Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors
The weekly Thompsons Solicitors Blog
You might think the outcry after a report revealed that more than a million people are on zero hours contracts would make government ministers think twice before bragging about other ruses to take advantage of desperation for work. But not this government – or, at least, not Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform.
As ever, nasty stuff has a euphemistic name – ‘slivers of time’ – the idea being to create a marketplace where workers bid against each other to see who can offer the lowest price to do very short, sub part-time, periods of work.
Some local authorities, including Tory-led Hammersmith and Fulham, have been using it for several years, and Tesco opened up slivers of time to its workforce in 2010.
The champion of this scheme, Lord Freud, is a man with no background in social policy and who is best known for leading the somewhat botched floatation of Eurotunnel.
He is responsible for spearheading government attacks on the Welfare State and is notorious for commenting that Scottish welfare claimants should get a job if they wanted an extra bedroom.
At a fringe session on welfare at the Conservative Party Conference, Freud described slivers of time as ‘a marketplace for short hours’ where an employer would say ‘right, we want three hours on Wednesday afternoon – what am I bid?’ That group would then say ‘I’ll do it for £10 an hour, £15 an hour… whatever’.
In other words, slivers is a Dutch auction for job seekers’ time, set up to encourage it to be sold as a commodity in a race-to-the-bottom. And, if people are forced to work at rates below the national minimum wage, such contracts could potentially be unlawful.
In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron announced that 16 to 25 year olds ‘Neets’ (Not in Education Employment or Training) who refuse to take up offers of education, work or training will have their benefits stopped.
But rather than conjuring up ideas for finding random hours of work to fill on shoddy terms, the government should concentrate on how best to place people into real jobs on a fair rate of pay.
Slivers of time may well have positive applications in limited circumstances if done on the worker’s own terms. But its integration into a benefits regime that operates on compulsion takes us back to the Victorian days and the fundamentally exploitative nature of workers having to tout for anything they were lucky enough to get.
Read the Labour & European Law Review on zero-hours contracts
We march and we protest on the hoof – but do we change anything?
It is a mainstay of trade union activity and it is an activity we willingly engage in where a government, or some other institution, refuses to listen, engage, negotiate or modify their stance on a direction or policy that we do not agree with.
The question is not so much whether a march has any value, moreover do we really think that a mass protest will change anything or have value?
The march in Manchester on the 29th was without doubt a success. It was about the future for the NHS but this did not stop many more pressure and protest groups coming on board to express their opinions on a very wide range of issues. I was struck by how many ‘fringe’ elements joined us and at one point did wonder if their presence would water down the key message. But to think this is to miss the point. The small but vociferous pressure groups have just as much right to protest as the rest of us. The fact that we have the numbers and the organisation helps them to make their mark on the political spectrum and the fact they are present illustrates that discontent with the government is far deeper than just a bunch of ‘Tradies’ venting their spleen about the NHS.
But leaving the composition of the march aside, why do we march and why do we think that it is necessary to do so? Are we merely participating in a group hug or are we serious that by taking to the streets we will begin to see change but realistically, we accept that we are preaching to the converted. At one point in the March I noticed a person on the sidewalk holding a placard that listed all the things that were wrong with this government. The placard was aimed at the marches. But why show this to us? We know what is wrong, we know why we are traipsing through Manchester- turn around and show the sign to the people passing by and bemused by our presence. It is they who need to be educated and asked to think.
There is a certain element of togetherness about marching and this is more than just a group hug. It is an expression that we are passionate about our beliefs and we are willing to give up our time to publically express our opinions. Marching often comes at a time when frustration is high and campaign fatigue has begun to set in so that our participation with other like minded people reinvigorates our resolve and gives us a necessary boost to not give in or become complacent.
The mass display of banners and other paraphernalia of protest and the diversity of engagement are uplifting and few would argue that it is not. But the central question is ‘does a March change anything?’
The answer to this is ‘maybe’ but not ‘yes’. A mass protest is never the game changer that many of us hope that it will be. It is one of many means in our arsenal that we use to promote our cause and our beliefs. Even the press cannot ignore us despite the sad fact that they prefer a March that is controversial to one that is peaceful and the politicians will praise us, condemn us or try to ignore us depending on where they stand in the political arena.
If you are marching for a cause or a belief, you are there because you have opinions and can say that you were willing to be a part of a process for change, you are one of many and not merely a bystander.
Ed Miliband’s superb performance at the Labour Conference in Brighton, has changed a few things. ’Labour’s New Energy’ (‘Guardian’), ’Decisive shift to the Left’ (The Times’),were the typical commentators’ take on it. More significantly, all the trade union leaders, especially Len McLuskey, (the darling of delegates at this conference), were ‘over the moon’ with the Labour leader’s list of concrete pledges and the general tenor of his virtuoso hour long performance without a note.
They even drew comfort from Ed’s very brief mention of their other main concern, his plans for ‘changing our politics’ viz., ‘party reform’ of the union political levy. Yet there was no hint that he is abandoning this attempt to change what he clearly sees as an outmoded form of the link. His contrast of ‘hearing the individual voices of people from call centre workers to construction workers’, with the hearing the collective voices of union leaders, could not have been more pointed. Yet there was still no detail about how he proposes to do it. Most union and many party activists remain extremely sceptical about how his ‘mass membership’ of political-levy payers could be realised.
Yet his new status as a substantial Labour Leader in the more conventional social democratic tradition, means that many will suspend judgement until we see more flesh on the bones of Lord Ray Collin’s surprisingly slim interim report to this conference. In it he stated that ‘Ed does not want this individual relationship with trade union membership to damage the collective relationship and the institutional links between the party and the union organisations. Ed wants to mend - not end – the link.’ But, as unions say, ‘the devil is in the detail’.
The Collin’s statement also said, ‘we do not believe there is any need to change the laws around the right of trade unions to hold political funds’. The Labour Opposition may not intend to go there, but the government party leaders, especially Clegg, seem intent on it. My fear would be that they would do that ‘dirty work’ whilst in government. At the Unions 21 conference fringe on ‘Thatcherism’, the Tory ‘envoy’ to the union movement, [now] Lord Balfe, said just that.
I suspect, therefore, that the genie is now well and truly ‘out of the bottle’ and will never go back to where it was. It seems that the Labour leadership chose their ‘Falkirk moment’ to challenge what they saw as undue mega-union political power, in their Party policy and structures. Their concerns seem also to have arisen in the context of their discussions with the Liberal Democrats, and the unions fear some unprincipled deal for a Lab-Lib Dem coalition.
There will therefore be some real heart searching from now until the proposed special Spring conference and the Collins’ report will be the subject of close attention.
The History & Policy Trade Union Forum has been looking at the whole relationship of the unions with all the parties historically in a series of seminars involving senior union figures (such as Billy Hayes of the CWU). Each one has been written up on our website (http://www.bit.ly/tuforum). In November, we will be pulling the threads together and drawing some conclusions as to the future policy options for unions and the parties, and this will be of interest as a historical context of this whole debate.
Helen Goodman MP’s speech to our joint Musicians’ Union, BECTU and Equity fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference: Britiain Entertaining the World
It’s very nice to be here and thank you for inviting me. I feel slightly terrified actually, I don’t normally feel terrified in meetings, but having heard John, Jean and Gerry and they’re all so eloquent, and all so clear, and they’ve all made such passionate cases, that I hope my response can live up to it.
As far as the National Union of Musicians is concerned, I just want to say I’m really grateful to you because you gave me the first nomination I ever had for a Parliamentary seat. Actually, I wasn’t selected but we won’t go into that…
You’re all absolutely right about the vitality of the creative sector and the economic contribution. And I want to divide what I say into two parts. I want to say something about the economic aspect and then I want to say a little bit also about the intrinsic aspect. Because I think missing the intrinsic aspect is the thing that politicians most frequently do that really winds up people in the sector. I don’t know whether you saw there was a great essay by David Edgar in the Guardian a few months ago that was about this.
It really came home to me, so we’re very good at the numbers but maybe we’re not so good at the messages.
Support and training
Now, I won’t repeat the financial contribution, but I will tell you that we’ve done quite a lot of work on having an economic strategy for the arts. It has 6 elements:
Obviously, in what all of you have described the people are essential to the success of the creative sector. This is true in your sector in a way which is quite different from, let’s say the car industry where technology’s very important, or banking, where let’s say money is very important. In this sector the individual, and what the individual brings to it, is the most important thing.
So the first thing that we need to look at it is whether we are equipping young people properly. And one of the things that we have been campaigning for is to prevent Michael Gove from narrowing the school curriculum and from only measuring Maths and English grammar and those things, and further trying to push to one side drama and painting.
We’re also, as you know, very keen to make sure that young people get the proper support which they need in further and higher education, because brilliant as I’m sure [the Musicians' Union’s] members are, they did need professional training and we do need to make sure that we’ve got a continued stream of people coming through.
The next thing that you’ve spoken about is money. Now there are issues around public money and the cuts, but there’s also the issue, and I guess this might affect the BECTU and the Musicians slightly more, but it’s the issue of access to finance for private firms and for private companies.
And it’s quite clear that we do need to get the City and the banks to concentrate on this. Because it’s a specialist field with particular kinds of risk and this needs to be understood so that people can set up successful companies which can grow and develop over time. So that’s the second part of what we want to do.
The next thing that we’re very hot on is a proper intellectual property regime, which I think you’re all concerned about and we’ve had the conversations with the Googles of this world and we are keen to look at a way to implement the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the last Labour government fell.
We’re keen to have am intellectual property regime which works. Now, I’m not going to stand here and say that I’m totally confident that the clauses in the Digital Economy Act as they stand would work, because they’re a bit OTT really. Cutting somebody’s broadband off because their child once illegally downloads some pop music does seem to be a bit sledgehammer and nut.
So, we’re very keen to have a workable solution, and if we look at what’s happened, we’re also keen that the industry itself looks at ways of monetising its product. I think music industry unfortunately has been less successful on this issue than the publishing industry looks as if it’s going to be, but it’s important that we learn from the bad experience that the music industry had on that.
Local authorities and the regions
Now, I’m not going to make a commitment about local authority financing today. That would be an extraordinarily foolish thing to do when I haven’t discussed it with my colleagues in my Communities and Local Government team and Treasury team, but I will take your idea away.
We could also use the Creative Councillors’ Network to take a regional approach. Because there’s another thing we’re keen on: that all culture isn’t within the M25. I mean, I represent a seat in County Durham and it’s just completely impossible.
I did a survey in the summer of my constituents and my party members to ask them what things they would like to do in this area and what things they couldn’t do and what the barriers were. And one of the things that was very interesting was that everybody, virtually everybody, who answered had bought a book. And virtually everybody who answered had been to the cinema, but people would really like to go to the theatre more but they can’t afford the tickets. It’s no good if we add on to the cost of this ticket, a train ticket half way across the country.
Plainly, we have to be doing things in peoples’ communities. And we have to be doing things which, as you were saying, relate to their life experience and their social issues and their particular heritage. I’m a 1000% opposed to the commercialisation and constant Americanisation of our culture.
And we went to see the French Ambassador because the French are actually much more energetic in protecting the French film industry, than we have been traditionally. I went to talk to him to see if we could actually say to them ‘well if we win we’ll buddy up with you’ [to exclude cultural products from the proposed US-EU trade deal]. I think they make a good point because plainly Shakespeare is not like hamburgers and we all know it.
Exporting the arts
Then, there’s the whole issue of pursuing an international strategy to promote Britain overseas but also to get inward investment. The man who invented Downton Abbey who Tories have put into the House of Lords [‘Julian Fellowes!’, yelled the audience], he did actually go on a trade mission but this is a new thing and I think we really want to see the arts and culture taking their place alongside the other industries when we do have overseas trade missions because, it is a very successful industry. One of our big, big, big international strategic competitive advantages is the English language. We are incredibly lucky.
We want to have that as a special strand, the international mileage. We’re absolutely clear that we want to do something about that.
Equality and representation
Also, we’re very concerned about equality of access and opportunity. Harriet [Harman]’s been saying a lot about having middle aged women on telly. As a middle aged women, you know, I think she’s absolutely right.
But there is also a party issue about who is getting access, who is it who can afford for their children to do a three month internship and find somewhere for them to live and all of that? We all know that this is not the way to open up the arts.
And that moves me into the second issue, which is about the intrinsic nature and what we want, because we must have a vibrant sector that is saying something to people about the world in which they live and which is challenging them and which is experimenting and which is doing these things. And the fact of the matter is that if everybody comes from a very comfortable life experience, they are much less likely to be challenging and to be critical, and that we will be a great loss to our national culture, and that’s true in the performing arts, but it’s actually also true in literature, it’s also true in novels. If all that’s ever happened to you is that you’ve been to a very good school, you’ve been very successful and then you’ve been to a university and got a top degree, you haven’t got the same material, have you, for doing things?
The future of change
So, I think this issue about equality of access and opportunity is important… What [New Labour Culture Secretary] Chris Smith managed to do was make free museums such a central part of British cultural life that the Tories have not been able to attack it, and that was a great achievement. That is really significant. So sometimes we really can make progress and root things down, bolt them down so hard, that it is much more difficult for anyone to try and uproot them.
Now it seems to me, that access is good, open access is good, but I think maybe we should be moving. The next thing we should be thinking about is participation because I imagine that the participation bit will be a stronger experience and will be a more transforming experience for people and that the more people and the more possibilities we have to enable people to participate in lots of different ways – the better it will be and the more satisfying their lives will be.
So, that’s really like us to do. Now, I don’t think that’s a very easy thing to do, but that is where I would like us to go after the 2015 election.
Here’s the speech that Cat Hobbs, founder of We Own It, gave at their Unions21 hosted event at Labour Party Conference
“Thank you so much for coming today, it’s great to see you all. I thought I’d start our discussion today by reading you the story of someone who got in touch to support us recently. He wanted to be kept anonymous so let’s call him Dave.
This is what Dave said to us:
“This is probably the single most relevant issue in today’s politics. As far as I am aware the Green party are the only ones who are promoting renationalisation. Which is scary as if the facts were publicised it would surely be a vote winner for any party, demonstrating nicely that policy in all the major parties is driven by party donors and lobbyists not by informed public opinion and definitely not common sense.
If it’s any use to you my personal example of privatisation not working is this:
When I arrive in my lab each morning it generally hasn’t been cleaned properly, some times not at all. I call the Sodexo help desk and report it and then quickly clean anything that is really nasty myself before the first patient arrives. As far as I know Sodexo suffer no penalty for not fulfilling this part of their lucrative hospital cleaning contract and therefore has no interest in improving the service they provide. They continue to make a profit. Meanwhile the taxpayer pays for me, on pay band 7, to mop floors. A very expensive way to do it, especially if you have already paid a cleaner to. Hospital management don’t take any interest as they have already shown a saving on their cleaning services. What a load of BS.”
It’s not just Dave. People all over the country are frustrated about their services being sold off or handed over to companies who don’t care, and don’t deliver.
They are frustrated about high water bills, energy bills and rail fares.
They are frustrated with G4S and Serco being allowed to bid to run probation services while they’re being investigated for defrauding the taxpayer.
They are frustrated that even though many councils are bringing public services back in-house because it works better, others, like Barnet, are locking themselves into 10 year contracts with private companies like Capita. They are doing this against the will of local people, supported by the government’s ‘open public services’ agenda (a bit of lingo that could come straight out of 1984).
Labour has got to do better than this. Not a bit better, by default, because it’s quite easy to be better than this government without even trying. It needs to be a lot better.
We are giving Labour a ready-made solution: start by committing to a Public Service Users Bill, to promote high quality services and give all of us a voice when it comes to how they are run.
Labour is already against Royal Mail privatisation. It should be in favour of giving us a say over whether it happens by requiring public consultation before any public services are privatised or outsourced. Nearly 80% of people would support this.
Many Labour MPs are fighting for East Coast to stay public. It would be logical to require local and national government to look at public ownership best practice whenever they contract out, and put forward an in-house bid when they do. 80% of the public support this idea.
Shadow Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has committed to applying Freedom of Information legislation to private companies running public services. That’s great but they should also be required to share performance and financial data, and we should have a right to recall them when they do a bad job. Again, 80% of people would support a right to recall, including, surprisingly, 90% of Conservative voters.
Labour wants to increase the role of cooperatives and real mutuals in our economy. It should be prioritising organisations with a social purpose above private companies in the bidding process for our public services.
The Bill we are calling for is feasible and practical. Today we’re asking Labour to commit to it. Do it for Dave. Not Dave Cameron, the other Dave, at the hospital. Actually, do it for Dave Cameron too – to prove that Labour is different, and better.”
Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors
The UnionHome Thompsons Solicitors Blog
I am not easily surprised by the double standards of this government, but even I was taken aback by its brazen hypocrisy a few days ago when it invoked ‘protection of personal privacy’ to oppose a European Union cap on bankers bonuses.
The government gets all protective about bankers having to disclose details to the EU of their vast rewards but when it comes to the privacy of more than seven million union members whose names, addresses and personal correspondence it wants powers to access they are not just less fussy, they don’t care.
Part 3 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill gives the government’s Certification Officer – and potentially hundreds of his staff and contractors – scope to require unions to hand over membership records and private correspondence.
The government is over-riding the right to privacy in the European Convention on Human Rights for millions of union members – while at the same time invoking the very same right to defend a handful of bankers.
If we needed any more evidence of this being a government for the few and not the many, this could hardly make it clearer.
This harmless-sounding legislation on trade union ‘administration’ is being rushed through Parliament after a cursory consultation over the summer, riding roughshod over trade union concerns.
For years now, unions have had to submit annual membership returns to the government’s Certification Officer (CO). It’s been open and transparent, giving union members the right to check the records and complain to the CO if something is wrong – and no one has since 2004.
Under this Bill, the government wants to intrude much further by:
- Requiring unions with more than 10,000 members to appoint an Assurer from among ‘qualified independent persons’ as named or defined by the Government
- Requiring unions to submit an annual ‘Membership Audit Certificate’ (prepared, in the case of those with more than 10,000 members, by an Assurer)
- Giving the Assurer the right to access membership records and require union officers to provide information.
- Giving the CO and CO staff and CO inspectors and Assurers powers to require production of documents and to make copies of them, including individual membership records and private correspondence from ‘anyone who appears…to be in possession of them’ if there is ‘good reason to do so’.
If the bill goes through, literally hundreds of state personnel and contractors will have the power to access the personal information of more than seven million union members.
The TUC has said: “It is not the business of the State to know who is or who is not a trade union member, and where they live”.
But the government is invoking article 8(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to over-ride data protection laws.
That article says the right to privacy can be limited only by ‘the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.’
By implication, the government is saying trade unions are a threat to all these things – and therefore it is okay to do what they propose.
The Bill has come from business secretary Vince Cable’s department, yet again displaying a shocking lack of liberalism from a Liberal Democrat minister – and a complete disregard for internationally recognised privacy and trade union rights.
I hope everyone who values the right to privacy and freedom of association will lobby their MPs to defeat this legislation. For more information: Click here
Should union membership be extended to every un-represented worker?
Rafael Gomez is professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto. Alex Bryson is senior research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and Research Associate at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics
Two of Canada’s largest unions – the CAW and CEP – have recently merged creating the largest trade union in Canada. Named Unifor, the union comprises over 300,000 workers. Regardless of the merits of such a mega-merger, one idea that has been centre-stage in the new deal is the idea of extending Unifor’s membership privileges to workers who lack workplace representation. The proposal has garnered considerable media attention because of its supposed novelty and applicability to today’s younger, more mobile and precarious workforce. “It’s a thought we have worked on for many years” said CEP president Dave Coles “but we have not been able to get our head[s] around how to do it” This last comment is somewhat surprising given that academics have been writing about this idea for some time and that peering back even further, to the foundations of the labour movement both in North America and in Europe, one finds plenty of examples ‘unaffiliated membership’ (i.e., accepting workers who are favourable to unionisation but who are otherwise not members of any trade union at work).
The idea of extending membership to all workers, even if they fail to have a certified union at their workplace, was actually floated a decade ago by two academics; Richard Freeman (an economist) and Joel Rogers (a sociologist) in a piece published in The Nation titled “A Proposal to American Labor”. In it the authors spell out just how such a proposal could work and be financed for little or no cost given the ease in which the internet – which at that time did not even include social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn — had allowed groups to communicate and share vital information.
Opening up to new members who are in favour of unions (or even neutral about representation) would open up doors to employees who work for an employer in which collective bargaining is not on offer. Freeman and Rogers cleverly termed this idea “open source unionism” (OSU) and argued quite persuasively how this could give labour an immense boost in its leverage and reach as well as gaining strategic information on employer behaviour. For workers without majority status at the workplace, the OSU model would mean access to some of the bread-and-butter services that unions traditionally offer (e.g., advice and support on their legal rights, career guidance, access to training and so on).
Elsewhere we have argued how unionism is and always has been an ‘experiential service’ in the sense that the true benefits of being part of union and having access to the benefits of some form of collective representation are revealed with experience at work and over time. The fact that a worker with access to union services is more likely to have a pension plan, a grievance procedure, more vacation time and family friendly polices is not something obvious. It has to be learned and experienced. The idea of extending some of these privileges to the unrepresented worker can only enhance the view workers have of a ‘union’ job.
The roots of this idea go back to the birth of the labour movement. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, directly affiliating with a union was not only possible but actively encouraged. It is only in the last half-century that labour has become closed in its membership, extending privileges only to those workers where a majority support unionisation and the union is recognized by the employer as the exclusive representative of workers for the purposes of collective bargaining. In the first half of the 21st century that model has come to its nadir, and it’s about time more trade union officials ‘got their heads around that.’
The Labour Party in Britain is at a crossroads in its relationship with its 15 affiliated unions (comprising some 3m affiliated unions members). A little known Westminster parliamentary constituency in Scotland– Falkirk West – became the fault line for what could comprise another few nails in the coffin of the historic party of labour that once was the party for labour.
Unite union, the biggest union in Britain and biggest affiliated Labour union, adopted a political strategy two years under its new general secretary, Len McCluskey, of trying to win back influence for itself and the union movement. Given that the parliamentary Labour Party, and not the annual conference or national executive, is the key locus of power within Labour, Unite naturally sought to get its activists selected as prospective candidates in safe Labour seats for the May 2015 general election. The method was to recruit new members to Labour and then win the vote for the selections.
It targeted some forty seats and was well on the way to securing the prospective candidature in Falkirk West until someone cried foul and accused the union of signing up new members without their consent. The Tories smelt blood and hounded Labour leader, Ed Miliband, as being in thrall to – and under control of – the unions. Within weeks, Miliband announced he was going to change the nature of the union-Labour link, requiring affiliated members to opt-in (rather than opt out as is the case currently). Subsequently, no wrong doing was found on the part of Unite and the two suspended activists were re-instated as full party members.
To have a political fund, all unions are required by law to hold decadal ballots and under affiliated union policies, the 15 unions ask members to pay the political levy of which a proportion is used to affiliate a certain number of members to Labour. With the withering of union activism and membership participation, this is far from a perfect system. But it does, nonetheless, mean that union members can act collectively to try to influence the historic party of labour. To opt-in would atomise those members that did and reduce any collective clout they might have.
Given that the affiliated unions are the one remaining organised source for social democracy in Labour, to remove their influence in this way would make Labour like theUSDemocratic party, namely, a free floating liberal party with no tangible association with the organised working class.
Criticism of Miliband from most of the unions was vehement. Most of all, they called his response ‘dog whistle politics’ and suggested he’d be better to concentrate upon battling the Coalition government over making workers pay the cost of the crisis of neo-liberalism (through the austerity programme) as well as them not gaining any of the fruits of the return of (limited) economic growth. Indeed, a few like Unison told Miliband that he faced an ‘Australian’ meltdown like that of thee ALP if he continued to misdirect his fire on the unions and not the government.
For the time being, the unions seem to have won out. The union-party reform was debated for only 30 minutes at this year’s Labour party conference and Miliband made a leader’s speech that was broadly welcomed where he fleshed out some of the content of his ‘one nation’ perspective. But it is a case of battle deferred not battle over for a special spring 2014 conference will debate the commission Miliband has set up under a former chair of the Labour party.
Ironically, when it comes to this special conference, Unite might be the one save Miliband’s bacon. It has been the least critical of the unions and, indeed, went so far as to welcome Miliband’s proposals as an opportunity to debate the union-Labour link. Much will depend upon the internal politics of this particular union.
So far only the siren voices of a few unions have argued for the setting up of a new party of Labour. The most prominent is the RMT transport union which was expelled from Labour nearly a decade ago for supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Consequently, unions still remain between ‘a rock and a hard place’ in terms of their political voice. For some of the big affiliated unions Miliband has not offered the clear alternative to the Coalition that they wish – it’s been a case of ‘austerity-lite’, namely, being for cuts albeit of a lesser size than the Coaliton’s.
Yet none are prepared to make the break that the RMT urges them to do. They fear it is cold outside Labour – better to be inside the tent albeit unhappy than to be outside it and better to be in the corridors of power even if they have no influence there.
This means that the alternative of a new party of labour has never gained the momentum or credibility that it needs to become a viable option for the currently affiliated unions. It is possible they may feel spurred into doing something if Miliband get his way next spring at the special confernence. But equally well, it might be another case of battle deferred if Miliband thinks that this battle will do more harm than good in the run up to the 2015 general election and the unions warm a bit more to him with the fleshing of ‘one nation-ism’.
Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford.
As the party faithful assemble in Brighton for a stick of rock, a pint and a group hug, the press have taken a more than passing interest in the uttering’s of Ed and Ed.
Sandwiched between the Lib Dems and the Tories next week, Labour can upstage the Liberals, [not that hard at the best of times] and undermine the Tories; or so one would hope.
But the problem is that so far they have failed to do either. A succession of policies that look less thought out by the minute and statements that interviewers have delighted in shooting down does nothing to encourage the casual observer to view Labour as the party in waiting; moreover it could be seen that it is the party that is wanting.
Whereas we would have hoped for ground breaking policies that have that ‘wow factor’ we have had statements that are more designed to improve the Tory angle than change the mood music. Even statements like ‘we will repeal the Health and social care bill’ to save the NHS send shivers down the spine. Not because this half baked bill needs to be lost in the mist of time along with the Poll tax, but because you have to wonder what they will have in its place. It was the Blair administration that introduced Foundation status for trusts with Milburn at the helm and it was Hutton as Secretary for State for Health that paved the way for the independent sector. And the less we say about PFI in health and elsewhere the better. Even this leaves aside the concept of ‘patient choice’ that the Tories leapt on to champion further moves for private intervention.
But the concern does not end here. More money for parents, scrapping the one room policy and having all of this open to scrutiny in the hope that the Tories will play ball, leaves you to wonder what it is Labour can or will achieve if they want to be seen as the true alternative when much of what they have said so far is based on hope and a promise.
It is all very well Ed [Miliband] saying that it will all be all right on the night of the election because it is then that we will have the detail, when the electorate want to know what they are signing up to now and not bread today and jam tomorrow. There is the real danger that come the national election the voter will go for the devil they know then the devil they cannot trust or understand.
But there is another concern that appears to be outside the radar of Labour and its spin doctors.
Since the election there has been a large number of new voters and by the time we hit the starting blocks for the next round of electioneering we will have had a load more.
Many of these voters will, we hope, be keen to know what the parties will do to give them a future. To give them the comfort that they will work, receive a pension, an income and a quality of life. In short ‘what is in it for them?’ So far there is not a lot to see and many of the party politico’s on all sides are assiduously designing policies that will improve or affect the middle classes whilst throwing a few crumbs to the poor.
Labour has something to offer but the problem is that if it is not brave enough to be bold and instead assumes that by making statements that they hope will appease the masses this will win them plaudits. It will not.
Do we really need to issue a demand such as “end age discrimination in employment now!” It might be thought unnecessary but most certainly, we do! In fact age discrimination may be the last bastion of widespread and endemic prejudice – despite it being unlawful.
In 2006 most age discrimination in the workplace was supposedly outlawed, but don’t let that fool you. Like Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Professor Stanley Unwin in the 1960s movie of the same name, age discrimination just seems able to Carry on Regardless.
In fact the law against age discrimination has been a stop-start affair with both parties being hesitant about taking the total plunge. Labour introduced the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations in 2006 – implementing the EU umbrella anti-discrimination initiative, the 2000 Employment Directive. Following this however, it remained lawful to enforce retirement of people above 65 (a pretty ageist thing) and it was not until 2011 that mandatory retirement was made unlawful with the scrapping of the so called “default retirement age.”
While this has been hailed as good news for people who want to stay working beyond the former “retirement age”, unfortunately it has not improved the situation people in their fifties or sixties who are trying to get jobs.
It comes as a rude surprise to many people to learn that the real issue for many older workers is not how they are going to work into their seventies? but how are they going to carry on working up to 65? 30 per cent of people between 50 and 64 are economically inactive, dropping out of the workforce in many cases quite unexpectedly and finding it well nigh impossible to return.
There is no doubt that older jobseekers are finding it harder to get work, in part because employers systematically discriminate against older applicants when they recruit for new posts.
The older job seeker in Britain today is in many ways the most disadvantaged individual in the labour market. Employers don’t mention ages on advertisements any more of course but overwhelmingly they have a clear idea of the age of the person they want.
Firms which use recruitment agencies, typically make clear their “ideal age range” for a particular job. This isn’t spelled out formally but the agency is likely to include at least some people in that age range in their short list – otherwise where will the next contract be placed? The selecting organisation does the rest. No one is told that they were not chosen because of their age, but this is what goes on.
Far from organisations being “age blind”, candidates’ ages are among the first things many employers think of or want to know about in a potential recruit. All this happens covertly so that age is seldom given as the reason for failing to get a job. Older job seekers pick up the signs however.
In a recent survey of 50+ job seekers by TAEN, 83 per cent felt that they had been “seen as too old by recruiters.” 72 per cent said that they were “seen as too experienced or over qualified.” Far from age discrimination being banned in job recruitment, it has simply been driven under-ground.
It is no coincidence that people over 50 have the biggest problems of any age group with long term unemployment. Older job seekers make more applications and remain out of work longer than other age groups.
The older job seeker, who may feel he or she has many years of active work life ahead if only a job were to be offered, is consigned to the scrap heap. What could be more depressing than being pointlessly cast aside in one’s mid-fifties?
TAEN – The Age and Employment Network – believes the law should be strengthened. At the moment employers can pick and choose according to age without realistic fear of being caught. Consider the following points.
- It remains lawful to ask a person’s age in a job application – why should this be relevant?
- It remains lawful to ask applicants to list all their previous jobs in date order – why should anyone want to know them when only the most recent are likely to be important?
- It remains lawful to ask for qualifications and education with exact dates attached to each – but why is all this detail needed when it only serves to focus attention on the age of the applicant
- If someone tells an untruth about their age in a job application and this is found out subsequently, it is an instantly dismissible offence. Is this really fair? If age is so often an unlawful bar to serious consideration for a job, one could argue that dissembling is a justified response of self-protection.
We in TAEN want to eradicate this mindless ageism from the labour market. We know it will be very difficult but we are determined to try. We realise that forming alliances is essential and we invite all trade unionists and right thinking people to join us.
Too many people in their fifties and sixties or even earlier are being cast aside and condemned to not working again. That’s why on October 1st – Older People’s day – we will be launching a petition. However old you are, we hope you will agree that we should not let ageism go unchallenged!
To support TAEN’s campaign to ban age discrimination against older job seekers, look out for TAEN’s petition.
Chris Ball is Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment network ( link www.taen.org.uk )
Follow Chris Ball on twitter @crystal_balls
Follow TAEN on @taen_uk
To join TAEN visit (link http://taen.org.uk/about/membership)