How the ministry of labour will defeat neo-liberalism

Laura Pidcock is Labour’s Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and MP for and MP for North West Durham

Today workplaces are hostile environments – but Labour’s new ministry by and for workers will change all that, Laura Pidcock told the Arise festival of left ideas.

The work of the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) over the last three decades has been essential and remains so today.

It has been advising me in my role as shadow minister for labour, but much more than that, it’s been instrumental in providing the building blocks for a new department in a future Labour government, a ministry of labour, which I believe will be transformative for workers and workplaces.

It’s such an important and exciting part of Labour’s programme and I’m delighted to be heading it up.

So where are we at? Many workplaces are hostile environments, for both workers and their representatives, the trade unions. That isn’t good for us, as a labour movement, the economy or society.

We have a generation of people for whom work means stress and insecurity, where their rights are seen as insignificant in relation to the power of their employers, where contracts are temporary and where their wage doesn’t pay the bills. People in this country are underemployed, overworked and poorly paid.

And the roots of this hostile environment? The answer is obvious. It’s about a lack of union power and the decimation of bargaining coverage, that is for trade unions to be able to negotiate the terms, conditions and rates of pay of workers.

What we must do is explain that to people who’ve grown up in an environment where unions have been stigmatised or ignored. But that is the reality: even the Institute for Financial Studies — hardly a bastion of revolutionary thinking — has recently pointed out the correlation between pay inequality and a rapid dwindling of trade union power and membership.

As the work that John Hendy and Keith Ewing have done via the IER has shown, the percentage of workers covered by a collective agreement has gone from 82 per cent to around 22 per cent.

In the private sector it is even worse — it’s impossible to say precisely, but collective bargaining coverage in the private sector is generally considered to be around 15 per cent.

The roots of this are entirely political: they lie in a neoliberal political project Margaret Thatcher heralded from the 1970s onwards.

The deliberate strategy of the Thatcher government was to take on the unions in order to make the British economy work for a different, free-market model — making a quick profit on the back of low pay and insecure contracting.

Its aim was to individualise and atomise work and shift the cultural norms of the British workplace explicitly to divide workers.

And of course, that had a knock-on effect. It was remarkably effective in lowering worker confidence. While the miners fought on, through a year of the miners’ strike in the mid-1980s, their ultimate defeat was another hammer blow to the idea of collective strength of the unions.

Now, we have two generations who have not experienced collectivism of the kind that could fundamentally shift the hold of employers over workers and a generation who do not know what a trade union is for and the power of workers standing together. It was such a successful strategy.

We now have workers who are scared to ask to go to the toilet, urinating in bottles, miscarrying at work, there are chicken factory workers in the US who have to wear nappies because they are not allowed toilet breaks.

Of course, in between those defeats and the situation we’re in right now, where precarious work has become commonplace, we had three New Labour governments.

That could have been an opportunity to roll back some of the Thatcher revolution, but instead it was an opportunity wasted. Not only did Tony Blair and co fail to remedy the anti-trade union laws, in some cases they boasted that we had the most restrictive labour environment in Europe.

Of course it is easy to pay lip service to the unions and unionised workers. There are still six million trade union members and even the current government is aware of this fact.

So, while they restrict facility time, enact legislation which makes negotiation harder, strip away rights and force unions to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops to take strike action, they also set up the Taylor review, or to give it its full title: “Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices.”

But Taylor fundamentally misses the mark, because it does not acknowledge the structural problem, which is lack of union role in our workplaces.

So, how would we respond, as the Labour Party in government? The first thing to say is that we would acknowledge and build our solutions around that gap: we would put unions and their members at the heart of our economy. Easier said than done of course, which is why we have a plan.

That plan involves creating a ministry of labour, bringing back a department specifically designed for workers, their rights and industrial relations.

This was abolished by Thatcher and unsurprisingly, the current Tories have no interest in bringing it back.

So, even though I am shadow minister for labour, I have no opposite number. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t get to ask questions in the House of Commons, just that they have to scrabble around to find someone to answer them — what a disrespect to workers.

Sectoral collective bargaining will be the beating heart of that department — because the institution of collective bargaining, that is, the ability for workers to negotiate their pay and conditions, collectively, changes everything.

The ministry of labour will also oversee an uplift of the statutory minimums — not just on pay, but things like maternity and paternity pay. We will also take enforcement seriously and create a labour inspectorate to enforce those minimums — because they are useless if they are on paper only.

We’ll also put equalities at the centre of this new working environment. And this will work hand in hand with an ethical social security system headed up by Margaret Greenwood, our shadow work and pensions secretary.

We’re not tinkering any more, because we know that will not be enough. After 10 years of austerity and three decades of free-market dogmatism, we know that only a radical change will shift our society in the direction of workers.

I am so excited and energised by this project and the work that I’m doing with Ewing, Hendy, the IER and trade unionists from all over the country — because, if we work together, and get it right, it will result in the largest transference of power from bosses to workers in generations.

Thank you for all the work you have put in, as trade union reps and organisers and activists over the years. Please see this project as your project — and a future Labour government as us all going into government together.

Of course, there is an obvious onus on the trade union movement, too, and will need to meet that challenge.

There will need to be a concerted effort to recruit. It will be our aim, in government, to provide the legislative framework for trade unions to organise; to have access to the workplace; for workers to have the right to withdraw their labour.

But it will be a joint effort, the political and the industrial halves of the labour movement coming together. That’s the only way we will succeed — and I think we will, comrades.

 Laura Pidcock is shadow minister for business, energy and industrial strategy and MP for North West Durham.

 This article was first published in the Morning Star on June 29th

Laura Pidcock will be speaking at the CTUF – IER Events at the Durham Miners Gala on July 12th and Tolpuddle on July 19th.

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Trade must promote good jobs and labour standards

Paul Nowak Deputy General Secretary of the TUC

The TUC’s Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak has been appointed to the government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group that will advise the government on trade policy. 

On the day of the Group’s first meeting, June 6th, with Secretary of State for International Trade Dr. Liam Fox MP for the first meeting of the Government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group. the TUC joined with fellow members of the group – the employers body the CBI, the Federation of Small Business, SB, Fairtrade Foundation and Which? – to release a statement calling on the government to ensure trade policy and trade deals:

  • Enforce and uphold international labour standards
  • Provide full protection for all public services
  • Promote the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Ensures fair and transparent dispute resolution
  • Promote good jobs and fair pay

The joint statement can be found here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/jointstatementUKtradepolicy

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35th Annual Orgreave Rally

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A ban on zero-hours contracts – a massive victory for Irish unions

Two warehouse workers

By Matt Creagh TUC Policy Officer

This week, following sustained union campaigning, Irish legislation came into force which bans zero-hours contracts and secures other key rights for workers in insecure employment. 

This is ground-breaking, and gives added impetus to the UK union campaigns to ban zero-hours contracts. TUC analysis shows that there are 850,000 workers in the UK trapped on zero-hours contracts. 

Patricia King, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, described the legislation as “one of the most significant pieces of employment law in 20 years”.

Irish unions have won three key rights for zero-hours workers, that UK workers don’t yet have:

  1. Zero–hour contracts are now banned, in almost all circumstances.
  2. Workers have the right to compensation from their employer if they turn up for a shift but are sent home without work.
  3. Workers are entitled to guaranteed hours of work that reflect their normal working week.

Key problems faced by zero-hours workers in the UK

Zero-hours contract workers do not have guaranteed, specified working hours, despite often working regular hours. Zero-hours contracts often don’t reflect the true nature of the employment relationship. Other problems include:

  • Employers having complete discretion over working hours. Workers must make themselves available for work at their boss’s request. They are effectively on call constantly.
  • Zero-hours contract workers face great uncertainty about their working hours and income, making it harder to plan their finances and other needs such as childcare.
  • Workers have reported being denied bank loans and mortgages because of the lack of guaranteed hours in their contracts.
  • Job insecurity triggers stress and anxiety amongst many workers, who have bills to pay and families to support.
  • These workers are much less likely to receive key employment rights than they are legally entitled to, such as sick and holiday pay.
  • Workers who raise workplace issues or are unable to work when required by the employer, will often find their working hours reduced as a form of punishment.

The campaign to ban zero-hours contracts in the UK

In many workplaces, unions are negotiating agreements with employers that prevent the use of zero-hours contracts, making sure that workers have greater financial and job security.

The Low Pay Commission is an independent body that advises the government about the National Minimum Wage. It has written to the government advising it to adopt almost identical measures to those set out in the Irish legislation. It has also suggested that workers should have a right to reasonable notice of their work schedule. 

The Low Pay Commission recognises that there is a problem with “one sided flexibility” in the labour market, which enables employers to have an “on demand” workforce, while minimising their obligations to the people who work for them.

The UK government must do more

The government recently published a Good Work Plan in response to the 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. The recommendations from both the review and the plan are inadequate. They fail to take any measures which will guarantee greater job security for people working on zero-hours contracts. 

The government proposes introducing the ‘right to request’ – a more stable and predictable contract after six months in the job. We have repeatedly said the ‘right to request’ is no right at all. It provides workers with the option to ask, but no right to receive, so the power dynamic remains firmly in favour of the employer.

Nevertheless, the government is likely to introduce an employment bill to implement some of the other recommendations in its plan. The TUC will continue to press for a ban on zero-hours contracts to be included in this legislation.

An alternative to zero-hours contracts is possible

The UK government has fostered an environment where businesses can operate with very limited obligations to the people who work for them. They defend this business model by saying it allows both employer and worker more flexibility to determine their working arrangements. 

This does not reflect reality: many people on zero-hours contracts are trapped in these jobs, unable to turn work down that their employer offers them. TUC research has shown that most zero-hours contract workers would prefer a contract with guaranteed hours.

The Irish unions’ campaign and subsequent legislation has demonstrated the viability of banning zero-hours contracts. Trade unions negotiating agreements with employers, to provide greater job security for their workforce, is evidence that it is possible to operate a business without having a brazen disregard for the workforce.

The government should recognise the weight of evidence from home and abroad that a ban on zero-hours contracts is long overdue.

First published on the TUC blog site.

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ESSO/UGLy Dispute – Longford, Australia Reaches 700 Days

The dispute in Longford Australia at Esso/Ugly has reached a marathon 700 days on our picket line as we fight back against Exxon Mobil & UGL/CIMIC’s blatant attack on their workers & workers families.

By use of a sham collective agreement signed by just 5 people 2200 miles (3500Km’s) away, Exxon Mobil & UGL/CIMIC successfully slashed wages by 40%, cut 40 years of hard fought conditions, stripped a number of employee allowances & imposed a stand down clause that will see workers at work, but without pay.

We cannot let them get away with this & set precedence to do the same thing anywhere else in the world.

Standing on a picket line 24 hrs per day, 7 days per week takes a lot of hard work from our members & a lot of support from others. So to thank you for your ongoing support, we have uploaded a small 5 minute video to say an extra special thank you to all those who have (& continue) to support us Internationally. We appreciate each & every single one of you & hope to send you some good news soon.

But for the time being, it’s “Stand Up, Fight Back” & “for as long as it takes”.

Please see link below, and feel free to contact me anytime.

In unity & solidarity,

Troy Carter, AMWU Lead Delegate, ESSO/UGL Dispute Australia

+61 419 358 196

Please send message of solidarity to the dispute at:

troyoffshore@netspace.net.au

 

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Holiday Inn Group Reported To UN For Anti Union Behaviour

Holiday Inn owner, IHG reported to United Nations Global Compact for ‘unethical’ anti-trade union behaviour

Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has lodged a formal complaint to the United Nations Global Compact today (Wednesday 1 May) over the ‘unethical’ anti- trade union behaviour of the world’s fourth largest and richest hotel chain, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), in breach of its obligations under the UN’s international agreement.

The complaint includes a report, Unethical IHG,  which details a decade of poor working practices and deliberate anti-trade union avoidance tactics across IHG’s UK hotel-estate, including housekeepers at a five star IHG-owned hotel being bullied, overworked, and then denied the right to have their grievance heard collectively. 

IHG, which made $27.4bn last year, signed up to the UN Global Compact in 2009, committing to uphold its 10 principles including, principle 3; the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining – a move which helped secure its contract as the official hotel provider for the London Olympics in 2012.

Unite is now urging the UN Global Compact to step in after IHG management’s repeated backtracking on allowing Unite access to the group’s Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels in London to speak to workers, distribute union materials and represent members over nearly a decade of on-off negotiations.

On Friday (3 May) fair hospitality campaigners from Unite will also be greeting shareholders at the group’s annual general meeting (AGM), with a call for the hotel operator to pay its UK staff the real living wage of £9 an hour (£10.55 an hour in London) and recognise the union.

The AGM is taking place at its flagship Intercontinental Park Lane, London W1J 7QY from 11am.

Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said: “Hotel staff at IHG branded properties, including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, are being bullied, overworked and underpaid. Their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining denied. This is according to a report, Unethical IHG, that Unite has submitted with a complaint to the UN Global Compact over breaches to principle 3; freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“Unite wants to see the UN Global Compact step up and defend the integrity of its corporate sustainability initiative. Companies need to understand that promoting and protecting human rights at work is more than just a box ticking exercise.

“The UN Global Compact has got to mean something. It’s got to be genuine. If it’s not, or companies are allowed to get away with picking and choosing the bits that suit, then the whole thing is devalued.

“When you have room attendants reporting a culture of fear and bullying, with one saying that she is ‘made to feel that I can’t do anything right’, as her manager regularly shouts and asks if ‘she can read properly.’ There is a problem. When union reps are then prevented from speaking up for these very same workers, there is an even bigger problem.

“IHG needs to be a global leader and start working with Unite to root out low pay, work insecurity, bullying and exploitation in its hotels. It’s only by working with the union and living up to its commitments that things can start to change in hospitality.”

A copy of the report can be downloaded at https://unitetheunion.org/media/2384/unethical-london-brochure-ihg-crowne-plaza.pdf

IHG: Operating under 12 different brands including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, in 100 countries, IHG is the world’s fourth largest hotel management and hotel brand franchisor. Of its 5,600 hotels only eight are directly owned and managed by the company.

According to the group’s most recent results, operating profits are up 8 per cent to $816m, with room growth up 4.8 per cent to 837k, and total gross revenue up 6.6 per cent to $27.4bn.

UN Global Compact: Established in 2000, companies that sign up to the UN Global Compact, commit to promoting 10 universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining which are of particular importance to Unite.

For more information please contact, Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull on 07980 721 427 

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Mexico: Senate Passes New Labour Laws

United Steelworkers ben Davis dressing Mexican unions in 2018.

Thanks to Ben Davis of the United Steelworkers

Mexico’s Senate approved the first changes to the country’s labour laws, a move that U.S. Democrats made as a pre-condition for debating a successor to the NAFTA trade agreement.

The Senate voted in favour of the bill 120 to 0, with two abstentions. It was passed by Mexico’s lower house earlier this month and supported by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The changes give employees the right to vote on their choice of union and their employment contracts through secret ballots. In Mexico protection unions (company fronted unions) signed agreements with employers – many of them from Europe before workers had even been employed. The changes now go to the president for ratification.

Mexican senators passed the bill before the end of their session to allow their counterparts in the U.S. to take up discussion of the trade deal, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, before the August recess. Democrats say that while approval of the changes is necessary for a debate on the deal negotiated last year by the Trump administration, they also want to see implementation and enforcement of the legislation.

The labour reform has ample safeguards in place to ensure that workers will finally be represented by their chosen unions, Mario Delgado, the lower house majority leader, said in an interview this month.

A labour annex to the USMCA explicitly requires that workers vote to decide on unions and labour contracts in Mexico, where employees often lack basic representation.

Delgado said that an independent agency and independent courts will replace the current labour board to resolve disputes and register contracts.

Currently the labour board, where government officials, companies and yellow unions hold representation, makes it difficult for workers to organise independently.

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Mexican Unions Form New Movement To Fight Yellow Unions

Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, President of Mexico’s biggest trade union Los Mineros (the mining, metals and manufacturing union) who is also a Senator in the new left lead Mexican Government has called on Mexico’s independent trade unions and labour organisations to join in a new movement – the International  Workers Confederation (IWC).  

He called on labour organizations to build on the momentum that the country is experiencing in order to consolidate the rights and gains of trade unions, increase wages and make union democracy a reality, emphasising that it is time to pay the historic debt owed to the working class.

Announcing the First General Assembly of this new group of more than 10,000 members in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, on April 17th, which was also attended by representatives of Unite and the US and Canadian United Steelworkers union he emphasised the need for the country’s unions to organize and unify, because the transformation has just started and “it is up to the workers to do our part to fully defend our rights.”

He said that the working class must fight to rescue its unions, make its rights a reality, and demonstrate that the only way to do this is through organising, while warning that “unless we have have free unions and unity, we will never be heard by business, the authorities, or society.”

Gómez Urrutia stressed that unions must also internationalise and globalize to defend together the rights of workers in every country and gain greater strength and unity to confront the bosses, and respect for the rights of workers who produce their wealth but are poorly compensated.

Los Mineros is a now member of the global union Workers Uniting with Unite in the UK and Ireland and the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada.

Unite’s vice chair Jayne Taylor addressed thousands of Los Mineros and United Steelworkers members at the assembly welcoming them into the Workers Uniting family and pledging solidarity and support for Mexican workers fighting against ayellow unions and anti union global corporations exploiting Mexican workers.

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CTUF – IER At Tolpuddle

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CTUF – IER At Durham Miners – Eve Of Gala Rally.

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