‘Level Playing Field’ Workers Rights Johnson Wants To Get Rid Of

It came to light this week that Boris Johnson has instructed his ‘sherpa’ David Frost (a regular user of the Eurostar to Brussels)  to demand that any deal on withdrawal agreement from the EU unravels the ‘level playing field’ clauses agreed with the EU earlier this year including those on workers rights, environmental protection and consumer rights.

The LPF clauses (although in the Political declaration) are designed to stop the UK undermining EU rights and laws if and when the UK leaves the EU and providing continuing protection.

It has long been an ambition of the Tories and Brextremists to get rid of positive EU employment rights and turn the UK into an offshore, low wage, low skill economy with few employment protections – a sort of Singapore off the coast of Europe.

Below are just some of the key pieces of EU legislation, which have benefited working people here in the UK which the Javid and Johnson describe as Red Tape.

They may sound complex, but workers across the UK have received employment protection by them:

• Individual employment conditions (91/533/EEC) established the employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the employment contract or employment relationship.

• Fixed term employment agreement provided for equal treatment for fixed term contract workers to prevent the abuse of workers subjected to successive fixed-term contracts.

• The part time workers framework agreement requires that part-time workers’ employment conditions were not be less favourable than those of comparable full-time workers, with employers, required to take account of employees’ preferences and their requests to transfer from full-time to part-time employment or vice versa. This legislation helped thousands of low paid women workers who worked in part time jobs.

• And of course the temporary agency workers directive which guarantees a minimum level of effective protection to temporary and agency workers. The so-called Swedish Derogation that got around the WTR for agency workers will be scrapped after years of campaigning by unions.

• This was coupled with the health & safety in fixed term and temporary employment – an EU directive (91/383/EEC) which ensured that fixed-term and temporary agency workers, who are more exposed to the risk of accidents at work and occupational diseases than other workers, have the same level of safety and health protection at work as other employees.

• Young people at work – an EU Directive which provided the protection of young people at work which insists that EU member states must prohibit the employment of children (i.e. those under the age of 15 or still in full-time compulsory education).

• The working time directive, a piece of key health & safety legislation, watered down by the Tories with an “opt-out” for individuals. In the EU each member state must ensure that every worker must not exceed working more than 48 hours on average, (over a 52 week period) as well as providing for minimum rest breaks during a shift, minimum weekly rest time and lest we forget – guaranteed paid annual leave, of at least four weeks (28 days a year) – excluding bank holidays.

• The employer insolvency directive ensures payment of employees’ outstanding claims in the event of employer insolvency. It required member states to set up an institution to guarantee the payments.

• The transfers of undertakings directive (TUPE) is one of the major protections for workers – the EU Directive stopped the transfer of an undertaking (business) as constituting a valid grounds for dismissal. Rights and obligations under the employment contract pass from the previous employer to the new one although for economic, technical or organisational reasons can alter this.

At one time there companies did dismiss – and automatically sack – their entire workforces upon the transfer or sale of a business.

• On collective redundancies – the EU Directive improved protection for workers who faced job loss. It set out rules on the information and consultation of workers’ representatives before collective redundancies could be made, set out periods of time for consultation as well as provisions on practical support for the employees who may lose their jobs.

• The information and consultation directive provides for a general framework for informing and consulting employees on major decisions being made by companies including the recent and probable development of the undertaking’s or the establishment’s activities and economic situation, the situation, structure and probable development of employment within the undertaking or establishment and any anticipatory measures envisaged.

It applies in particular where there is a threat to employment decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.

• European works councils were set up under the initial EU directive (94/45/EC) in 1994. It was extended to the UK by another directive (97/74/EC) and adapted by a third directive (2006/109/EC) to the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. Member States must provide for the right to establish European works councils in companies or groups of companies with at least a thousand employees in the EU. EWCs can be powerful bodies if used strategically by unions.

• European company statute provides for a European company (SE) status, allowing companies incorporated in different member states to merge or form a holding company and providing for the involvement of employees in European companies. This is the subject of a special supplementary directive (2001/86/EC).

• There is legislation that provides for transnational company agreement concluded by one or more representatives of a company or a group of companies and one or more workers’ organisations (unions). They cover working and employment conditions and relations between employers and workers or their representatives.

• On data protection at work there are two general EU directives on personal data protection, which apply to workers. One (95/46/EC) concerns the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data. The other (2002/58 which amends 97/66/EC) is about the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector.

• On equality legislation, parental leave is part of a framework agreement for each parent. It applies to all workers and to all types of employment contract.

• The EU directive on equal pay prohibited all discrimination on the grounds of sex in relation to pay and called upon the member states to eradicate any discrimination laid down in national laws, regulations or administrative provisions and to inform workers of measures taken in application of the directive.

• The equal treatment in employment and occupation directive put in place a general framework to ensure equal treatment of individuals in the European Union, regardless of their religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, as regards access to employment or occupation and membership of certain organisations.

• There are numerous directives relating to health and safety at work The health and safety at work directive from 1989 established the introduction of minimum measures designed to improve the working environment, in order to guarantee a better standard of safety and health protection.

This list is by no means exhaustive and no doubt there are many more examples.

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Campaign For Trade Union Freedom – Institute Of Employment Rights TUC Fringe Meeting

Here are the details of the TUC Fringe meeting on September 8th, 6.30pm at the Old Ship, Brighton Seafront (just five minutes from the Brighton Conference Centre). Come early, we expect this to be packed meeting with Laura Pidcock MP Shadow Minister of Labour; Dave Ward, CWU GS; Tim Roach GMB GS and Mark Serwotka, PCS GS and President of the TUC. Carolyn Jones will chair the meeting.

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U.S. gig economy giants told: “Just pay your damn workers”.

California Demoract Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez.

A bill in California’s Legislature could force gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees – instead of independent contractors.

The bill (Assembly Bill 5) could give their drivers proper employment status, but Uber and Lyft have tried to cut a deal that that would allow drivers to remain ‘independent contractors’.

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez, from San Diego, has said she does not forsee cutting a deal with the ride hailing companies.

Ms. Gonzalez tweeted: “Billionaires who say they can’t pay minimum wages to their workers say they will spend tens of millions to avoid labor laws. Just pay your damn workers!”

A vote on the bill is expected before the legislative session ends in mid-September. That means time is running out for Uber and Lyft to reach an agreement.

The companies said their proposed initiative would preserve drivers’ ability to set their own schedules, while Uber and Lyft would offer a concession on minimum wage standards, health benefits and collective bargaining rights.

But Uber and Lyft, say that changing the legal status of their drivers poses a “fundamental threat to their businesses”, and have pledged to spend $60 million on a ballot initiative that would exempt them from the proposed law.

After their announcement, DoorDash, the food delivery service, said it would contribute an additional $30 million.

Drivers for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash work as ‘independent contractors’, logging in to the companies’ apps and providing rides or delivering food whenever they choose. They have no legally protected minimum wage, guaranteed sick days or traditional health benefits.

Drivers have complained that the companies cut their earnings without explanation and that they have no recourse if they are removed from the apps.

The ‘contractor classification’ deprives workers of workplace rights as wages and working time protections, health and pension benefits, and the right of collective bargaining

Companies including Uber and Lyft have a business model which circumvents employers responsibilities towards their drivers. Not only are drivers deprived of employment rights they also have to cover their own daily expenses such as fuel, maintainence of their vehicles, and insurance.

“It’s no secret that a change to the employment classification of ride-share drivers would pose a risk to our businesses,” says Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Lyft CEO Logan Green and Lyft President John Zimmer in a recent newspaper article.

They say that ’employee status’ will harm drivers in that it will deprive drivers of flexibility’ to set their own hours, which the companies say is the  attraction of their work. Instead, they say, an employee structure would require them to slot drivers into set shifts.

“Our flexibility has always been under threat,” countered Nicole Moore, a Lyft driver in Los Angeles and an organiser of Rideshare Drivers United. “They can and they do change the flexibility of our work all the time” by changing fares to prompt drivers to drive at certain times and in certain locations. “Now they’re using it to protect themselves from being obligated to pay us a living wage and to follow basic labor rules.”

And there nothing in state or federal law requires drivers to give up their flexibility’ if they’re classified as employees.

“Lyft and Uber today decide whether or not these workers are flexible,” Lorena Gonzalez  told the Senate Labor Committee. “That is in their hands, not in the law.”

“We’re not interested in and haven’t been engaged in anything that would undermine the court decision or AB 5 when it passes,” says Bob Schoonover, president of the state council of the Service Employees International Union.

The debate in California centres on the state Supreme Court’s ‘Dynamex Decision’  named after Dynamex International, a package and document delivery company that in 2004 reclassified all its drivers as independent contractors.

Dynamex didn’t change the drivers’ work responsibilities, but removed them from the jurisdiction of California’s wage and hour rules. Drivers were required to provide their own vehicles and pay for all their own expenses, including fuel, tolls, maintenance,  and insurance, including workers’ compensation insurance. And they no longer received overtime pay.

“Such a conversion would generate economic savings for the company,” the Supreme Court observed. Wage and hour rules should not be lightly discarded, the court said, since “workers’ fundamental need to earn income for their families’ survival may lead them to accept work for substandard wages or working conditions.”

The Dynamex ruling enshrined the “ABC test” into California law as a guide to the difference between employees and independent contractors. The test says workers are employees unless they’re (A) independent of the hiring entity’s control and direction about how they perform their work; (B) engaged in work different from the hiring entity’s business; and (C) conducting an independent business in the same field as the work they’re doing for the hiring entity.

In other words, a plumber hired by a store to fix a leaky bathroom: independent contractor. A driver picking up passengers for Uber: employee. Though they might start and end their workday when they like, Uber and Lyft drivers are subject to numerous corporate rules about their conduct on the job, the condition of their vehicles, the rate at which they accept or reject proffered trips and other issues. Their work is manifestly central to the employers’ business, and the companies themselves acknowledge that many drivers are earning income to supplement other jobs.

The Dynamex ruling left a few loose ends, some of which would be tied up by AB 5. The measure would apply the ABC test to a wide range of workplaces and to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation coverage, in addition to wage and hour rules alone. It also would carve out a roster of professions from the test, including doctors, real estate salespersons, securities and insurance brokers and hairstylists who rent their booths from salon owners.

What AB 5 can’t do is guarantee drivers the right of collective bargaining. That’s because the National Labor Relations Board, through its general counsel’s office has already ruled that Uber drivers are independent contractors and therefore ineligible to unionise The NLRB memo took an opposite tack from the way the Obama-era board was heading.

“I think the drivers are really employees under the National Labor Relations Act,” argues William B. Gould IV, chairman of the NLRB under President Bill Clinton and an emeritus law professor a Stanford University. “But that door is shut for at least the next two years” because of the general counsel’s decision, which is unreviewable in court.

The driver community web site Ridester says a recent survey showed that that half of all Uber drivers collect less than $10 an hour after expenses. A study done for the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission by Michael Reich of UC Berkeley and James Parrott of the New School in 2017 showed that drivers earned roughly $14 an hour, net of expenses. Lyft says its drivers earn an average of $30.84 an hour from the time they accept until they drop off a passenger, but that’s before expenses.

“We have companies where CEOs are making $45 million a year … and their drivers are sleeping in their cars” Gonzalez said recently. “There is something fundamentally wrong when we have allowed this situation to get to this point.”

Many businesses can no longer compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Karen Heisler the co-owner of Mission Pie in San Francisco she struggles to compete with app-based services that use ‘independent contractors’ to deliver food, while she pays the living wage and benefits that keep her employees off taxpayer-funded safety net programmes.

“If you have a business model that intrinsically exploits workers and endows you with a competitive edge endows you with a competitive advantage based on shirking responsibilities and violating law,” she said, “maybe you need to reevaluate that model.”

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Bernie Sanders’ Plan Could Put A Union In Every Workplace

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders – proposing sectoral collective bargaining.

By Shaun  Richman ‘In The Times’

US democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders released his Workplace Democracy Plan on Wednesday. His campaign’s labor platform makes the strongest case of any of the candidates so far that he would be unions’ best ally in the White House in generations.

At a time when the Democrats’ official labor law reform proposal, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, the race to the left for labor’s support in the primaries demands bolder policies. Bernie Sanders does not disappoint.

The stand-out measures

Where Sanders’ labor platform is most exciting is its proposal for new workers’ rights and forms of union representation that transcend the National Labor Relations Board framework of enterprise-based contract bargaining.

One is a “just cause” legal standard of employment, which would mean that non-managerial workers—whether they are represented by a union or not—could only be fired only for a legitimate, serious, work-performance reason. This has been a cause that In These Times has long championed, and as Moshe Marvit and I explained elsewhere, “would open up new pathways to organizing.” Bernie Sanders is the third candidate (so far) to embrace the reform, after Bill de Blasio and Jay Inslee, but he’s the first leading contender for the nomination to do so.

But the best proposal in Sanders’ platform is what he refers to as “sectoral collective bargaining” but others in the academic and think tank world have been calling “wage boards.” Basically, he proposes to work with trade unions to construct new industrial standards boards—with representatives for the employers, workers and possibly that nebulous concept, “the public”—that can set minimum standards for wages, benefits and hours across entire sectors of the economy thereby taking those issues out of competition. This is essentially the framework of the First New Deal legislation, which the Lochner-era Courtoverturned, and which the National Labor Relations Act was initially meant to operate alongside of.

Sanders’ wage board proposal was clearly influenced by the Center for American Progress’ David Madland’s and University of Michigan’s Kate Andrias’ dogged research and advocacy for reviving the wage board model. It’s also not insignificant that a revived wage board is how Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 32BJ won a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers in New York state, and that SEIU is rather bullish on expanding and exporting the model.

This is possibly the most important labor law reform that a Democratic president (with a Democratic Senate willing to nuke the filibuster) could achieve. It’s that one that could put a union in every workplace in America on day one. Because if unions had the legal reach to improve wages and working conditions across an entire industry, workers would join and support the unions that were fighting for them—particularly if we made it easy for them to make voluntary paycheck contributions—even before they win a collective bargaining election at their specific workplace.

The man with the plan

Sanders also offers a laundry list of good and overdue reforms. His proposed amendments to the outdated and ineffective National Labor Relations Act—like most of the candidates’ plans—improve upon the PRO Act in several ways. It adds card check recognition and the right to a first contract for new unions, which were provisions of the failed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that did not get carried over into the current Democratic bill.

Sanders also proposes to fully restore workers’ right to strike and to engage in solidarity activism. In the case of the latter, that means wiping out more provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act; in the former, it means overturning an obscure 1938 Supreme Court decision, NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., that allows employers to permanently replace workers who go on strike over economic demands. Employers increasingly took advantage of this decision during the Reagan administration.

Banning permanent replacements was the labor movement’s top legislative priority in the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act of 1993 was the EFCA of its era, and similarly died of a filibuster in the Senate. Now it is increasingly becoming a consensus position among Democratic candidates.

There are also some policies and procedures of the NLRB that Sanders would change. These may be done through legislative change, or Sanders may be considering executive orders and strict directions to his future Board appointees. One is to protect existing collective bargaining agreements when a unionized employer is merged into a new company. Current NLRB rules on successorship allow an employer to tear up the contract and then bargain a union to impasse over concessions. Sanders used his campaign infrastructure to support workers represented by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America at a locomotive plant in Pennsylvania this past February.

Sanders also wants to ban “management’s most important weapon” in anti-union campaigns, mandatory captive audience meetings. The courts have ruled that employers have a First Amendment right to express their anti-union views, and employers use the power of the paycheck to force employees to listen to them. Bernie Sanders says that workers should have the right to walk out on a presentation.

One very attention-grabbing plan responds directly to Joe Biden’s bad-faith arguments that a Medicare-for-All system would be unfair to unions who have historically traded higher wages for employer-sponsored health insurance. Sanders’ NLRB would support unions reopening their collective bargaining agreements in order to recoup as much of an employers’ cost savings from taxpayer-funded health care as possible as new wage gains. His platform implies that a unionized employer that does not share financial data and agree to sharing its cost savings would be charged with committing an unfair labor practice.

Finally, like many of the candidates in the crowded Democratic field, Sanders proposes to fix an original sin of the NLRA—its racist exclusion of domestic and farm workers from the protections of the Act.

Sanders also prioritizes legislation that would accelerate and codify badly needed regulatory reforms that got bogged down by right-wing judicial activism and corporate opposition during Obama’s second term. These include the Browning-Ferris joint-employer standard, which curtail corporations’ ability to hide behind franchise relationships to avoid bargaining over working conditions that they dictate in reality. He also calls for an expanded “persuader rule,” which would force employers to disclose the names of their hired gun union-busters and give union organizers equal access to workers during an organizing campaign. A proposal to end the practice of misclassifying workers as “supervisors” and “independent contractors” in order to avoid paying benefits and overtime is lacking somewhat in detail, but let’s just assume that Bernie co-signs whatever Elizabeth Warren proposes.

In the public sector, Sanders’ platform also calls for expanding the union rights of federal workers—including the right to strike and to bargain over wages. Ronald Reagan’s infamous termination of striking air traffic controllers in 1981 was a signal event in corporate America’s assault on unions. Ironically, that strike was sparked by the federal government’s refusal to bargain over wages. The right to bargain and strike—long denied to federal labor unions—would likely make strikes over routine collective bargaining matters less likely. But they would, as Sanders was quick to point out, empower federal workers to use their labor power to put an end to routine government shutdowns.

He also pledges to sign the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which was introduced by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and Senator Maize Hirono (D–Hawaii) in June and which would extend union rights to all state and local government employees as well.

Never waste a crisis

The turf of U.S. politics shifts beneath our feet like quicksand. This is a moment of great possibilities and existential threats. One of our biggest challenges as a labor movement is that too many of us—leaders, rank-and-filers and leftist critics alike—view things as static, as stuck in a moment in time, whether that be 2009, 1993 or 1978; That real change won’t happen without a crisis.

But we are already in a crisis.

The crisis right now is the threat of fascism, domestic terrorism and ethnic nationalism. These are all problems that have been made possible by the systemic corporate attack on union rights and a yawning gulf of economic inequality. Centrist politicians and shapers of public opinion who have hardly been friends to the working class are slowly waking up to the role that unions play in political education and voter turnout.

So even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination—if it’s Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or even Kamala Harris—we still probably have a candidate and a growing portion of the Democratic establishment who recognize that they have to deliver real wins for working families if they don’t want to get turned out of office all over again in 2022 by a racist and demagogic death cult.

As a labor movement, now is the time to demand more. Much more. Let’s take the issue of “just cause,” which is a basic human right enjoyed in much of the world and the lack of it is one of the foundational problems that keeps most workers from pushing back on employers’ unreasonable commands.

Elizabeth Warren hasn’t even put out her full labor platform yet. I fully expect it to be full of robust proposals to restore the legal rights and power of workers with some delightfully wonky detail. If she joins Sanders in endorsing just cause, the issue—which wasn’t on any union’s agenda—could be on the fast track to the Democratic party’s 2020 platform (as long as the candidate isn’t someone who promises that “nothing would fundamentally change”).

Good ideas that are put on any primary candidate’s agenda should remain on labor’s agenda in the years to come. When it comes to ideas for restoring the legal powers of workers, our approach should be “yes, and!” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has the right approach for these times. The union released its own list of labor law demands on the same day as Sanders, and challenged every candidate to release a detailed labor plan “explaining how they will make it possible for all working people to join unions.” The political moment, says Henry, “is no time for minor tweaks to our broken system.”

Let the primary of ideas continue!

Update: The day after Bernie Sanders’ plan came out, Beto O’Rourke released a labor plan that includes wage boards.

John Hendy QC says: “The best proposal in Bernie Sanders’ platform is what he refers to as “sectoral collective bargaining” while others in the academic and think tank world have been calling “wage boards.” .

Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

“Working In These Times” is dedicated to providing independent and incisive coverage of the labor movement and the struggles of workers to obtain safe, healthy and just workplaces.

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Campaigning For Free Trade Unions

Vic Turner, dockers leader and one of the founders and President of the Liaison Committee For The Defence Of Trade Unions

By Andy Green, National Secretary Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

Recently in the Morning Star FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack responded to an earlier piece in the paper penned by myself in which I was critical of the newly launched ‘Free Our Unions’ campaign suggesting that it was little more than a front for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Matt made some very important points in his article and of course it makes no sense to engage in a war of words with comrades representing unions with a long and proud history of standing up for trade union freedom; in Matt’s case the FBU and I would also include the RMT in this group.

