CTUF – IER at the Tolpuddle Festival

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CTUF – IER at the Durham Miners Gala

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Home Office rules mean immigrants can’t go on strike without risking deportation. Post-Brexit – this will include EU workers

Sally Hun

By Sally Hunt and John McDonnell

Migrant workers contribute to our economy and should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights.

The recent wave of pension strikes at UK universities was the biggest action the sector has ever seen. The unwavering commitment of staff over the fourteen strike days – along with the overwhelming support from students – was instrumental in wresting a much-improved offer from the university employers.

The strikes’ success depended on the backing of thousands of international staff who play a vital role in our increasingly global higher education sector. Yet for those on Tier 2 “skilled worker” visas, taking part meant more than simply giving up pay or braving freezing temperatures on picket lines – it meant risking their immigration status.

John McDonnell

That’s because staff on those visas are subject to strict limits on unpaid leave. If a migrant worker exceeds 20 days’ unpaid absence in a calendar year, their employer is obliged to report them to the Home Office and withdraw visa sponsorship. The Home Office Immigration Rules also say that exceeding this limit could be grounds for revoking a migrant’s leave to remain in the UK. There are some exceptions for those on parental leave or long-term sick leave – but industrial action isn’t covered in the list of exemptions.

The government has so far failed to provide clarity on the issue. When asked if strike absences would count towards the limit, the immigration minister simply said that decisions about whether to revoke a migrant’s leave would be made with “full regard to the circumstances”.

This ambiguous position is problematic on a number of levels. First, because being able to strike is a fundamental right. It’s enshrined in article 28 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It shouldn’t be left to the discretion of Home Office officials whether engaging in strikes will lead to deportation.

Second, at a time of daily headlines about the government’s abysmal treatment of Windrush migrants and the impact of the Tories’ toxic hostile environment immigration policy, the minister’s vague response is hardly reassuring. The stories of those failed by the immigration system only reinforce the need for absolute clarity on migrant rights.

Third, the issue may also be about to get much bigger. Brexit is looming and the 2.4 million EU citizens who work in the UK could shortly become subject to the UK’s visa system. If the immigration rules are allowed to restrict their engagement in lawful strike action, our industrial relations will suffer as a result.

All staff should be able to play a full part in legitimate strike action without fear of reprisal, regardless of where they are from. Migrant workers contribute to our economy and should be able to join their colleagues in defending their employment rights. Strike action is never taken lightly. But this restrictive rule means that migrants who need to take unpaid leave for other reasons – perhaps to look after a sick relative – find themselves unable to participate for fear of breaching the limit.

International staff need an unequivocal, written guarantee from the government that days spent taking legitimate strike action will not put their immigration status at risk. A small clarification from government would make a big difference to the lives of those affected.

Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University of College Union (UCU) and President of the TUC. John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor of the exchequer.

First published in The Independent, May 11th.

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Pay the Rate: how the EU is closing the loopholes used to exploit migrant workers – but is it too late for us?

By Jude Kirton-Darling Labour MEP – North East England

Concerns about free movement and EU migration were amongst the top reasons why many voted to leave in June 2016. Periodically, a dispute has erupted whether wildcat strikes at the Lindsey Total refinery in 2009 or the ‘Pay the Rate’ protests in my native Teesside on the Wilton site ahead of the EU referendum, which captured the public attention, exposed the flaws in our rules and has allowed xenophobes the oxygen they constantly crave. While UKIP and the extreme Right unashamed stoked people’s fears about labour migration, increasing the xenophobic and racist character of the referendum, through fake news, it would be wrong to dismiss all concerns.

There are legitimate grievances about free movement and a lack of adequate legal protection has allowed the undercutting of workers’ rights when equal terms and conditions have not been guaranteed. Sadly, this has been a reality in the UK’s flexible employment market for many years. That’s why the news this week, that the EU’s rules have finally been tightened up after years of campaigning from construction sector unions and their confederations is such welcome if sad news – is it too late for us?

