Case is a massive step forward for the rights of Foster Care workers
The tribunal ruled that the level of control and mutuality of obligations meant that James and Christine Johnstone were clearly employees
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has won a landmark employee status case and the first case the union is aware of of foster care workers being recognised as employees by a UK tribunal.
Following a preliminary hearing in June, the Glasgow Employment tribunal ruled today that the level of control and mutuality of obligations meant that James and Christine Johnstone were clearly employees. It also found that the council was enforcing contractual obligations by their “no work, no pay” policy.
This marks a massive step forward for the rights of this group of workers that look after some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
Foster care workers in the UK, while paid by local authorities to look after children, had so far not been recognized as workers nor employees, denying them basic rights such as protection from unfair dismissal and protection for whistleblowing.
“This is a massive victory for employment rights for foster care workers in the UK,” said IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee. “We would encourage Glasgow City Council to accept the decision and take immediate steps to rectify their unlawful behaviour. Other local authorities should take note.”
As austerity continues to bite on local authority budgets, the amount being allocated to foster care workers is shrinking, adding more strain on these carers and the children they look after. But despite the difficulties they face, their lack of employment status had so far precluded them from seeking redress through channels that are open to workers or employees.
The IWGB launched the Foster Care Workers Branch in September 2016, with the broad objective of achieving employment rights for foster care workers across the UK.
A number of people who have never been to the Big Meeting have asked us to publish on our website the time it begins, where to assemble and other details.
This is a simple request but requires a quite complicated answer because the Gala is not like a normal trade union march. In fact, it has no start time, no finish time and no one place of assembly.
Traditionally, the colliery bands would march though their villages starting early in the morning and the make their way to Durham from all directions and, in the main, that tradition remains today.
The main assembly point is the city centre Market Place and bands and banners start to march from there to the Racecourse from about 8.30am. Other assembly points are the Miners’ HQ at Red Hill near the railway station and the New Inn on the west of the city.
The focal point of the Gala is the County Hotel at Old Elvet where the two legs of the procession converge. Here, the union leaders, invited guests and local dignitaries greet the march from the hotel balcony and the bands pause to play their “party piece” before marching the short distance to the Racecourse where there is a platform for the speakers.
The procession can take three to four hours to pass the County Hotel due to the huge numbers attending and the frequent pauses at the hotel. However, a wonderful atmosphere of street theatre is created there making the occasion more a fiesta than a march.
On the Racecourse, the banners are strapped to the surrounding fences creating a colourful tapestry of working class history.
On the riverside, there are rides for the children and stalls selling everything from books to fast food.
In the marquees, there are many exhibitions and a place where tea and sandwiches can be bought run by the Durham Labour Party. And, on a field overlooking the racecourse, there is a fun fair with some scary rides for the more adventurous.
At 1pm, the platform party arrives and the Chairman opens the meeting.
After the speeches, four or five selected bands and banners march to the Cathedral for the Miners’ Service. Whether you are a believer or not, this is worth a visit for the sheer dramatic experience.
Back on the Racecourse, the banners are lifted when the various miners’ lodges decide it is time to go and march back to the County Hotel where they play another tune exuberantly but, sometimes, a little less professionally due to the intoxicating effects of the day’s celebratory atmosphere.
The centre of Durham is closed to traffic from 7.00 am but access is possible, for those who arrive early, to the multi-storey car park close to the Market Square. There are three large park-and-ride car parks. For a location map, click here. You can also park at Houghall campus.
Parties travelling by bus can alight on the main road, directly below the Market Square and their drivers will be directed, by the police, to a large coach park at The Sands on the riverside.
NUT and ATL general secretaries say their merger will mean government will have to listen to new “super union”
A new education “superunion” will be a “game changer” that reins in Ofsted and forces the government to listen to teachers’ concerns about workload and qualification reform, its two prospective general secretaries have said.
This week teachers began voting in a historic ballot that will allow hundreds of thousands to say “yes” or “no” to the creation of a new education union.
In an exclusive first joint interview, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney – the general secretaries of the ATL and NUT, respectively – set out their case for the NEU.
If the merger goes ahead, both will serve as joint generals secretaries of the NEU until a single leader is appointed in 2023.
Ms Bousted said the union would be a “game changer” that would “transform professional voice and professional agency”.
It would speak “for a majority of all teachers, and a significant proportion of other education professionals,” Mr Courtney said. “Politicians will have to listen.”
He said that a larger union could potentially have stopped the introduction of performance-related pay: “I think that was a margin call for [the government] to some degree…I think we could have persuaded them on that.”
The two union leaders listed the “unstable” academies system, qualifications reform, workload (their “key agenda”), and the school accountability system as priorities for the NEU.
Within the accountability system, Ms Bousted was particularly critical of Ofsted, which she called an “under-theorised, under-researched and certainly under-evidenced” agency.
“It is outrageous that an agency that for over 30 years has been giving supposedly valid and reliable judgements on schools has not itself published any research yet into the reliability, never mind the validity, of its own inspections,” she said.
“How has it got away with that? The new union would be asking those questions and producing the research evidence that would demand answers.”
Both leaders said they supported the creation of a single, universal education union, with Mr Courtney promising: “our door will be open to other organisations.”
UNION members will launch a campaign in Yorkshire against the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) which threaten to ravage the NHS.
STPs — dubbed by campaigners “slash, trash and privatise” — are NHS England’s five-year plans covering all aspects of NHS spending in local areas.
Drawn up by health bosses in secret, the plans, typically involving cuts, closures, and privatisation, are going through a process of assessment, engagement and further development. One STP in Yorkshire proposes closure of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and its A&E department.
The annual conference of Yorkshire & Humber TUC voted at the weekend to campaign against imposition of the STPs.
Karen Reay, secretary of Yorkshire & Northern region of Unite, told the conference: “Yet again we find ourselves having to fight for our NHS.
“STPs will change the NHS beyond recognition: A&E units downgraded, services, clinics and hospitals closed. The NHS at point of need is under threat.
“Forty-five local health services will be ripe for privatisation to the detriment of the most vulnerable in our society. There is no political mandate to have a process which will provide less care, poorer services.
“The Tories again and again have tried to destroy the NHS. We have to fight for it.”
Martin Meyer of West Yorkshire County Association of Trade Union Councils said: “Twenty-two billion pounds in cuts are being imposed on the NHS by this government.
“They are also fragmenting and privatising our NHS, which is turning out a more expensive way to run the NHS.
“Look at the private railway system: it costs almost twice as much to finance a privatised railway as it did a public service.”
Penguin Random House, the publisher of hits including The Girl on the Train, Fifty Shades of Grey and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks, has terminated its collective agreement with unions after talks aimed at protecting staff redundancy terms broke down.
The world’s biggest book publisher, formed in a £2.4bn mega-merger between the UK’s Penguin and German-owned Random House four years ago, informed staff on Friday that it was ending its agreement with Unite and the National Union of Journalists.
Insiders at the company said staff had reacted with “shock, horror and anger” after group CEO Tom Weldon ended decades of strong industrial relations by announcing it would no longer recognise the unions at its London sites, after management failed to agree redundancy terms with representatives. The publisher still recognises Unite at its Frating, Grantham and Rugby sites.
“Many of Penguin Random House’s authors and readers will be disturbed to hear about this turn of events,” said Fiona Swarbrick, NUJ national organiser. “By derecognising the NUJ and Unite, Penguin Random House has blatantly disregarded the views and wishes of its employees and has significantly damaged the good reputation of the business as being one which cares about people.”
Guardian columnist Owen Jones, whose book The Establishment was published by Penguin, was among the first authors to respond. He said: “Penguin: please urgently reconsider this decision and give the workers – who make your company the huge success that it is – the rights and protections that they deserve.”
In the email, leaked to the Guardian, Weldon told the 1,000-strong UK workforce of Penguin Random House (PRH) the move had followed the breakdown of discussions to bring all employees under one agreement. Claiming the company’s aim was to ensure “parity and equity for all London colleagues and ensure no groups of people are treated differently on account of where they are based or where they previously worked”. He added: “I am sorry to say we have not been able to reach an agreement that achieves this, and as a result our formal relationship with Unite and NUJ in London has come to an end.”
An employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Guardian: “Tom’s generally liked and respected, but people feel utterly betrayed.” The employee added that union numbers had started to climb when the news broke.
Historian Antony Beevor said: “If Penguin Random House is really planning to break existing agreements to reduce redundancy payments, especially at a time when the group is far from suffering financially, then this development is deeply disturbing.”
A high-profile children’s author, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We’d all like to imagine that publishers hold themselves to higher standards than banks and sweatshops, that they strive to represent the best philosophical values of society and treat their employees with respect. When this no longer holds true, we are all poorer.”
Unite said the company had effectively proposed levelling down redundancy payments for Penguin staff. Louisa Bull, Unite regional officer, vowed it would fight the action. “This is the thin end of the wedge that could lead to further erosion of pay and terms and conditions for staff,” she added. “PRH will suffer enormous reputational damage if they plough ahead with these misguided plans.”
Following the £2.4bn merger between Penguin and Random House three years ago, management wanted one agreement across both businesses. Penguin has a long reputation as a good employer, with pay, terms and conditions above generally low standards across the industry. Its agreement was negotiated originally by former owner Pearson, which retains a 47% stake in the publishing house. Under it Penguin staff made redundant are entitled to three months pay, plus a month for every year employed with no cap on the maximum payment.
PRH management demanded the clause be dropped but, the unions said, offered no concrete alternative beyond that required by law. Though no written terms had been in play on the Random House side of the business, it had been unwritten policy to match the Penguin terms, but with a 12-month cap on payments.
Under the revised terms, the unions said staff would have no guarantee of a more than a minimal payout should they lose their job. “Management didn’t make a single compromise in negotiations,” an insider told the Guardian. “What they proposed would leave people with a week per year of service limited to £479 for a week’s pay and a 20 year cap. Those who have been there less than two years are left completely unprotected.”
The news came as a blow to employees, some of whom have clocked up more than 30 years service at Penguin, which was set up in 1935 by Allen Lane who pioneered paperback publishing in order to get cheap books to the masses.
Suspicions that the publishing house was squaring up for a fight with the unions grew in September when Neil Morrison, PRH director of strategy, culture and innovation, served three months notice on existing collective agreements across the divisions, which also includes Pearson and Dorling Kindersley employees. However employees at these two divisions have not had their redundancy payments revised.
“We don’t know what is driving this,” Swarbrick said. “We have just settled pay negotiations and, as far as we know, no further redundancies are planned. Dropping this now is incredibly bad: it’s Christmas; this is the book trade; people are working incredibly hard because it is the busiest time of the year.”
Though the unions have not ruled out strike action, they plan first to restore the union agreements through the UK’s Central Arbitration Committee, the statutory body that adjudicates trade union recognition and collective bargaining. To do this more than 10% of the workforce must belong to unions and a majority of the workforce demonstrate their support. Membership is already well above that level and signatures are already being sought to ensure this process goes through.
A PRH spokeswoman said: “Historically Penguin Books and Random House have had different relationships with the Unite and NUJ unions in our different London offices. Now that we are one company, we have been in discussions with Unite and NUJ to try to bring all Penguin Random House employees in London together under one new agreement to ensure no groups of people are treated differently on account of where they are based. We have been negotiating with the unions for over three months since the start of September.
“Disappointingly, we have not been able to reach an agreement that achieves this and as a result our formal relationship with Unite and NUJ in London has come to an end. There is no change to individual employee’s terms and conditions.”
One of the things I liked most about going on trade union education courses was meeting union representatives from different unions and different workplaces. Even when I did the online TUC diploma course, although we were not in a classroom, the online forums were a great source of information and support. I felt that being able to share experiences meant we got much more out of the training. It also made me look at some issues from a very different perspective.
The problem for many union representatives is that, once they are trained, that interaction stops. It is likely that most of the union activists you know will work in the same workplace, or at least a similar one. Some of you may occasionally go to regional meetings or be a part of a wider branch, but there is no substitute for the informal chats over issues that come up and sharing experience with people from different unions and sectors.
That is why the TUC developed the Unionreps website and mobile app. It gives you the perfect platform to share your experiences. There are over 20,000 union representatives who are registered on the site and they include stewards, health and safety representatives, learning representatives, equality representatives and green representatives, and you can use it either on your computer, or as an app on a phone or tablet.
The biggest selling point for Unionreps is the bulletin boards where you can ask for advice, support other reps and share your thoughts. There are seven topic areas education, learning & skills; equality; law & representation; organising & recruitment; health & safety; Pensions; and Environment. Law and representation and health and safety are the most popular discussion areas where topics range from your rights when offered redeployment to whether flu vaccinations are a good thing. These topics are not answered by “experts” but answered by other ordinary representatives who may have already been through it.
This is a fantastic tool and is an example of the web at its best, based on empowering people and founded clearly on the principle of collective-help. It is not there to make money, or sell anything. Unionreps is a straightforward resource that is there to help you and to enable you to share your experiences and knowledge with others.
As well as having the bulletin boards there are a wide range of resources and events listings. You can also sign up to a regular newsletter than keeps you up to date with what is going on in the trade union world.
I have always thought that Unionreps is indispensable for all union representatives and I am amazed when I find out that a lot do not even know it exists. So if you are one of those that have not tried it out yet, then give it a go and join the online community of union reps or download the app from Google Play or the App Store.
Dangerous drop in workplace health and safety inspections
By Hajera Blag
In damning new findings from the TUC published yesterday (September 19), nearly half of health and safety reps say their workplace has not once been inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
And among the most hazardous industries – construction, where there were 65,000 work-related injuries and 67,000 work related illnesses last year alone – this figure tumbles to a dangerously low 17 per cent.
Even in the sector with the greatest number of reps reporting inspections – manufacturing – only a slim majority of 57 per cent say that their workplace has ever been inspected.
Overall, just one in four health and safety reps – 24 per cent – has reported an HSE inspection in the last 12 months.
These findings TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called “deeply worrying”.
“I am appalled that 80 per cent of reps in construction say their workplaces haven’t been inspected,” she added. “Construction workplaces can be some of the most dangerous places to work.”
Both the TUC and Unite along with other unions have laid the blame for the dangerous drop in HSE inspections squarely on the shoulders of government cuts.
“Huge cuts to the HSE and to local authorities continue to undermine vital safety protections at work,” O’Grady noted. “That means more workers at risk of accidents in unsafe workplaces every day. It’s time to fund the HSE properly and make sure bosses know that they can’t get away with chancing workers’ lives in dangerous workplaces.”
Unite national health and safety advisor Susan Murray agreed.
“This shameful situation is a result of years of underfunding for health and safety enforcers such as the HSE and local authority environmental health officers, a situation made demonstrably worse by the coalition and successive Tory governments,” she argued.
Indeed, after undergoing years of steep funding cuts since 2010, the HSE noted in a business plan in April that they will be hit by another massive 12.5 per cent slash in funding from central government in 2016/17, which takes the total reduction in funding in the last six years to an astonishing 46 per cent.
“Research has shown that enforcement activity is a very effective driver for compliance,” Murray highlighted.
“Instead we are seeing tens of thousands of people dying prematurely every year as a result of past exposures to hazardous substances at work, such as asbestos and silica, because their employers did not obey health and safety law. This cannot continue.”
Murray also condemned a recent government decision to hand a seat on the HSE’s executive board which is specifically designated under the Health and Safety at Work Act for a worker representative to an employer.
Hazards Magazine reported earlier this month that the appointed person to supposedly represent workers’ interests was one Susan Johnson.
In a register of interests on the HSE website, Hazards found, she has at least four other current paid directorships. Johnson recently retired as chief executive of the Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service. Before she served as chief executive of Northern Business Forum, and an ex-director of the food company Greggs.
There is nothing in her background that remotely suggests she could be a workers’ representative, the TUC noted.
“This,” Murray said, “is a disgraceful attack on trade unions.”