Attack On Aussie Employment Rights

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TUC Votes For ‘Outright Opposition To TTIP’

000_par7933154.siThe Trades Union Congress meeting in Liverpool this week took the decisive step of ‘outright opposition to the EU-US Trade Deal, known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and the Canadian – EU deal known as CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement).

 The TUC and a number of affiliated unions had initially played a waiting game, initially putting down markers on employment rights; a ring fence around the NHS and public utilities and initially winning some consultation on the ISDS, (Investor-State Dispute Settlement).

The latter involves ‘closed door tribunals’ where foreign investors have the right to initiate ‘dispute settlement proceedings’ against a foreign government (who is signatory to the agreement) where they believe their interests are harmed. They would be able to challenge legitimate government actions and legislation or where they reflect public concerns including public ownership of services and utilities, health and environmental protection, employment and human rights.

However, as the talks continued throughout the summer it became clear that the promised consultation on ISDS was window dressing; that predictions of new jobs being created were not tangible and figures fluctuated widely and that extended employment rights to seats on European Works Councils and EU styled rights to Information and Consultation for US workers was not going to be on the table, UK unions  moved swiftly towards outright opposition.

Initially there were positive noises on substantial job creation in the EU notably in manufacturing.

However, US unions pointed to the effect of the NAFTA Agreement (North American Free Trade Agreement) signed by Bill Clinton in 1994 which had promised new jobs to US workers, but saw upwards of a million manufacturing jobs flood out of the USA.

The eventual composite motion on TTIP comprised of several resolutions from unions, all of who spoke in the debate expressed fears about TTIP and CETA – and other trade agreements.

Unite AGS Gail Cartmail

Unite AGS Gail Cartmail

The TUC debate was lead by Unite’s Gail Cartmail who dismantled the Government’s arguments in favour of TTIP. She told the Congress: “It is clear this government thought they could do this deal in secret, a deal that would mean the irreversible sell off of our NHS to America”.

In the jargon this “irreversible sell off” is known as a ratchet mechanism. A ratchet is a mechanical device that allows continuous linear or rotary motion in only one direction while preventing motion in the opposite direction. Imagine that – no way back”.

Citing energy sell off she said: “Remember what we were told at the time? It would be cheaper – competition would be good for us. Yet this week we see energy bosses making record profits while millions of UK citizens are living in fuel poverty. But when Cameron called the six energy companies to his office about energy bills they told him to go away – you don’t own us was their message. This is what it will be like for health but worse, as it will be irreversible. In the hands of profiteers and we would have no say”.

 She told delegates that Unite was not opposed to trade: “Unite is among other things a manufacturing union our members jobs rely on trade. But we want trade based on decent work, collective bargaining and freedom of association”.

 On the situation of better employment rights for US workers she said: “In the USA TTIP will not tackle anti-trade union “right to work” states – at best it will make no difference. At worst, decent work will be traded for cheaper unprotected labour”.

 On the UK’s negotiating position she told Congress that the UK chief negotiator Lord Livingston has had to make three public statements in a matter of weeks. “He has spluttered and spluttered to say health is protected – inferring it was outside of TTIP. Even some MEPS were fooled. Put on the spot at a press conference he finally admitted that health is indeed in TTIP”.

She called on David Cameron to use his veto as the French government had done on audio-visual services. “He is obviously more than happy to open everything up to private companies for a quick buck. TTIP – it offers nothing.”

Echoing Unite’s comments James Anthony of Unison said unions were not against trade, adding: “It’s not about trade, it’s about neo-liberal capitalism. It’s about handing over democratic control to corporate power, shady trade tribunals and regulatory bodies.”

The pressure will now surely be on the Labour Party, whose conference begins in ten days time, to take a firm stand against TTIP and CETA, especially as the threat to the NHS, public services and jobs becomes clear.

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ET Fees: TUC Says Women, Low Paid, Black, Asian & Disabled Workers ‘Big Losers’

imagesNew employment tribunal statistics published on September 11th show that the new system of charging upfront fees is resulting in a major reduction in claims, according to the TUC.

The statistics are the third quarterly set of figures since the new fees system was introduced and show that women, low-paid workers, disabled people, and black and asian workers are the big losers.

Individual claims were down overall by 70 per cent (from 12,727 to 3,792) in April to June 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Early conciliation through Acas is a welcome step that is helping in some cases when things go wrong at work, but it can’t explain such a large fall in the number of employment tribunals. The fees system is a victory for Britain’s bad bosses who are getting away with harassment and abuse of workers.

“Tribunal fees are pricing workers out of justice and have created a barrier to basic rights at work. The government has put Britain in a race to the bottom that is creating an economy based on zero-hours jobs and zero-rights for workers.”

A recent TUC report on the problems caused by tribunal fees has been published in a booklet ‘What Price Justice?’ 

Recent research from Citizens Advice found that seven in ten potentially successful cases are not pursued by people at employment tribunals. In the majority of cases brought to Citizens Advice bureaux, fees or costs were deterring people from pursuing claims. More information can be found by clicking here.

The government has set up a fees remission scheme to help low-paid workers with the cost of fees. However, the TUC believes that the system is deeply flawed as it is based on household income and savings, rather than an individual’s income.

For example, a woman working part-time on the minimum wage – with a weekly income of just £120 – could still face fees ten times her weekly salary if her partner has savings of more than £3,000. Fewer than a quarter of individuals applying for fees remission have received financial help.

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USA: TTIP – Broad Coalition Rejects ‘Fast Track’

tpp-fast-track-1550 US organizations led by the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the Sierra Club, the Citizens Trade Campaign, and Public Citizen sent a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden firmly rejecting the ‘fast-track trade promotion authority’ and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements.

‘Fast track’ is the US system previously used to push through trade agreements on an ‘up and down vote’ with no line by line scrutiny.

The US Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms as international trade has evolved. ‘Fast track’ first went into effect under Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Fast-track authority was last granted during the George W. Bush administration, but that law expired on June 30th, 2007.

In the letter, the diverse coalition stated that fast track, an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations, is “simply not appropriate” given the broad subjects covered by today’s trade pacts, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We need a new model of trade — one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

In January this year then – Senator Max Baucus and Congressman Dave Camp introduced a fast-track bill, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, which would strip Congress of its ability to amend or sufficiently debate trade pacts. Senator Ron Wyden, the current Senate Finance Chairman, is now drafting a new trade authority bill.

“There is no ‘acceptable’ version of fast track,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Fast-track must be replaced so Congress can steer international trade in a new direction and create agreements that actually work for most Americans.”

Instead of fast track, the letter calls for a new model of trade authority that includes a Congressional role in selecting trade partners, a set of mandatory negotiating objectives, enhanced transparency, Congressional certification that negotiating objectives have been met before trade negotiations can conclude, and more.

“We need 21st-century trade authority that allows Congress to do its job and represent the interests of U.S. workers, consumers and communities. By any name, the flawed ‘fast track’ approach still would enable negotiators to bypass Congress and put in place new and binding agreements that have real consequences for all of us,” said Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America.

“A new model of trade authority is the only way to ensure that workers and communities have a voice in these trade decisions. We want to determine what kind of economy we have, not simply accept super-power status for multinational corporations and a snails’ pace for the enforcement issues raised by the rest of us.”

“Only with new trade negotiating authority can we secure new trade rules that can help hard working Americans build a sustainable economy and promote broadly shared prosperity,” said President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. “Chairman Wyden has a chance to make history by being the architect of a new and democratic trade policy, and we commit to doing all we can to help achieve that goal.”

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Frances O’Grady attacks Tories’ union curb plans

ImageHandler.ashxFrances O’Grady General Secretary of the TUC in an eve of Congress interview said moves by the Tory lead Government to require higher strike ballot turnouts and to restrict picketing were desperate and she accused the government of being out of touch over the issue of public sector pay.

