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
Two councillors have told civic chiefs they do not want an increase in their allowances – and have called on other members to snub the offer.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief finance officer Chris Little wrote to all 33 councillors this week to tell them that their basic allowance of £5,825 was going up to £5,953.
The proposed hike in allowances was recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel, and was discussed by the full council in July.
Councillors did not approve the increases at the time and a Labour-backed amendment was put forward saying if they were to be given a rise then it should be in line with any increases given to council staff.
Since then, a 2.2 per cent rise for council staff has been agreed at Government level, therefore triggering the cash boost for councillors.
But councillors Pamela Hargreaves and Jonathan Brash, who refer to themselves as Independent Labour but are classed as Independent on the council’s website, said members did not “deserve” a rise.
Coun Brash said:
“Most public sector workers have seen just a 1 per cent rise, making them poorer year on year.
“The idea of local politicians accepting any rise in these circumstances, let alone 2.2 per cent, makes me sick to my stomach. This was a Labour stitch-up from the beginning. Many councillors said it was wrong then and it remains wrong today.
“It’s time Hartlepool had some real Labour principles back in the council chamber.”
Coun Hargreaves said:
“Let us be absolutely clear. Council staff deserve this pay award However, to suggest that local councillors are comparable and deserve the same pay increase is abhorrent and we will not accept it.”
The authority’s deputy leader Coun Carl Richardson accused them of “cheap political point-scoring”.
Coun Richardson, deputy leader of Hartlepool Council, said:
“This is cheap political point-scoring.
“Hartlepool Councillors received no increase in their Basic Allowance for four years from 2009/10 to 2012/13 and the Full Council last year rejected the Independent Remuneration Panel’s recommendation that the Basic Allowance should be increased each year, which would have meant a figure of £6,517 for 2015/16.
“Instead, it agreed an amendment put forward by the Labour Group that councillors should stick to a previous 2013 resolution that they should only receive an increase in their basic allowance in line with any pay increase received by council employees from the Government, as and when that occurred.
“The current increase – which will be payable from 1st January 2015 and will be fixed for 2015/16 – will take the councillors’ basic allowance from £5,825 to £5,953.
“It means Hartlepool will still have the lowest councillors’ basic allowance in the North-East – significantly less than the North-East average of £8,965 and way below the highest allowance in the region of £13,300.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 16 Jan 2015
Food poverty is no longer being seen as a welfare issue as those who suffer from it have got so used to turning to charities for help.
In a report, North East academic Dr Jane Midgley said the huge increase in foodbanks run by the voluntary sector has blurred the lines as to who should be caring for the vulnerable and the needy.
She said a squeeze on incomes, benefit sanctions and rocketing utility bills are the drivers of foodbank use, but people instead see their local council as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’.
Dr Midgley, whose research formed part of the Feeding Britain report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, urged councils to show support for those facing the misery of food poverty and called for more clarity over the root causes of the phenomenon.
“We are increasingly finding that charities, rather than the state, are supporting people in need who cannot afford to feed themselves.
“While we need to recognise the effort this takes and the difference it makes to peoples lives, the boundaries of this responsibility are far from clear.
“Food poverty is not seen as a welfare issue and because of the way charities and voluntary sector organisations have stepped in, people no longer see local government and the public sector as a source of support.”
Foodbank use exploded in 2014. The Trussell Trust said between April and September 2014, more than 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead , Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks.
That works out at 4,289 people a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.
“We are now not just at a critical juncture for how we respond to the issue of food poverty, but also what this means for local policy makers,” Dr Midgley added.
“They need to be able to show, in a difficult financial climate, that they still care and want people who live within their towns and cities to live well and flourish.”
The Feeding Britain report warned that North families are just one unexpected bill away from food poverty. It said the living wage and speedier benefit payments must form part of the solution.
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said he had “no indication” people were turning on councils and said staff were supportive of people facing the misery of food poverty.
“We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we are seeing some of the most terrible cases of poverty in years due to the huge financial pressures being put on hard-working families.
> I do wish politicians would refrain from parrotting hard-working families on issues like this. It implies that those not working for whatever reasion are lazy, and before we know where we are we’re back to the concept of deserving and undeserving poor.
