Overdue, incomplete and likely to be ineffective

imagesThompsons Solicitors responds to the first draft of the new Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill

The new Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill, which has just been introduced to parliament, casts further doubt on the government’s conviction to really address zero hours contracts (ZHC).

The latest changes are merely tinkerings that will allow abusive employers to continue to shrug basic employment responsibilities and inflate their profits on the back of their poorly paid and insecure workers. Exclusivity Clauses & Zero Hours Contracts Thompsons, as the leading trade union law firm, has continually argued against the use of zero hours contracts (ZHC) and repeatedly called for them to be outlawed. In our experience they are primarily used by employers as a device for avoiding employment responsibilities rather than out of any genuine need for flexibility.

This Bill, though it outlaws exclusivity clauses in a ZHC, still implicitly approves their widespread use despite the lack of any proof that they are anything more than a cynical race-to-the-bottom on the part of Britain’s most unscrupulous employers.

Thompsons therefore gives a very guarded welcome to the government’s move which is senselessly piecemeal and has only been forced on them by the overwhelming weight of common sense. Allowing the most vulnerable in society to commit themselves to an employer even though that employer has not offered any guaranteed hours of work in return is something even this government is embarrassed by – hence the ban.

Chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, Stephen Cavalier has said: “Allowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless ‘concession’. This government knows zero-hours contracts are a blight on the Labour Market, but it is too much in the pocket of big business to tackle the problem.”

But in what is hardly likely to be an oversight there are plenty of loopholes in the current draft Bill which allow an employer to ‘tick the box’. Offering a ZHC with an exclusivity clause but with a minimal length of working hours ‘guaranteed’ – insufficient to subsist on or even cover travelling costs, for example – would be fine. Without major revisions to the existing text, this Bill is destined to have almost no impact on the lives of the very people it is aimed at protecting.

The Bill, whilst giving new powers to the Business Secretary to respond to abuses of exclusivity clauses in ZHC’s does not extend far enough. It won’t allow for example for the definition of ZHC’s to be revised and that means that an entirely new and separate piece of legislation would be needed in future to close the loophole above. Tinkering in the face of crisis

The government could change the definition of zero hours contracts now and ban exclusivity clauses but they have ducked the challenge and crafted the legislation in such a way as to tie the hands of a future truly reforming government.

Tom Jones, Thompsons’ Head of Policy, has said: “It looks as if again the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has failed to grasp the nettle he has tinkered rather than reformed. Whilst cynically present the Bill as an advance Cable must know it truly isn’t. Either that or he has still not fully understood the nature of abusive employment and the real reasons which lie behind the use of such contracts.

“The Bill ignores all but one of the recommendations for reform contained in the independent report the government commissioned from Norman Pickavance and reflects the same dogmatic attachment to the mantra that the market knows best and any restriction on an employer is ‘red tape’ that this government is driven by above all.

“We are looking at a Bill which is severely overdue, incomplete and almost guaranteed to be ineffective.”

As for late payment penalties against employers who refuse to deliver compensation after a ruling from an employment tribunal, also contained in the Bill, Thompson’s welcome for any move that penalises those who withholding money due to a claimant is tempered by the fact that it is long overdue, is inexplicably limited in scope and puts penalty payments into government coffers rather than claimant hands.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has restricted the scope for penalty measures when late or refused payments in fact blight many other areas of employment law and has dictated that penalty funds should be given to the state rather than the claimant who has suffered the delay.

There is plenty of time on the clock for the government to reconsider these toothless measures, Thompsons would urge parliament to take on unscrupulous employers with the full force of the law by implementing an effective ban on ZHC’s and institute a claimant-compensating penalty system for all areas of late or refused employer payments.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

TTIP – Who Governs: Governments Or Business?

Jim Sheridan MP

Jim Sheridan MP

By Jim Sheridan MP

It’s a question that has grown in importance as we see multinational corporations casting their net across the globe. Who, in reality, makes the rules we live by?

