United Steelworkers Say Labour Code Recommendations A Good First Step

Steve Hunt of the United Steelworkers in Canada

The United Steelworkers (USW) in Canada has welcomed recommendations for changes to British Columbia’s Labour Relations Code, but cautions much more must be done to bring the Code into the 21st century. 

The modest changes proposed to ‘successorship’ must be expanded to include all sectors, including forestry where loggers face constant contract flipping, the USW says.

“Every B.C. worker deserves to have their successorship rights fully protected, no matter where they work,” says USW District 3 Director Stephen Hunt.

With employers promoting a gig economy – creating temporary, precarious work and pushing to treat more workers as contractors – workers need a code that recognizes that inherent power imbalance.

“We are grateful that Premier Horgan’s working life has given him knowledge and understanding about the value of card-check certification.  We need other B.C. legislators to remember working people and the barriers they face when trying to form unions.”

Other steps recommended today around timelines, penalties, mediation and arbitration are welcome changes that bring B.C.’s code into line with most other Canadian jurisdictions.

However, clear language is required to ensure access to things like remedial certifications and a clear and meaningful penalty for employers who interfere in organizing drives. Small monetary penalties simply become the cost of business for too many employers who face substantive penalties.

Finally, Hunt noted any recommendations for change are only valuable if the operation of the Labour Relations Board is fully funded.


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Canada Must Investigate Labour and Environmental Violations Committed by Candian Companies In Mexico

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Labour demands stronger workers’ rights as we leave the EU, Corbyn tells UN

The Labour Party wants to secure stronger rights for UK workers and communities as we leave the EU, Jeremy Corbyn will tell UN chiefs in Geneva today.

Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is in Geneva to meet the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Guy Ryder, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

Repeated attacks on rights at work and increased powers and privileges for corporations and employers have been at the heart of the failure of an economic system that needs urgent overhaul as we leave the EU.

While the Conservatives want to use Brexit as a race to the bottom in rights and standards, Labour is committed to strengthening rights and protections in the workplace.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, said:

“Britain is leaving the EU, but we must and will work together with those in other countries to resist the pressure to undermine rights and protections at work.

“Tax dodging, speculation and unaccountable corporate power have created economic inequality on a vast scale and sucked wealth and jobs out of community after community.

“Average pay in Britain is now lower than a decade ago and workers have faced a concerted attack on their rights under this Tory Government.

“We are determined to secure stronger rights at work and fair rules for business as we leave the EU as part of a new economic settlement which delivers for the many, not the few.”



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PCS wins £3million check-off compensation

PCS has achieved a major victory over the government as the High Court has ruled that ministers acted illegally by withdrawing check-off, the decades-old practice of collecting members’ union subscriptions directly from their pay packet.

The union has won £3 million from the government because of the illegal moves the Department for Work and Pensions took to try and smash PCS. In 2015 we were at the heart of opposition to the government, fighting against the government’s cuts and closures, robbing members of their redundancy rights and we were fighting to end austerity.

As a result the then Tory Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude took a particularly vicious decision to attack members’ terms and conditions, attack our reps and try to bankrupt us by overnight announcing that he would not allow PCS members to pay their union subscriptions directly from your pay packet. A system that had been in operation for many decades. He did that because he knew that 90% of PCS income came from that method.

Magnificent campaign
In a magnificent campaign we signed up over 160,000 members to pay their subs by direct debit in a matter of weeks and months to stop us from going bankrupt and to ensure we could continue to represent members at work. We also took legal action in the High Court to show that the government had acted illegally and to get compensation. Today that case has been settled and in a humiliating defeat for the government, in its attempt to smash PCS and other unions in the public sector, it has to pay £3 million compensation and all of our legal costs.

PCS now plan to take legal action against every major government department because of the illegal way they’ve treated PCS,

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Today’s announcement tells us we have settled one departmental case on union busting, we have many more to come. That’s good news for all of us, and now we’ll ensure we use that money to benefit our members.

This goes to show that this union can win. We can win in the courts and we can win through campaigning. We’ve defeated the government on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and we’re waiting for the outcome of a judicial review on the way the government handled pay this year because we believe they did not consult us lawfully. But we’ve got more campaigns to fight. We’ve still got to challenge the government on pay, and ensure that next year we can win above inflation pay rises.

We will continue to take them to court when we can, but the key to winning is to be a stronger union in every workplace. If you know a colleague who hasn’t joined PCS, please urge them to join. If you’re a member consider becoming a rep. The more of us who are in the union, the more of us who are active means we won’t just beat the government in court we will beat them in our campaigning, too.

