In the grip of a low pay epidemic

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

The Work Foundation recently published its final report on the prospects for workers earning less than £15,000 a year.

 

Readers of the study can only be appalled that low pay now affects a staggering 5.1 million employees (21 per cent of the UK workforce) and that over a quarter of these workers will remain stuck in low pay for over a decade.

 

When the National Minimum Wage (NMW) was brought-in in 1999, it was one of the most significant planks of Labour policy. But the current Tory-led regime has failed to give it the status it deserves. Serial offenders have been left to get away with NMW non-compliance and the government has chosen to severely under resource the teams who enforce it.

 

The scale of the UK’s low wage epidemic is a deliberate product of this government’s anti-worker agenda. The mantra that employment prospects are looking up appears shaky when you consider the detail. The reduction in unemployment has been fuelled by a rapid increase in the number of people identifying as “self-employed”, while many others have been forced into part-time and zero hours work where they had previously worked full-time.

 

Serious wage deflation means that increasing numbers are being pushed to take low-paid work that is near-impossible to survive on, with many workers having to begrudgingly seek the help of the state benefits system – not to mention food banks – to keep their families fed, clothed and housed.

 

The Work Foundation’s report makes worthwhile recommendations for how the UK can pursue a fairer wage distribution and begin the fight back against Conservative Party policy and the parochial interests of the big business lobby who control it.

 

One obvious step, the report suggests, would be for the government itself to set best practice by having its departments and local authorities aiming to become Living Wage employers. Unless the government gets its own house in order there is little hope of encouraging the private sector to do so.

 

Another simple move would be for the Low Pay Commission to increase the NMW at a faster rate than average earnings over the next few years. If the economy is really recovering then it is crucial that those at the bottom of the pay scale should be able to feel the effects not just those at the top.

 

Unions are leading the way to fight the low pay epidemic in the national interest. We must all continue to do so.

 

The full Work Foundation report can be read at http://www.theworkfoundation.com/DownloadPublication/Report/365_BottomTenMillionFinalPaper.pdf

 

The Union Website League Table – How Did You Do?

I’ve recently published the trade union website league table for 2014. The table isn’t an attempt to judge the content, design or functionality of the sites, rather it reflects how important each website is seen to be in the eyes of search engines, based on a number of standard website metrics.

 

I’ve been regularly working for and with unions for years, but since founding Infobo I’ve been working in the private sector as well. I’ve noticed one big difference between the two sectors when it comes to requests for services. In the private sector, the demand for website search engine optimisation (SEO), the art of making a website appear as high as possible in search engine results, is huge. However, unions I’ve worked with had little awareness of the area or the implications of getting it right.

 

For private sector companies, getting their products or services to appear near the top of relevant search engine results leads directly to more sales and clients, but for unions the benefit is less tangible. However, one of the key areas for unions is campaigning and influencing.

 

One way of doing this is by delivering a message through the union’s website. The more people who come across this message and visit the union’s website, the greater the influence that union has online. As most visitors to websites arrive through search engines, then search engine optimisation (SEO) provides a great opportunity for unions to increase visitors and therefore influence.

 

There are two key aspects to search engine optimisation (SEO):

  • Configuring a website to work well and send the right signals to search engines – this is known as ‘on-site optimisation’.
  • Getting links to your website from other websites – known as ‘off-site optimisation’.

The trade union website league table focuses on the second of these. It takes an average score from key metrics like Domain Authority and Google PageRank to reflect the quality and quantity of links to a website. Basically, it reflects how often a union is being mentioned and linked to on the web. The higher the score, the more likely the website is to appear high up in search engine results.

 

The most recent union website league table can be seen at http://www.infobo.com/trade-union-website-league-table-2014, while below is a summary of developments in the league table:

  • Unite are the highest ranked union, knocking UNISON into second place for the first time.
  • Unions that are also professional associations, such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the British Dietetic Association, perform very well.
  • Prospect sees the biggest improvement in the table, moving up six places.
  • The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, NUT and the British and Irish Orthoptic Society all also improve significantly on 2013.
  • PCS has the largest fall, moving down seven places.

This is the third year I’ve carried out this research. You can also view the results for 2012  and 2013   to see how the results has changed over the last few years.

Handing over the Reigns

Chris BallFar be it from me to get involved in constitutional issues, but I couldn’t help wondering if Spain’s King Juan Carlos’s announcement of his abdication might not be a lesson to all of us to recognise when enough is enough. Retirement decisions are often hard, though let’s face it, most 76 year olds are not hanging around any longer than they need to.

 

In King Juan Carlos’s case it seems, the issue is clouded by adverse opinion polls and the plummeting public image of the monarchy in Spain, arising from various scandals. His decision appears to have been in part to save the reputation of the monarchy – plus a little bit of intergenerational solidarity, perhaps!

 

However, one wonders whether the “job for life” notion, which only applies to a tiny number of individuals in the very top jobs (generally as heads of state or church), isn’t really a bit passé .

 

You could go further and describe it as a grotesquely inhumane idea, based on all sorts of peculiar fables about God given rights and so on. Who in their right mind would want to carry on until they literally drop?

 

The royals, by and large, don’t get a choice. (And who is to say that they want it?) But would it do any harm for them to fall in line with the rest of us at some point?

 

There have of course been suggestions that the Queen, now 88, should step down in favour of Prince Charles (currently 65) who could well be 70 plus by the time he becomes King. I can’t pretend to worry about such things, but come to think of it, it will be a hell of a statement about employability in later life if this does happen.

 

And (assuming the Prince has no objections to being described in such a way) he could use his famous willingness to express his thoughts to good effect and raise the profile of the “older worker” to excellent effect. As patron of PRIME[i]  he may choose to comment – but there again, maybe he will not.

 

Organisations of all kinds do need succession plans. The thought that they should be based on mere human mortality would be anathema to most sensible people. They should in theory provide ways for good people to step aside at a time when they have given a lot and before they start to decline.

 

Done properly, managed succession can mean the cultural values, human capital and reputation of the organisation are all enhanced by handing over the reins to a newcomer.

 

People who carry on for a long time can be doing a great job – let’s say that very clearly. But there are cases where they do untold harm.

 

Leaving aside royalty, one can think of a few heads of state that most people would have been glad to see the back of, doing nobody a service, unwilling to retire at any price! Perhaps this is a problem in family businesses too. I wouldn’t know, but I assume it is.

 

In organisations, as in states, the ability to say “enough is enough” is a touchstone of maturity. Decisions about the right time to go should consider the needs of the organisation as well as those of the individual.

 

Tradition can get in the way, but sometimes it can be shoved aside, as we saw in the Catholic Church last year. Pope Benedict became the first Pontiff to resign in 600 years when he stood down in February 2013.

 

Can anyone say it was a bad decision? His successor Pope Francis, is the kind of Pope to whom even non-believers (like me) can warm.

 

Not that Benedict’s idea of retirement was exactly the intention of invigorating the Church. He had waning personal health and mental powers, and a lot of nasty stuff in the background about priests’ sex scandals and murky financial dealings.

 

The desire to get away from it all and start afresh on a new page, can stimulate the retirement juices wonderfully! In Benedict’s case, it was enough to make a deeply conservative Pope, steeped in the tradition that “Popes work till they drop”, hang up his tiara.

 

How far is all this relevant to secular and non-royal organisations which it is the lot of most of us to inhabit?  Well, no normal organisation could put up with the “waiting for dead men’s shoes” approach to succession.

 

The departure of an ancient (and safe) pair of hands at the top might be thought to cause unwanted ripples, but there surely comes a time for everyone to step down. A sense of timing is called for.

 

Some business leaders do seem to carry on for ever, though less so in Europe than in the USA and Japan. (In a list of the 16 oldest company CEOs I have seen, not a single British name appears. (There is one each from Belgium and Italy). How odd and what is the explanation? Less comfortable board rooms in Europe, perhaps?

 

As the Guardian reminds us today, in the last eighteen months ageing monarchs in both the Netherlands and Belgium have stood down in favour of younger heirs. Despite the speculation, our own Queen seems unlikely to follow suit.

 

Quite apart from a total absence of scandal or controversy surrounding her personal conduct, she seems well able to delegate all the gadding around her empire to younger members of the family.

 

It would be nice to think however, that the traditions of “dying on one’s job” could be tempered with an over-riding sanity that older workers everywhere deserve the right to retire. At the same time younger people at some point, might get the right to take up the reins.

 

One condition however, would be to have a worthy successor in place. A case for an election perhaps?

 

Chris Ball

Chief Executive

TAEN – The Age and Employment Network



[i] the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise

Promises Promises

Warren Town is SoR Director of Industrial Relations

June 5th last week we saw unions, coordinated by the TUC, show solidarity against the coalition intention to slash pay rates and depress staff morale. [When I say ‘slash pay rates’ this will be for public servants but not MP’s who will retain their gravy train!]

 

In London and Liverpool unions demonstrated and with a mock cheque as a prop illustrated to the public the amount in cash of goodwill hard working NHS staff give to ensure that the patient is cared for, diagnosed and treated.

 

In Liverpool Andy Burnham [Labour Shadow minister for Health] met with representatives from the unions to give thanks for their efforts and to extol the virtues of a new age under Labour if elected next year.

 

To the massed gathering he promised to repeal the Health and Social Care act; he promised to work to remove the market ethos from health; he promised to keep the NHS high on the list of key topics during the election and he promised not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Read More…

Learning our lines

Trade unions are an integral part of the UK workforce, with the TUC representing 6.2 million trade union members in 2013 across 54 affiliated unions. With such a large number of trade unions in the UK, it can be difficult to learn about each trade union and how they came to be.

 

Union Insurance, who have been working with trade unions and their members for over 12 years, wanted to help educate the UK public about these trade unions and their history. This led to the creation of the ‘Interactive Timeline of Trade Unions in the UK’.

 

The timeline displays trade unions in an easy to read format, allowing people to navigate through the years to see when each trade union was formed. Information on each trade union, such as current memberships, affiliations, facts, and mergers can be viewed when a card is clicked. For example the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMB) began as the Gas Workers and General Union in 1889 and have since experienced over 25 mergers and amalgamations.

 

By utilising design and interactivity, the timeline aims to make information about trade unions in the UK more accessible.

 

The timeline can be found at: http://www.uniontimeline.com

Few Dads take Paternity Leave

Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors

A new report has found that just ten per cent of new fathers currently take more than two weeks of paternity leave, just months before Shared Parental Leave comes into effect from next year.

 

The shared parental leave scheme will, for the first time, allow eligible mothers and their partners to take up to 52 weeks of leave in total, to be shared between them either in alternating blocks or taken together.

 

However, “Shared opportunity: Parental leave in UK business” found a number of cultural and financial differences explaining the low level of take up from Dads, and makes for sorry reading for anybody who believes in gender equality.

 

The report found that a father taking paternity leave was culturally less acceptable in many organisations. 63 per cent of employers were supportive of mothers taking up to a year’s maternity leave but even two weeks paternity leave was only supported by 58 per cent of employers.

 

Almost half of the employees surveyed and 58 per cent of managers said that parental leave was disruptive for their organisations. Three quarters of managers felt parental leave affected the efficiency and productivity of their teams and at managerial level just two per cent opted to take the leave they are currently entitled to.

 

The findings may be hardly surprising when it appears that fathers are paid significantly less on average by their employers when on leave. While 70 per cent of new mothers received full pay for between one and 38 weeks of maternity leave, just nine per cent of new fathers received full pay for longer than two weeks when on paternity leave.

 

This “paternity pay gap” not only creates practical financial barriers to the concept of shared parental leave, it also projects a negative cultural expectation (that women are the ones likely to take extended periods away from the workplace) and that has the potential to impact detrimentally on their career progression.

 

We are on the verge of welcome changes in legislation, but rights are only of use if there is an understanding that they are there to be used and using them has no negative implications for the user. Sadly it appears there remains an ingrained view in many organisations that childcare is for mothers and that reflects badly on ‘modern Britain’.

 

To access the Institute of Leadership and Management, please visit: https://www.i-l-m.com/~/media/ILM%20Website/Documents/research-reports/shared-leave/ilm-shared-parental-leave-report%20pdf.ashx

New ACAS guidance for those who experience discrimination

Victoria Phillips is shortlisted for this year’s UnionHome writer of the year

The Thompsons Solicitors blog for UnionHome

 

In what was disguised as another slashing of ‘red tape’ in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, the government decided to do away with a vital questionnaire for jobseekers and employees who think they may have been discriminated against by an employer under the Equality Act 2010.

 

After 6 April, this convenient way of dealing with discrimination in the workplace will be no more.  That 83% of those consulted about the questionnaire opted in favour of keeping it clearly meant nothing to this government who are ideologically disposed to cutting protections for workers, regardless of their importance for employee well-being.

 

The current process allows workers to request information from their employer about their complaint on a standard questionnaire form, which can be sent to the employer any time before they lodge their tribunal claim or within 28 days after lodging it.

 

If the employer fails to answer the questions within eight weeks or replies in a way that the tribunal considers to be evasive, it can draw an inference of unlawful discrimination. 

 

However, although this questionnaire is being withdrawn, there is obviously nothing to stop potential claimants from putting questions to their employer to further a potential discrimination case.  In anticipation of the withdrawal of the questionnaire, ACAS has drawn up a simple six-step template to follow:

 

  1. the employee should set out their details and that of the person they want to answer their questions 
  2. the employee should set out the protected characteristic under the Equality Act (race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs etc.)  that they consider has been affected. 
  3. the employee should describe what happened to them 
  4. the employee should set out the type of discrimination they have experienced 
  5. the employee should say why they think it was unlawful 
  6. the employee should outline any further questions they would like to ask 

    Moreover, although tribunals will no longer have a statutory right to draw an adverse inference, there is nothing to stop them from doing so if the employer does not reply or is evasive in their answers.

     

    Potential claimants should, in any event, use the employer’s grievance procedure, or other internal dispute resolution mechanism before lodging their claim with a tribunal. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, ACAS provides a free “Early Conciliation” service which may avoid the need to make a claim.

     

    To read the ACAS guidance, go to: http://www.ACAS.org.uk/media/pdf/m/p/Asking-and-responding-to-questions-of-discrimination-in-the-workplace.pdf

NHS pay cuts help us to see austerity for what it really is

 

Warren Town is shortlisted for this year’s UnionHome writer of the year competition.

As the politicians on both sides contemplate the pay for health service staff and witness the backlash from the announcement by that nice Mr Hunt (Sec of State) to divide and rule over pay uplifts, you can but wonder which planet the MPs inhabit.

 

Labour condemn the government for not giving all NHS staff a rise and in the same breath agree that if elected they need to continue the austerity programme the coalition have introduced.

 

That other lot, the Tories and the Liberals (remember them!) bleat on about affordability and the need to have sufficient funds to pay for high quality care when a report published by the ‘Point of Care Foundation’ http://www.pointofcarefoundation.org.uk/Home/ highlighted the need to have an engaged and content workforce to provide that care. I suppose cutting NHS staff pay is an MP’s way to provide an incentive to care and be valued! But wait they have agreed an uplift the following year. This is a kin to mouldy jam on stale bread.

 

So the government’s response is to ignore a perfectly reasoned Pay Review Body Report and impose their own recommendation that suits, using arguments that do not stack up and imposition that no one wants!

 

At least we can say that the Pay Review Body are consistent and have integrity.

 

But cast your minds back to the MP pay rise and recommendation. Was it not Clegg and his mates saying that they felt that an 11% pay rise was too much? Odd how you adopt a principled position when the award you have been offered cannot be refused. We must feel sorry for them to have this recommendation imposed on them.

 

Odd that MPS are so keen to champion the need for performance, when theirs is wistfully well below par.

 

Odd that it is a jury of millionaires that determine that those of us providing a service to the nation must suffer when they themselves enjoy a privileged position.

 

The spurious statement by Hunt that NHS employees enjoy a pay rise as a matter of course because they have increments, beggar’s belief.

 

Only last year the Unions agreed a framework to ensure that progressions would be measured.

 

Why has this not happened? – Because employers do not have frameworks in place to monitor or judge staff performance.

 

The government’s answer to this fiasco is not to ensure that employers do their job but to punish the staff by imposing a pay cut.

 

Let’s stop looking at this as a ‘austerity’ package and see it for what it is.

 

This government has failed to balance the books as it said it would. This government has failed to support public service and has done nothing to encourage investment in training and development or in a system of care vital to the well being of England and Wales.

 

This government is now so arrogant that it believes it can do and say what it likes because the public are so demoralised and the opposition is so weak that any dissent is nothing more than a distraction.

 

Love them or hate them, without a credible alternative Cameron (not Clegg) may breeze into the next national election with the belief that the future is blue and that they are the only alternative.

Bob Crow 1961 – 2014

Nautilus International has paid tribute to Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime & Transport union (RMT), following his sudden death at the age of 52.

 

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said he was deeply shocked by the unexpected news. ‘Bob’s drive and commitment to his members was remarkable and he was a tenacious and tireless fighter for the cause of British shipping and seafaring,’ he said.

 

‘He was a man of principle and passion, and we were proud to work with him on a wide range of campaigns to defend jobs and conditions, and to secure more investment in the employment and training of British seafarers.

 

‘Behind Bob’s public persona was a really decent bloke – someone who I came to respect as a man of deep principle and determination. He was a formidable negotiator,’ Mr Dickinson added. ‘He will be missed and my sincere condolences are extended to his friends, family colleagues, and his partner, Nicola.’

 

Mr Crow, who became leader of the RMT in 2002, left school at the age of 16 and his first job was with the London underground, as an apprentice track worker. He became a local representative for the then National Union of Railwaymen at the age of 20.

 

Read More…

Labour Party special conference secures Ed Miliband’s status as one of the great reforming leaders in Labour’s history

John Park, AGS at Community

Fourteen years ago this week I was at a small gathering in Farringdon Street to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern day Labour Party. It’s a treasured memory that has stayed with me, not because every living leader of the party was there that evening – Blair, Beckett, Kinnock, Foot and Callaghan – but mainly because it was the first time I really appreciated the history that surrounds the unique relationship between the Labour Party and the trade union movement.

 

What was also clear to me that evening was that – apart from John Smith’s introduction of one member, one vote – the formal relationship between the party and its affiliated trade unions had witnessed very little structural change in 100 years, and until Saturday that was still the case.

Read More…

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