Her comments come ahead of the 146th Trades Union Congress, which starts on Sunday in Liverpool.

The Tory Party has pledged to introduce a 50% turnout requirement in strike ballots. It also wants a limit on how long a strike mandate can last and they also phase lans to put a code of practice on picketing on a legal footing.

But the TUC general secretary said in an interview with the BBC described that as a “desperate attempt to attack union rights”.

“There are clearly people working on detailed proposals that we won’t see until the manifestos are published,” she said.

“But I think anyone who cares about civil liberties ought to be jumping up and down now about what they are planning.”

O’Grady accused the Tories of seeking to introduce thresholds that would not apply to any other democratic election in the UK.

With some unions calling for electronic balloting, she said that the government should be making it easier for people to vote right across society.

Hundreds of thousands of health workers across the NHS are currently being balloted over industrial action.

It could lead to the first NHS strike over pay since the 1980s.

Union outside of the TUC with no history of disputes are taking part.

“I never thought I would see the day when midwives would be balloting for strike action,” said Ms O’Grady.

Health Unions may take industrial action on 13th October. Local government workers are set to strike the following day.

“My expectation is that unless the government comes to the table, we’ll see a mix of industrial action and protests,” she says.

The TUC is organising a major march to highlight pay in London on Saturday 18 October.

On Labour’s emerging policy agenda, the TUC boss said that there was growing confidence in union circles.

She cited Labour’s commitment to raise the minimum wage and its plans to build hundreds of thousands of new homes.

Labour has also promised to crack down on the abuse of zero-hours contracts and to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, which unions say has opened up the NHS to privatisation.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is expected in Liverpool on Monday night, when he will speak at the TUC’s General Council dinner.

The following day, Mark Carney is set to become just the second Governor of the Bank of England to address the TUC.

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TTIP – MythBuster

TTIP mythbuster, Sept 2014_Page_1

TTIP mythbuster, Sept 2014_Page_2

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CTUF – IER At The Labour Party Conference 2014

Labour CTUF IER LabConf2014 A5 LR_Page_1

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Aussie Bosses Try To Restrict H&S Site Visits

construction-siteIn an attempt to extend the current “right of access’ laws and to stop unions from entering construction sites without 24 hours notice Australian employers are pushing the right wing Government of Tony Abbott to force union officials to wait at least 24 hours before accessing construction sites on health and safety grounds.

The Australian Industry Group has accused unions of using union access rights under health and safety laws to circumvent right-of-entry restrictions in operation under the Fair Work Act.

 Union officials are required to give 24 hours’ notice to enter workplaces under the Fair Work Act.

In a submission to the Council of Australian Governments review of work health and safety laws, the AIG alleges “widespread misuse’’ by construction unions of entry rights was leading to employer cynicism when unions raised safety issues.

“It is Ai Group’s view that all union access to a site for WHS purposes should be subject to the notice period in the Fair Work Act for entry to investigate suspected breaches of workplace relations laws or to hold discussions with employees — not less than 24 hours, and no more than 14 days,’’ it says.

As is happening in other neo-liberal economies employers the Australian government have opened a full on attack on trade union rights and employment rights.

Details of the Fair Work Laws can be found by clicking here.

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CTUF – IER @ TUC 2014

CTUF IER Flyer2014 A5 ad

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Carr Review Into Industrial Action Collapses

Bruce Carr QC - Review Collapses

Bruce Carr QC – Review Collapses

By Tony Burke, Chair, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The review of rules governing industrial disputes, lead by Bruce Carr Q.C. collapsed today when Carr pulled the plug on the review stating: “I am (also) concerned about the ability of the review to operate in a progressively politicised environment in the run-up to the general election and in circumstances in which the main parties will wish to legitimately set out their respective manifesto commitments and have already started to do so”.

In the wake of the Grangemouth/Falkirk row last year Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and business secretary Vince Cable, asked Carr to examine union laws and come up with recommendations relating to union conduct during industrial disputes.

However, the review was described by the TUC and unions as headline grabbing union bashing and a “political stunt” and refused to give evidence.

The employers body the CBI also saw the review for what it was steered clear and Vince Cable himself appears to have given the review a wide berth.

It is rumoured that Carr received just six responses.

Carr had been “handpicked” last year by the Government to deliver a report which they hoped would be used to bash unions in the run up to the General Election.

Now their strategy is in tatters, but as Len McCluskey of Unite has warned: The Tories remain intent on going into the general election in 2015 with a vicious anti-worker programme”.

Whitehall sources are saying that Maude’s union-bashing comments in recent week have “rendered Carr’s own review “meaningless”.

Carr has told ministers that he would not come up with any recommendations for legal changes.

Maude had publically insisted the review would be ‘neutral’ but Carr buried that idea in his full statement on the Review’s website.

“Any recommendations which might be put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would be capable of being construed as the review making a political rather than an evidence-based judgment, whichever direction such recommendations might take”.

Carr had raised his concerns that the review had been compromised after Maude (egged on by Boris Johnson and others) announced a package of new anti-union laws designed to make it harder for unions to win ballots for industrial action, by raising ballot thresholds.

Carr will produce a “scaled down report” which sets out the “limited evidence” he has gathered. Also a result of Carr dumping the review – the investigation into the events of the dispute at Grangemouth has been dropped.

The precise terms of reference involved examining “the alleged use of extreme tactics in industrial disputes, including so-called ‘leverage’ tactics; and the effectiveness of the existing legal framework to prevent inappropriate or intimidatory actions in trade disputes”.

In response to the collapse of the Carr review Len McCluskey Unite General Secretary said: “The Tories have spectacularly shot themselves in the foot on this.  In their haste to attack trade unions, they have embarrassed their own appointee, Bruce Carr, into accepting this report for what it was all along – a desperate pre-election stunt to smear democratic trades unions and their members.

“This was always a purely political exercise with neither the CBI nor the TUC prepared to get involved.  Now Bruce Carr has moved to distance himself from what was nothing more than a pre-meditated effort by the Tory party to get a QC to sanction laws further restricting the rights of unions.

“The UK’s trade unions are already the most highly regulated in the world, leaving the UK’s workers among the easiest and cheapest to sack.  But while Bruce Carr may have thrown in the towel, the Tories remain intent on going into the general election in 2015 with a vicious anti-worker programme.

“Now at least voters can see their agenda for what it is – a determination to impede all protest against unethical behaviour by employers, and the removal of the last vestiges of protection against abuse that the working people of this country possess.”

The TUC’s Frances O’Grady called on the Tories to repay the cost of setting up the enquiry and said that: “Bruce Carr has been cynically used by the government in a party political stunt for the Conservative Party.

“He is right to recognise this “politicisation”, so I am not surprised at his decision not to make any recommendations and to simply review the few submissions sent to him.

“But the politicisation is not new, it was built in from the start. Contrary to Nick Clegg’s assurance, employer behaviour such as blacklisting was not even mentioned in the terms of reference for the review. And now Mr Carr has found his work entirely pre-empted by a Conservative Party press release.

“The Conservative Party should now repay to the taxpayer the costs of the enquiry.”

Meanwhile Mark Serwotka of the PCS union said:”The Tories handpicked Bruce Carr to do their bidding but even he couldn’t stomach their anti-union rhetoric, exposing the review as a facade for an attack not just on more than 6 million trade union members but on all working people and their communities.”

Construction union General Secretary Steve Murphy said:  “The collapse of the Carr Review, demonstrates that the Conservatives’ own placeman, realises that their proposed attacks on worker’s rights, especially the right to strike, cannot be justified by anyone who believes in basic human rights.”

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