Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Why this election matters for workers rights

This election matters for workers rights. The ConDems have organised a race to the bottom and if the Tories win this election we can expect at lot worse. In contrast, Ed Miliband left the STUC today in no doubt that Labour has a positive alternative.

While headline unemployment figures have fallen, underemployment and insecure work has increased. The growth of part-time work, zero or nominal hours contracts, self-employed workers and agency jobs expose the reality of working life. Precarious work damages families and hurts the economy.

Zero-hours contracts have come to represent the Tories approach to work. There are at least 60,000 workers on zero-hours contracts in Scotland, although the actual numbers are likely to exceed 100,000. To that we have to add many more on nominal hour contracts. Far from Ian Duncan-Smith's 'flexible working', zero-hours contract workers don't know from one week to the next how much money they will earn. This makes it next to impossible to plan caring responsibilities, find other work, pay bills, register for in-work benefits and get a mortgage or even a bank account.

Over 40% of new jobs created since 2010 have been self-employed. This doesn't indicate an upsurge in entrepreneurial spirit, but rather the use of bogus self-employment. Workers are classified as self-employed so they can be sacked without warning, do not receive holiday or sick pay, have reduced benefit entitlements and may be denied access to employment tribunals. Average income of self- employed people has fallen by 22% since the financial crisis.

Hard-won employment rights have also been attacked. The cut to consultation periods for collective redundancy mean that it is now even easier to sack staff. Huge cutbacks to the number of workplace visits by health inspectors and deregulation is making workplaces more dangerous.

The qualifying period for unfair dismissal has increased to 2 years, depriving millions of workers of any legal protection in the workplace. Tribunal fees have cut the number of applications to employment tribunals for those who do qualify by 77%.

Trade unions and collective rights are under threat like never before. Strong trade unions are vital in the fight to tackle low pay and job insecurity and collective bargaining must be strengthened.

Anti-trade union laws have restricted the ability of unions to represent their members. From the victimisation of trade unionists by employers to government attempts to restrict facility time and check-off for union representatives. Not to mention the absurd and largely ignored, waiving of employment rights in exchange for shares. Blacklisted construction workers have received no compensation while the companies involved have been awarded lucrative Scottish Government contracts.

On Blacklisting, zero-hours contracts a much else, it has been the Labour led Westminster, Scottish Affairs Committee, chaired by Ian Davidson MP, that has done much to expose these scandals.

If the Tories are returned to government we can expect an ever increasing number of zero-hour contracts. All-out attacks on trade union rights with continued cutting of facility time, introduction of strike thresholds and removal of collective bargaining agreements. In addition to falling wages for the worse off while the wealthy continue to receive tax cuts and soaring bonuses.

While Labour's work manifesto is certainly not everything we would wish, it does demonstrate a vital change of direction. Labour will abolish employment tribunal fees, tackle blacklisting in the construction industry and look at ways to ensure proper facility time for union representatives.

Labour will maintain check-off arrangements in government departments where it has already been scrapped and defend unions’ rights to organise. They will ensure fairness in levels of health and safety protection at work and deliver proper recompense for people who have contracted asbestos-related diseases as a result of their work.

Labour will end exploitative zero hours contracts and abolish the loophole that allows firms to pay agency workers less than permanent staff. There will also be new flexible working rights for parents. Labour will reinstate third party harassment in the Equality Act to ensure that people are protected from all harassment and bullying at work, as well as requiring large companies to publish their gender pay gap and strengthen the law against maternity discrimination.

Today, at the STUC Ed Miliband delivered a passionate speech on these issues. It was warmly received by delegates who want to hear much more of this from Labour. Scotland succeeds when working people succeed was the message and a fairer workplace is the key to achieving that.