“We are living in a society where rising costs and relentless government cuts across the country are creating much tougher living conditions. Here in South Tyneside we are doing all we can to try and support and protect people who are experiencing the greatest hardship.
“As a council we have committed to the phased introduction of the Living Wage for Council workers from April 2015. This should help people on some of the lowest wages and we hope that other businesses will be able to look to do the same.”
Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said Coalition ministers were to blame for the rise in foodbanks.
“You can’t sack half a million public sector workers or employ people on exploitative zero hours contracts and expect there to be anything other than a calamitous outcome.
“While ministers enjoy Christmas this week far too many of our people will be struggling, literally, on the breadline. It’s time to stop penalising the poor for the failures of the richest in society.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 July 2014
A trade union boss in South Tyneside has spoken of his fears that some of his members are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.
As public sector workers prepare for a day of unprecedented industrial action in the borough tomorrow, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, offered a staunch defence of the action, saying his members had continued to provide services on the ground despite “draconian Government cuts”.
Strikes by council workers, school staff and firefighters are set to cause disruption to people across the borough tomorrow.
Mr Butler says it is “likely” that some of his membership have resorted to food banks to make ends meet, although he knows of no specific cases locally.
Carers, social workers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and teaching assistants are among thousands of local council and school support workers in South Tyneside striking as part of a nationwide action over pay.
Mr Butler says a pay freeze imposed by the Coalition Government in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – and below-inflation rises in eight of the last 17 years – has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers “plummeting back to the level of the 1990s”.
He said: “Many council workers in South Tyneside have been left struggling to get by, with some, no doubt, relying on food banks, second jobs and in-work benefits to make ends meet.
“This year’s offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20 per cent for more than a million local government and school workers.”
Unison is urging the employers to get back to the negotiating table with an offer that recognises the “invaluable contribution members make to their local communities”.
Mr Butler added: “Council workers have kept on going in the face of four years of draconian Government cuts to keep local services in South Tyneside running.
“They care for our elderly and our vulnerable, keep our streets clean, and educate and look after our children.
“They deserve better treatment than they have had at the hands of this Government.
“Taking strike action is never easy but our members are sending a clear message to the Government that they have had enough.
“Low-paid women make up the backbone of most local councils and they deserve to be paid a decent wage.
“The employers must get back into talks immediately to avoid a damaging dispute.”
Most civic buildings in South Tyneside will be closed to the public tomorrow. But buildings operated solely by South Tyneside Homes and BT South Tyneside will be open as usual.
The council’s contact centre at South Shields Town Hall will be closed to the public, but inquiries can still be made on 427 7000.
As a result of the action, all bin collections tomorrow will be cancelled.
These bins will be emptied on the next due collection date, Thursday, July 24.
Meanwhile, firefighters in the borough will also be on strike tomorrow from 10am to 7pm in support of their ongoing pensions claim.
Source – Shields Gazette, 09 July 2014
The wage gap between the highest and the lowest paid Sunderland council workers is now more than £163,000.
At the top, Sunderland City Council’s chief executive – currently Dave Smith – takes home an annual wage of £175,699 before tax, while a cleaner earns £12,435 per year for a 37-hour week.
Union representatives have now called for the difference to be slashed ahead of TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight, which starts today.
The campaign comes as the full council is due to meet on Wednesday, when members will be asked to recommend approval of the draft pay policy statement for 2014 to 2015. If passed, it will then be formally adopted and published by the end of the month.
In justifying the salary level, a report – to be presented at the meeting – says the post is in line with a large city authority, with responsibility for the provision of wide-ranging services to 275,743 residents and a £678.8million service budget.
It reads: “The chief officer pay policy is designed to be easily understood and be transparent to the post holders, key stakeholders and the public.
“The structure and level of the pay arrangements is designed to enable the council to attract, motivate and retain key senior talent for the authority.”
Sunderland Unison branch secretary Diane Peacock said the union has campaigned for the difference in council salaries to be addressed as part of the Living Wage Campaign – which says people should be paid the amount needed for a basic standard of living.
She said: “Public sector workers have lost on average £4,000 since 2009, due to the pay freeze and increase in the cost of living.
“Many workers in the council earn below the Living Wage, forcing working families to rely on food banks, and hitting the local economy as people don’t have money to spend in it. The TUC’s Fair Pay Fortnight campaign starts next week, and our branch in Sunderland will be playing a part to urge the authority to work towards reducing this ratio and reward public sector workers for the excellent service they provide.”