As the Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, I’m pleased to say that FBU and RMT have been and remain active affiliates of the Campaign.

I want to broadly set out the position of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

The Campaign is a linear descendent of the Liaison Committee For The Defence of Trade Unions which as is well known had an exemplary record in opposing the anti-union White Paper In Place of Strifeand what came later, the Industrial Relations Act 1971.

The LCDTU was of course the driving force behind the campaign to free the Pentonville 5.

The Labour Government of the 1970s went a long way in righting the wrongs of the Heath years but by 1980 and the first of Thatcher’s new wave of anti-union laws any idea of further advance was brought to a shuddering halt. The TUC was of course correct to call a one day stoppage in protest about this first move against us, in our naivety we had no real idea about the neo-liberal assault that was about to be unleashed. This was not Heath mark II but a step change in the attack on the working class and its unions.

Almost every other year in the early Thatcher period a new piece of anti-union legislation was passed. The anti-union legislative attack of course continued under John Major. All of these developments were opposed by the Liaison Committee.

The very limited Blair reforms received short shrift from many unions and campaigning groups, including the Liaison Committee and others such as the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Union Laws and Press for Union Rights. Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair made it very clear that what was in their 1999 Act was it, take it or leave it, and they meant it.

To recap, these so-called reforms were:

  • a very limited and complex union recognition procedure that granted exemption to small firms which of course were the main area of employment growth
  • the right to be accompanied, but not necessarily represented, by a union rep when facing disciplinary action if a union member working where the union was not recognised
  • a package of family friendly rights at work

In other words, nothing on trade union rights or undoing the wrongs of the Thatcher era, the Blair years were wasted years.

My sketch of the past 50 years is drawing to a close with the advent of the Tory lead Coalition in 2010 and the subsequent Conservative government since 2015. The Coalition with Vince Cable as Secretary of State introduced a series of mainly anti-worker with some anti-union measures, which became known as the Beecroft proposals, all of which was documented and opposed by the now merged Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

The Trade Union Act 2016 introduced by the Tories led with two specific lines of attack; firstly, the introduction of thresholds in industrial action ballots was intended to make it even more difficult for unions to organise lawful industrial action; and, secondly, the attack on unions’ political funds was clearly aimed at breaking the unions’ link with Labour and effectively bankrupting the Labour Party.

The Campaign sought to mobilise opposition to this new law at the Bill stage, reprising a slogan from forty-five years previously “Kill The Bill.”

Then as now, I believe that the essence of any campaign for free trade unions must support and promote two key aims:

  • the right of unions and workers to take industrial action for both economic and political purposes, on issues both at home and overseas; and,
  • the right of unions to determine their own rules free from state interference.

The Corbyn insurgency within the Labour Party represents the first opportunity we have had to break the neo-liberal grip on trade union rights that has existed since 1980 and to make some progress on our key aims.

In my original Morning Star article I wrote:

Labour’s For the Many, Not the Few manifesto contained a 20-point labour rights reform programme including, most importantly, a commitment to establish mandatory sectoral collective bargaining….It is only through the re-establishment of union-led collective bargaining at the apex level will we see a shift of income and wealth away from the 1 per cent and back towards the 99 per cent … In the Campaign we are confident that statutory support for collective bargaining must mean a right to strike. Collective bargaining without a right to strike is reduced to collective begging…..A new Industrial Relations Act could and should, we believe, restore a right to strike without necessarily making a public bonfire of the Thatcherite Acts of Parliament.

We know the Shadow Cabinet team is being advised by some of the trade union movement’s closest legal advisers, so we are prepared to wait and see how extensive a right to strike is within the new legislative framework after the next General Election.

Labour’s Shadow Employment Secretary Laura Pidcock

I am not a confidant of Laura Pidcock MP but I take it as a given that there will be direct rights and solidarity rights and I believe that there will be rights in connection with matters overseas.

Although it remains an important point of principle we do need to ask how useful a call for a blanket repeal would be in practice.

Take for example my own position. As a consequence of the 1984 Act, I have been directly elected on to the Unite EC to represent the Docks & Railways Sector by Unite dockers and railway workers across Britain and Ireland.

No one would seriously suggest taking from our members the opportunity to vote for all of their executive members.

Rather, our call should be – and is  – for unions to be free to control their own Rule Books, a right enshrined in ILO Convention 87 and reflected in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto.

The promise to repeal the 2016 Act will relax some restrictions on the right to strike and reverse the attempt to bankrupt the Labour Party by repealing the latest restrictions on political funds; the 10 yearly ballots on political funds should also go as well. As an aside, I have often wondered why, in the context of reclaiming our rule books, a call to repeal of the 1911 Act that forced the unions to have political funds separate from their general funds has never found favour.

There is however no incongruity for the Campaign in supporting the advice being given by the Institute of Employment Rights to the Labour Front Bench that will break the 40 year grip of neo-liberalism. The labour rights offer in For the Many, Not The Fewwill provide for an extensive and positive new legal framework for unions, their members and workers generally.

Whatever is in the package does not mean that the Campaign is demobilised; it may well be that further work will be necessary on the right to strike and reclaiming our rule books.

Andy Green is National Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is also Unite convenor at Tilbury Docks; a member of the Unite Executive Council, Docks & Rails Sector; and, a rank and file activist in the International Dockers’ Council.

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Qatar: Migrant Workers Strike Over Work Conditions

Workers leave their construction sites at the Msheireb Downtown Doha district in Doha, Qatar. Š 23rd April 2019, AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

From Human Rights Watch

Hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar went on strike this week to protest what they say are poor working conditions, unpaid and delayed wages, and threats of reduced wages.

Despite introducing some labour reforms over the past year, Qatari authorities have failed to abolish the exploitative kafala sponsorship labour system that fuels abuses and grants employers excessive power over their employees. Migrant workers are still banned under Qatari law from joining unions and participating in strikes.

“The workers in Qatar are going on strike in a country that bans them from striking or joining unions, and against the backdrop of a labour system that leaves them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Abusive labour practices that lead workers to take such a risk will continue until the Qatari government makes good on its promise to repeal the kafala system.”

Migrant workers in Qatar are governed by an exploitative labour system that can leave them vulnerable to forced labour by trapping them in employment situations in which their rights to fair wages, overtime pay, adequate housing, freedom of movement, and access to justice are at risk. These serious and systemic abuses of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar often stem from the still unrepealed kafala system, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employer and severely restricts their ability to change employers.

In addition, the routine confiscation of workers’ passports by employers, debts incurred by migrant workers to pay for recruitment fees, and the prohibition on migrant workers joining unions and striking, leaves workers vulnerable to abuse.

One migrant worker at a Qatari company that provides maintenance, cleaning, plumbing, and other services, told Human Rights Watch that he and between 800 and 1,000 other employees refused to report to work on August 5th, 2019. The employee said there had been repeated threats from management to deport the workers if they refused to sign new contracts substantially reducing their wages.

The worker said that he had already been forced to sign a contract when he arrived in Doha in 2018, under threat of deportation, for lower wages than he had been promised by a recruitment agent in his country. “The sponsor blamed it on the agent,” said the worker. “He said to me, ‘sign it or go back home.’” Hamad International Airport, Qatar’s main airport, is among the company’s clients.

Despite the ban on migrant workers striking, and burdensome conditions even for Qatari workers’ right to strike, the migrant worker said that he and his colleagues were allowed to continue protesting in Doha’s Asian Town district until midnight. He said that five police vehicles, three of them riot police vehicles, arrived on site at about 7pm, over three hours after workers had started congregating, but that they did not try to disperse the protesters. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video corroborating this information.

He also said that Qatari men he suspected were high-level labour ministry officials arrived on the scene. “They came to calm people down, saying to us they will find solutions,” he said.

Reports have also surfaced of an August 4, 2019 strike in the Shahaniyeh municipality, with videos and images circulated on social media showing hundreds of workers protesting unpaid and delayed wages. One migrant worker shared a video of the protest on Facebook, saying that his company had not paid its workers in five months. A local resident confirmed the strike and the protesters’ wage demands to Human Rights Watch.

Since October 2017, when Qatar committed to align its laws and practices with international labor standards, the government has introduced several reforms aimed at improving conditions for migrant workers. They include setting a temporary minimum wage, introducing a law for domestic workers, setting up new dispute resolution committees, mandating the establishment of joint labor committees at companies employing more than 30 workers for collective bargaining, establishing a workers’ support and insurance fund, and ending the requirement for most workers to get an exit permit through their employer to leave the country.

While positive, these reforms have not gone far enough, and implementation has been uneven. The domestic workers law is poorly enforced and below international standards. The workers’ support and insurance fund, introduced to make sure workers are paid unclaimed wages when  companies fail to pay, is not yet operating. Qatari authorities are failing to enforce bans on passport confiscations and workers paying recruitment fees. The joint committees, with equal representation of workers and management, have yet to be rolled out. The lack of enforcement also undermines the partial exit permit reform, which does not apply to domestic workers, government employees, and up to five per cent of any company’s workforce.

Most importantly, the kafala system remains in place, hindering the efficacy of the recently introduced reforms.

Qatar should amend its labor law to guarantee all workers, including migrant and domestic workers, the right to strike and to free association and collective bargaining. It should also fully abolish the kafalasystem, including allowing workers to change jobs without requiring employer consent, regardless of how long they have worked for that employer, and repealing employers’ power to cancel workers’ visas at will. Such changes would make it easier for workers to leave abusive labor conditions.

“Despite the vulnerable position these migrant workers are in, we see them standing up for their rights.” Fakih said. “The government should respond by ensuring greater protections for workers under Qatari law.”

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BA Loses Appeal To Stop Pilot’s Strike

British Airways lost has lost its appeal against the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) whose members have voted massively in favour of industrial action.

Approximately 4,500 BA pilots belong to the union and nine out of ten union members took part in the vote – with 93% voting in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.

After the union’s strong mandate for a stoppage, BA tried to get an injunction against a strike in the High Court, on the basis that the there were ‘flaws in the balloting process’.

But last week in the High Court, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing said the ballot and the publication of the result had been carried out legally. BA appealed the decision which was once again rejected by the court.

A spokesperson for British Airways who have tried all manner of ways via the courts to stop the proposed strike said: “We are disappointed that the pilots’ union, BALPA has chosen to threaten the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer with unprecedented strike action.”

 BALPA said no strike will be called immediately as talks with British Airways will resume at at the offices of the conciliation service, ACAS.

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Brexit Boss Backtracks On Workers Rights

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit boss

Boris Johnson’s new Brexit chief has backtracked on promises given by Theresa May on workers rights, saying wants to scrap previous commitments to protect  workers’ rights, and has suggested Brexit is an opportunity to escape the EU’s “heavy labour market regulation”.

The Independent newspaper has revealed that David Frost former chief executive of the London Chamber Of Commerce and Industry, who was appointed last week by Johnson to replace Olly Robbins as Downing Street’s EU Brexit chief, (a role that will see him leading any future talks with Brussels) said he was opposed to the approach advocated “by the leaders of both major political parties”, and argued that EU rights should not automatically be written into law after Brexit.

“Business organisations have often in the past criticised the EU’s drift towards heavy labour market regulation,” Mr Frost said in May 2019 in an article reproduced on the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry website.

“So I will take some persuading it will be a good outcome if the EU is able to set new UK labour market rules without any UK say – as currently seems to be envisaged by the leaders of both major political parties.” 

Theresa May had committed the government to maintaining the current level of European Union workers rights, and also went even further, legislating for parliament to automatically be given votes on staying aligned with the bloc’s rules when future legislation emerges. The “dynamic alignment” plans were unveiled by the government in a failed bid to get Labour MPs to back the withdrawal agreement.

Additionally, during the transition period included in the withdrawal agreement, the UK would have to accept rights with no say at all, as rejected by Frost.

Brussels has also suggested the UK would have to stay aligned with future EU workers’ rights, as well as environmental and social legislation, past the end of the transition period – if it wants a trade agreement.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the bloc would seek non-regression clauses to ensure Britain does not backslide on rules and try to undercut its neighbours.

Commenting on the official’s views, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson claims that he intends to enhance rights at work after Brexit. He and his advisers should be focused on delivering that promise.

“But instead they’re threatening a catastrophic no deal, which would strip away existing legal protections and leave essential rights open to attack. Working people must not be dragged off this cliff edge without getting a Final Say.”

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Aussie & EU education unions call for education to be carved out of free trade negotiations

26 July 2019 – During the Education International (EI) 8th World Congress, affiliated educators’ unions in Australia and the European Union issued a statement calling for the Australian government and the European Commission to be more transparent in ongoing negotiations on the potential free trade agreement and to explicitly carve out education from the negotiations.

The trade negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU) were launched on 18th June 2018. So far, 4 rounds of negotiations have taken place. Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe have followed with concern these negotiations since the talks were proposed. The information about the timing of the rounds of negotiation as well as the content of the negotiations are strongly limited. There is no structure, such as a stakeholder forum, put in place for unions and civil society organisations to exchange views with the trade negotiators in connection to the rounds of negotiations.

Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe request to be consulted on a pro-active and continuous basis by the Australian government and the European Commission respectively regarding education related issues, including the EU-Australia trade agreement. While the Directorate General for Trade is negotiating on behalf of the European Union, it is important that other relevant Directorates General are involved and consulted, in this case in particular the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Cultureand the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

In addition, Education International and its member organisations in Australia and Europe are calling for education to be explicitly carved out of the deal.Educators’ unions raise concerns on several aspects of the negotiations:

  • Facilitating the privatisation and commercialisation of education which enhances employment precariousness in the teaching profession, leads to inequalities regarding access, completion and quality of education and jeopardises academic freedom, especially in the case of higher education.
  • Digital trade/e-commerce and domestic regulations, including the potential forms that digital trade/e-commerce would merge in the provision of education services, such as different forms of online education. These services offer new opportunities but also raise potential concerns regarding personal information and data collection from students, restricted access to materials and research, and homogenization of educational materials that may result in lost local content. These rules also raise potential employment issues since the e-commerce may entice some government to shift away from local education delivery to lower cost online alternatives.
  • Intellectual property provisions that could have a crucial impact on education systems. Stricter copyright rules that may have an adverse effect on education in that teachers and students face more restrictive rules in the use of materials, higher costs, and less flexibility in the classroom.

Educators’ unions believe that commercial trade rules must never restrict the ability of governments and designated public authorities to provide high-quality public services like education. The most effective way to protect high-quality education in Australia and the EU is to include a general exclusion or carve-out for education as a whole.

Read the full statement here.

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Rebuffing The Pretences Of The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty

First published in the Morning Star July 26th.

Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ manifesto contains a 20-point labour rights reform programme. Andy Green looks at the recent intervention in the debate by a miniscule political sectlet.

Readers of the Morning Star may have recently noticed a new campaign for labour rights has been launched, Free our Unions.

All very commendable but if we dig a little deeper we discover not a broad based campaign but a front organisation for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

It therefore may pay to examine more closely the AWL and its antecedents as its leader and guru, Sean Matgamma, approaches his 80th birthday.

Matgamma certainly bears all the hallmarks of a stereotypical Trotskyist leader – a splitter whose role as leader and guardian of the doctrinal flame must be unquestioned.

His is a career marked by a series of schisms with firstly the Socialist Labour League (before its implosion latterly known as the Workers’ Revolutionary Party), then from Militant (now the Socialist Party), then from the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers’ Party) and more recently sabotaging various fusions with another Trotskyist sectlet, Workers’ Power.

It’s much better to have your own party where your vision is unchallenged than have to deal with all of the problems of inner party democracy and competing ideas.

Matgamma launched Workers’ Fight in the late 1960s which has gone through various name changes including Socialist Organiser before arriving at today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

Matgamma though has never achieved the stature within the labour movement of other Trotskyist leaders, for example, Tony Cliff with the publication of his The Employers’ Offensive: productivity deals and how to fight them.

Certainly he has never has never achieved the, probably unwished for, notoriety of Gerry Healy.

How then to measure the achievements of Matgamma’s half century of activity in attempting to build a revolutionary vanguard party?

According to John Kelly in ‘Contemporary Trotskyism: parties, sects and social movements in Britain in 2016’ the AWL had 140 members nationally.

Remarkably, from such a small membership base Kelly records that in 2016 the AWL held 2 seats on the executive body of the teachers’ union, the NUT (now the NEU), and zero in every other union.

Kelly also identifies successful broad social movements that have been either initiated or led, sometimes with others, by the Trotskyist left.

The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (1966/International Marxist Group); the Anti-Nazi League (1977/Socialist Workers’ Party); the Anti-Poll Tax  Federation (1989/Militant); Stop the War Coalition (2001/Socialist Workers’ Party); and, the People’s Assembly against Austerity (2013/Counterfire).

We look in vain for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, or its predecessors, in this listing.

This lack of success has not been a discouragement for the AWL.

As we have observed it has recently launched through one of its newspapers ‘The Clarion’ a campaign for trade union rights, called ‘Free our Unions’ because, in its opinion, the think tank the Institute of Employment Rights, and its allies in the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom have lost the plot.

In keeping with classical Trotskyism it even has what it may imagine is a set of transitional demands – repeal all the anti-union laws.

A demand that it says other campaigning bodies have dropped.

Back on the shop floor it is clear that towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century trade union membership has declined dramatically since the advent of Thatcherism and neo-liberalism; from highpoint of 13 million in 1979 it’s down to around 6 million today.

In terms of the proportion of workers in the workforce who are union members, it has fallen from a highpoint of 54% to around 25% today.

But the most important statistic behind the headlines is not the decline of trade union membership but it is the precipitous collapse in the coverage of union negotiated collective agreements.

Collective bargaining – at its highpoint in 1980 ensured that 86 per cent of UK workers went to work on union negotiated terms and conditions, that figure has fallen to around 20 per cent today.

It’s the loss of  “trade union power” which translates as the collapse of collective bargaining that has led to workers getting poorer and, more recently, to the uberisation of work in the period of neo-liberalism.

As Prof Richard Wilkinson notes the simultaneous collapse of collective bargaining and working class living standards are not merely correlated but the latter is causally related to the former.

And it’s the framework of anti-union laws introduced under Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and ‘90s allied with the anti-union shift in public policy that were intended to do just that.

We can dismiss Conservative talk about the inequities of the closed shop or giving unions back to their members.

The legal shackling of union bargaining power was a deliberate move to restore to the 1 per cent that which they had lost in the post-war period of social democratic advance.

They were explicit about it – one of the 1980s laws removed from ACAS an obligation to promote collective bargaining.

This dire legal situation has been compounded by the passing of the Trade Union Act 2016 that will only exacerbate the situation.

So, we are confronted simultaneously with two issues that I would argue have the same or similar causes and have the same or similar solutions.

Firstly, we have the growth of poorly paid, precarious employment – what the ‘Wall Street Journal’ recently called “the end of employees”.

Secondly, more generally, we have had a 30 plus year collapse of working class living standards and a shift of income and wealth back to the 1 per cent.

The cause of both of these phenomena has been, to a greater or lesser extent, the legal shackling of the unions and the shift in public policy away from collectivism.

The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom believes that it is absolutely in line with its objectives to support the advice that the Institute of Employment Rights has been giving the Labour Front Bench first articulated in A Manifesto for Labour Law, advice that ensured a progressive offer on labour rights in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto.

Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ manifesto contained a 20 point labour rights reform programme including most importantly a commitment to establish mandatory sectoral collective bargaining.

Sectoral collective bargaining will be supplemented by enterprise level bargaining.

It is only through the re-establishment of union led collective bargaining at the apex level will we see a shift of income and wealth away from the 1 per cent and back towards the 99 per cent.

In the Campaign we are confident that statutory support for collective bargaining must mean a right to strike. Collective bargaining without a right to strike is reduced to collective begging.

A new Industrial Relations Act could and should, we believe, restore a right to strike without necessarily making a public bonfire of the Thatcherite Acts of Parliament.

It is not credible that the AWL does not realise this; their campaign is, not surprisingly, based on a false premise.

The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom is a fusion of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions and the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Union Laws. Shop stewards and activists should stick with the original and genuine and reject the absolutism of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

Andy Green is National Secretary of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom. He is also Unite convenor at Tilbury Docks; a member of the Unite Executive Council, Docks & Rails Sector; and a rank and file activist in the International Dockers’ Council.

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