It has become standard practice to blame the EU. However, far from being the EU’s responsibility, this is in large part a home-grown problem, There has been a political consensus in Westminster and successive UK governments to maintain a deregulated flexible UK workforce. For 30 years, politicians and business trumpeted that flexibility was key to UK economic success. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader broke that consensus but there are still many advocates in influential roles. Part of the political consensus was that EU worker rights should be implemented at a minimal level of protection if at all, with limited powers and investment for labour market inspection authorities, whether the Health and Safety Executive, Gang Masters Licensing Authority or HMRC. Fraud – and even crime in the case of modern slavery – has flourished in the context of a lack of adequate control. Since 2010, labour inspectorates have borne the full brunt of Tory austerity, today the UK is at the bottom of the ranking of comparable EU countries. There’s fewer than 1 labour inspector per 100,000 persons in the UK, compared to close to 20 in France.

That said, poor implementation of labour market legislation has also led to loopholes being exploited by unscrupulous employers. Some of these could be easily fixed in Westminster, for instance with respect to the infamous ‘Swedish derogation’ in temporary agency workers’ rights. Equally if we don’t want UK jobs to be only advertised in Poland or elsewhere with little chance for the local population to apply, we don’t need to leave the EU: a bill in Parliament would do.

But when it comes to the posting of workers within the EU – when an employee from another member state is sent by their employer to carry out a service in the UK on a temporary basis – the fix had to come from Brussels as these are single market rules.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive has long been criticised for failing to guarantee equal pay for equal work at the same place. A deal reached this week between the European Parliament and Council means that this will no longer be the case. Posted workers will have to be paid the same wages and allowances as their British colleagues. Importantly for construction sector campaigners, the legislation will allow the universal application of the so-called ‘Blue Book’ NAECI national agreement for the first time. The deduction of travel and accommodation costs from salaries, a practice all too widespread, will no longer be allowed. Most local terms and conditions will apply from day one to posted workers, and posting will be limited to 12 months.

This a major victory for the European labour movement, with the European TUC welcoming “a fair deal”. Of course, as with anything when you’re trying to negotiate amongst 28 countries (most of which are governed by conservative or liberal parties), the new rules are a compromise and we did not get everything we’ve asked for. One key omission is that transport sector workers will remain unprotected until sectoral legislation is agreed. But overall the new rules will vastly improve the situation, and allow co-workers to be colleagues again whether in the construction, manufacturing or social care sectors, which represent 8 out of 10 posted worker jobs.

Brexit makes it all the more important that we get these rules right – these improvements can’t become another victim of those who want to deregulate our labour market by leaving the single market. The bottom line is that we will continue to need European workers in the UK. Without them, today the NHS could collapse. Industries in my own region of the North East, with its ageing population, can only thrive with a sustained supply of workers whether from Slough or Stockholm. But this isn’t just economic – we also need foreign workers for everything else that ‘fresh blood’ brings to our communities beyond work. Cultural diversity and new ideas are the bedrock of great industrial nations. With the strengthening of these vital EU employment rights, today staying in the EU single market allows us to respond to those legitimate grievances about labour market exploitation without putting EU citizens or jobs in our local manufacturing and service industries under the bus of a hard Brexit. I just hope that this agreement has not come too late.

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Securing Labor Rights in Mexico Fundamental to NAFTA Reform

Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers.

United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard issued the following statement in conjunction with the release of a letter sent to USTR Robert Lighthizer yesterday regarding proposed labor law reforms in Mexico.

“Correcting the fundamental flaws in NAFTA first requires that workers in Mexico be afforded the internationally recognized workers’ rights to allow them to share in the fruits of their labor. Today’s system in Mexico essentially blocks the creation of free trade unions for the vast majority of workers. This is detrimental to them as well as to workers in the United States and Canada. Mexico’s dismal labor rights regime continues to be the driving force for offshoring by multinational companies profiting at the expense of workers.

“Last year, Mexico adopted constitutional reforms that were to lay the base for improving workers’ rights, most importantly to eliminate so-called protection contracts and to allow secret ballot elections so that workers can choose their own representatives. These employer-developed contracts have been imposed on workers without their knowledge and without their input. But, these constitutional reforms must be implemented by changes to Mexico’s labor laws. The changes that are before the Mexican Senate do not faithfully implement the constitutional changes. Instead they would only cement in place an unacceptable system.

“Renegotiating NAFTA must lead to workers securing the right to bargain for and be paid decent wages and to work in safe conditions.  If Mexico fails to improve the current labor law reform proposal, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to have a NAFTA that stops the outsourcing, brings back jobs, reduces the trade deficit and improves the lives and livelihoods of working people in all three countries. The renegotiated NAFTA should ensure that labor rights are implemented, monitored and enforced. Mexico’s draft laws severely undermine that possibility.

“Over the course of the NAFTA negotiations, the USTR has been faithful in trying to improve the existing agreement. We have shared specific criticisms of the current agreement as well as suggestions about how to fix it. We hope that the USTR, in cooperation with his Canadian counterpart, Minister Freeland, can impress upon the Mexican government the need to revise its proposed reforms and faithfully and fully implement the constitutional commitments.  Otherwise, NAFTA’s future is at risk.”

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France: Rail Unions At War With Macron Over Employment Rights Reforms

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Mexican Senate bill could undermine new NAFTA standards

Sent in by Ben Davis of the United Steelworkers
From Inside Trade, March 27, 2018

Mexico’s ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, last week pitched a proposal that would implement the country’s constitutional labor reforms passed last year in a way that labor advocates believe would undermine labor rules that will potentially be included in a retooled North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

The bill, introduced by PRI on March 22, claims to implement constitutional labor reforms that were adopted by the Mexican government in February 2017. The proposed law would retain the non-independent structure of labor arbitration boards and would not prevent the implementation of so-called “protection contracts,” labor sources told Inside U.S. Trade. Those contracts are collective agreements signed between an employer and a union without the consent of the workers.

The key accomplishment of the constitutional labor reforms is that it would abolish the tripartite structure of the conciliation and arbitration boards (CABs) which, according to one U.S. labor source, are non-transparent labor dispute systems composed of three board members “without the best interests of the unions in mind.” The board members include a representative of the employer, the government and a union. However, the source said the unions represented on the CABs are “not independent unions at all” and usually are represented by corporate interests.

The constitutional labor reforms Mexico adopted last year would eliminate so-called tripartite conciliation and arbitration boards (CABs) and help prevent the implementation of protection contracts, labor sources have said. The constitutional reforms require secondary legislation to be fully implemented.

However, the source said the March 22nd bill, if passed, would allow Mexico to implement the labor reforms in a way that would run afoul with the labor standards that negotiators are working on in a revised NAFTA by violating language referencing the International Labor Organization Declaration that has been included in recent U.S. FTAs.

“If this implementing legislation passes, it will create a system of labor justice in Mexico that undermines rather than protects workers’ rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining,” the source said, adding that the legislation would reinstate Mexico’s “corrupt labor justice system.”

If NAFTA’s labor chapter is based on the May 10 deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mexico will be required to adopt and maintain — in law and practice — laws that protect workers’ rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, the source said. The PRI bill does not do that, the source said.

On labor, the May 10th deal — struck between congressional Democrats and the Bush administration in 2007 — stipulates that countries must adopt, maintain and enforce “internationally-recognized labor principles, as stated in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work,” including the freedom of association and right to collective bargaining. For instance, the TPP labor chapter required that “Each Party shall adopt and maintain in its statutes and regulations, and practices” such as the “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”

USTR’s labor proposal, tabled last September, mirrored language included in TPP, which generally reflected the May 10deal. That proposal fell short of Democrats’ hopes. Congressional Democrats have told USTR that a new NAFTA should require Mexico to increase its wages, among adding other enforceable labor standards. Negotiations over the labor text are expected to continue to be contentious until the NAFTA talks conclude.

The U.S. source also said the timing of the March 22nd PRI proposal could act to pressure the U.S. to respond within weeks.

“The fact that the government introduced this now suggests they will actually try to push it through,” the source said, adding the U.S. has just over one month to address the developments before the first session of Mexico’s Congress wraps up for the year and the country is “overthrown by election politics.”

“Nothing will happen after that until 2019,” the source said. Mexico will hold its presidential election on July 1st.

A senior staffer for a U.S. union who attended the last negotiating round in Mexico said the passage of this bill — which could be as soon as next month — would send a stark message to the U.S. in the context of the NAFTA talks.