It’s a question that has grown in importance as we see multinational corporations casting their net across the globe. Who, in reality, makes the rules we live by?

Big business is often at the heart of some lobbying scandal or conspiracy theories about who is at the top of the chain. But we are currently seeing a real-life attempt by companies to wield excessive influence over national governments.

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement (also known as TTIP) is being negotiated in secret between the EU and US. Those in favour of the agreement say it will bring jobs and growth to both sides of the Atlantic.

But there is a growing body of people who are concerned about some aspects of the agreement.

TTIP will set up secret courts which will allow multinational corporations to sue governments if they think a law might harm their profits. This is a feature of many trade agreements, but when the US and EU states all have robust judicial systems in place, we must question why such courts are needed.

Negotiators insist that these courts are precautions, that it would not affect governments’ ability to govern. But we are already seeing these courts in action in other trade agreements.

When Australia started looking at introducing plain packaging of tobacco, cigarette giant Phillip Morris was already suing the government for billions and seeking to have the legislation repealed.

When Germany began its nuclear phase-out, Swedish energy company Vattenfall announced that it was suing the government for 3.7 billion euros.

When Slovakia moved to restrict the powers of private insurance firms in the public health system, a number of insurance companies successfully sued the Slovak government.

These examples strike a chord, and highlight real concerns. Just two of Labour’s key policies, a reversal of NHS privatisation and an energy price freeze, could cost the government billions in a world with TTIP. Even UK companies could set up subsidiaries in the States to sue their own governments for decisions such as these.

This is just one of the concerns I have about these negotiations, and the reason I have tabled almost fifty questions to ministers for them to answer over the recess.

Lobbyists have been arguing for TTIP for years, and a key reason is the power that these secret courts will give them.

We now need the public and members of EU parliaments to scrutinise this agreement in detail.

So I hope over the summer, ministers will answer my questions and ease my concerns about secret courts. And I hope they will answer my call for MPs to see the agreement.

Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, it is important we respect our democracies, and leave governments free to make the best laws for their citizens.

This blog first appeared on the Trade Union Group of MPs website

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, European Employment Rights, International Employment Rights, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

Factory owners at West Bank settlement threaten violence against Palestinian strikers

Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone Photo by Emil Salman

Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone Photo by Emil Salman

This July 23rd at 11:00 am, factory owners from Mishor Adumim (the industrial zone of the West Bank settlement, Ma’ale Adumim) approached striking workers on the picket line at Zarfaty Garage, demanding they leave immediately or be subject to violence. They made it clear to the workers that they will gather many Jewish factory owners to attack the picket of the Palestinian workers in case the workers stay there.

The workers of Zrafaty Garage who are all members of the independent trade union center WAC-MAAN, started their legal strike on July 22nd and staged a picket line in the front of the garage as all workers in Israel do in such cases. They and the union made it clear they do not plan to backup in front of these threats.

The union called the police of Ma’ale Adumim to stop this violent threat but instead of filing a case against those who threatened to use violence it decided to detain WAC-MAAN Coordinator Yoav Tamir, charging him with “inciting Palestinians”. This was done despite the fact that the picket line had been coordinated with the police previously. The violent attack on the workers was averted but the threat is still there.

Zarfaty workers called a legal strike two days ago following the dismissal of Hatem Abu Ziade, Chairperson of their Workers’ Committee. The Zarfaty workers, organized through WAC-MAAN since June 2013, had been in protracted negotiations for a collective contract. The management decided, without notice or explanation, to fire Abu Ziade and compel the workers to relinquish membership in WAC-MAAN.

The new threat of violence and the arrest come two days after WAC-MAAN raised the issue of SodaStream workers, which is also in Mishor Adumim, where dozens of workers have been arbitrarily fired. The SodaStream workers contacted us at WAC-MAAN, and we then contacted the management in their name. We also put the story out to the media, where it received much coverage in Israel and worldwide.

The firing of the Committee Chairperson at Zarfaty, and the threats by the factory owners, are an attempt to remove WAC-MAAN as a force to whom the workers of Mishor Adumim may turn. These workers are employed under unacceptable conditions, counter to labor laws, and often below minimum wage without pay slips or benefits.

WAC-MAAN insists on its right to represent workers and on their right to organize. We will not allow threats and bullying to deter us from protecting the right to make a living with dignity, regardless of religion, race, and nationality.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, International Employment Rights | 1 Comment

Book Review: Beyond Shareholder Value

BSV_Page_01By Adrian Weir

The TUC has set out a four point campaign – ‘Respect At Work’ – on employment rights that it hopes will inform the debate in the run up to next year’s General Election.

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 is in connection with the fourth point that Beyond Shareholder Value: The Reasons and Choices For Corporate Governance Reform has been launched by the TUC, a collection of essays on reforming corporate governance that includes some discussion about the possibility of worker directors in the UK.

There is now no question that reform of the way our large corporations are managed is clearly overdue. A recent study by the High Pay Centre found that directors’ pay was now running at almost 180 times that of the lowest paid workers. In the discussion in this book the point is made that thirty or so years ago directors’ pay may have seemed reasonable in relation to other wage earners but has grown exponentially under neo-liberalism, prompting some to argue that if they could have got way with before they probably would have done – but there were social brakes, there are no such brakes now.

At the public launch of the book, Labour’s Shadow Business Minster, Iain Wright MP, was moved to promise a worker representative on company remuneration committees and even Tory Jesse Norman MP spoke about crony capitalism – the broken link between corporate reward and company performance!

Readers will soon discover that the debate on reform of corporate governance may be divided into two schools of thought – reform to improve economic performance and reform to provide worker voice – although of course there is some cross over between the two positions. In the former camp, some reformists argue against the corporate greed discussed above.

Others are more concerned about, the central thesis of the booklet, moving away from a duty to solely promote shareholder value and open up duties to other stakeholders.

An exclusive focus on shareholder value is said to promote short termism in that directors in the UK work to the publication of quarterly reports and eschew long term measures that may not synchronise with a quarterly reporting structure. Corporate bonuses are structured to short term results.

Further, how does the advent of high frequency share trading in the Anglo-American world fit in with the long term? Colin Crouch’s essay also raises the dubious practice of private equity investment delisting Stock Exchange listed companies often to strip out the assets before returning to the significantly poorer corporation to the market.

The cross over for advocates of improved economic performance and worker voice is found with those who argue that an involved workforce with access to the highest levels of decision making bring to the table knowledge and information otherwise unavailable to management.

Worker voice is the key to open improved performance.

There are statutory provisions for worker directors in 19 European countries; 14 with widespread rights across the public and private sectors – Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia and Slovakia plus a further 5 with more limited rights – Greece, Ireland, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

It’s clear from this list that although worker directors do not guarantee improved economic performance, those countries that are economic high flyers are also the ones that have a system of industrial democracy that includes worker directors. Michael Gold’s essay is a very interesting piece of work. He argues that our system corporate governance denies to workers the fourth element that makes a democratic whole.

Firstly, we have civil citizenship, the rights to individual freedom; secondly, we have political citizenship, the right to vote; and, thirdly, we have social citizenship, the right to social welfare (gradually being eroded in the UK of course).

In the UK what is missing is citizenship at work that meaningful participation rights, including worker directors, would go some way in meeting. At the level of mobilising workers to support the demand for a voice we should leave the argument linking worker directors with improved economic performance slightly to one side, important though it is, see Frances O’Grady’s essay on promoting a high investment, high skill and high productivity economy.

We should shift the argument to a rights issue, workers’ rights to seats on the board to act as a counter veiling power to the obsession with short termism and board room excess.

These issues have contributed to the crisis, a crisis under which working people are bearing the brunt with overbearing austerity measures and attacks on their limited rights at work.

