Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
More than a third of Hartlepool workers do not earn enough to live on, according to new research.
Figures from the TUC show 34.7 per cent of people in the town are paid less than the living wage – defined as the minimum hourly rate needed for workers to provide for themselves and their family.
And Hartlepool is the worst place in the region for the number of women earning less than the living wage, with 46.7 per cent of female workers taking home less than the minimum £7.85 an hour.
TUC analysis shows nationally one in five jobs nationwide pays under the living wage – leaving more than five million people on less than subsistence pay.
In the North East, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency tops the list of living wage blackspots, followed by Hartlepool, Berwick, Newcastle North and North West Durham.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“In-work poverty is getting worse and it is proof the economy might well work for millionaires at the top, but does nothing to help people on low pay.”
Mr Wright raised the issue of pay inequality in a Commons debate last week in his role as Shadow Minister for Industry, and referred to Hartlepool.
“Almost a quarter of North East workers and nearly half of all part-time staff are not being paid a living wage,” he told MPs.
“It is striking that the people most likely to be in poverty in Britain in the 21st Century are those in work. No-one can honestly suggest that the economy is working well or as productively as it could be when that is the case.
“This country will not achieve our vision of a highly-skilled, well-paid and innovative work force, ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by all in work, if we continue down the present path.
“The taxpayer is having to subsidise, through tax credits and other parts of the welfare state, the failure of many firms to pay a decent wage.”
Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau manager Joe Michna said the centre was dealing with the consequences of low wages.
“These figures come as no surprise,” he said.
“Certainly a large number of our clients, particularly those struggling with their daily needs, would be below what is defined as the living wage.
“We get a lot of people who are on the minimum wage and others who are just above it.”
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said:
“These figures show that huge numbers of working people in the North East are struggling to bring home a wage they can live off.
“Extending the living wage is a vital step towards tackling the growing problem of in-work poverty in parts of the North East – and Britain as a whole.
“Working families have experienced the biggest squeeze on their living standards since Victorian times, and these living wage figures show that women are disproportionately affected.
“Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom, and the government’s mantra about ‘making work pay’ is completely out of touch with reality.
“The number of living wage employers is growing rapidly and unions are playing their part in encouraging more employers to sign up and pay it.
“But we need to see a far wider commitment to pay the living wage from government, employers and modern wages councils – to drive up productivity and set higher minimum rates in industries where employers can afford to pay their staff more.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 Feb 2015
Working parents are being crippled by childcare costs with one in five North parents effectively working for nothing, figures today reveal.
New research suggests more than a third of parents in the region with children aged up to five say that one earner brings home less than £100 a month after childcare costs have been paid.
The typical amount brought home by the lower earner in a household is £212.50 after childcare and work costs have been taken into account.
Businesses have now called on the government to extend childcare support for parents with children aged one and two.
The CBI employers’ organisation said that this, and better paid jobs in the North East, would help raise family incomes and get more adults into work.
Regional head of the CBI, Dianne Sharp, said:
“In the aftermath of recession, more jobs were created in sectors with below median wages than jobs in sectors with above median wages.
> And who by ? How many of these low wages were decided by CBI members ?
“Childcare costs will remain a problem if the region fails to provide higher skilled and better paid jobs.
“Work has to pay and it’s regrettable if childcare costs are preventing parents getting back into work.
“This means we need a long-term, coordinated commitment from government to provide affordable, accessible childcare for all so that parents who choose to can maintain contact with the labour market.
“Reducing the cost of childcare for parents is important, but so is increasing the flexibility of hours that it’s available for.
“As the UK’s labour market has developed, a 9-5 approach still predominates in childcare. Nurseries are increasingly offering 8-6, but we need to see more provision of wraparound care in schools through breakfast and afterschool clubs.”
According to the research, by insurer Aviva, about 34% of parents with children aged up to five said they used childcare to enable them to go back to work.
Of these, 48% use a paid for nursery, 33% use a school, 41% turn to grandparents and just 4% use a childminder.
Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the Northern TUC, said:
“There is a lot of pressure on women to return to work early because they feel their future career and earnings will be jeopardised if they don’t, but the affordability of childcare makes things incredibly difficult.
“Childcare bills can place a huge strain on many families’ finances and that is one of the reasons why the TUC believes Britain needs a pay rise.
“TUC analysis has shown that once inflation is considered the real value of the average full-time wages has fallen by £2,500 since 2010 and that understandably has consequences for more and more families, particularly with young children.
“These figures from Aviva show that over a third of parents in our region are effectively be working for next to nothing after their childcare costs are taking into account.
“It would be a tragic waste of talent in our region’s labour market to lose out on people who want to work but can no longer financially justify it.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Jan 2015
A “devastating” number of North East people are struggling to get by on a zero hours contract, a union has warned.
The TUC has published report which estimates there are 52,000 people – enough to fill Newcastle United’s home ground St James’ Park – in the region employed on the controversial contracts, something it says is “deeply damaging for society”.
The study, called The Decent Jobs Deficit, also reveals those on the casual contracts are earning around £300-a-week less than those on a permanent contract.
The report shows average weekly earnings for zero-hours workers are just £188, compared to £479 for permanent workers.
The research also reveals that zero-hours workers are five times more likely not to qualify for sick pay as a result of their lower wages.
The TUC says 39% of zero-hours workers earn less than £111-a-week – the qualifying threshold for statutory sick pay – compared to 8% of permanent employees.
Beth Farhat, Regional Secretary of the Northern TUC, said:
“We estimate over 52,000 North East workers are employed on zero hour contracts which is a devastating number of people experiencing insecurity, and lack of basic workplace rights such as sick pay.
“Research from our region shows that this type of work can be disastrous for family relationships as it increases pressure on people often in quite desperate situations with no alternative.
“Such exploitation by employers is deeply damaging to society and for the economy since insecure work limits access to basic goods and services such as renting a flat.
“The Coalition might claim we’re in recovery but one reason why income tax revenues are down last year is because too many new jobs are low paid, insecure and with insufficient hours. We need a strategy for decent jobs with fair pay and an alternative to exploitative zero hours contracts offering people rights and respect.”
The report comes as the TUC begins a week of campaigning.
A quarter of zero-hours workers work a full-time week and one in four (23%) work over 35 hours a week, compared to two-thirds (60%) of other employees.
One in three report having no regular amount of income and were nearly five times as likely to have differing amounts of weekly pay compared to staff with other kinds of work arrangements.
The report also reveals women on zero-hours contracts don’t make as much as their male counterparts, earning £32-a-week less, on average, than men employed on the same kind of contracts.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The growth of zero-hours contracts, along with other forms of precarious employment, is one of the main reasons why working people have seen their living standards worsen significantly in recent years.
“It is shocking that so many workers employed on these kind of contracts are on poverty pay and miss out on things that most of us take for granted like sick pay.
“While it is good to see employment is rising, if the UK doesn’t create more well-paid jobs with regular hours we will continue to have a two-tier workforce where many people are stuck in working poverty.
“The increase in casual labour also helps explain why income tax revenues are falling which is not only bad for our public finances but for society too. The lack of regular hours and income makes it difficult for households to pay bills and take on financial commitments such as rents and mortgages.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Dec 2014
A low pay epidemic is sweeping the North East, it is claimed, as new figures reveal one in four are paid below a living wage.
A report released today by KPMG estimates that well over a quarter of a million workers receive less than the £7.65 per hour experts say is needed for the basic cost of living in 2014.
The TUC claim that some businesses can afford to pay the living wage, calculated by Centre for Research in Social Policy, but are refusing to do so – and the regional economy is suffering as a result.
The North East Chamber of Commerce, however, says there has been progress and last week published a survey which shows 35% of firms increased workers’ pay above inflation last year.
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat called for a bigger commitment. She said:
“People deserve a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
“But low pay is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in the North East. And it’s adding to the deficit because it means more spent on tax credits and less collected in tax.
