing a real-life attempt by companies to wield excessive influence over national governments.
The transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement (also known as TTIP) is being negotiated in secret between the EU and US. Those in favour of the agreement say it will bring jobs and growth to both sides of the Atlantic.
But there is a growing body of people who are concerned about some aspects of the agreement.
TTIP will set up secret courts which will allow multinational corporations to sue governments if they think a law might harm their profits. This is a feature of many trade agreements, but when the US and EU states all have robust judicial systems in place, we must question why such courts are needed.
Negotiators insist that these courts are precautions, that it would not affect governmentsâ ability to govern. But we are already seeing these courts in action in other trade agreements.
When Australia started looking at introducing plain packaging of tobacco, cigarette giant Phillip Morris was already suing the government for billions and seeking to have the legislation repealed.
When Germany began its nuclear phase-out, Swedish energy company Vattenfall announced that it was suing the government for 3.7 billion euros.
When Slovakia moved to restrict the powers of private insurance firms in the public health system, a number of insurance companies successfully sued the Slovak government.
These examples strike a chord, and highlight real concerns. Just two of Labourâs key policies, a reversal of NHS privatisation and an energy price freeze, could cost the government billions in a world with TTIP. Even UK companies could set up subsidiaries in the States to sue their own governments for decisions such as these.
This is just one of the concerns I have about these negotiations, and the reason I have tabled almost fifty questions to ministers for them to answer over the recess.
Lobbyists have been arguing for TTIP for years, and a key reason is the power that these secret courts will give them.
We now need the public and members of EU parliaments to scrutinise this agreement in detail.
So I hope over the summer, ministers will answer my questions and ease my concerns about secret courts. And I hope they will answer my call for MPs to see the agreement.
Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, it is important we respect our democracies, and leave governments free to make the best laws for their citizens.
This blog first appeared on the Trade Union Group of MPs website
This July 23rdÂ at 11:00 am, factory owners from Mishor Adumim (the industrial zone of the West Bank settlement, Maâale Adumim) approached striking workers on the picket line at Zarfaty Garage, demanding they leave immediately or be subject to violence. They made it clear to the workers that they will gather many Jewish factory owners to attack the picket of the Palestinian workers in case the workers stay there.
The workers of Zrafaty Garage who are all members of the independent trade union center WAC-MAAN, started their legal strike on July 22nd and staged a picket line in the front of the garage as all workers in Israel do in such cases. They and the union made it clear they do not plan to backup in front of these threats.
The union called the police of Maâale Adumim to stop this violent threat but instead of filing a case against those who threatened to use violence it decided to detain WAC-MAAN Coordinator Yoav Tamir, charging him with âinciting Palestiniansâ. This was done despite the fact that the picket line had been coordinated with the police previously. The violent attack on the workers was averted but the threat is still there.
Zarfaty workers called a legal strike two days ago following the dismissal of Hatem Abu Ziade, Chairperson of their Workersâ Committee. The Zarfaty workers, organized through WAC-MAAN since June 2013, had been in protracted negotiations for a collective contract. The management decided, without notice or explanation, to fire Abu Ziade and compel the workers to relinquish membership in WAC-MAAN.
The new threat of violence and the arrest come two days after WAC-MAAN raised the issue of SodaStream workers, which is also in Mishor Adumim, where dozens of workers have been arbitrarily fired. The SodaStream workers contacted us at WAC-MAAN, and we then contacted the management in their name. We also put the story out to the media, where it received much coverage in Israel and worldwide.
The firing of the Committee Chairperson at Zarfaty, and the threats by the factory owners, are an attempt to remove WAC-MAAN as a force to whom the workers of Mishor Adumim may turn. These workers are employed under unacceptable conditions, counter to labor laws, and often below minimum wage without pay slips or benefits.
WAC-MAAN insists on its right to represent workers and on their right to organize. We will not allow threats and bullying to deter us from protecting the right to make a living with dignity, regardless of religion, race, and nationality.
The TUC has set out a four point campaign â ‘Respect At Work’ â on employment rights that it hopes will inform the debate in the run up to next yearâs General Election.
The four elements are:
â˘ stemming the tide of casualisation – including ending the abuse of zero hour contracts and, equal pay for agency workers
â˘ abolition of Employment Tribunal fees
â˘ a new framework of employment rights – including reversal of the coalition attack on statutory redundancy and TUPE and, unfair dismissal protection from day one
â˘ 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 directorsâ 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 directorsâ 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, Labourâs 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 â 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 â reform to improve economic performance and reform to provide worker voice â 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 Crouchâs 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 â Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia plus a further 5 with more limited rights â Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
Itâs 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 Goldâs 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 OâGradyâs essay on promoting a high investment, high skill and high productivity economy.
We should shift the argument to a rights issue, workersâ 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)