Breaking News: EU Publish Negotiating Mandate On TTIP

Breaking News: The EU has made its negotiating mandate mandate for #TTIP public. According to the Trade Commissioner @MalmstromEU – it ‘raises the level of transparency’.

Click here to read the negotiating mandate.

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Cable And Lib-Dem’s Last-Ditch Sop On Employment Rights

Vince Cable - trying to shore up support for Lib-Dems with Employment Law Review! We won't be fooled Vince!

Vince Cable – trying to shore up support for Lib-Dems with Employment Law Review! We won’t be fooled Vince!

The feeble attempt to shore up support is too late for this anti-worker minister, says Adrian Weir, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom Assistant Secretary.

In a forlorn attempt to distance his party from the employment law polices of the coalition government, Vince Cable has announced a “wide-ranging review” of employment law.

The spin on his speech to his party’s conference suggests that far from being wide ranging, the review would concentrate on the contractual status of workers which would by implication include those on zero-hour contacts.

This is clearly no Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus but a cynical ploy to attempt to shore up any support there may be for the Lib Dems on the centre-left.

Cable has presided over a catalogue of anti-worker measures introduced since 2010 by the coalition. In this he has been supported by two Lib- Dem junior ministers responsible for employment relations, Ed Davey until 2012 and subsequently Jo Swinson.

There can be no evasion of responsibility, no blaming the Tories — all the anti-worker changes to the law have been on Cable’s watch assisted by Lib Dem junior helpers.

Early in life of the coalition, the government:

  • announced a moratorium on all new domestic regulation for businesses employing fewer than 10 staff, which also applied to employment law.
  • repealed the planned extension of the right to request flexible working to parents of 17-year-olds
  • decided not to bring forward the dual discrimination provision in the Equality Act
  • decided not to extend the right to request time to train to companies with fewer than 250 staff
  • announced its intention to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board
  • reviewed the compliance and enforcement arrangements for those employment rights enforced by government.

On Cable’s watch, the government also published the so-called Employers’ Charter, setting out for employers that the law was on their side in such issues as discipline, sickness absence and dismissal.

There was of course no corresponding employees’ charter. Instead in November 2011 Cable announced a 15-point plan to reform employment rights. The headline changes to the law arising from this plan were:

  • the raising of the qualifying period to two years for unfair dismissal claims
  • the introduction of fees to take a case to an employment tribunal, firstly lodging a claim and secondly for proceeding to trial. For unfair dismissal there was a £250 issue fee and a £950 hearing fee. The cost of justice if sacked from work is now £1,200
  • allowing employment judges to sit alone on unfair dismissal cases with no more practical advice from a trade union “winger”
  • the minimum consultation period when employers propose 100 or more redundancies has been reduced from 90 to 45 days.

Many of the points in Cable’s 15-point plan looked remarkably similar to the proposals made in the secret Beecroft Report drafted for the Prime Minister by the man behind Wonga.com, leading many to ask who was pulling Cable’s strings.

Another case where Cable was shown not to be in total control was the introduction of the so-called “shares for rights” initiative led by Chancellor George Osborne.

This new law allowed employees to be given at least £2,000 in shares in the business, exempt from capital gains tax if they sold.

In return, the employees had to give up their rights on unfair dismissal, statutory redundancy and the right to request flexible working and time off for training.

They would also be required to provide 16 weeks’ notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave, instead of the current eight.

“Rights for shares” has sunk without trace but where was Cable’s voice in opposition to the creation of new form of contractual relationship in employment relations?

The government is ploughing on with its so-called reform of employment law. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is at committee stage in the House of Commons and contains the government’s much vaunted, but untrue, claim to deal with exclusivity in zero-hours contracts.

Does Cable need his review of contractual status because he knows this proposed law will not really deal with the problems around zero-hours contracts?

The Deregulation Bill is currently going through the House of Lord, raising particular concerns about the removal of health and safety duties from self-employed people and the removal of an employment tribunal’s power to make wider recommendations.