Click here on on the graphic to download a copy of “Beyond Shareholder Value: The Reasons and Choices For Corporate Governance Reform” is by J Williamson, C Driver & P Kenway (eds)

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, Publications & Websites, Research, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

Tory MPs failed to win 50% mandate

Len McCluskey

Unite General Secretary, Len McCluskey

Not a single Tory cabinet member achieved the 50 percent voting threshold they wish to impose on workers taking industrial action, reveals new research from Unite.

Following Tory calls to harden Britain’s draconian anti-trade union laws, Unite has analysed the 2010 general election results, finding that when total potential turnout is included not a single Tory MP won 50 percent.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: “It is utter hypocrisy for the government to talk about mandates for trade unions when not a single member of the present cabinet would have been elected using the same criteria.

“The fact is not a single councillor in England has won 50 percent of the electorate, not a single MEP has reached the 50 percent threshold, Boris Johnson scraped in with just 37 percent in 2008 and the government’s flagship Police Crime Commissioner election gained a risible 17 percent of the vote.

“This government has no mandate to attack trade unions or the workers who have been forced to take industrial action today in their fight to end poverty pay.”

The study shows that the cabinet member with the lowest percentage of the vote was David Jones, the Welsh Secretary who secured the support of just 27 percent of the electorate in his seat of Clwyd West in 2010. Not far behind comes the recently appointed Secretary of State for Culture Sajid Javid who came to office with the support of only 30.8 percent of the electorate in his constituency of Bromsgrove in 2010.

The member of the cabinet who comes closest to winning a 50 percent mandate is Home Secretary Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead, although even she falls short of by 7 percent.

Those MPs who have been most vocal in their attacks on workers taking action today, achieved the most risible results.

Union bashing Priti Patel managed to win the support of just over a third (36.6 percent) of the electorate in Witham, while the architect of the Conservative party’s manifesto Oliver Letwin gained the support of just 35.5 percent of the electorate in Dorset.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: “Britain’s anti-trade union laws are already amongst the most restrictive in Europe. Tory attempts to further curtail the rights of working people to democratically organise risks placing Cameron’s Britain alongside nations like Kazakhstan, Albania and Niger where the right for public servants to take action is forbidden.”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

CTUF At Durham Miners Gala!

CTUF DurhamGala2014 Flyer LR

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thompsons : Zero-hours contracts have reached epidemic proportions.

Stephen-Cavalier“Allowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless” says Steve Cavalier, Chief Executive of Thompsons Solictors

Employers are to be banned from preventing staff with zero-hours contracts seeking work elsewhere, under plans announced by Business Secretary, Vince Cable.

The legislation is said to give greater flexibility to workers who are currently tied to a single employer, but Mr Cable has resisted calls for a blanket ban on zero-hours contracts altogether.

A zero-hours contract currently means that employees are contracted to one single employer with no guarantee of regular work or pay.

Workers are bound by an exclusivity clause to that company, meaning they cannot look for work elsewhere, and are subject to financial insecurity and instability in their home life.

Chief executive of Thompsons Solicitors, Stephen Cavalier, said: “Banning exclusivity clauses, which trap employees into working for one employer, is no more than a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. The truth is that this is a distraction and the announcement does not, by any means, go far enough.

“Allowing workers to work for multiple employers is a meaningless ‘concession’. It does nothing about job insecurity. Workers will still have no idea how many hours they will be working from one week to the next, let alone how much money they will be earning.

“Under this government zero-hours contracts have reached epidemic proportions, creating widespread insecurity and allowing large companies to exploit those desperate for work.

“It is society’s most vulnerable who are typically forced to accept zero-hours contracts and we should be offering them the greatest protection, not opening them up to be being ripped off by more unscrupulous employers.

“Even this government knows zero-hours contracts are a blight on the Labour Market, but it is too much in the pocket of big business to tackle the problem.”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

CTUF @ the Unite Conference

CTUF Conference2014 Flyer aw-4

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, European Employment Rights, International Employment Rights, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

Miliband Calls For Inquiry Into Orgreave

Miner Dispute Orgreave 1984Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for a “proper investigation” into police malpractice during the 1984-85 miners’ strike and the events surrounding clashes between police and striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant 30 years ago this week.

On 18th June 1984, 10,000 striking miners pickiting the Orgreave plant, faced upwards of 4,000 police commanded by South Yorkshire police.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor who defended miners subsequently charged with riot, said she believed there were 8,000 officers present. Mounted officers with drew batons and charged into the miners, and officers on foot beat miners about the head with truncheons.

In 2012 South Yorkshire police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over allegations that police officers had assaulted miners at Orgreave, then committed perjury and misconduct in a public office, and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecutions of 95 miners on riot charges, which collapsed in court.

But the foot dragging continues with the IPCC saying it is still “scoping” evidence to determine whether to hold an investigation. Miliband is the most senior politician to back the growing campaign to have police conduct at Orgreave fully investigated.

Miliband in a speech to miners and representatives of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign at Hatfield Main colliery in his Doncaster constituency, said the miners’ strike,was “a just cause”.

“You were fighting for justice, for your community, for equality, for all the things that mattered,” Miliband said. “The values you fought for are the values that we have to take forward for the future”.

“Very specifically,” Miliband said, “there does need to be a proper investigation about what happened at Orgreave. We support that proper investigation taking place, as a matter of truth and a matter of justice.”

No police officer has ever been disciplined or charged with any offence arising out of Orgreave, but 95 miners were charged with riot, which carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The trials all collapsed in July 1985, after defence questioning that had exposed police testimony at odds with the film of what happened, partially identical statements by different officers, officers saying they had had statements dictated to them, an allegedly forged signature by a police officer on a statement, and generally unconvincing police evidence in the witness box.

Michael Mansfield QC, who defended some of the accused miners, described it as “the biggest frame-up ever”.

In June 1991, without admitting liability, South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 to 39 miners who had sued for assault, wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution. Chris Kitchen, the NUM general secretary, said: “The IPCC must investigate. Some of the men assaulted and falsely accused have had anger festering for 30 years. There is no time limit on injustice. Recognising the truth is part of a healing process.”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | 1 Comment

TUC: Tribunal fees stopping wronged workers from seeking justice

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Employers who bully, harass or cheat their workers out of their wages are increasingly likely to escape punishment as people wronged at work are prevented from seeking justice by the high cost of taking a tribunal case, says the TUC.

Citing the new figures published by the Ministry of Justice, the TUC said that the 59 per cent drop in the number of single claims being taken to employment tribunals – from 13,739 between January and March 2013 to 5,619 in the first three months of 2014 – showed that fees were deterring many workers from taking their employers to court.

Commenting on the figures, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “If an employer breaks the law and sacks someone unfairly, sexually harasses them or cheats them out of their wages, it’s understandable that an individual should want to seek some kind of redress.

“In the past there were no fees, and workers who felt they’d been wronged could have their case heard and the tribunal would either find for them or in their employer’s favour. But last summer, the government decided to restrict justice to those who could afford to pay a fee.

“Today’s figures show that many people – especially low-paid workers trying to claw back wages they are owed by their bosses – are being put off making a claim, often because the cost of going to a tribunal is more than the sum of their outstanding wages.

“The huge drop in cases taken certainly doesn’t mean that Britain’s bosses have got a whole lot nicer in the past year. It’s simply because pursuing a complaint against a bad employer has become too expensive for many workers, and that is just plain wrong.”

The figures show an 85 per cent fall in the number of claims for unpaid wages – with just 3,133 claims made in the first three months of 2014, compared with the 21,213 cases lodged during the same period a year previously.

Over the same period, sex discrimination cases plummeted from 6,017 to 1,222 (an 80 per cent fall) and unfair dismissal cases were down by 62 per cent  (from 11,041 to 4,235).

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment