Archives For workers rights

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Image: Corporateeurope.org

   

    1.   WHAT IT IS

TTIP is the largest trade deal ever to be done on the history of the planet, between the world’s two largest economies and is the biggest change to happen to the UK since the formation of the EU

    2.   HOW IT IS BEING DONE

Large corporations are meeting with European bureaucrats behind closed doors, agreeing on each piece of a treaty separately.  No one has access to the entire document.  We only know this is occurring thanks to Wikileaks

    3.   WHAT POWER IT WILL GIVE AND TAKE AWAY

In it’s current form the treaty will give corporations the power to sue national governments – like our lot – if they get in the way of making profit

    4.   THEY’RE COMING FOR YOUR PAID HOLIDAY!

This means workers’ rights that we have in the UK, like paid holiday, and collective bargaining, could be got rid of as they don’t have them in the US

    5.   AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT ISN’T NAILED DOWN

Internet freedom, national parks, price controls, food and water regulation, mining and fracking rights, drug production, childcare, the NHS, and pretty much everything else is now on the table

    6.   THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING

The Australian, Uruguayan, Canadian, El Salvadorean and many other governments have been sued using similar treaties, to fight everything like rights to clean drinking water, to banning fracking, to packaging cigarettes

    7.   BUT IT IS NOWHERE NEAR DONE FOR THIS TREATY

The treaty is nowhere near finished.  It can be scrapped or changed with massive public support – check our longer article for more details

Read What You Need To Know About TTIP here

Thomas Barlow

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In a new feature on RealFare we will be exploring ‘The Alts,’ or the alternatives, that are happening all over the UK and the world. Politicians would like you to think they have no other choice when making cuts or harmful policies, and there is a media campaign that supports that. But, if we step outside this tunnel vision of how things are, we may find the choices made are not always so unavoidable. In the first piece, we talk about Germany and attitudes towards civil liberties….

The coalition have garnered an environment and an attitude that completely blindsides the elements of life that are immeasurable and intrinsic to living. The political and media campaign to blacken the names and lives of an ever extending group of people at the bottom of the social ladder for not working, or not working enough, is, without hyperbole, enslaving us under the Prime Minister’s guise of a ‘moral mission.’

The suggestion of the political line is that only those in work are ‘good.’ Only the “hardworking” or “in work” can feel any sense of moral high-ground. Suspicion is instilled against anyone who can’t or is not in work, however unable they are, and indeed, at the cost of however damaging this rhetoric has been to people’s lives.

Worryingly, the rhetoric goes much deeper as it becomes ever more surgically removed the notion of remuneration. The Conservative Party tagline insists they are “for hardworking people” (apparently). But not “hardworking people who earn a hardworking wage.” Politicians want to “get people into work” but not “get people into work with fair pay” or it seems, even any pay. Instead, further barriers are put up – entry level jobs now ask for work experience and workfare programmes provide a turnstile of free staff to large companies.

Twitter: @andymlockhart Friend took a photo of this at Rochdale Jobcentre Plus

Twitter: @andymlockhart Friend took a photo of this at Rochdale Jobcentre Plus

Somehow, debating the economy and jobs market has ironically become a debate without talk of money, or the exchange of labour for money. It asks that we offer up our labour for the sense of being ‘hardworking,’ as opposed to the sense of a pay packet. A burden is put on the unemployed to take anything they can, but no burden on companies to pay them.

How can this lead to a recovery?

But like the lie that if repeated enough is believed, we all further distance ourselves from the treatment of others by silently agreeing and legitimising the abuse of desperation and workers during ‘hard times’ in order to increase profit. Working for free/low pay/no pay, and seeking punishment for those not in work, sees us sleep walking into modern slavery as we forever work longer, for less and lower our expectations, demands and voices.

We have been made to feel snobbish for asking for better than a minimum wage job, or in some cases a job that pays us at all. We should be asking, why are people working to remain in poverty? Why are people being made to work for free instead of being paid? Why is paying people a wage they can live on seen as a radical concept and not a value that should be placed at the heart, in the very foundations, of an economy in our ‘developed’ world?

Image: Prosebeforehos by Nick Anderson

Image: Prosebeforehos by Nick Anderson

Poverty out-of-work jobseeker benefits are seen as luxuries, as are decent holidays, or time with your family. We are silenced from asking for a life outside our worth to an economy, which for our efforts then immediately turns on us with suspicion, should we fall off it’s troubled, corrupt and risky, state-subsidised, profit-privatised railtrack.

This is why we need to talk about Germany. And other alternatives. Because in an environment obsessed with usurping our values with profit, we need to regain the strength, importance and understanding of the ‘immeasurables’. We are told time and time again, parties have no choice but to make these “tough decisions,” but there is a world of alternatives for us to learn from if we step outside the rigid and well-rehearsed campaign happening here. Of course, everything comes it’s own pluses and minuses and there is always room for improvement. But would the decision to treble tuition fees seem so inevitable if we debated how Scotland has kept it’s education free? Or how Denmark not only offers free higher education but has grants available to all students?

Image: Oxford Essays

Image: Oxford Essays

The governing powers have worked well to instil us with an amnesia and incongruence of civil liberties. As workplaces and large corporations play out their race to the bottom of our working conditions, we are expected to follow complacently, believing the faceless, bigger than us ‘we,’ cannot afford to grant us the means to scrape by for our daily work. The guise of living in the ‘free world’ and ‘democracy’ conjures up a belief that those in power will look after our best interests, and thus our hardships must be for good reason, while simultaneously we are sold free work as a gateway to progress.

We are often compared to countries in a way that insists we need more work and discipline. South Korea comes top in education, so ignore the high rates of student suicide and migration, this must mean we need longer hours for children. Michael Gove wants to make public schools like private schools, with longer hours. Again, surgically bereft of talk of investment despite poverty being the main aggregator of a child’s ability to learn and do well. But we don’t talk about Sweden where there is a 99% literacy rate and free higher education for all students from the EU?

And we are rarely compared to Germany. Yet, it has plenty of good ‘measurables’ – measurables being the things government like to talk about – economy, numbers, workers, profit etc. Let’s mention what Germany has on it’s side in terms of these. Though before I do, I must say that these are examples of some strengths in another country and present potential debate or call for alternatives. They are not all perfect, and Germany still has a lot of room for improvement, but there are clearly things we could learn from.

Measurables

A strong economy which single-handedly save the Euro from a double dip recession

Germany has a strong manufacturing export and this, along with strong economic activity, saved the Eurozone from a double dip recession in 2011. Germany has continued to remain one of the biggest economic forces in the EU since then, and were we to discuss these strengths in the same way the Conservatives discussed South Korean education we would be debating how to create more manufacturing opportunities in our service-heavy country, and also how to increase economic activity.

Most economic activity is created by those with least money, as they spend their money on the essentials they need. However, benefit cuts, wage pressures and rising inflation and living costs has left the worst off even worse off, stagnating what economic activity and growth there could be here.

An abundant banking sector which spreads power and risk…

Germany has three types of banks – savings banks, co-operatives and private banks. All the money is not held by a handful of huge global banks as in the UK. Smaller banks make up a large portion of the sector which spreads the money of the country and allows less room for risk. Indeed, through the recession non-private banks remained strong:

“Two of the pillars—the 423 savings banks and 1,116 co-operative banks—have come through the crisis with barely a scratch so far. Each of these sectors already has a system of joint and several liability, which means that no individual member bank is allowed to go bust. Neither wants to become part of a wider European banking union, in which guarantees extend to weak peripheral banks.

They argue that their business model, working for the public or mutual good rather than for shareholders, is well suited to the mixture of households and small companies (known as the Mittelstand) that they serve.”

The Economist

The smaller banks have seen their problems, but the private sector has been far more misfortunate and risky. The strength and guarantees that smaller banks can provide should surely be a talking point following the global recession and it’s legacy of austerity here.

Image: Metrosafe

Image: Metrosafe

The subject was touched on by the Channel 4 programme “Bank of Dave” where millionaire Dave Fishwick embarks on a mission to create a community bank better than the high street. The programme sees him come up against the Financial Standards Authority who seemed reluctant to grant Dave a licence, seeming to take the line that he should “leave it to the other banks” as it is being dealt with already.

All this despite Dave’s community bank being more reliable and risk averse than any of our huge conglomerates. This demonstrates an unwillingness and a barrier in bureaucracy and government to provide alternatives when the current system is clearly hugely problematic for customers.

Could it be that the government don’t want to offer us alternatives…….

Where Measurables meet Immeasurables

Productivity and Work/Life Balance

Germans work on average around 1413 hours a year – one of the lowest rates in the OECD, and much lower than the average 1776 in other EU countries. This averages out at just under 30 hours a week.

Despite this, Germans are still more productive per head, per hour compared to the UK who work much longer hours (an average of 43 per week).

Germans also have an average of 40 days holiday a year including bank holidays. This is much higher than the European average of 27, and accounts for an extra 2.5 weeks worth of time off.

There are still some problems with the gender pay gap in Germany with women taking home 25% less in many cases. Still, the % of women in German government is 35% compared to the UK’s 22%.

The UK has long been recognised as one of the most overworked countries in Europe, but searching for work/life balance, even with the prospect of healthier productivity, doesn’t seem high on the government’s agenda. Maybe this is why we rarely see discussion of these comparisons or debates on the UK working week, despite us being more prone to work-related illnesses. In fact, politicians and media go as far as to trivialise and ignite suspicion about these illnesses to ensure, once again, we are working at any cost to our bank balance and our health.

Again, it doesn’t seem to fit with the current agenda of government’s attitude towards work. In a country hellbent on workfare programmes and low pay/no pay -talk of the work/life balance can only disrupt things.

Attitudes towards civil liberties

Germany and it’s government maintain respect and fierce protection of their civil liberties. This is largely linked to the Second World War, which has meant the country is careful with the power it provides it’s government. But it should serve as a lesson for the rest of us too, because the protection of their civil liberties is a systematic and logical culture born out of understanding of what can happen when governments hold too much power.

Take for instance the recent revelations about GCHQ and NSA and American surveillance of “allies.” German chancellor, Angela Merkel spoke out about the effects and infringement of American tactics on both her and her public.

“Mass surveillance sends the wrong signal to “billions of people living in undemocratic states,” Merkel claimed.

“Actions in which the ends justify the means, in which everything that is technically possible is done, violate trust, they sow distrust. The end result is not more security but less,” she added.”

PolicyMic

On a BBC report I witnessed, the attitudes towards spying were discussed from the point of view of several different nations. In this reporter’s package, it mentioned that the Germans didn’t like the idea of spying because it had been used to control and manipulate the population during Nazi Germany. However, when the report moved onto the UK’s attitude towards spying, it was shown as a glamorous business and suggested that Brits thought of James Bond when they thought of spying, and thus it’s aspirational, cool and nothing to worry about.

Image:  The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

In some cruel, post ironic twist, that BBC report talked briefly about how one country had learned to resist the infringement of government on human rights through history, and yet in the next breath provided the propaganda to ease through our own surveillance.

Why aren’t we learning from the huge tragedies of Nazi Germany too? Why aren’t we taking lessons from the place where spying and the seizure of civil liberties forewarns us of a dark world?

What money cannot buy…

The focus of our government on work and profit is an attempt to erode the worth of all our other liberties, and to keep us too busy and demoralised to get them back. Whilst at the same time dismantling and hollowing industries of the presence of much else but cold, soul-less, profit decisions. Last year, the respected journal, The Lancet published a report attacking the government for treating our NHS in very much this way:

“Reading headlines last week, such as ‘Struggling A&E units to get £500m bailout’ and ‘NHS managers to get price comparison website’, one might be forgiven for thinking that the current coalition government views the NHS as a failing bank or business,”

This stance is one of the most cynical, and at the same time cunning, ways by which the government abdicates all responsibilities for running a healthcare system that has patient care and safety at its heart.”

The journal, which has been publishing on medical matters for almost 200 years, said the coalition’s NHS reforms meant the health secretary “no longer has a duty to provide comprehensive health services”, having handed over responsibility to a “complex system of organisations”.

We can’t provide care in an environment where the only language is money, profit and work. Workers’ rights, healthcare and education are just some of things that stand to suffer (some already are), with this sort of strategy.

Further, this ‘economic plan’ is not working. Threats, punishment and public shaming have still seen work programmes fail for over 90% of people – who have not found work after 12 months of being enrolled. This is neither efficient, cost-effective or dignified.

Do we need a tragedy to remind us how important our freedoms, protections and liberties are? Because it would much easier to learn from another’s history, and their actions and attitudes towards freedoms now. And with a government so enthused to do away with our human rights, now would be the time to take ownership of what is immeasurably important to our lives.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

I’m With Bob

kamsandhu —  March 18, 2014 — 1 Comment

By Thomas Barlow

So I was going to try and do a tongue-in-cheek, satirical remembrance of Bob Crow that lauded his achievements whilst chastising his enemies in a humorous way, but Mark Steele beat me to that – and unfortunately he is just far better than me in every department. So instead let me launch into a straight, good old tub thumping tirade against his detractors, who hypocritically came out to mourn his death this week.

The amount of stick he got for ridiculous things like daring to have a holiday (A holiday?! IN BRAZIL?! How f***ing dare he?!) may well have been a contributory factor to his sudden and unfortunate passing, so let Boris and the other thoughtless reactionaries shut their traps and consider Bob’s true worth for a moment. I am going to use a phrase that is unpopular because of it’s bland Marxist connotations, but it is true to say that he was a true working class militant. Tony Benn’s passing is a tragedy and he was truly principled and fine person, but when it comes to organising and standing alongside the majority of people (what we used to call the working class), Bob delivered results.

It is dangerous and wrong to mythologise one person so I shall try to refrain from doing so.  It can only be hoped that the RMT carry on in the vein of form they have with Bob, and knowing many of the members, I think it is a safe bet that they will continue. But what Bob represented was not just a straight talking, working class, Millwall fan. He represented success.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

When I make arguments for unionisation nowadays I always ask the following questions; ‘Do you like your weekends mate?  Your lunch breaks?  8 hour days? Nearer pay equality for men and women? Holidays?  Not being killed at work?Not seeing your kids working 16 hour shifts for a pittance? Hell, what about the vote for the majority of people, the Welfare state and a good deal of our civil liberties?’

‘Because you can thank the unions for that, and most importantly, all the people within them, who for 150 years were ridiculed, oppressed, beaten and killed for daring to be in one.’

Thanks to the RMT and Bob I could go further. ‘Do you think everyone has to have their pay slashed?  Lose jobs with no notice?  Work zero hour contracts?  Do unpaid internships?  The RMT crews don’t!’

Unbelievably this is one of the things that irritated some people the most about Bob and the RMT.  ‘We all get shafted in the private sector, why should they get better conditions?’

Well firstly, we probably shouldn’t keep supporting privatisation if the only thing guaranteed from it is a good shafting for the majority of people who work in that sector.

More importantly though, whilst people are right to bemoan the shafting they get at their work places, the solution isn’t to hope everyone else gets corn-holed equally roughly. It is like asking to be the whip hand on a plantation, who gets to beat the others before taking your own stripes across the back. It is the mentality of miserable oppression, and shows our innate inability to celebrate improvement for each other.

This is how we lose, and yet Bob showed us how we can win.  We want a living wage.  We can strike.  We want real contracts.  We can strike.  We want civil liberties, working healthcare and social care and genuine prospects for a lost generation. We can strike.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it is not as easy as all that.

There is more than enough wrong with the unions, with their super mergers, their obsequiousness to the Labour party and their moronic and cowardly representation of our struggles. But the Unions are what we make them, any social struggle is.

We cannot expect those above us to do things for us, we have to do it ourselves.

I am sure Bob would not mind me saying that it wasn’t him who won the negotiations and struggles for his members.  It was the members who won them, united, militant and ready to take the flak.  And Bob was there with them, every step of the way.

So if we get together, and we look at all the tactics available to us to cause trouble for the elite, and we are prepared to use them, regardless of the violence and abuse that will be chucked at us, we can have more than holidays and the vote – we could actually win a life worth living.

It’s what Bob would have wanted.

Image: Sabcat

Image: Sabcat

The People’s Assembly will hold a rally on 11th February in defence of trade unions, the right to protest and the right to resist austerity.

Image: The People's Assembly

Image: The People’s Assembly

Following an inquiry by government into trade union tactics, the People’s Assembly and trade union leaders feel the government are undermining people’s rights to fight austerity, and ultimately aims to silence them.

The event page says:

“As millions of people face falling real wages, unemployment, part time or casualised low paid work, and the rapid destruction or privatisation of the welfare state they stand in need of trade union organisation and the right to protest more than ever.

“We pledge ourselves to resist this attack. The right to protest is a fundamental civil liberty. The right to join an effective trade union is the product of generations of working class resistance. We have no intention of relinquishing it to a Government with no interests in the needs of working people.”

The event will take place from 6:30pm on Tuesday 11th February at the Camden Centre. Speakers include Len McCluskey of Unite the Union, Mark Serwotka – PCS union, Francesca Martinez – actress and comedienne and John Hendy QC.

Find out more here.

Despite an outward stress on the necessity of work, the coalition government have helped to garner an employment landscape of insecurity, poverty and low worth. Welfare policy and employment laws changed over the last two years have been crucial in creating a power imbalance in favour of employers, ultimately damaging employee worth, status and work life.

At the beginning of this year, David Cameron announced plans to make it easier for employers to fire workers. By increasing the length of service from one year to two before a hearing can be called following dismissal, and by reducing the sick pay, redundancy pay and compensation amounts employees can claim for, Cameron said that these relaxations in employment laws would make companies see less risk in hiring more people, and this would also ‘get rid of the bad’ to let in the skilled employees.

David-Cameron1

However, allowing employers to fire employees more easily by cutting red tape does not solve the problem of a lack of jobs. Further, the report that David Cameron commissioned from Adrian Beecroft in support of law relaxation was admittedly based on a ‘hunch’ rather than economic proof or explanation:

“Quantifying the loss of jobs arising from the burden of regulation, and the economic value of those jobs, is an impossible task…How many more businesses would there be, how many people would they employ, how many more people would existing businesses employ, how profitable would all these businesses be? Who knows?”

Yet, Cameron pressed to apply these measures, insisting that America had relaxed it’s laws and seen a drop in unemployment. But, while the US remained relatively stagnant in it’s position, Germany halved it’s unemployment figures whilst maintaining much stronger laws and regulations for employers.

Whilst Cameron was forced to retreat on these plans by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the subject has surfaced again a few times, with support from Vince Cable and some Tory Ministers. Still, changes to laws like this during a fragile recovery will only cause anxiety for workers who feel the threat of losing their jobs on top of the hardship of the current climate. It also assumes the employer acts in employee interests which has been disproven time and time again, says lawyer Edward Cooper:

“An underlying assumption in these proposals is that employers all act reasonably. We see day in and day out that employers do not always act reasonably, especially when there is money to be saved.”

Edward Cooper, Channel 4, 2012

Despite these proposals being put on the back burner, changes to employment tribunal fees were passed in July this year, meaning that employees seeking justice, investigation, hearing or tribunal would now have to pay to have their case heard. Again, at a time of fragility for the market, this put employees on the back foot should they be treated unfairly by their employer.

Under the new rules, it would cost £160-250 to lodge a claim and a further £230-950 if the claim goes to court, which is usually the case with claims such as unfair dismissal or discrimination. The Ministry of Justice also charge £1200 for a full hearing if people want to challenge the decision of an employment tribunal.

Government have said that these fees were brought in to encourage ‘mediation’ and negotiation without the Courts, in the hope more cases could be settled outside the legal system.

However, these fees are attacks on the employee’s rights alone, and only make it harder for employees to fight companies who often already have the upper hand. The fees give companies more leeway to treat employees unfairly, in the hope they cannot afford to bring them to justice. For some grievances, the cost is more than the money an employee feels they are owed, but could count highly as a case for morality or discrimination and be important in ensuring a company is reprimanded for treating someone unfairly.

Despite the fees now existing, trade union Unison has won the right to take the case to judicial review, in the hope the fees will be lifted. Unison, with the support of the Human Rights Commission, argue that the fees make it impossible for workers to exercise their rights. The Ministry of Justice have vowed to refund all fees should Unison win the case.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said the fees “give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights.”

The hearing continues.

As well as these changes to laws, the government have implemented their own damaging schemes, which are currently taking their toll on the employment market. Welfare-to-work schemes which incorporate workfare policies are forcibly sending unemployed people to work for 30-60 hours a week for their unemployment benefit or they risk sanctions or withdrawal of benefits.

Minster for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith insisted these policies were designed to allow people to gain work experience to secure future employment. However, the schemes have just widened the already burgeoning ‘work experience’ and ‘intern’ industry which already operates cruelly in the fashion, media and music world and employs an entire workforce of free labour for the same, often unlikely, chance of employment at the end.

Whilst gaining months of free work experience was once expected if you wanted to get into a much sought after industry, now workfare policies insist they are required for minimum wage jobs stacking shelves. As the interns of the music and media industries are trying to gather to gain some rights and protection against being exploited by companies and employers, the welfare-to-work programmes are normalising work experience for the low paid.  Entry level jobs are beginning to carry work experience criteria, and the free workforce donated by the government rotates to feed a steady supply of workers to companies. This sort of policy replaces paid jobs with free labour. It devalues work and treats workers as commodities. It creates higher barriers to work by insisting on months of free work for minimum wage jobs.

Image: legal-aware.org

Image: legal-aware.org

Thus workers are desperate, and employers are often only happy to exploit this, as we have seen in the prevalence of the zero hour contract. Sports direct used these contracts for over 90% of staff. They offered no holiday or sick pay, and did not have to guarantee any hours. To ensure employees would take home money, they would have to take any hours the employer asked of them, at whatever short notice. Giselle Cory of the Resolution Foundation said in an interview with RealFare earlier this year, that these contracts were also found to be used as management tools, to punish employees if they did not take on work when and as the employer demanded:

“But what we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. We’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”

Giselle Cory, Resolution Foundation

And with the rise of these contracts we also see the worst rates of underemployment on record, with 1.46m people in part time work in need of more hours. Thousands of people are desperate for work and so many take on any contract and terms they can. This is at the expense of their rights and their home life as work may demand availability at any time. Many are at the mercy of employers to work at short notice and so sacrifice plans, commitments, family time for minimum wage jobs that offer them no security or help should they fall ill or need time off. The imbalance is clear.

And the government’s moves have made it easier to exploit employees, and treat them as disposable. The priorities have not been to make a secure employment landscape for people in the recovery but to allow employers to use and abuse at will. Whilst the government and media rhetoric has made it shameful not to work, employers are made to feel no shame for making workers poor on time, worth and money.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass