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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Future Of US Unions Now In Supreme Court’s Hands

 

By Charles Wowkanech, President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO,

The U.S. Supreme Court soon will be the stage of one of the most consequential fights in the history of the American worker.

Anyone concerned with the future of middle-class jobs in our nation deserves to get the facts. Rather than sifting through the complexities of this legal battle, the goal of this article is to make clear to readers the real-life implications of this impending court decision.

The case is called Janus v. AFSCME, and it is scheduled to be heard by the court on Feb. 26. At its core, this case is a direct attack on collective bargaining rights and undermines the ability of all workers to join together and negotiate with their employer for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of a union was 10.7 percent in 2017, down from a peak of 33.4 percent in 1945. This might lead someone to ask: If union membership is such a small proportion of the workforce, why should anyone worry?

History however, makes it clear that as the percentage of union membership declines, so too does the percentage of income held by the middle class as a whole.

The refrain “United we stand, divided we fall” is a simple way of reminding people that the well-being of all working people is intertwined. When workers stick together, we maximize our voice on the job and gain the opportunity to earn a decent living. However, when workers are divided, none of us alone has the power to withstand attacks that can topple us one by one. The Janus case is only the latest example of the effort to pit workers against one another.

Unions create a level economic playing field that allows all workers to enjoy a better standard of living. But there are economic forces at work, and government policy plays a crucial role in our economy. To say that these policies have missed the mark is an understatement.

It’s not just the nation’s broken trade deals that have thrown workers under the bus. Reducing labor costs has become an art form among businesses and is a key driver of profit in the modern economy. Furthermore, anti-worker policies such as right-to-work, championed by corporate America, have become a tool to enrich businesses at the expense of working people.

In recent years no labor policy has gained as much traction as right-to-work, which has been adopted by 28 states, with the six most recent laws being passed between 2012 and 2017, as a result of groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation funded by the Koch brothers and America’s biggest corporations. Such a policy functions only to weaken unions under the guise of “protecting” individual liberty. Following the money makes it immediately clear where the intent of this policy lies.

So what does any of this have to do with the Janus case? The answer is pretty simple: Janus v. AFSCME is the judicial equivalent of right-to-work. One key difference is that rather than applying to a single state, this case would apply to every public-sector job across the nation. Of course, such a broad-based attack on workers would leave no group unscathed.

As tumultuous as it may seem, the Trump administration has a laser focus in its effort to enrich corporate America at the expense of working families. With President Donald Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, he has once again stacked the deck against working families while claiming — as any good salesman would — that he has come to their rescue.

No matter the outcome of this case, working people have the power to set the course for the future. The formula is simple: When workers unite and come together in common purpose, we can achieve an economy that works for all.

This movement has already begun, and we invite all working families to join on Saturday, Feb. 24, as part of the national Working People’s Day of Action. Rallies will be held across the country to maximize our collective voice.

Visit itsaboutfreedom.org to find the location nearest you.

If ever there was a time for working people to stand up for their rights, that time is now.

 Charles Wowkanech is the President of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, representing more than one-million union members and their families.

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Taylor Review: Government Holds Back From Full Reforms

John Hendy QC

By John Hendy QC, Vice President of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

It might be hard to imagine that the tedious, barren worthlessness of Matthew Taylor’s Report on ‘Good Work’ could be surpassed. But it has been. The Government’s Response to it (also called ‘Good Work’) is yet more tedious, barren and worthless. Both proceed on the basis that ‘the UK has one of the most successful labour markets in the world.’ For that reason all that is needed is to note some troubling issues like low productivity, low pay and income insecurity and do nothing about them. All other issues, we are told, will be given further consideration and consultation. No real change is proposed to anything.

The government shares Taylor’s antipathy to unions. The government response is no more than a plea to their friends in business to be nicer to those whose work generates their wealth.

The real issues at work which need addressing and which neither the government or Taylor address are, from the workers’ perspective: precariousness of earnings, of hours and of employment, low pay, unfulfilling work, total democratic exclusion from workplace decision making, and gross imbalance of power.

From the employers’ perspective the real issues are: low productivity, lack of investment in R&D, competition on labour costs displacing competition on efficiency, and lack of consumer demand largely caused by low wages.

Modern research has shown that proper workers’ rights and, above all, trade union representation through collective bargaining ameliorate all these ills.

What is therefore required for the benefit of Britain’s workers, businesses and all its people is a radical new architecture of the law at work in which a simple, broad and universal employment relationship definition will be key, and in which the involvement of workers through their trade unions will be crucial. Only the Labour Party’s manifesto For the Many Not The Few really aims what Britain’s 31 million workers and hundreds of thousands of employers really need.

But a brief word about some of the government’s response follows:

Definition of the employment relationship

There are three categories of working relationship in UK law: ‘employment’, ‘limb (b) worker’ and ‘self-employed’ – though the last two overlap. The Taylor Report wants to preserve these absurd and unjustifiable historic accretions to UK law (though re-branding the last two). The flawed government Response seeks to retain, without any rational justification, the illogicality of these three categories. It is clear to anyone with any familiarity with labour law that a single universal definition of ‘worker’ is required to cover all those who perform work for another (other than those in business on their own account servicing clients and customers); the whole suite of employment rights should flow from this relationship. A proposed new EU Directive on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions in the European Union (21 December 2017) proposes just this but the government does not mention it.

The proposed Directive also requires far more extensive information to be provided to workers about their employment status than at present in the UK – and far more than is proposed by Taylor or the government in its Response.

Payslips

The government says all workers (including casual and zero-hours workers) are to be entitled to pay slips. This is a good thing, albeit peripheral. But it also shows that the government are determined to preserve zero-hours contracts where employers wish to minimise labour costs by imposing them on workers. This perpetuates ‘flexibility’ for the employer by imposing uncertainty and precariousness of income on workers.

Zero hours contacts etc

All workers (including agency and zero-hours workers) are to be given the right to request a more stable contract thus ’providing more financial security for those on flexible contracts.’ And a task force is to be launched to promote awareness and take-up of the right to request flexible working. Quite how a right to make a request is likely to improve financial security is not explained. Surely, workers already have the right to make a request for ‘a more stable contract’ (or a pay rise or anything else)? If the employer is not obliged to accede to the request it is worthless. This proposal is no more than window dressing.

The Low Pay Commission is to be asked to consider higher minimum wage rates for workers on zero hours contracts. This completely misses the point. What is needed is a requirement that minimum hours are contractually stipulated and that a penal rate be required to be for hours beyond the minimum stipulated by the contract. This would go a long way to eliminate zero hours contracts.

Working time is to be defined ‘for flexible workers who find jobs through apps or on line so they know when they should be being paid.’ Again the point is missed. What these workers want is a law requiring them to be paid when they are on line or their app is open. Mere knowledge that the employer will not pay them is unlikely to give them much satisfaction.

Interns

The government promises to ‘crack down’ on sectors where unpaid interns are doing the job of a worker. This is a good thing but it is not clear what might be the mechanism of the crackdown.

 Enforcement of awards

It is known that about one third of tribunal awards are never paid by employers. The government response is to propose to name employers who fail to pay and allow workers to enforce claims using the claim form they used in the tribunal. This totally fails to address the problem that many workers who win an award which the employer does not pay cannot afford to enforce their rights in the County Court and simply give up. The government do not propose a mechanism by which such employers could be identified, let alone named. What is needed is plainly a Labour Inspectorate to enforce these and other rights on behalf of workers – and failure to pay a tribunal award should be made a criminal offence.

Fines and penalties

The government propose to quadruple ‘fines’ for employers showing ‘malice, spite or gross oversight’. This completely misses the point. What is required is to remove the statutory caps on compensation so that tribunals are free to award the full measure of compensation to reflect the loss caused to the worker by the employer’s unlawful conduct. The present puny level of awards is caused by the statutory caps – that is where the injustice lies. If compensation was awarded in the same way as damages in the courts, then it would be open to tribunals, subject to very well established criteria, to award aggravated and exemplary compensation for particularly bad conduct.

The proposal that increased penalties be imposed on employers who have previously lost similar cases would hardly be necessary if compensation was adequate. It is obvious that many hours and days of tribunal time will be devoted to arguing whether a previous case was or was not similar. Window dressing.

Agency workers

These are to have a ‘clear break down of who pays them and any costs of charges deducted from their wages.’ One might have thought that this would be covered by the proposal for pay slips for all but obviously not. It is welcome no doubt but it wholly misses the point that agency workers want rights against the end-user as well as the agency and, in particular, they want full equality of pay and conditions with those engaged by the end user on comparable work.

Worker voice

The government Response says at many points that workers’ voices should be heard in relation to the decisions which affect them at work. But, unsurprisingly, both Taylor and the government refuse to concede any rôle to trade unions to represent them. Yet without a collective voice through trade unions collectively bargaining on their behalf, workers can never have even the semblance of democracy at work.

Sector deals

The government proposes to agree new ‘sector deals’ with industry, encouraging employers to show how they are investing in their workforces to improve productivity. What a missed opportunity! Why doesn’t the government take a leaf from Labour’s book and require employers to agree new sector deals with representative unions to improve, not only productivity, but pay and conditions too. Such sector deals could prevent the undercutting of good employers by bad employers. The Labour Party calls this Sectoral Collective Bargaining and has promised to roll it out after the next election.

Overall

The government Response, like the Taylor Report, simply refuses to address the real problems of workers (or even those of employers). Wedded to neo-liberalism and the idea that trade unions and collective bargaining should be eliminated from a free market in labour limited only by the lowest wage at which humans will work, the government propose only window dressing. Its Report and Taylor are best ignored. What we need is a crushing victory for Labour at the next election and a radical new architecture of labour law based on sectoral collective bargaining.

9th February 2018

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Government response to Taylor Review not the leap needed to end insecure work for millions

Matthew Taylor Report: “Giving people on zero hours contracts the right to ask for guaranteed hours will not stop bad bosses from exploiting workers” – Len McCluskey

Responding to the government’s response to the Taylor Review on modern working practices, Unite general secretary Len McCuskey said: “This is a tiny step, but not the leap that is needed to ensure that millions of people in precarious work have the security of knowing from one week to the next whether they will be able to put food on the table and pay the bills.

“Giving people on zero hours contracts the right to ask for guaranteed hours will not stop bad bosses from exploiting workers. The government could and should take a leaf out New Zealand’s book by banning them altogether.

“It is clear that the government still needs to accept that the best protection against worker abuse is strong enforcement coupled with strong trade unions. Ministers need to stop making it harder for us to do our job and accept too that the super-charging of low-wage, insecure work can be directly traced to the destructive deregulatory approach of the last 40 years.

“A strong economy and stable communities are not possible with a hire and fire workforce too frightened to take time off work to see a doctor as we tragically saw this week, or the Carillion workers left in limbo who after years of service get an email telling them they are sacked.

“The world of work is changing rapidly. But its insecurity is heightened because of bad behaviour by some powerful vested interests. It is right that the government looks at how we can support workers through these changes, but we also need direct action to construct an economy that works for all.”

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