CTUF at Burnston School Strike Rally

Christine Blower and John Hendy QC representing Campaign For Trade Union Freedom at the Burnston School Strike Rally September 3rd.

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Consultation On Certification Officer’s Levy

The Government have opened consultation on a levy to be imposed on trade unions and employers organisations which gives the Certification Officer the power to impose a levy on trade unions and employers’ associations to recover the cost of oversight and regulation.

The Government are consulting on the detail of how the proposed financial regime will operate. Specifically, we are seeking views on: what cost components the Certification Officer should use to calculate the contributions that trade unions and employers’ associations should make how much those organisations should pay towards the levy

Click here to download the cosnsultation document.

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CTUF-IER Labour Party Fringe 2017

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McDonald’s workers could strike for the first time in the UK

McDonald Workers Demonstrating in the USA

Workers at two McDonald’s outlets, in Cambridge and Crayford, London have voted to take industrial action over concerns about working conditions and the use of zero-hour contracts.

They also are seeking a wage increase to at least £10 an hour says their union the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

In a statement the BFAWU said: “Workers have found themselves living on low wages with no guarantee of hours. This has been viewed by some as punishment for joining a union, and has seen employees struggle to meet their rent payments, whilst some have even lost their homes.”

McDonlad’s UK employees have been inspired by similar moves in the USA where fast food workers are campaigning to be paid $15 (£11.65) an hour. At the moment the UK National Living Wage stands at £7.50 for workers aged 25 and over, and £7.05 for those aged 21 to 24.

Ian Hodson, BFAWU national president, added: “McDonald’s has had countless opportunities to resolve grievances by offering workers a fair wage and acceptable working conditions. This is a call for change.”

McDonald’s made a switch to flexible or fixed contracts with minimum guaranteed hours, in April this year and claimed it had increased hourly wages by 17% over the past two years.

A spokesman for McDonald’s said: “As per the terms of the ballot, the dispute is solely related to our internal grievance procedures.”

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Australia: Union Voice & NUW speed up merger talks

Hot on the heels of the proposed merger in Australia of the Construction and Energy Workers union with the Maritime Union and the Textile Workers union which employers, the Australian Government and the right wing media are attempting to stop – via legislation – (which includes a test to see if union mergers are ‘in the public interest’) the Nationa­l Union Of Workers and United Voice are speeding up their merger plans to create a 170,000 strong union.

Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to take action to try to stop the merger of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia into a 120,000 member union, (see our previous story on this here) but now the NUW and United Voice have upped the stakes by speeding up talks to create a “powerful organising and campaigning force”.

The Turnbull government, employers and right wing media are running scared the prospect of union mergers, given the potential to unify unions to speak for workers with one voice, have a powerful voice in the Australian Labor Party and to confront the countries anti-union laws.

The NUW has more than 70,000 members working across warehousing, distribution, food, dairy, cold storage and other food-related and production industries.

United Voice (previously the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union), has more than 100,000 members across hospit­ality, childcare, health, manufacturing and community services.

NUW members attending a meeting in Melbourne were recently advised that merger plans were ‘progressing quickly’.

United Voice’s Victoria branch members received emails confirming the merger talks were picking up speed, describing a “commitment” between the two unions to proceed with amalgamation.

Victoria branch secretary Jess Walsh said : “The talks have been excitin­g and the two unions will have more over the coming months.’’

Along with Turnbull, some media commentators in Australia have gone into overdrive on the prospect of union mergers, (and other unions such as those in transport joining the talks) – describing unions as ‘lawless’ and the mergers themseleves being designed by union officials to damage the Australian economy and supply chain.

 

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Israeli High Court signals end of right to strike at state-owned enterprises

Valter Sanches, General Secretary IndustriALL Global Union

The High Court of Justice in Israel has issued a preliminary ruling that workers at state-owned enterprises can no longer strike against market reforms being undertaken by the government.

The conditional order overturns an earlier judgement in support of the right to strike, and comes in response to industrial action by the Histadrut union federation against the privatization of the publicly owned monopoly, the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC).

The IEC employs 12,500 workers. For the past three years, the government has instituted a so-called market reform programme to end the state monopoly on electricity generation. The privatization plan means the company will stop generating electricity and sell its power stations to the private sector.

The so-called reforms have already cost 800 jobs. The Histadrut expects the privatization to result in between 5,000 and 6,000 job losses. Workers at IEC took part in industrial action in June and July, including refusing to issue electric bills.

In May 2017, the High Court upheld early judgements by regional and national labour courts in support of the right to strike. However, the government appealed the ruling, claiming that because the strikers oppose government policy, the strike is political and therefore illegal under Israeli labour law.

The government was supported by private electric corporations, who argued that strikes should not be allowed to influence, harm or cause financial loss.

The Histadrut argued in court that the strike is economic, and therefore legal, and not political. It is a legitimate defense of workers’ terms and conditions, and the right of the union to be consulted before the so-called reforms are implemented.

The ruling is seen as an attempt to fundamentally challenge the position of labour in Israeli society. The court signalled that the right to strike undermined anti-trust and competition law, preventing the government from making pro-market reforms.

The outcome of this case will have ramifications on other essential public services and on the legal status of the right to strike. In previous cases, the right to strike was recognized by Israeli High Court of Justice as a fundamental and constitutional right derived from the right to freedom of association, including in cases when the strike was against the government’s decisions.

Historically, there was a very close relationship between the Histadrut federation of labour and the public sector, with the federation also owning a number of enterprises. This relationship has been successively undermined by economic liberalization and changes to the law since the 1980s.

In a letter of solidarity to the Histadrut, IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches wrote:

“The Court’s decision would seriously impinge on fundamental workers’ rights, including the right to employment stability. It is obvious that one of the main tasks of the Israeli High Court is to protect human rights, and the right to strike is one of them.

“IndustriALL Global Union is very concerned about the possibility of imposing serious restrictions on the right to strike. We believe such an outcome would be against the International Covenant on Economic, Social and cultural Rights, as well as against ILO’s Convention 87 concerning freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and ILO’s Convention 98 concerning the application of the principles of the right to organize and to bargain collectively.”

From IndustriALL Global Union.

 

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FURTHER UPDATE: Aussie Bosses & Prime Minister Try To Block Union Merger

Australian mining, oil and gas employers, backed by the Australian Government are to try to block a union merger which would create a 120,000 strong union.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will try to block the merger between the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) using legislation to be introduced to parliament this week that would force Australia’s Fair Work Commission to apply a ‘public-interest’ test for union mergers. The CFMEU has described the public-interest test as “ridiculous”.

The government is seeking to impose a new test for mergers of unions that requires the Fair Work Commission to consider a union’s record on industrial disputes (the right wing press and Turnbull describe this as ‘lawlessness’) and whether the merger ‘served the public interest’.

The Turnbull government believes that the new laws, if passed by the Senate, would have the effect of blocking a CFMEU-MUA merger, who have been talking about a merger since late 2015.

In truth the government and employers are fearful that a new union would create a much more powerful voice for workers across crucial sectors of the Australian economy as well as having a strong political voice in the Australian Labor Party.

The small Australian Textile, Clothing & Footwear union is also looking to join the new union. However, two small maritime unions have expressed opposition to the merger as they see their existence threatened – they have claimed legally they have an ‘interest’ in the merger.

The CFMEU is not required to ballot its members on the merger – but the MUA and the textile workers would have to ballot.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said the proposed merger was “alarming”, considering the influence the unions already held over the Labour Party.

Australian unions are looking to mergers and amalgamations in the face of a shrinking economy and globalisation – arguing that the Australian trade union movement is under threat and the merger would help bolster their financial and legal resources.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin has previously described the merger as a need to build a new union to counter “a lot of adversarial stuff out there, a lot of anti-unionism, there is a political ideology in this country that’s pervasive and ­actively offensive against trade union rights”.

A well placed source in the Australian trade union movement told us: “The employers and the government have only just cottoned on to the fact that the merger application was made months ago. Which means that they will have to close the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.”

“The unions are in discussions with politicians about the retrospective impact of the legislation – politicians don’t usually retrospective legislation and it is hard to see how Turnbull will stop this process given that it’s well underway.”

Update: August 17th: The Australian sets out why the Australian Government, Employers and media pundits oppose the idea of a merger between CFMEU – MUA – TCFUA. It because they will be powerful stupid!

More info as we get it from our contacts in Australia,

 

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CTUF AGM 2017 Details

The  CTUF AGM 2017 will be at 11 am on Saturday, 2nd September at Meeting Room 3/4 at the ground floor Unite, 128 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8TN.

Please put this date in your diary and we look forward to seeing you there.

 

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Unite secures landmark holiday pay ruling

Unite has today (Monday 31 July) called on employers to urgently get their ‘house in order’ over holiday pay after it secured a landmark legal victory meaning employers must now include voluntary overtime in holiday pay calculations.

Today’s decision by the employment appeal tribunal on an appeal by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council is the first to confirm that payments for entirely voluntary duties, such as voluntary overtime, standby, call-out work and travel-time linked to that work, should be included in the calculation of workers’ holiday pay.

It builds on a previous ground breaking case taken by Unite legal services in 2014 that resulted in a separate employment appeal tribunal ruling covering holiday pay for workers who are contractually obliged to do overtime.

Today’s ruling is of major significance to workers nationally, many of whom receive payments for voluntary duties while working, but do not receive those payments when they take holiday. It sets a legal binding precedent which employment tribunals across the UK are obliged to follow.

The case against Dudley council involved 56 Unite members employed by the council as tradesmen, including plumbers, electricians and carpenters, working on maintaining Dudley’s housing stock.

They worked regular overtime, including on Saturdays, on a purely voluntary basis. They also elected to go on a standby rota every four weeks to deal with emergency call-outs and repairs.

In some cases their earnings for this additional voluntary work amounted to around £6,000 a year on top of their basic salary. While they would receive these payments while working, these amounts were not included in their holiday pay. The underpayments of holiday pay suffered by each claimant varied depending on how much voluntary work they performed between around £350 and £1,500 per year.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett, said: “Today’s landmark victory further clarifies the law on holiday pay and is of major significance to workers across the UK. It means employers must now include all earnings, including payments for voluntary duties and overtime, in calculating holiday pay.
 
“The ruling means unscrupulous employers no longer have carte blanche to fix artificially low levels of ‘basic’ hours and then contend the rest of time was ‘voluntary’ overtime that did not have to be paid in respect of annual leave.
 
“Unite will be liaising with Dudley council and its legal team over reaching a satisfactory settlement for our members. In the meantime we would urge other employers who have been fleecing workers of their holiday pay to get their house in order or face legal action.
 
“Once again Unite legal services has shown that it pays to be a member of Unite and that it will leave no stone unturned in ensuring our members are not short-changed. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank law firm OH Parsons and Michael Ford QC and Mark Whitcomb from Old Square Chambers for pursuing the case on behalf of Unite legal services.”

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ISDS Court Deals Blow To Argentinian Airline Nationalisation

The Campaign For Trade Union Freedom has long warned of the Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses in the new generation of trade deals including trade deals under negotiation. Now one of the most astonishing rulings made by a secret ISDS court has come to light.

The Argentinian airline Aerolinis Argentinos which was nationalised by the Argentinitan government has been the subject of an ISDS case and it’s outcome should worry trade unions and democrats.

The following article is from the website Portside written by David Dayen

A company that specialises in bank rolling lawsuits has won a huge payday from the government of Argentina, in one of the biggest examples of financiers using the secret courts embedded in trade agreements as casinos.

Burford Capital, the world’s largest firm for “litigation finance,” will earn $140 million on a $13 million investment in an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) case against Argentina over the nationalization of Aerolineas Argentinas, the nation’s flagship airline. The case was brought under Argentina’s bilateral investment treaty with Spain; the investors in the airline were Spanish.

Under ISDS, part of over 3,000 trade agreements worldwide, corporations can sue governments for changes in law or regulation that violate trade agreements, and win awards equaling “expected future profits” they might have otherwise gained. The idea was to protect investors from seizure of assets, outside the court system of the offending government. But instead of helping companies resolve legitimate disputes over seized assets, ISDS has increasingly become a means for rich investors to speculate on lawsuits, winning huge awards and forcing local taxpayers to foot the bill.

Donald Trump did not seek to eliminate ISDS in his negotiating objectives for reimagining NAFTA. He will only try to add some transparency mechanisms, such as making hearings and final rulings publicly available. The Burford Capital award reveals why that is wholly inadequate.

In 2010, investors with three insolvent affiliates of the Spanish travel firm Marsans filed an ISDS claim, arguing that Argentina forcibly expropriated the national airlines from them, first by restricting fare prices and finally by passing a law forcing a sale for $1. Argentina said it nationalized the airlines because they were mismanaged and deeply in debt, and paid no money in the sale because they were functionally worthless.

Investors sought $1.6 billion in the case, but in a 400-page ruling, the ISDS tribunal issued $324 million in awards. While the tribunal didn’t agree that Argentina unnecessarily restricted fares (in fact, there were two fare hikes allowed in 2008), it ruled by a 2-1 count that Argentina did partially violate the investment terms with Spain.

Burford agreed in 2010 to pay $13 million in legal fees for the case, in exchange for a cut of any judgment. The firm now stands to take home over 40 percent of the award.

“We are very pleased with this result and are gratified to see justice done for Teinver and its stakeholders,” said Christopher Bogart, Burford’s CEO, in a statement. “Without Burford’s capital, it is doubtful that this kind of recovery could have been obtained for the claimants.”

Burford will make over 10 times their initial investment, despite never having been investors in the underlying business. While ISDS tribunals were supposed to be a venue of last resort for corporations wronged in a foreign jurisdiction, they now serve as a playground where investors with no connection to the initial investment can get rich.

This kind of speculation, known as champerty under English common law, was once illegal. But rebranded litigation finance, it has spread across the globe in the past 50 years, serving as an attractive vehicle for hedge funds, private equity firms, and institutional investors.

At least 16 ISDS cases have featured third-party funding between 2009 and 2015, according to a report from Jean-Christophe Honlet, a partner at the global law firm Dentons.

But it’s likely that far more third-party funding is being used. The International Council for Commercial Arbitration suggests that at least 60 percent of ISDS cases “enquired about (but not necessarily sought or obtained) third-party funding before their cases were lodged.”

Only the richest of elites can access this investment opportunity. It’s a transfer of wealth upward, from local taxpayers to financial operators. And most often, vulnerable countries are the ones targeted. In fact, no country has been sued more in ISDS tribunals than Argentina. As of January, of the 767 ISDS cases in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) database, at least 59 were brought against that one country. Argentina has paid out $980 million in ISDS awards since 2002, in addition to the millions it spent to defend itself in arbitration.

This isn’t the only way financiers have manipulated ISDS courts. In multiple cases, hedge funds have bought companies simply so they could file claims against host governments for staggering sums.

We only know about Burford’s role in this ISDS claim because of a bankruptcy proceeding in Spain involving the former Argentine airline investors. Trump’s proposal for NAFTA’s ISDS chapter might change that, by adding more public access to proceedings. However, the special courts themselves would remain, and continue to serve as a potential money-making engine for the wealthy, rather than the initial purpose of protecting foreign investors.

Jared Bernstein, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, has proposed that investors self-insure against losses, which is the only option for most ordinary people assuming financial risk. “The obvious solution is for the investors to put their skin, not ours, in the game,” Bernstein said last year.

Burford Capital stressed that the ruling “does not necessarily mean that this amount will actually be paid in full, or at all.” The award could be overturned, though that is unlikely, or Argentina could refuse to pay.

David Dayen is a contributor to The Intercept, and also writes for Salon, the Fiscal Times, the New Republic, and more.

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