Cable, Davey and Swinson are complicit in building this bonfire of employment rights, even if their Tory allies were chucking on the petrol. Few, if any, will be fooled by a last-minute review after five years of remorseless attack.

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Employment Tribunals: Review Date Set

unison-logoA new judicial review launched by Unison over the introduction of Tribunal fees is set to be heard by the High Court on October 21st and 22nd.

It follows the decision of the Court of Appeal last month to stay the appeal of the earlier High Court decision over tribunal fees, in light of new evidence showing a drop in tribunal claims.

The Lord Chancellor agreed with Unison that a new hearing should take place as soon as possible in light of the new evidence.

Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “The High Court’s decision to schedule the judicial review within a month of the union filing its claim shows just how important the issue of tribunal fees is.Over the past year we have seen tens of thousands of workers denied access to justice simply because they can no longer afford to bring an employment tribunal claim.

“If the Government doesn’t abolish these unfair fees it is effectively rolling out the welcome mat to unscrupulous employers, and we must do everything possible not to let that happen.”

 Ministry of Justice statistics show a dramatic fall in clams being brought to Employment Tribunals and to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Before the introduction of fees, the Employment Tribunals received on average 48,000 new claims per quarter. The most recent quarterly figures, for April to June 2014 show that in that quarter there were only 8,540 new claims – 81% fewer than the number of claims lodged in the same period of 2013, according to Ministry of Justice figures released last month.

Since the introduction of fees on 29th July 2013, there has been an 86% drop in sex discrimination claims; and an 80% drop in Equal Pay claims.

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ILO hosts top-level talks to restart social dialogue on Greek labour questions

greek_017September 30th. Report from the ILO Website

Government, worker and employer representatives from Greece have agreed to undertake talks on labour issues in the country during a high-level meeting held at the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Participants agreed to move forward on discussions concerning key labour law issues, notably in the area of collective dismissals and industrial relations.

Click here to read the conclusions of the meeting.

“Social dialogue is the basis for sustainable policies that can create new jobs,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

“This agreement is a very positive step in getting women and men in Greece back to work.”

Greece has the highest jobless rate in the European Union – at 27 per cent – with 1.3 million people out of work, according to latest figures published by the EU’s statistical agency, Eurostat.

The meeting came after Greece’s Labour and Social Security Minister Ioannis Vroutsis requested the ILO’s assessment of current laws governing layoffs in the private sector.

He also sought a dialogue with labour unions and employers’ associations for proposed changes to Greek laws governing trade unions facilitated by the ILO.

The meeting comes amid the fifth, and possibly final, review of Greece’s economic reform progress by troika auditors consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (aka ‘The Trokia’)

In exchange for multi-billion euro emergency financing, Greece has been implementing an austerity and economic reform programme since 2010.

Greece expects its economy to expand by 0.6 per cent this year in the first growth since 2007.

The government also forecasts expansion of 2.9 per cent next year and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

The meeting gathered the Minister of Labour, high-level representatives of the Greek Government, and leaders of the G.S.E.E./Greek General Confederation of Labour, as well as the SEV/Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and Small and Medium Sized Employers (SMEs) including the ESEE/National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, the G.S.E.V.E.E/Hellenic Confederation of Professional Craftsmen and Merchants, and SETE/Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises.

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Playfair Qatar – Working With Football Fans To Campaign On Workers’ Rights

playfair_qatar_logo_header1The TUC has launched the campaign – Playfair Qatar – to draw football fans into the protests against Qatar’s treatment of the workforce building the infrastructure for its 2022 World Cup.

The campaign will complement other campaigns already running by bringing in new allies.

Fans – many of whom are also trade unionists – are as outraged as anyone that Qatar’s lax health and safety and repressive “kafala” laws are likely to lead to 4,000 deaths before the 2022 World Cup begins.

Football fans are considered such an important constituency in the battle of the hosting of the World Cup that Qatar has paid a PR agency to set up a “grass roots” blog which also serves as a platform for character assassinations of anyone criticising the country.

The TUC on the other hand, is working with organisations like the Football Supporters’ Federation to get the word out that Qatar’s new laws and promised regulations mean nothing if they’re not enforced, and that pressure must be maintained until we see proof of change (preferably through the legalisation of unions for migrant workers).

The ultimate aim is to build a broad coalition of support to help with future union campaigning and lobbying aimed at construction companies, sponsors and governments.

In discussion with the fans’ groups, the TUC has developed a photo action to allow football fans to express very simply their support for the campaign and get them involved.

We are seeking photos from:

  • Groups of fans, hopefully outside matches
  • Individual fans (in team tops) or groups of fans from offices, branches etc
  • Fans from rival teams “uniting” over the issue (as in the example above)
  • Recreational teams before matches
  • and indeed any other ideas you might have.

The TUC has put the basic components in place, and many fans’ groups have agreed to participate, but we need more help to the promote the campaign.

Please do all you can to spread the word about the action and encourage people to send in photos.

The campaign website – very much focused on drawing in fans – can be found by clicking here.

It would be very helpful if you could also like us on Facebook and follow and promote the Twitter feed @PlayfairQatar

The simple message signs can be downloaded here.

Photos can be sent to photos@playfairqatar.org

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TTIP Statement By German DGB and Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology

The DGB, Germany’s trade union umbrella body and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology have issued this statement relating to the current negotiations on TTIP and especially the ISDS clauses and German Employment Rights.

This is an ‘unofficial’ English translation from an original German text.

Please feel free to repost this statement and pdf  on your blog sites and Facebook, and pass onto groups opposing CETA and TTIP.

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Unite’s Gail Cartmail Speech On TTIP At Labour Conference.

0Our challenge is to grasp that this new generation of free trade treaties is that mainly they are not about trade – many of our member’s jobs rely on trade – we are not anti-trade… they are about de-regulation.

We welcome the commitment in the NPF Report to ensure the exclusion of the NHS from TTIP and conference – we call on Cameron to use his veto to defend our NHS from irreversible privatisation.

 He won’t – TTIP is the Health and Social Care Act on steroids and will finish his wholesale sell off of our NHS.

 There needs to be a wider definition of public services that includes public transport and public utilities that were formally in the public sector.

 We certainly need a robust rejection of the Investor State Dispute Settlement – ISDS.

ISDS – secret courts outside the control of our national judiciary handing down decisions on our national legislation for the benefit of multinational capital.

 Alarmist rhetoric? Here a few examples:

Australia being sued by Philp Morris after introducing plain paper packaging for cigarettes

Slovakia – sued by multi-national insurers after taking back into the public sector its previously privatised public insurance scheme

 El Salvador – sued by a multinational gold miner for trying to protect the purity of its drinking water.

Imagine our NHS sold off – cancer care, safeguarding children, A&E – sold off irreversibly – it’s future in the hands of these secret courts.

 But good news for the Vegetarian Society.

On food standards the US want us to allow their unlabelled hormone enriched beef, chlorinated poultry and GM cereals and salmon onto our dinner plates.

 On labour rights the US has not and will not sign up to ILO core conventions …and right wing Republican senators have said they will block the inclusion of Euro-style rights on worker consultation and health and safety.

 And finally, on the promise of jobs even the most ardent promoters of TTIP admit the estimates are speculative.

 The NPF Report is a start but there is more, much more to be done to address our concerns – concerns that led the recent TUC Congress to unanimously oppose TTIP.

Gail Cartmail debating TTIP on BBC Radio 4. 1:10 into the programme

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Australia: AMWU Warns On KAFTA Trade Deal

TPP-poster1FBAlthough not passed through the Australian Senate yet, the Korean – Australian Free Trade Agreement known as KAFTA, is poised to be green lighted and this is real cause for concern. says the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).

AMWU National Secretary Paul Bastian came out swinging at both the Coalition Government and the Australian Labour Party who have also jumped on board, stating that KAFTA was “an appalling agreement that strips away local jobs and Australia’s sovereign rights”. Bastain added “we are deeply disturbed that both sides of politics are supporting this dangerous agreement”.

It also comes at a time when the country is experiencing jobs stress and a 12 year unemployment high. AMWU says the free trade deal will make it easier for companies to bring in workers rather than have to hire local workers first.

KAFTA also leaves the door open to imports from parts of North Korea that are not subject to labour standards and which are notorious for forced and prison labour.

AMWU says legally speaking it is not only bad for industry and jobs, it also includes an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that allows private companies to sue the Government and override Australian laws if a policy decision impacts its business.  

For more information click here to visit  the AFTINET website.

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Global Union Workers Uniting Condemns EU-Canada Trade Agreement

Steelworkers, Unite join to reject anti-democratic, anti-worker proposals

Workers Uniting, the global union of the United Steelworkers (USW) in North America and Unite the union in the UK and Ireland, condemns the Canada and European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) which is to be “initialled” on 26th September 2014.

The official text of the agreement has not been made public, but it was leaked in August.

It is clear that the fundamental concerns raised by the trade union movement have been ignored by the CETA negotiators:

■ Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS): The Canada-EU agreement will allow multinational corporations to sue governments, in secret tribunals, to challenge regulations that protect health and safety workers’ rights and the environment. Canada has been sued more than 20 times under a similar provision in Nafta and has been forced to pay over $150 million to corporations.

“ISDS is bad news for Canada,” said USW Canadian national director Ken Neumann. “Under Nafta we currently face $6 billion in lawsuits from American multinationals. If CETA is approved, that number will increase exponentially.”

■ Public Services: CETA interferes with the right of governments to regulate in the public interest, protect public services, or create new public programs, giving a green light to auctioning off public services including transportation, education and health care.

“The Tory government in the UK is hell-bent on privatising our National Health Service,” says Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, “if that happens, CETA locks in the privatisation: If a Labour government reverses it, then the private companies can sue the government for damages. We would no longer have democratic control over our economy or our public policies.”

■ Immigration: CETA will allow essentially unlimited entry to temporary foreign workers with a university degree or equivalent, with no protections of their rights. “We are already seeing massive exploitation of temporary foreign workers in the financial and mining industries,” said Neumann. “This cynical move threatens the future of Canada’s young workers.”

■ Labour Rights: CETA ignores a fundamental trade union demand that labour rights violations be subject to the same dispute settlement mechanisms as commercial conflicts. Labour rights must be enforced by an independent, timely and transparent complaints process.

“CETA sets a terrible precedent for future trade agreements, especially the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between Europe and the US,” said USW international president Leo W. Gerard.

“In addition to the deficiencies we have cited in the CETA – which will likely be replicated in the TTIP – the attacks on labour rights in the US threaten the living standards of European and Canadian workers,” Gerard said.

“Rather than weakening these rights and exporting lower American standards through secret trade deals, we need to look at how to expand European mechanisms to protect workers’ rights and promote worker involvement in companies.”

Read Adrian Weir’s blog on TTIP from the CLASS website. Click here

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TTIP Is “Turbo Charged Capitalism”

CTUF - IER labour Party Fringe meeting: John Hendy QC; Stephen Cavalier, Carolyn Jones  Professor Keith Ewing, Katy Clark MP, Tony Burke

CTUF – IER Labour Party Fringe meeting: John Hendy QC; Stephen Cavalier, Carolyn Jones Professor Keith Ewing, Katy Clark MP, Tony Burke

Speech by Tony Burke, Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom at the CTUF – IER Fringe Meeting, labour Party Conference, September 22nd.

Today’s meeting has been called on the topic of a post-election agenda but we will need to watch out as these free trade deals may be signed before May next year.

 It is our contention that the so-called free trade treaty – TTIP – being secretly negotiated between the EU and the US is the biggest grab for wealth and power by the corporate sector since and is nothing more than turbo charges capitalism.

Dealing particularly with labour rights – earlier this year the General Secretaries of the ETUC and the AFL-CIO issued a joint statement arguing that if TTIP doesn’t work for people then it won’t work at all.

And the Americans should know what they’re talking about because when the NAFTA free trade agreement was signed there was mass migration of American manufacturing to the maquiladora, south of the border in Mexico.

However, there are real problems with developing a common narrative on labour rights.

In the US half of the states are “right to work” states in other words, they try to be union free and strike free and they have legal support for this. Our American colleagues are looking for TTIP to extend to the US Euro-style rights to information and consultation.

It remains a moot point however, if the labour chapter of a treaty would have universal applicability in all 50 states and our good friend Ben Davis from the United Steelworkers said at the TUC fringe on TTIP that the US would not ratify the ILO core conventions “in our lifetime”.

There is a big question about the applicability of any labour rights chapter because the experience of other free trade treaties is that the labour rights chapter inevitably gets relegated to the back of the treaty to a non-binding appendix.

And in any event, a large majority of US Republicans in Congress have said that if TTIP is sued to smuggle in Euro style labour rights to the US they will vote against it.

From our own, European perspective there are serious issues on labour rights – the European Commission has said that it will take as its starting point the core ILO standards.

This would be a great step forward for workers in many jurisdictions in the EU, not just the UK but also in the former socialist states of eastern and central Europe.

But looking at this just from the UK – how likely is that David Cameron would sign up to a treaty that gave to British workers and their unions enforceable rights as per ILO standards when the last Tory Government under Mrs Thatcher very deliberately, but without renouncing the Conventions, took the UK workers out of such protection?

It seems to us that the enforceable labour rights issue is a red herring – it’s undeliverable – which coupled with the huge grab for power by the corporate sector has led Unite and the TUC to move to a position of opposing TTIP, root and branch.

I’d like to turn the other issue that had the potential to inflict great legal damage on the unions – the Carr Report.

In the aftermath of Unite’s dispute with Ineos at Grangemouth the Government announced it was setting up an inquiry, led by Bruce Carr QC (who had acted for British Airways against Unite), into the conduct of industrial disputes.

The Carr Inquiry received no support from trade unions and only patchy support from employers.

The terms of reference of the Carr Inquiry were to provide an assessment of the:

alleged use of extreme tactics in industrial disputes, including so-called ‘leverage’ tactics; and the

 effectiveness of the existing legal framework to prevent inappropriate or intimidatory actions in trade disputes.

 In advance of Carr reporting, the Prime Minster announced in May 2014 that new restrictions will be introduced on strikes in `essential’ services if the Conservatives were to win the 2015 general election.

 The Conservatives said that they would seek to legislate in two areas:

that there should be a threshold for the turnout in an industrial action ballot that must be reached; and,

placing a time limit on the legality of a mandate a union has to call industrial action.

In August, clearly worried by these pre-emptive policy announcements made by the Conservatives on how they were to legislate against the unions after the next General Election Bruce Carr threw in the towel and said he would be making no recommendations.

The Carr Review has been a shambles and last week Frances O’Grady of the TUC wrote to the Public Accounts Committee demanding an investigation into how much this waste of time has cost the public purse, including civil service time and the cost of setting up and servicing what was a political stunt.

Comrades: In the run up to the General Election the TUC has set out a four point campaign – Respect at Work – on employment rights that it hopes will inform the debate. The four elements are:

stemming the tide of casualisation – including ending the abuse of zero hour contracts and, equal pay for agency workers

abolition of Employment Tribunal fees

a new framework of employment rights – including reversal of the coalition attack on statutory redundancy and TUPE and, unfair dismissal protection from day one

improved worker voice – including promotion of collective bargaining, better information and consultation rights and, worker directors.

It’s this last point that the Campaign and the Institute are most excited about and we look forward to developing ideas for legislation in the months to come.

Read Adrian Weir’s blog on TTIP from the CLASS website. Click here

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