“We have the wrong kind of recovery with the wrong kind of jobs – we need to create far more living wage jobs, with decent hours and permanent contracts.
“The fact is there are employers out there in our region who can afford to pay living wages, but aren’t.
“It is now time for all responsible employers to commit to adopting this standard, which enables workers to earn just enough to be able to live a decent life.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, will speak at the Living Wage Summit at Newcastle’s Centre for Life on Thursday as part of a week of action on low wages by the TUC.
Newcastle City Council became the first to introduce a living wage and the authority boosted this to £7.55 in April, and South Tyneside has announced it is to follow suit. Councils in Gateshead, Northumberland and North Tyneside all set up working groups to explore the issue earlier this year.
Ms McKinnell, Labour’s Shadow Economic Secretary, said:
“People in the North East are really struggling with the cost of living crisis and with around one in four workers in our region paid less than the living wage, more must be done to tackle the problem of low pay.
“Finding ways to support and encourage employers to pay the Living Wage is a major part of that.
“It is fantastic to see more businesses and Labour-run councils in our region seeing the benefits of adopting the Living Wage, but it is important that we continue to demonstrate the value, both to employers but also to our region as a whole.”
The Living Wage Summit will also hear from local authorities, trade unions, voluntary and community agencies, such as the Child Poverty Commission and employers.
Speakers include James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Sarah Vero from the Living Wage Foundation, Reverend Simon Mason and Matt Stripe, HR director for Nestle, who are a committed Living Wage employer.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Nov 2014
The number of ‘under-employed’ workers in the North East has increased by 16% since the last election, figures reveal.
The underemployed are people who want to work more hours in their present job, like those in a part-time role who want to go full-time.
Analysis by the TUC from the Labour Force Survey shows that since the May 2010 election, under-employment has also gone up more than 20,000, from 127,578 to 148,368 in this region.
The fastest increase, from 9,000 to 11,500, has been among self-employed people who say they are under-employed – a 127% rise.
The TUC says this shows that despite talk of a recovery, continual real wage falls mean more people than ever are looking for extra hours to make ends meet.
North East TUC regional secretary Beth Farhat said:
“Ministers have made much of the UK’s improving jobs figures as a sign that all is now well with the economy. But here in the North East we have suffered the double whammy of rising joblessness and under-employment.
“There are now over 20,000 more people who would like to be working more hours than they are.
“As the squeeze on pay continues, many people don’t have enough money for everyday essentials, let alone the cash to cover any unexpected emergencies.
“With no let up in their financial woes in sight, people are understandably looking to take on more hours just to keep the wolf from the door.
“Without a decent pay rise and the creation of more permanent, secure jobs, under-employment is unlikely to fall any time soon.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman claimed the TUC’s figures were misleading.
“Independent statistics show that there are over 100,000 fewer people who say they are under-employed compared to a year ago, and that full-time jobs account for more than three quarters of the rise in employment since 2010.
“The proportion of part-time workers wanting a full-time job has just seen the biggest annual fall in over two decades.
“The overwhelming majority of those working part-time do so because it suits their circumstances, for example students or those with caring or parenting responsibilities. “
However, when contacted further and asked if the DWP disputed the TUC’s North East figures, there was no further reply.
> I bet there wasn’t… guy’s nose had probably grown so long he couldn’t get near the phone.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Sept 2014
Concerns have been raised that aspiring North-East homeowners are being priced out of the property market as houses now cost five times the average wage.
The TUC’s analysis of average salaries and house prices by local authority area shows that in 1997 the average house price in every area of the North-East was less than four times the average salary.
By 2013 not a single area had this level of affordability.
The affordability ratio of five is particularly significant, says the TUC, as the Bank of England has recently instructed banks to limit the proportion of mortgages they offer that are more than 4.5 times applicants’ salaries.
Although average house prices have not yet reached their pre-recession peak in many parts of the North-East, wage levels mean that buying a home remains out of reach for local people, says the TUC.
Their analysis found that wages in the North-East fell by around £1,320 a year in real terms between 2010 and 2013.
“Last year, house prices in nearly half the North-East’s local authority areas were more than five times the average local salary.
“Unfortunately, the situation is compounded because our region has the highest unemployment rate and the lowest wages in the country.”
Ms Farhat said an ambitious house building programme was needed to get prices back under control and better rent deals were needed for people struggling to get on the property ladder.
“Housing affordability isn’t just about house prices though.
“At the moment, earnings and house prices are going in opposite directions, pricing ordinary people out and denying them something as fundamental as a roof over their head.
In both 1997 and 2013, Northumberland was the most unaffordable area in the North-East, where last year the average house price was almost six times the local average salary.
In 1997, Redcar and Cleveland was the most affordable but that has now been replaced by Middlesbrough.
Nationally, Copeland in the Lake District is the last local authority area left in Britain where average house prices were less than three times the average annual salary.
The top five least affordable areas are in London, with Kensington and Chelsea having average house prices more than 30 times the average local salary.
Source – Northern Echo, 01 Sept 2014
Hartlepool has the region’s highest proportion of women working part-time and earning less than the living wage according to the data provided by the TUC.
More than half of town women – 55.9 per cent – are paid below the living wage, analysis of figures from the House of Commons Library show.
And TUC officials say for every pound earned by men full-time, women working part-time earn just 66p.
The union says one of the main reasons for this huge gender pay divide is the large concentration of women doing low-paid, part-time work.
The living wage – the pay rate needed to let workers lead a decent life – is currently set at £7.65 an hour.
The national mininum wage is lower, at £6.31 an hour.
The town fares the worst out of the whole of the North East for ensuring fair pay for females.
Pamela Hargreaves, chair of the Hartlepool branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said:
“I think from a small business perspective, while all the businesses I’m sure would dearly love to be able to pay the living wage, because it’s the right and proper thing to do, potentially it can put quite a strain on their finances in this difficult economic climate.
“I think as the economy picks up and businesses begin to thrive again, I think it’s certainly an aspiration all businesses should aim to do.
“But from a social perspective, absolutely all employers should be striving to pay the living wage.
“I also know from running a charity, Hartlepool Families First, whilst it’s an aspiration it can be difficult to achieve it.”
North Tyneside has the region’s lowest proportion of women working part-time for less than the living wage at 37.9 per cent.
Nationally, Watford has the lowest proportion, with 16.9 per cent.
Union officials say the situation in North Tyneside shows what can be done when unions, employers and campaigners work together to tackle low pay.
Ms Hargreaves, also a town councillor, addded:
“What Hartlepool needs to do is examine why it has the highest proportion in the region.
“If North Tyneside has a model that’s working, we as a town should be looking at the model and adopting some of those practices so we can make a dent in those figures.
“It’s clearly across the board, from women director level to part-time roles – women don’t seem to be treated fairly and valued as much as male counterparts.”
The TUC wants to see more employers paying the living wage, to help tackle “in-work poverty” and close the gender pay gap.
It believes local authorities should lead by example by becoming living wage employers themselves.
Last September, Hartlepool Borough Council became a Living Wage authority which meant 405 council employees saw their pay rise from £6.45 to £7.26 an hour.
Authority chiefs are also encouraging firms that have contracts with the council to folllow suit.
The union also wants to see more jobs advertised on a part-time basis, ending the requirement that women have to be in post for six months before they have the right to request flexible working.
TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said: “In-work poverty is growing across the North East and it’s often women who bear the brunt of low pay.
“The living wage was created so that work can provide staff with a basic standard of living.
“But in places like Hartlepool, the majority of women working part-time are earning nowhere near this.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 29 Aug 2014
Health campaigners will retrace the steps of the original Jarrow Marchers as part of their fight to protect the NHS.
Several hundred people are expected to take part in a mass rally outside Jarrow Town Hall on Saturday, August 16, before a group of NHS campaigners head off on the 300-mile march to London.
Evoking memories of the famous 1936 Jarrow Crusade, when 200 jobless men marched from the town to Westminster to demand work, the event is billed as The People’s March for the NHS, with health protesters aiming to cover up to 16 miles a day, reaching the capital on September 6.
The 999 Call for the NHS campaign has already won the support of various organisations, including the TUC.
> That’s ironic… with the original Jarrow Crusade, the TUC of the day circularised Trades Councils advising them not to help the marchers. The Labour party also opposed it. And probably still would today.
Beth Farhat, regional secretary of the Northern TUC, said: “This march is being organized by a group of mums in Darlington, emulating the Jarrow March, but in aid of saving our NHS.
“They have gained support from many organisations up and down the country, including trade unions.”
Rehana Azam, one of the rally organisers, said campaigners are opposed to many of the changes to the NHS introduced by the Social Care Act 2012.
She said: “We are opposed to what we see as the sell-off of the NHS by this Government,
“We aim to raise awareness about the issues and hope the rally in Jarrow will attract major media coverage.
> Given the recent media lack of enthusiasm about rallies of 50,000 people in London, perhaps best not to expect to much…
“There should be several hundred people massing outside Jarrow Town Hall on August 16, before the march sets off for London.
“We will be campaigning on the NHS and also against things like the bedroom tax.
“The plan is to have support from people like the Mayor of South Tyneside and there should be key NHS workers and trade unionists involved in the rally.
“About 1,500 have registered to take part in the march along the route, with about 50 people marching all the way.”
For more details, log on to www.999callfornhs.org.uk
> For the record, when the original Jarrow Crusade reached London, the Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin, refused to see any of the marchers’ representatives, claiming it would set a dangerous precedent.
Source – Shields Gazette, 26 June 2014
New research shows that the number of households in the North East affected by the bedroom tax has fallen by just 12 per cent during the last year, with seven out of eight affected households unable to avoid a cut in rent support.
The research, sourced under the Freedom of Information Act by TUC-backed campaign site False Economy, reveals that the number of households subject to the bedroom tax has actually risen by 5.8% across Northumberland – and barely fallen in most other parts of the region.
The research suggests that the vast majority of tenants hit have been unable to respond to the cut in their housing budget by moving to a smaller home, earning their way out of housing benefit or taking in a lodger as the government expected.
As rent arrears grow and the widely predicted shortage of vacant one-bedroom properties becomes more apparent, thousands of low-income households have had no choice but to try to absorb a significant cut in their income. Ministers will claim that the figures could improve over four or five years – but by then many tenants will have been buried under a mountain of unpayable debts, says False Economy.
The figures show the change in councils’ bedroom tax caseload –comparing the number of households who were subject to a reduction in their housing benefit when the tax was introduced last April to the numbers affected in February and March 2014. Some local authorities report an increase in their bedroom tax caseload, while most show only modest reductions.
If the bedroom tax had achieved its stated objective of significantly cutting both the under-occupation and the overcrowding of social housing, the caseload reduction would be significantly greater, says False Economy.
The research’s key findings include: Middlesborough Council is the only local authority in the North East whose bedroom tax caseload has fallen by more than a quarter. It has fallen by less than 10 per cent in Darlington and Sunderland, and actually risen in Northumberland.
Across Britain the number of households affected by the bedroom tax has fallen by 15 per cent.
A False Economy spokesperson said: “The bedroom tax has failed on each of the government’s stated objectives – just as so many warned it would.
“But the bedroom tax was never about make making housing allocation fairer or cutting the welfare bill. It was about putting social housing further out of the reach of those who need it, and driving families into a debt spiral that traps them in squalid overpriced private tenancies and jobs that don’t pay.”
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said: “The bedroom tax is one of the most spiteful and unfair measures introduced by this government. It shows just how out of touch with ordinary people and the real world ministers are.
“Ministers seem not to know about the nationwide shortage of single bedroom social homes nor are they aware of any of the many valid reasons why tenants need more space than the government says they do.
“And the bedroom tax hasn’t stopped the housing benefit bill from going up. This is because wages have stagnated for the working poor and rents have increased as the decades long failure to build enough homes bites.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 05 April 2014