Other high-earners within the authority, include the deputy chief executive, executive director of commercial and corporate services and executive director of people services, which all fall within a salary range of £117,572 and £128,063 per year. Deputy executive and corporate directors, of which there are four, are on between £81,960 and £97,327.
The lowest paid employees at Grade A are newly-appointed cleaners for the first six months of service.
Apprentices are not included in the report.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 24 March 2014
(not satire – it’s the UK today!)
The government has just announced an average increase of 0%-1% in pay for doctors, nurses and other public sector workers:
This comes after bankers got an average of 35% (not even including their bonuses) and MPs gave themselves an 11% pay rise:
Interestingly, the police got nothing at all.
Punishment for plebgate perhaps?
Please feel free to comment.
> A masterful summing up of the current situation, by John Wight.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country.
The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.
The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately“.
Among its findings the report stated: “Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.
The report continued: “Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.”
The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents the majority of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers.
The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, has been a high profile and strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies in recent years, appearing on numerous public platforms and a ubiquitous presence in the mainstream press making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to the cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness.
It is a campaign that has largely succeeded in diverting the blame for the worst recession to visit these shores since the 1930s onto the poor. Meanwhile the rich, whose greed lies at the root of the nation’s economic woes, have seen their wealth and incomes increase over the course of the recession, evidence that austerity and economic and social injustice are one and the same.
It is unconscionable that any self respecting trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.
The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court.
Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre in any town or city up and down the country.
Enough is enough.
This shameful culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful behaviour and treatment of claimants – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.
Making matters worse is the fact that many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why.
The sheer barbarity of this is staggering, plunging people who are already living on the margins into extreme poverty and destitution. In some cases suicide has been the result.
Those PCS members involved would do well to imbibe the words of the American union leader Eugene Debs: “…years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.
Source – Huffington Post, 25 Feb 2014
Successive Government policies that unfairly target the young are making this the worst time to grow up in decades, campaigners say.
High levels of youth unemployment, increased university tuition fees and the difficulty of getting a mortgage have been cited as problems affecting young people, along with changes to the benefit system and cuts to youth support services.
People working with young people in the North East say they are being disproportionately targeted in the Government austerity cuts so that Ministers can protect older people who are statistically more likely to vote.
And there have been warnings that the situation is creating a “a generation without hope” who do not feel part of society.
Liz Emerson, co-founder of the Intergenerational Foundation, a national charity set up to ensure fairness between the generations, said: “This is the first period in recent history where children will have worst standards of living than their parents and their grandparents.
Successive Governments have put the interests of older generations before the interests of younger ones. They’ve taken away the EMA, they’ve taken away Sure Start schemes for young people, they’re taking away their travel concessions.”
Concerns about the young being unfairly targeted came earlier this month when Chancellor George Osborne signalled benefit cuts for the under-26s just a day after Prime Minister David Cameron said he would “triple lock” the state pension, which accounts for half of all welfare spending.
Jeff Hurst, who runs the Newcastle YMCA and is vice-chair of the city’s children’s trust board, said: “I was brought up in a generation where anything was possible and everything was positive. Now we are creating a generation without hope.
“What I see is fantastic young people who are motivated, who are clever, who are innovative who are able, but who are very frustrated.”
Mr Hurst said the combined effect of higher pension ages, more graduates, and a flood of axed public sector workers were squeezing the young out of the labour market until far into their twenties.
The situation is particularly acute in the North East, which has the highest rate of youth unemployment at nearly 24% and the worst score of any region on the Intergenerational Foundation’s age fairness index.
Geoff Mount of the charity Barnados, which has a number of youth projects in the region, said: “Times are tough for young people. Funding for courses is being cut, young people now are having to take out loans, and EMA has been taken away. We’ve got a bursary scheme in place but that doesn’t meet in my opinion the needs of those young people in greatest financial need. There are fewer job opportunities out there than ever before.”
Workers also cited a squeeze on housing, with last week’s ONS figures showing a quarter of 34-year-olds are now living with their parents.
The number of “boomerang children” has soared by 25% in the last 17 years, despite the youth population remaining the same, with under-24s in the North East the least likely in the country to have a mortgage.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Jan 2014