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Why giving ‘gig’ workers rights isn’t as radical as politicians think it is

McStriker Lauren McCourt, Carolyn Jones, John Hendy QC, Professor Keith Ewing supporting the fast food strikes and campaign.

We could turn our country from one of the most unequal in Europe to one that offers decent pay and and quality jobs.

This article was written by John Hendy QC, Professor Keith Ewing and Carolyn Jones.

The past couple of weeks has seen ‘gig’ workers and people on zero-hours contracts take a stand against low pay and insecure jobs, with strikes held from Brighton to Glasgow among staff at TGI Friday’s, McDonald’s, Wetherspoons, Uber and Deliveroo.

Joining the picket line at Leicester Square, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised to meet the needs of the strikers through employment law reforms, such as rolling out sectoral collective bargaining, establishing a Ministry of Labour, and improving workers’ access to trade unions.

Opponents of these ideas react as if they are radical. They have claimed that providing precarious workers with stronger rights will make the economy less ‘flexible’ to business.

On both accounts, they are wrong. It is our current system – one that leaves workers uniquely vulnerable – that is unusual. Labour’s proposals would simply bring the UK up to the basic standards of most other developed economies.

McDonnell’s recommendations are based on those put forth in our new report Rolling out the Manifesto for Labour Law, which was authored by 26 of the country’s leading academics and labour lawyers. Among the ideas adopted from our Manifesto by the Labour Party was one to scrap the UK’s three-tiered employment status, which currently divides the workforce into ’employees’, ‘workers’ and the self-employed. Abolishing this framework is vital to protecting McStrikers and others in similar jobs.

Currently, those classed as ‘workers’ – a status less than ’employees’ – have access to only a handful of rights like holiday pay. By using the ‘worker’ classification companies like Sports Direct can limit toilet breaks and fire their staff for getting ill.

People who are self-employed have no workers’ rights at all. This is fine for those genuinely in business on their own account (like the independent shopkeeper) but has been exploited by companies like Uber, who try to misclassify their workers as self-employed to deny them rights entirely.

We propose a single status with equal rights for everyone at work from day one. The only exception would be for those genuinely running a business on their own account. By doing so, we can put an end to these forms of exploitation once and for all.

And there is nothing radical about this proposition. The vast majority of legal systems, including those of most developed economies, have a two-tier system just like the one we propose.

While some countries do have workers in a ‘third’ category, it would be extremely misleading to compare them to the millions of people in the UK trapped in ‘worker’ roles. Why? Because those ‘third’ categories are embedded in a totally different system of labour law that offers better protections to workers all round.

Take, for example, collective bargaining coverage. Sectoral collective bargaining – a central feature of our proposals – is the dominant form of industrial relations across Europe. It describes the process whereby representatives of workers and employers meet to negotiate and set minimum wages and conditions across entire sectors of industry. Under such agreements, every worker doing the same job, at the same level, is paid at least the same rate as their peers, regardless of who they are employed by or what their employment status is. In simple terms, this means workers are paid for the work they do, not which category their employer has pushed them into.

On average, across the EU, over 60% of the workforce are covered by collective agreements like these – negotiated either at sectoral level or with individual companies, or both – rising to more than 80% in some of the strongest economies like Sweden and Norway. In the UK, it is less than 26% – so most workers have no ability to negotiate and are instead forced to take or leave whatever their employer offers them.

A government department for labour that represents workers’ needs in government is another staple of most other developed economies. The UK used to have one too, but it was slashed by Thatcher’s administration. Re-establishing a Ministry of Labour is another way we can rise to the standards of our international peers.

Most other countries have independent labour Inspectors to enforce their labour laws. Not the UK. It’s hardly surprising, then, that one-third of claimants successful at tribunal never receive their compensation. It’s simply too easy to break the law. We propose a Labour Inspectorate to enforce compliance, compensation covering the losses victims have suffered, and tougher penalties including criminal sanctions for the worst offenders. Where did we get these ideas? By looking at what already works across the world.

As for flexibility, accountancy giant PwC recently proved that you don’t need to sacrifice your rights to fit your work around your life by allowing prospective candidates to choose their own hours without being treated as second-class ‘workers’. This is a matter of employer choice; nothing about our proposals prevents other employers from choosing it.

The government is expected to adopt Taylor’s proposals, which leave the UK’s labour system largely unchanged. Ours could turn the country from one of the most unequal in Europe to one that offers decent pay and quality jobs.

John Hendy QC is Vice president of CTUF and a Barrister at Old Square Chambers; Keith Ewing is President of CTUF and a Professor of Public Law at Kings’ College London; Carolyn Jones is Assistant Secretary of CTUF.

This blog first appeared on Left Foot Forward.

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Bank of England Chief Says Weaking Unions Is Behind ‘Pay Stagnation’

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist Of The Bank of England

12th October

Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, (who is lined up to chair the Government’s Industrial Strategy Council) has said the decline of trade unionism as a key reason for the stagnation in real wages over the last ten years.

”The world of work is being reshaped in many advanced economies by the secular fall in the degree of unionisation and collective bargaining, by changes in employment contracts and working patterns and by rises in the degree of concentration and automation in the company sector. By reducing workers’ “pay power”, they too have depressed wage growth, actually and prospectively,” he said in a speech to trade unions and business.

He described the past decade as “very unusual by historical standards” in that employment levels rose but wage levels did not.

A significant fall in unionisation was one of the main drivers behind this, he said, noting that wage premiums for those who are members of a union typically fall in the range of about 10-15%.

”…a 10 percentage point rise in the degree of unionisation raises wage growth by around 25 basis points per year,” he explained.

”Over recent decades, unionisation rates have fallen by 30 percentage points. Using the long-run estimates, that will have lowered wage growth by around 0.75 percentage points per year over the past 30 years, a significant effect.

”Consistent with it, the sharpest falls in unionisation came in the 1970s and 1980s, coinciding with falls in the UK labour share. Rolling regressions suggest the effects of unionisation on pay were largest during this period.

”If we look at the sectoral level, similar effects are seen. Sectors of the UK economy with higher levels of unionisation have seen smaller falls in their labour shares. Over the past few decades, a sector like administration and support activities with under 10% unionisation rates has seen its labour share decline, while a sector like education with a unionisation rate close to 50% has seen its labour share rise.”

Haldane also pointed to low productivity, increased automation and the rise of insecure work as factors in the real wage stagnation.

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Mexican Senate Approves Freedom Of Association Agreement

Senator Napoleon Gomez, the head of Mexico’s metals and mining union, Los Mineros

USW’s Ben Davis sent this news report to us on September 20th

The plenary session of the Mexican Senate unanimously ratified the Convention 98 of the International Labor Organization on freedom of association.

The document establishes that workers must be protected against any act that seeks to subject a person’s employment to the condition that he or she does not join a union or must cease to be a member of the union.

It also requires that workers ‘and employers’ organizations are protected against any act of interference from one another.

The Convention states that the State must create organisms to stimulate the development of negotiation procedures, as well as guaranteeing the right to organize.

From the rostrum, the mineworkers’ union leader and senator of Morena, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, argued that the approval is a victory for the working class.

After the approval, the legislators of Morena shouted in the Plenary of the Senate: “it is an honour to be with Obrador”.

The provision was discussed without the presence of the PAN senators.

In their absence, the PAN legislators (opposition) asked to register their interventions in the Journal of Debates to record their disagreement about the way in which the approval of the Agreement was processed, without having made a consultation with the sectors involved, including the private sector.

Senator Patricia Mercado, of Movimiento Ciudadano, spoke in favor, but regretted that the consultations with businessmen who have expressed concerns have not been carried out.

In his speech, the senator of the PRI and leader of the CTM, Carlos Aceves, spoke in favor of the Convention, whose ratification was requested by President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2015.

With the ratification of Convention 98 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the corrupt system of labour relations in Mexico will be destroyed, said Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, senator from Morena.

“With this ratification we are breaking a system of corruption and employer protection treatments that were signed behind the workers’ backs, where they had no ability to elect their leaders, to determine their working conditions or to have a union that represented them, ” he said.

“Today we take a step forward in union democracy.”

In a press conference, he described the endorsement as an act of historical justice.

“It is an act of justice for the working class of Mexico, it is an act by which a historical debt that the Government of Mexico had with the working class of this country is fulfilled,” he said.

The mineworkers’ leader stressed that, as of today, Mexico will no longer be among the 22 countries that had not ratified ILO Convention 98.

The ratification, he said, marks the beginning of a new relationship between labor and capital, in which freedom of association is respected.

“The workers by a free and secret vote can choose the union they want to belong to, can choose the leaders they want to lead them and will also have collective bargaining that gives them security and protection in their jobs,” he said.

Napoleon Gómez Urrutia assured that workers’ wages and security policies will also change.

With information from Evlyn Cervantes

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IER-CTUF At The Labour Party Conference

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Mexico’s President-Elect Prepares Labor Overhaul to Empower Workers

Luisa María Alcalde, said to be Mexico’s next labor minister, says new laws will aim to ban the so-called protection agreements that labor lawyers say have long worked to suppress wages in the country.

No more secret agreements between union bosses and employers, future labor minister says

By Juan Montes, The Wall Street Journal, September 11th

Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is preparing legislation to overhaul the country’s collective-bargaining system to improve wages and help Mexico comply with labor-rights provisions of a recent trade agreement with the U.S., a top aide said Tuesday.

Mr. López Obrador aims to effectively ban so-called protection agreements, or collective contracts signed by union leaders and employers without worker consent, by requiring unions to show they have the backing of at least 30% of workers before signing a contract, said Luisa María Alcalde, who has been tapped to be labor minister when Mr. López Obrador takes office Dec. 1.

“Those contracts are rotten from the outset,” she said in an interview. “It is time for Mexican workers to decide by themselves who should represent them.”

Perhaps as important, Ms. Alcalde said existing protection agreements would also have to be legitimized in coming years by way of secret ballots among workers. Nine out of 10 collective-bargaining contracts signed in Mexico are agreed without the consent, and sometimes without the knowledge, of a company’s workers, experts estimate.

Mr. López Obrador, a leftist who won the July 1st presidential election by a landslide, campaigned on promises to improve the lot of workers in Mexico, where average monthly wages are around $315.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has also insisted that a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement include measures to increase Mexico’s low wages, which Mr. Trump sees as unfair competition.

Mexican government data show manufacturing workers in Mexico earn $2.30 per hour on average, while U.S. factory workers make about $21.50 an hour.

The preliminary trade agreement reached between the U.S. and Mexico in late August, which will serve as the basis for a new Nafta if Canada agrees on terms with the U.S., includes enforceable labor provisions.

One provision would allow the U.S. to impose trade sanctions if Mexico fails to enact labor reforms that ensure basic worker rights such as effective access to collective bargaining, according to two people with knowledge of the deal. Mexico also agreed to approve new labor legislation consistent with the trade deal.

“This is a game-changing reform. Protection contracts are a huge burden for the country, and [worker] representation will bring a better distribution of wealth,” said Álvaro Altamirano, a labor lawyer who has worked for Volkswagen and Audi in Mexico.

A dysfunctional collective-bargaining system in Mexico has kept wages depressed for decades, and labor conditions haven’t significantly improved for millions of workers, experts say.

Current laws don’t require labor unions to prove they represent workers before signing a collective-bargaining contract. The signatures of the employer and the union leader are enough if an agreement is duly registered before labor authorities.

The planned legislation would complement a constitutional amendment that was enacted in February 2017 but which hasn’t gone into effect because of pending secondary laws. Lawmakers say the legislation would be approved before the end of the year. Mr. López Obrador’s Morena party and its allies have a majority in both houses of Congress.

Ms. Alcalde, the 31-year-old daughter of a prominent leftist labor lawyer, has a masters of law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as a Mexican law degree. Aside from unions needing to prove they represent at least 30% of workers to sign a contract under the new law, she said it would require majority approval if two or more unions fight over a contract. Union leaders will also have to be elected through secret ballots.

The proposed laws, if fully implemented, would raise Mexican wages, improve labor conditions and help increase companies’ productivity, Ms. Alcalde said. Some business leaders are concerned, however, that the new model may increase labor conflicts and discourage investment.

The legislation would create an independent body to make sure workers are effectively represented. Copies of contracts will be made available on the internet for the first time.

For years, many companies favored protection agreements because they keep wages low and profit margins high, while avoiding costly strikes. They also help protect companies against strike threats. Such threats, common in Mexico, have often served as a means of extortion by fake unions that don’t represent their workers, labor lawyers say.

Write to Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com

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Collective Agreements: Extending Labour Protection

This new volume published in July 2018 examines the extension of collective agreements and its use as a policy tool to expand the coverage of labour protection, and shore up collective bargaining.

At a time when inequality is on the rise, this volume offers renewed insights on how this tool might be used to advance social justice and inclusive labour markets.

Click here to download the 200+ page volume.

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