“Essentially they are saying ‘we are going to make this as hard for you as possible and you are going to have to give us something else in order to get us to back off of this reform,’” the source told Inside U.S. Trade. Citing a January 23rd letter sent by 183 Democratic lawmakers to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthzier, the source said the lawmakers “laid down some clear markers” on what they wanted out of NAFTA’s labor proposal.

“The [Democrats] laid down some markers on that,” the source said. “Certainly if this reform were to go through the way it is now it would make it harder to get to where at least [those lawmakers] are trying to go. Presumably that’s what the Mexican government is intending to do — lock in these regressive changes so that it will be harder to raise in the NAFTA negotiations.”

By threatening to push this legislation through, Mexico is “putting down a direct challenge to the U.S. — you want better rights for Mexican workers? Come and make us. And I think, again, the letter from the 183 [Democrats] — that makes it pretty clear what they think about it and how that will impact overall negotiations,” the source said adding, “U.S. unions would be pretty disappointed if this were allowed to go through.”

“If this bill is approved in the current session of Congress, which looks like what Mexico is trying to do by April 30, that would send a very negative message which would undermine the Mexican constitution itself because several of the provisions in this bill directly contradict it,” he said.

The new bill, the source continued, included a “whole lot of” additional procedures that “essentially would make it impossible for a large part of the workforce to ever unionize.” One of those requirements is that for unions to register for a collective bargaining agreement they “have to produce list of social security numbers of all the workers,” which the source said do not exist for a number of Mexican workers. “So, it punishes workers for employers’ failure to register, it’s just full of things like that.”

The March 22nd legislation is similar to a bill that was introduced last year by the PRI, but not passed by the Mexican Congress. The only significant difference, according to U.S. labor sources, is that the new bill addresses subcontracting issues raised by the AFL-CIO and Mexico’s National Labor Union (UNT) in a Jan. 25 complaint opposing the bill. That complaint was submitted to the Labor Department under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation.

The March 22 bill would sustain protections for subcontracted workers that prevent the outsourcing of workers. The previous bill sought to eliminate protections on subcontracting, the complaint states, “meaning employers would no longer have to respect any meaningful limitations or protections benefiting subcontracted workers.”

“They are billing that as a big change,” one source said.

The other issues, outlined in the AFL-CIO and UNT’s 42-page complaint, remain outstanding, the labor sources said.

Those issues include a provision that establishes what is known as the Federal Institute of Conciliation and Registration, which according to the complaint, imposes “tripartite control through a new ‘Technical Council’ that would be comprised of “employer-dominated” unions that have “perpetuated the protection contract system that the Constitutional reform was designed to remedy.” The establishment of the institute, the complaint continues, “will have severe consequences for freedom of association and collective bargaining” given its “lack of independence.”

The new bill also includes a provision that doesn’t require labor inspectors to specifically verify that workers approve “the collective agreement by a secret ballot vote,” thus undermining workers collective bargaining rights. The constitutional reform, if implemented as intended, would ensure elections are “personal, free, universal and secret,” the complaint continues, and “for purposes of collective bargaining the union would have to demonstrate that it represents workers at the workplace if it seeks a strike notice to oblige the employer to bargain.”

“Reforming the collective bargaining process in order to promote the negotiation of legitimate collective agreements was the central motivation of the constitutional reforms,” the complaint states. “However, the bill undermines these reforms.” The bill also includes obstacles for a union to surmount before initiating a strike, such as providing “extensive documentation of its representativity, some of which it may not have access to.”

During the last round of NAFTA talks earlier this month in Mexico City, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), former chairman and ranking member of the House Ways & Means Committee, said the briefing he received from negotiators was “totally inadequate” because it did not touch on what he called key issues, including Mexico’s “authoritarian-type labor structure.”

Levin, during an event hosted by Georgetown Law on March 8, cited the constitutional amendment expanding labor rights in Mexico but said concerns about the implementing legislation persist.

“A constitutional amendment expanding labor rights was passed, but it required effective implementation by the Mexican Congress,” Levin said. “A recent submission under NAFTA spells out how the implementation is moving more and more in the wrong direction.” — Isabelle Hoagland (ihoagland@iwpnews.com)

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TUC says employment rights need “beefing up”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

5 million UK workers now employed by outsourced companies, franchises, recruitment agencies, umbrella companies & personal service companies.

The TUC has said employment rights need “beefing up” to protect the rights of workers employed by outsourcing companies pointing out that such workers cannot challenge the parent company over minimum wage or holiday pay abuses.

The TUC has called on the government to give subcontracted workers in the supply chain the right to challenge the end employer.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department says plans had been set out to ensure employees, including agency workers, “benefit from enhanced rights and protections”. But the TUC estimates that five million UK workers cannot enforce their basic rights with their “parent company”.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said labour enforcement laws “urgently need beefing up” to deal with the problem.”

The TUC’s research has found 3.3 million workers were employed through ‘outsourced companies’, 615,000 by ‘franchise businesses’ and at one million by recruitment agencies, umbrella companies and personal service companies.

The TUC said in such cases the employer using the service had a “duty of care” to the workers in their supply chains.

“This is an issue that affects millions, from fast food workers to people working on building sites,” said Frances O’Grady.

“Joint liability must be extended to parent employers. Without it they can shrug their shoulders over minimum wage and holiday pay abuses.”

Further reading click here

Further reading click here

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Congratulations To Ged Kearney

Ged Kearney with Bill Shorten

From Barry Camfield in Australia : An example of a progressive woman trade unionist winning a parliamentary seat, in a seat called “Batman”, with a commitment to fight for unions and workers interests.

A by-election for the Australian House of Representatives seat of Batman took place on 17th March 2018.

To loud cheers and renditions of the union anthem ‘Solidarity Forever’, grinning Opposition Leader Bill Shorten welcomed his victorious by-election candidate Ged Kearney as “the hero of Batman”.

This was a big win for Labor. A morale boosting victory heading into a federal election in the next 12 months in a seat the Greens have been threatening, and promising, to win for years.

As big a win for the ALP this was a savage loss for the Greens. This was Alex Bhathal’s sixth attempt at Batman. Over her career she had successfully whittled away Labor’s lead in Batman in previous elections from a safe seat to falling agonisingly close in 2016 when the party fell less than 2,000 votes short.

Now the margin is out to 4 per cent and Labor is winning the primary race.

Statement by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus:

“On behalf of working people across the country and the Australian trade union movement I congratulate Ged Kearney on her win in Batman.

 “Ged has been a tireless advocate for working people for decades – in our hospitals, as the national leader of nurses and midwives, as ACTU president and now as the member for Batman.

 “As working people fight to change the rules so Australia is a fairer and better country, they will have an ally in Canberra in Ged Kearney.

 “Our democracy is richer for Ged’s election.” 

 

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TiSA: when everything is a service, a ‘Trade in Services Agreement’ affects everyone

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

Since 2013, a conclave of governments calling themselves ‘The Really Good Friends of Services’, has been negotiating a secretive ‘Trade in Services Agreement’ (TiSA) that would set the rules for twentieth century capitalism and place these rules beyond the reach of government regulation, now and in the future.

A new report TiSA: Not our Future!  prepared for the IUF reveals the scope of the corporate power grab through a close examination of TiSA’s potential impact on workers across the IUF sectors and TiSA’s broader implications for the labour movement, society and democratic governance.

The report explains in plain language the meaning and context of TiSA’s complex rules and how they are designed to lock in the corporate agenda. Under current WTO rules, the products of IUF sectors like food processing and beverage manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries are treated as goods the moment they cross borders.

TiSA introduces another layer of rules, under which every current and future task performed by workers in these sectors can be treated as a discrete, stand-alone ‘service’ to be outsourced to a transnational ‘service provider’ who is liberated and protected by TiSA’s rules. In the IUF sectors already treated as services – hotels, restaurants, catering – TiSA gives new impetus and encouragement to the ongoing process of outsourcing and casualization.

‘E-commerce’ rules in TiSA are not about online shopping. They are about the control of the algorithms and data flows which are essential to the corporate-driven digitalization of everything, including work. TiSA would accelerate a process of digitalized automation potentially resulting in massive job destruction, while its rules would radically reduce the possibility for workers to negotiate the application and impact of these new technologies. At the same time, TiSA’s rules on financial services effectively preclude meaningful efforts to regulate the crisis-prone financial sector through new laws or regulations.

The volatile, speculative flow of money which increasingly drives food production and the global economy acquires even greater power to disrupt.

CLICK HERE to learn more and to download the report.

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