A union chief claims his reps have more standing than the MPs calling for reform.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the country’s biggest trade union, Unison, slammed Tory plans to make striking harder . . . and said millions of paid up members give union chiefs more clout that politicians.
He was speaking as of the Northern TUC held a Public Services Alliance Emergency Summit in Newcastle over what unions brand a “constant assault on the public sector”.
David Cameron’s party wants to raise the strike ballot threshold to a 40% turnout, end a ban on using agency workers to cover strikers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and curb picketing.
Today, a strike is valid if it achieves a simple majority.
Defenders of the proposals – which form part of the Tories’ election manifesto – say strikes with low turnout among supporters are not legitimate.
But Dave Prentis said his union has the backing of its 1.3 million members, adding: “As public sector workers, we need to be able to take many forms of action or employers will be able to do whatever they want to us.
“If we do get another five years of this coalition, public services will shrink back to 1930s levels and the trade unions will be hit more than anybody else.
“We represent 1.3 million public sector workers and I really do think that trade unions and their representatives have got more standing than the politicians putting forward these proposals.”
The union chief is lashing out after a long period of discontent which has seen dozens of strikes across the public sector over job losses and pay cuts.
He added the reforms put unions in an impossible position.
He said: : “Turnout is about 25% to 30% throughout the country but we do want to encourage people to vote.
“We spend millions of pounds sending out voting papers to home addresses when life is different now. You can vote electronically and in many different organisations you use email or mobile phone but we can’t do that.
“We are willing to fund a ballot box near workplaces to do a vote just like in a general election, but because of legislation we can’t do these things.
“The only means our members can vote is a postal ballot. This puts us in an impossible position.”
The Emergency Public Services Summit is being held at the Thistle County Hotel in Newcastle city centre on Saturday.
It is chaired by Clare Williams, chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance, and other speakers include Tyneside Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Chi Onwurah.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Jan 2015
With a general election looming ever larger on the political horizon, the main parties are now unveiling the policies they think will secure them victory.
The economy, immigration and benefits are among the battlegrounds which they will be fighting over in the next four months.
Another is the heavily unionised public sector which has undergone swingeing cuts since the Coalition Government came to office in May 2010 and historically has been the favoured whipping boy of the Tory party.
And so when David Cameron’s party revealed plans to make it harder to call strikes in certain “core” public services if it wins the general election, it came as no surprise.
A policy along those lines, after all, was floated last year by Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster general Francis Maude.
There was also no surprise in its backing by the employers organisations the CBI and the British Chamber of Commerce, or in its universal condemnation by members of the TUC.
Yet, while certain sections of the media need no invitation to attack the public sector, and its day of action last year caused discomfort and annoyance amongst the public – not least the sight of rubbish piling high in places like Newcastle – it is still a risky strategy.
For a start, it opens the Government up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards.
After all, the present Coalition Government is made up of the Lib Dems and Tories who between them received 38% of the total number of the UK’s eligible voters – 18m out of 45.5m – and below the 40% threshold it wants to demand of the public sector it is targeting. The Tory share of this was 23%.
In her heyday , Margaret Thatcher won around 30% of the total available vote and, during the present parliament, the Tories voted down a Lib Dem motion to introduced an alternative voting scheme which arguably would have made parliament more representative of the people’s views.
Meanwhile, GMB general secretary Paul Kenny also got his calculator out to further hammer home the point. He said:
“Only 16 out of 650 elected Members of Parliament secured the support of 40% of those entitled to vote in their parliamentary constituency area election in 2010.
“Only 15 Tory MPs out of 303 secured that level of support. They had no hesitation in forming a government in 2010 without securing 40% support from the electorate.”
Another point is that, particularly in the North East, the public sector which employs many in the region, is not as hated as the Tories might think. So such a policy strategy could be a vote loser here.
Gill Hale, regional secretary of Unison in the North East, said:
“They are the anti-public sector party – you only have to see what they are doing to the NHS and what they have already done to local government.
“Industrial action is taken as a last resort, and when we’ve had to take it we’ve had very good public support. I don’t think it will be a vote winner.”
Meanwhile comments by Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, in which he denounced the plans as “brutal” and “ill-conceived”, echo those of Ms Hale.
He said the Conservative proposals were “entirely ideologically-led and a brutal attempt to strangle the basic rights of working people in this country”.
Mr Cable added that a 40% threshold would be “odd”, when MPs do not have to overcome such a high hurdle to be elected.
Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.
Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC says the Conservatives’ proposals would have “profound implications” for civil liberties.
They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing.
The package of measures will feature in the party’s manifesto for May’s general election.
In explaining the plan, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said a planned London bus strike set to take place on Tuesday had only been voted for by 16% of people entitled to take part in the ballot, and called the walk-out “ridiculous”.
“I think before a strike is allowed to go ahead it must havemuch more support from the union members and cannot be called by politicised union leaders,” he said.
But Ms O’Grady said that participation in strike ballots and other types of vote should be improved by introducing online voting, in “safe and secure balloting”.
At the moment, strikes can only be called based on the results of a postal ballot – which “don’t do the job”, Ms O’Grady added.
She said the government “continues to oppose this proposition”, although Mr McLoughlin replied he would be willing to talk “in more detail” about such proposals.
However, his partner in the Coalition Government, Mr Cable, goes further.
He said: “If there is to be trade union reform, it should be to allow electronic voting in ballots which would improve the turnout and legitimacy of polls.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the Conservative Party’s proposed changes would have a “chilling” effect, and added the way to “resolve disputes was through negotiations – not to intimidate and silence by legislation”.
Ministers have repeatedly clashed with trade unions over pay – with a 1% cap on increases in the public sector – as well as changes to pensions and retirement ages.
It was during the day of action last summer when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took part in a day of strike action across the UK, that Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “time to legislate”.
But Ms Hale added:
“We already have some of the most draconian laws in Europe regarding industrial action. There are so many obstacles we have to get over.”
However, Mr McLoughlin said:
“It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too.”
He said the changes, which would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament, would “increase the legitimacy” of strike action held by unions.
“It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working taxpayers who rely on key public services.”
CBI deputy director general Katja Hall commented:
“Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.”
However, the TUC has previously said imposing a minimum turnout would leave unions with “about as much power as Oliver Twist”.
Labour criticised those plans as “desperate stuff”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike and would shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants.
He said: “The UK already has tough laws on strikes – there is no need to make them stricter still.”
But John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “In the eyes of businesses large and small, these proposals have merit, as they would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 12 Jan 2015
Thousands of police staff are due to go on strike in a pay dispute after union workers voted to take industrial action.
The result of a ballot by staff, including PCSOs, scenes of crime and police call handlers, was announced on Tuesday and it is believed there are around 2,500 union members in Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland police who could be affected.
A row developed over a pay dispute where staff were offered a 1% increase but union members had backed calls for a 3% pay rise, 85% of Unison members backed a ballot over industrial action and 60% of members have voted to strike if the issue can’t be resolved.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“These results send a clear message that after two years of pay freeze and last year’s below inflation pay rise, police staff have had enough and that they are now ready to take industrial action over pay.
“We are calling on the police employers to return to the negotiating table to improve the current pay offer.”
The union’s police sector committee is set to meet to consider the ballot results, and discuss the next move.
Members of the GMB union also voted in favour of strikes, and national officer Sharon Holder said:
“Following the conclusion of the ballots, unions will now meet and announce the planned industrial action.”
Peter Chapman, a Unison representative and lead for police staff in the North East, previously said:
“This is not something that our members want to do.
“It’s not action taken lightly and police staff can never be described as militant.
“It will include PCSOs, people who take finger prints and scenes of crime.
“The police force can’t run without it’s staff and PCSOs are part of our union.
“They are popular, they are effective if there’s a strike by PCSOs it will have a noticeable public impact.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Dec 2014
A rise in employment and sharp drop in the number of people out of work has had little effect on the scandal of low wages, the latest figures show.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday show that the UK unemployment rate has fallen sharply by 132,000 between April and June to 6.4%, the lowest since 2008, with a total of 2.08 million unemployed people in the UK. The figure does not include the 8.68 million people who are regarded as being ‘economically inactive’, or unavailable/unable to work. The economic inactivity rate now stands at 21.9% and is unchanged compared with January to March 2014.
The lower than expected wage growth figures come at the same time as other figures show that the UK is now the self employment capital of western Europe. Figures from the think tank IPPR show that the number of self-employed people in the UK has grown by more than 1.5 million over the last thirteen years, growing at its fastest rate during the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. Self employed people now represent more than 15% of the workforce. Around two-fifths of all jobs created since 2010 have been in self-employment.
Unions have expressed concerns that self-employment can often be insecure and low-paid, and may not always include the employment rights other workers are accustomed to.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The British economy is in a Jekyll and Hyde situation.
“While the fall in the jobless total of 132,000 is welcome, we have to ask what sort of jobs have those people entered? The situation is compounded by the fact that more and more people are being driven into so-called self-employment in a desperate bid to get off benefits and find work.
“Self-employment is not the economic panacea that ministers crow about; it forces workers into a state without rights and with wage insecurity, and we are increasingly encountering people forced into `self-employment’ by employers who want to swerve their responsibilities.
“At the same time, the wage siege continues. If you strip out bonuses, wage rises are struggling along the bottom at a record low of 0.6 per cent which is hobbling the recovery in the UK economy. If self-employment earnings figures were included it would look even worse as the Resolution Foundation has shown.
“With George Osborne borrowing way beyond what he promised the nation, his mindless austerity policies are costing this nation and its people dear. This is no longer about reducing the deficit; it is about the systematic lowering of the living standards of ordinary people.
“Millions of people feel insecure in their jobs. Hundreds of thousands of our young people are languishing on the dole or press-ganged into workfare.
“Inflation is still running at 1.9 per cent – more than three times the rate of earnings. The case is clear that Britain’s workers need a pay rise – and this can be well-afforded by the companies which are sitting on a cash mountain of reserves.
“This government’s claims of economic competency are laughable. A government serious about job creation would not be borrowing to keep people in benefits, but would be investing to create work and skilled, decent jobs, through a mass house-building programme, rebalancing the economy away from its increasing dependency on the low-wages service sector, and tackling the chronic housing need in this country.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The combination of rising employment and falling pay growth suggests the economy is very good at creating low-paid jobs, but struggling to create the better-paid work we need for a fair and sustainable recovery.
“Self-employment has been responsible for almost half of the rise in employment over the last year. The fact that self-employed workers generally earn less than employees means our pay crisis is even deeper than previously thought, as their pay is not recorded in official figures.
“Falling unemployment is always welcome – particularly for young people who are finally starting to find work – but unless the quality of job creation increases Britain’s living standards crisis will continue and people will be locked out of the benefits of recovery.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Any fall in unemployment is welcome but the rise of the number self-employed is a worrying trend. They are likely to earn less than those in full time jobs as well as being less secure.
“Underemployment is now a bitter reality for millions of struggling families across the UK. And many have no option but to work part-time because they cannot find a full-time job.
“Too many people are stuck in minimum wage jobs, on zero hours contracts and part time work when they are desperate to go full time. Desperate because they need regular, secure employment to feed their families without having to resort to foodbanks, pay their bills without falling into the grip of pay day lenders and decent pay to rebuild consumer confidence and grow the economy.”
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has described today’s unemployment figures as a “double-edged sword”. The charity says that falling unemployment coupled with low wages and an increase in self employment ‘will lead to instability for working households’.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“With employment up but wages down, today’s economic figures are a mixed blessing for working families. The rising number of people in work is extremely welcome, but emerging trends in the economy bring a double-edged sword of more jobs but more instability and lower wages.
“The Government has undoubtedly made good progress on jobs and growth but increased self-employment, flexible-hour jobs and Zero Hour Contracts mean insecurity for many working people. Those people who work for themselves are just as likely to seek debt advice as any other working group. Self-employed people in debt helped by Citizens Advice are more likely to face bankruptcy than people in debt who are employed or out of work.
“On Zero Hour Contracts, we’ve had welcome announcements from the Coalition about banning exclusivity clauses but with this type of job a growing part of our economy, people with such a contract should also be guaranteed basic rights like maternity pay and annual leave.”
The Bank of England has responded to today’s news about poor wage growth by cutting its forecast in half. Bank of England governor Mark Carney said that he now expects salaries to rise by 1.25% this year. The figure represents the slowest pace in wage growth since 2001.
Responding to the announcement from the Bank of England, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is hugely concerning to hear that the Bank has cut its forecast for wage growth in half. The economy’s getting bigger but not better with Britain’s pay squeeze now set to continue even longer.
“It’s not just wage stagnation that’s pushing down incomes, living standards are falling because so many of the new jobs being created are low-skilled, don’t have enough hours, or are in low paid self-employment.
“It deeply worrying that the Bank says ‘average household real incomes have yet to stage a meaningful recovery’. If people don’t have money in their pay packets to spend on goods and services it’s hard to see how we can return to sustainable growth. Consumer spending is holding up for now despite people’s real pay falling, but the danger here is people running down savings or increasing their debts.
“That’s why Britain needs a pay rise, because a recovery built on stronger household incomes will be a recovery built to last.”
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said: “As the economy continues to grow, ministers must not lose sight of the more than two million people stuck in the shadow of growth, and out of work. The legacy of recession is wages which remain far lower than prices, and with the Bank of England halving its wage growth forecast, many families will find that meeting household bills is even harder.
“Ministers need to make sure good policies, like financial support for childcare, reflect the new realities in the labour market. People taking up the growing number of flexible-hour and low income jobs are likely to struggle to get decent childcare, whilst 41 per cent of Citizens Advice clients say that finding a childminder or babysitter is a barrier to them taking on work.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 13 Aug 2014
Members of one of the North East’s biggest unions have been told to demand more from Labour.
Unison chief Dave Prentis told members gathered in Newcastle that the party “has to make sure Labour is on our side.”
In an apparent attack on party leader Ed Miliband, Mr Prentis told union representatives gathered in the city’s Vermont Hotel that “You can’t get Ed to say he likes trade union leaders.”
He added: “He says he likes trade unions, I’m not sure he even knows what one is.”
Mr Prentis said the Labour party had “wasted time” on the party leader’s reforms to Labour’s trade union links.
“The outcome of all that was six months of time wasting that no one else cared about, that did nothing for the people they are supposed to represent.”
Asked if he agreed with one delegate who said Labour had slept through the last four years, Mr Prentis said: “I share the sentiment that it has take some time for some Labour officials in London to realise that they are no longer in Government.
“I share the sentiment that Labour does not even have the pledge card that was there in 1997 so people can say on the doorstep, ‘this is what we will do for you.’”
Mr Prentis said Unison wanted to see “clear policies from Labour” that the union could support in the run up to the General Election, telling members that he would be seeking to put pressure on the party to come up with manifesto commitments that would “make a clear difference.”
He said: “We need clear, strong policies from Labour if we are going to get a Labour victory. We want the party to set out how it will rebuild the NHS to make it a real national health service, for example.”
During the meeting with delegates, Mr Prentis backed those who said it was wrong that no major employer in Labour’s North East heartland had a Living wage, despite the party having it as a target wage for all in the last manifesto.
Clare Williams, Unison’s regional convenor, said, “Across all our members in whichever service they work, the key issue is pay. Friday’s event with Dave Prentis was an opportunity for members in the region to have an open discussion with our General Secretary to plan a strategy to tackle poverty pay in the public sector.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 07 April 2014
North East unemployment has dropped slightly but still remains the UK’s highest.
The latest unemployment count shows 130,000 on unemployment benefit in the region, down 3,000 over the last three month period. But at 10% the rate was nearly 2% higher than elsewhere in the UK.
> It says something about the true state of affairs when, even after all the sanctioning and manipulation of figures, they still can’t get the NE figures down.
This morning employment minister Esther McVey said: “With the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in the North East falling in every month of the last year, it’s clear that the Government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy is helping businesses create jobs and get people into work.
“Nationally, employment continues to increase and youth unemployment continues to fall, which means more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future.”
Across the UK unemployment continued to fall and a record number of women are in work, new figures have revealed.
The jobless total was 2.34 million in the final quarter of last year, down by 125,000, giving a rate of 7.2%.
The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance dipped to 1.22 million in January, down by 27,000 – the 15th consecutive monthly fall.
More women are in work than at any time since records began in 1971, at just over 14 million, today’s data from the Office for National Statistics showed.
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “It’s good to see another fall in unemployment. Our Long Term Economic Plan means more people with the security of a wage and a chance in life.”
But Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Sadly, today’s fall in the total number of unemployed masks the scourge of under-employment, which is growing at an alarming rate across the country.
“Under-employment is now a bitter reality for millions of struggling families across the UK.
“Too many people are stuck in minimum-wage jobs, on zero-hours contracts and part-time work when they are desperate to go full-time.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 19 Feb 2014