Construction must be forced to change practices following exposure of modern day slavery

Unite, the UK’s construction union, is calling for fundamental changes in the way that the construction industry is organised and for the introduction of licensing of gangmasters, following a major exposure of how modern day slavery operates in the industry.

The expose was jointly conducted by Construction News and BBC Three who used undercover journalists from the UK and Romania to reveal the extent of modern day slavery in construction.

While concerns about modern day slavery are usually associated with smaller residential work, Unite believes that the way that the industry operates means that there is a real potential for such practices could be occurring on even the largest projects.

For instance Unite believes that the way HS2 is operating, means that there is the potential for modern day slavery to occur on the project.

Most tier one contractors on HS2 are relying on labour supply companies to deliver labour. While there is little scope for modern day slavery within a reputable labour supply company that employs all of its workers directly, the problem arises when labour supply companies seek to sub-let the recruitment to a third party, this makes it very difficult for the tier one contractor to monitor.

Unite is aware of at least one labour supply company on the HS2 project that subcontracted the recruitment of workers to employment agencies who in turn used a payroll company.

This results in there being few if any realistic checks on who is working on the project, who is actually engaging them, how they were recruited and what terms they are employed under, beyond a check they have the correct passport.

As a result Unite is calling for the gangmasters licencing regime to be extended to construction. Licensing currently only covers agriculture, food processing and shellfish collection.

Under licensing, only registered gangmasters and employment agencies can legally supply labour and only those organisations which meet strict criteria are granted a licence. If an agency or gangmaster is then found to have been mistreating its workers the licence can be swiftly revoked.

Companies which operate in the sectors where licensing exists are also required to ensure that they are only working with licensed gangmasters.

Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The revelations about the extent of modern day slavery and how it operates in construction must be a wake-up call to the industry and government

 “This is not simply a problem on smaller sites, even the largest sites have the potential for modern day slavery. Major contractors simply don’t know who is supplying labour on their sites, how they have been recruited and if they are being coerced.

“Until the unnecessarily long labour supply chains are tackled the potential of modern day slavery will exist in every area of our industry.

 “One major way to help tackle the problem is to extend gangmasters licencing to construction and to force the rogue employers out of the industry.

 “The industry needs to be honest, if a labour supply company needs to get a third party to supply the labour, they are not really a labour supply company”


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An open letter in support of Labour’s much needed Employment Law reforms.

The Labour Party is the only party with a transformative plan to create jobs that offer security, fair pay and dignity at work, as well as an economy that works for the many

Britian’s labour laws are in desperate need of reform. Working people are increasingly engaged in work that pays poorly, is insecure and contains few avenues of redress if they are treated unfairly by their employers.

In-work poverty is at a record high. In the large majority of families in poverty (60 per cent) there is at least one person in work.

The current government boasts about record low unemployment figures while at the same time it fails to protect workers from poverty pay and insecurity.

Evidence shows that collective bargaining helps to improve productivity and secure stable and well-paying jobs.

In 1979, over 80 per cent of UK workers were covered by collective agreements, but today that figure is less than 26 per cent.

The decline in collective bargaining was hastened by waves of anti-union legislation that began in the 1980s.

Today, British trade union laws are some of the most restrictive in the Western world.

The Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto proposes significant labour law reform, explaining: “[W]ork should provide a decent life for all, guaranteeing not just dignity and respect in the workplace, but also the income and leisure time to allow for a fulfilling life outside it.”

We believe that this vision is backed up by a credible plan of action.

Labour will support the introduction of sectoral collective bargaining to set minimum terms and conditions covering all workers in UK sectors.

Enterprise-based collective bargaining will be boosted so that employers and workers can negotiate agreements suited to the needs of their workplace.

Labour will introduce a real “living wage” and require employers to replace zero-hours contracts with minimum hours contracts based on a new right to regular hours.

It will ensure that the full range of employment protections are available to all workers from day one of employment and it will create a properly resourced government agency to proactively enforce these rights.

Race and gender pay equality will be achieved by making the state responsible for enforcing equal pay legislation and by requiring employers to publicly report on pay disparities for BAME workers.

Labour will also introduce several important corporate governance reforms for large businesses, such as worker representatives on boards and the creation of “inclusive ownership funds,” which have the potential to radically democratise the economy.

Collectively, we have spent many decades studying labour law and industrial relations in the UK.

We believe that the Labour Party is the only party with a transformative plan to create jobs that offer security, fair pay and dignity at work as well as an economy that works for the many.

Joe Atkinson, lecturer in law, University of Sheffield
Bridget Anderson, professor of migration, mobilities and citizenship, University of Bristol
Diamond Ashiagbor, professor of law, University of Kent
Katie Bales, lecturer in law, University of Bristol
Elizabeth Barmes, professor of labour law, Queen Mary University of London
Alessio Bertolini, research associate, University of Glasgow
Ed Blissett, senior lecturer in employment relations, University of Hertfordshire
Alan Bogg, professor of labour law, University of Bristol
Douglas Brodie, professor of employment law, University of Strathclyde
Nicole Busby, professor of human rights, equality and justice, University of Glasgow
David Cabrelli, professor of labour law, University of Edinburgh
Genevieve Coderre-LaPalme, lecturer in employment relations, University of Birmingham
Phillipa Collins, lecturer in law, University of Exeter
Joanne Conaghan, professor of law, University of Bristol
Nicola Countouris, professor of labour law and European law, UCL
Anne Davies, professor of law and public policy, University of Oxford
Simon Deakin, professor of law, University of Cambridge
Manoj Dias-Abey, lecturer in law, University of Bristol
Tony Dobbins, professor of employment relations, University of Birmingham
Ruth Dukes, professor of labour law, University of Glasgow
Keith Ewing, professor of labour law, King’s College London
Mark Freedland QC (Hon), FBA, emeritus research fellow, University of Oxford
Gregor Gall, visiting professor of industrial relations, University of Leeds
Emily Grabham, professor of law, University of Kent
Lydia Hayes, professor of law, University of Kent
Lord Hendy QC, Old Square Chambers
Richard Hyman, emeritus professor of industrial relations, LSE
Gregoris Ioannou, research fellow, University of Glasgow
Philip James, professor of employment relations, Middlesex University London
Aristea Koukiadaki, senior lecturer, University of Manchester
Genevieve LeBaron, professor of politics, University of Sheffield
Virginia Mantouvalou, professor of human rights and Labour Law, UCL
Aileen McColgan, barrister, 11 King’s Bench Walk
Ewan McGaughey, senior lecturer, King’s College London
Susan Milner, reader in European politics, University of Bath
Tonia Novitz, professor of labour law, University of Bristol
Vera Pavlou, lecturer in labour law, University of Glasgow
Amir Paz-Fuchs, professor of law and social justice, University of Sussex
Mauro Pucheta, lecturer in law, Kingston University London
Lisa Rodgers, lecturer, Leicester University
Emily Rose, lecturer in law, University of Strathclyde
Bernard Ryan, professor of migration law, University of Leicester
Gregory Schwartz, senior lecturer in management, University of Bristol
Roger Seifert, emeritus professor of industrial relations, University of Wolverhampton
Robert Smale, freelance researcher and writer
Inga Thiemann, lecturer in law, University of Exeter
Huw Thomas, lecturer in management (industrial relations), University of Bristol
Peter Turnbull, professor of management and industrial relations, University of Bristol
Fotis Vergis, lecturer in law, University of Manchester
David Walters, emeritus professor, Cardiff University
David Whyte, professor of socio-legal studies, University of Liverpool
Steve Williams, reader in employment relations, University of Portsmouth
Alex Wood, lecturer in the sociology of work, University of Birmingham

Click Here to read Labour’s Workers Rights Manifesto 


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Labour Will Be On The Side Of Workers – Laura Pidcock MP

By Laura Pidcock Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights

“So many people’s working lives are dominated by low pay, insecurity and powerlessness. It is a sign of this broken system that many people – and not just the lowest earners – are forced to top up their monthly wage with debt, just to cover their living costs. 

As our economy has flatlined under the Tories, wages have stagnated. People are, on average, paid less that they were 10 years ago. This is a scandal that must end. The Labour Party is the only party that is committed to eradicating in-work poverty within the next Parliament.

People spend so much of their time at work and that time should not be characterised by worry and fear. As a government,  Labour will be on the side of workers the good employer and the trade unionist, while putting exploitative employers on notice. 

Labour’s transformative ransformative programme for workers would give them real power, real respect and dignity, while changing the culture of work in this nation. By breathing hope into workplaces across Britain, we can achieve real change.



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A minimum service agreement – or a ban on strikes?

By Keith Ewing, president of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom

Having tried and failed to ban rail strikes in the Trade Union Act 2016 by inflated participation thresholds of 40 per cent, the Tories are now proposing to tighten the screws still further, with a manifesto commitment to require that “a minimum service operates during transport strikes.”

It is not clear whether this is intended to apply to all transport strikes, or to rail strikes only, the passage in the manifesto acknowledging that while “rail workers deserve a fair deal,” “it is not fair to let the trade unions undermine the livelihoods of others.” No mention of course of the unfairness of employers imposing driver-only trains.

Whether it applies to rail workers or all transport workers, what is also not clear is how this would operate in practice. It has been left to The Times to explain that minimum service agreements “would set out in advance the numbers and the nature of staff who would remain at work in the event of a strike.”

But what happens if the parties are unable to agree on the minimum service to be provided? Here the Murdoch mouthpiece reports that if the union refused to sign the agreement “the action would be declared unlawful and rail companies could obtain an injunction to stop the strikes.”

This suggests that the rail companies are to demand the service to be run, and unions to act as their own strike-breakers. So while Labour is committed to respect the rule of law and to bring British law back into line with international labour standards, the Tories are planning to continue with Thatcher’s drive into non-compliance with the nation’s legal obligations.

At the heart of this proposal is power and control:

• Who gets to control what working conditions should be?
• Who gets to control when working conditions can be changed?
• Who gets to control whether workers can resist employer demands?
• Who gets to control how workers are permitted to resist?

The answer in the rule of international law that Labour is pledged to uphold is “not the employer.” In a free society, workers must have the power to resist the bullying power of the boss, and the power to do so in a way that is effective. It is not for employers to impose limits on the industrial action their own conduct has provoked.

As other right-wing governments have discovered to their cost, disregard of the rule of law comes at a price. Most recently, in 2015 the Supreme Court of Canada intervened to strike down legislation from Saskatchewan that allowed employers to ban strikes on the spurious ground that the workers in question were engaged in an essential service.

Not only did the Court slap down a provincial government for arrogantly over-reaching itself, in doing so it took the opportunity to rewrite Canadian law by reading into the constitution a right to strike based on ILO principles. These principles do not permit an employer unilaterally to decide what is a minimum service requirement.

If The Times has correctly reported the Tory plans, what is proposed is not minimum service agreements, but minimum service requirements. There is a world of difference between the two, as legal proceedings in this country would soon expose. Rail unions are right to angry: this is not a qualification but a prohibition.

The answer to this nonsense of course is to address the reasons why the strikes are necessary in the first place: private ownership of private utilities, and public service driven by private profit that has helped to create in the United Kingdom what the British Academy has described as the most extreme form of capitalism in the world.

Alongside that we have trade unions shackled by legislation, with employers empowered and emboldened by absent or ineffective labour laws. And passengers ripped off by inadequate services on expensive journeys. A responsible party would be concerned to address the causes of conflict not its consequences.

The United Kingdom is thus in danger of not only harbouring the most extreme forms of capitalism, but also the most coercive form of labour law in the developed world. It is why this election is so important, as the one with the greatest ideological clarity and with the greatest ideological implications since Thatcher won in 1979.

Only Labour’s radical programme for working life will protect us from the continuing disempowerment and commodification of workers. And only Labour will stop the slide in the direction of authoritarianism of which the Trade Union Act 2016 is an example, and the proposed Tory ban on rail strikes another important symbol.

This article originally appeared inboxed the Morning Star 3rd December.

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Aussie unions thank global unions and crossbenchers for defeating union busting bill

By Tony Burke, Chair Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

Australian trade unionists hailed a “victory for ordinary workers” yesterday following the shock defeat of a Bill which would have allowed applications to deregister a union or sack union officials.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill would have given the green light for bosses and members of the public to take legal action against unions and their officials.

But the Labour and Green parties defeated the Bill in a parliamentary vote following a global campaign by Australian trade unions.

They encouraged sister unions and individuals to write to crossbenchers urging them to reject the union-busting legislation.

Right wing One Nation Party senators Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambi voted against the Bill, with right-wing PM Scott Morrison demanding they explain their votes.

He believed that the government had the support of One Nation and government ministers were visibly shocked when the final vote was announced.

Ms Hanson, who controls two votes in the Senate, said her party was ultimately unable to back the Bill because the government did not agree to enough of the party’s amendments.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said he was “very disappointed” with the vote.

He said the government would seek to reintroduce the Bill at an undisclosed time.

Labour Senate Leader Penny Wong said the government’s attempt to “tear down the trade union movement” failed because the Prime Minister has been focused on defending his energy minister, who is embroiled in a police investigation, instead of talking to the crossbenchers.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (Actu) declared the defeat a victory for ordinary workers.

“The vote today to defeat the Ensuring Integrity Bill is a victory for all working people in this country,” Actu president Michelle O’Neil said.

“We want to acknowledge and thank the support of the Labour Party, the Greens, Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.”

Read more here.

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The system is rigged against working people – this election we can put it right

By Tony Burke, Chair of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The system is rigged against working people. This was shown very clearly recently when Asda threatened to sack workers who did not agree to a new contract.

The new contract would allow managers to change everything about their job – from their shift rotas to their job titles.

The rigged system was also shown when a high court judge granted an injunction against the Communication Workers Union for ‘infringing’ balloting rules.

Millions of workers are trapped in low pay, zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment and unending agency work.

Workers’ wages still haven’t recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and inequality is sky high.

This is no accident. It’s the result of deliberate choices by the current government and the previous Conservative-Lib Dem coalition to dismantle the employment rights that working people rely on for protection at work, to drive down wages and create a climate of insecurity in the workplace.

Over the last decade, these governments have doubled the qualifying period for unfair dismissal, passed the 2016 Trade Union Act to limit workers’ right to organise and join unions, and shamefully refused to ban zero-hours contracts.

The general election is a chance to put things right.

We know that when workers join together they can make their working lives better.

Workplaces with collective agreements negotiated by trade unions have higher pay, shorter working hours, better holiday and sick pay, more family-friendly measures, better policies to promote equality at work, and better health and safety.

Labour is proposing that workers will have the right to organise and win union rights at work. Workers will have the right to collectively bargain with their employers through trade unions to secure decent pay and better working conditions in their workplace and across industries; employment rights from day one and four new public holidays.

We desperately need new laws to end exploitation and to protect insecure workers from bogus self employment and a ban on zero-hours contracts as is being proposed by Labour’s manifesto.

Other countries such Ireland and New Zealand have banned zero hours contacts – so why not the UK?

And we don’t just need to fight for new rights. We need to defend the ones we still have including those derived from the European Union such as the working time regulations, protection for agency and temporary workers and workers whose jobs could be effected by takeovers and mergers, rights to information and consultation.

Trade unions have been clear that the Brexit deal Boris Johnson has negotiated – or a no-deal Brexit – would be a disaster for working people.

Leaked documents suggest the Johnson government is deliberately manoeuvring to downgrade UK workers’ rights in any post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

That could open the door to those politicians who want to turn the UK into a low wage, protection-free ‘Singapore on Thames’ style economy.

And it would allow bad bosses to slash workers’ rights that are currently protected by EU legislation such as paid holidays, work breaks, parental rights, protections for part-time and agency workers and protection for workers when companies are subject to take overs and mergers.

It’s time to stand up for what trade unionists believe in, to protect our hard-won rights at work and to fight for Labour’s new deal for workers, in Labour’s excellent manifesto.

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Ballots, the courts and the need for radical reform

By Carolyn Jones, National Assistant Secretary, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

Since 1980, no fewer than 10 pieces of anti-trade union legislation have been introduced in the UK.

Those laws have been criticised again and again by the international bodies that monitor trade union laws around the world. It’s an embarrassment to our country that the UK is now recognised as a serial international law breaker.

When Margaret Thatcher first started this attack on trade unions, she claimed it was to “give unions back to their members” and to control “over powerful unions”.

The CWU court case highlights the perverse extent to which those laws are now being used to stop unions implementing the democratic decisions of their members and to prevent workers from taking action against over powerful employers.

On Wednesday in the Court of Appeal, Lord John Hendy tried in vain to defend the CWU against a Royal Mail injunction aimed at stopping postal workers striking in protest against unilateral changes by their employer to previously negotiated agreements.

Despite the CWU securing a turnout of 76% in the ballot and a massive 97% vote in support of action, the Court ruled against the CWU.

In his judgment, Justice Swift held that the union ‘subverted’ the law requiring postal balloting by encouraging members to open their ballot envelopes at work. He said: ‘This was an interference that was accurately described as improper. Strike ballots should be postal ballots. Each voter should receive a voting paper at home. ‘What CWU did was a form of subversion of the ballot process. It was an interference with voting.’

How did we get here?

The introduction of ballots is a good example of the step-by-step approach adopted by previous Governments to shackle trade unions in red tape which so often prevents unions taking lawful action. The chronology of balloting law below highlights how the law has been repeatedly tightened to restrict union action.

A quick glance shows how first (under Thatcher) money was offered to encourage unions to ‘voluntarily’ ballot their members. Then they made ballots compulsory, then secret, then at every workplace, then by post only. Now the very complexity of the balloting process provides scope for challenges to democracy like that in the CWU case.

In the past, attempts have been made to hold back the tide of anti-trade union laws. In 2008 the Institute of Employment Rights, the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom and John McDonnell attempted to change the UK’s draconian framework of trade union laws by introducing a Trade Union Freedom Bill into the House of Commons. Shame to say it failed to receive the support of New Labour and did not reach the statute book.

Two years later, and again with the help of John McDonnell, the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill (LIAM) was introduced in Parliament. The aim of LIAM was to stop the democratic decisions of workers being overturned by judges. Again, the Bill failed to reach the statute book.

Time for change.

Now, with a general election due, the possibility of a new piece of progressive legislation making it to the statute book is closer than ever.

The Labour Party has already committed to the creation of a Ministry of Labour tasked with providing a voice at the Cabinet table for the UKs workforce and the creation of both a specialist Labour Court and a Labour Inspectorate to monitor and enforce a new framework of laws suitable for the 21stcentury.

The IER, backed by CTUF, also propose that union ballots should be allowed at the workplace or online as well as by post and, recognising that the right to strike is protected in international law, we propose that every worker should have and that unnecessary and unfair red tape preventing such action should be removed.

Other proposals include, proper protection against dismissal for those who take lawful industrial action and the right to strike should extend beyond taking action against your nominal employer.

As the late Bob Crow wrote in a CTUF article back in 2010 “The law is an anti-union ass”.

It’s time for those laws to be replaced with a progressive framework of laws that matches international obligations and is fit for the 21stcentury. Its time for change.

Chronology of Ballots

1980 Employment Act:

  • Tories provided money to run ballots (carrot before the stick!)

1982 Employment Act:

  • Unions made liable (up to £250,000) if an officer endorsed a strike without ballot

1984 Trade Union Act:

  • All ballots had to be in “secret” (though not yet by post!)
  • Union now liable for ANY “act done without the support of a ballot”
  • Act specified required wording on ballot paper

1988 Employment Act:

  • Strike ballots to be done at each separate workplace (isolate weak spots)
  • New Code of Practice on ballots allowed for further state control
  • Members (not just employers and customers) could take injunction against un-balloted action
  • Introduced new state official (CROTUM) to support and pay for member complaints against union
  • Removed union’s right to discipline strike breakers and introduced substantial financial compensation for those disciplined by union.

1990 Employment Act:

  • All secondary action –with or without ballot – now unlawful
  • Unions liable for all un-balloted action unless written repudiation sent to all members
  • Dismissal of strikers taking unofficial (ie repudiated) action now allowed
  • Any member of union could sue union for un-balloted action with support of CROTUM – even if member not involved in the strike.

1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act:

  • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action specified
  • Union to identify those members balloted to boss
  • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots demanded
  • All industrial action ballots to be postal.

2016 Trade Union Act

  • At least 50% of those entitled must vote in ballot and a simple majority must vote in favour
  • In ‘important public services’ 50% must vote and at least 40% must be in favour
  • Notice of action increased from 7-14 days
  • Additional information needed on ballot papers
  • Ballot mandates expire after 6 months
  • Restrictions on check off procedures increased and on facility time
  • Picketing Code of Practice given statutory force (breach of which could attract criminal charges) and picket supervisors have to be appointed
  • Further restrictions to political funds introduced
  • New investigatory and enforcement powers given to Certification Officer
  • and provokes regular criticism from international labour law enforcement agencies

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Laura Pidcock’s Response To CWU High Court Ruling.

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CWU High Court Case & Injunction

The CWU has lost its case against Royal Mail in the High Court today in a travesty of justice. 

The CWU had carried out a legal ballot to defend jobs and working conditions in the Royal Mail. Over 97% of members voted for action with a massive turn out by CWU members who took part in the balloting process.

Rather than getting round the table and resolving the dispute with the CWU the Royal Mail sought an injunction against the CWU on minor technicalities connected with postal voting.

Royal Mail claimed the union had ‘interfered’ with the ballot process and therefore the 97% result in favour of strike action was invalid.

One of the High Court judges said the decision had also been made because of the impending General Election.

But it is understood that the case turned on the current requirement for ‘postal only’ balloting.

Under Labour’s proposals on ballots workplace balloting will be permissible by way of secret voting, which will be secure and free from unlawful interference or undue influence and employers will be under a duty to make arrangements for accessible, secret, secure workplace balloting free from unlawful interference or undue influence.

The union argued it had done nothing wrong but the ruling means the strike action planned before Christmas cannot go now ahead.

Following the result, the union tweeted:  “The High Court has ruled against us. Genuinely this is an utter outrage. 110,000 workers vs the establishment.

”Stand strong. We will not be moved.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “Not one single person out of 110,000 who were balloted complained to Royal Mail that their right to vote was interfered with.

”Not one single person out of 110,000 who were balloted complained to the independent scrutineers that their right to vote was interfered with. The Electoral Reform Society, who conducted the ballot, confirmed it was run in full accordance of the law.”

Tony Kearns the senior deputy general secretary of the CWU has tweeted the union intended to appeal the decision.

One thing is clear is that the current system, is, as Frances O’Grady of the TUC said in a tweet that the current system is rigged against workers and trade unions.

More to follow:

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ILO Conventions 87 & 98 Brazil – The Rise of Right Wing Populism

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