Friday, September 04, 2015

Poland: Stop sackings and union busting!

"Maciek Konopka has been sacked from his job at Deepwater Container Terminal (DCT) in Gdansk. Why? Ostensibly because he's a committed and active trade union leader. It's the latest in a line of union-busting actions by management including intimidation, threats of dismissal, and nine other workers being forced to leave.

Despite the growth of the NSZZ Solidarnosc union, management has repeatedly failed to adequately address members' concerns over important issues including pay, temporary contracts, meaningful negotiation and holiday working. It also brought in a legal firm to handle negotiations with the union over a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) which has ground progress to a halt.

Management employs workers on rolling temporary employment contracts seemingly to maximise a culture of fear and job insecurity.

Please help us to tell management, board members and investors at DCT Gdansk to reinstate Maciek Konopka and that dismissals and other anti-union activity must stop. DCT needs to come to the table and negotiate directly with the union in good faith over a collective bargaining agreement that will raise standards at the terminal"

Sign the petition here

Hat tip Labourstart and International Transport Federation.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

"Newham mayor overrules council committee to push ahead with SPV spending"

Check out this report in yesterdays "Professional Pensions"about Newham Mayor, Robin Wales, overturning the recommendation of the Overview & Scrunity Committee, that no money should be spent on a proposed "Special Purpose Vehicle" (SPV) until it had been fully considered by its Pension Committee. The funding to "develop the proposal" will now go ahed.

The Overview & Scrunity Committee had voted 5:1 for this pause before spending up to £500k of public money. The former Chair of Newham Pension Committee, long serving and respected Councillor, Winston Vaughan, had also supported this recommendation not to go ahead.

If the Newham Pension Committee later decide that they do not want to go ahead with this SPV proposal then the money could be wasted.

Newham Councillor and Scrunity Chair, Dianne Walls is quoted in the article as saying  " is important to look at the proposal in more depth rather than "spending lots of money without due process".

She said: "It's a matter of principal, mainly because there's a lot of decisions made at cabinet and mayor level that have not been open and haven't been scrutinised properly."

She added: "As we've seen in the past, when decisions are made in haste or without due process, then we make mistakes and we lose money. This is not to say that this actual proposal is wrong - we just don't know - we need to look at it very carefully before we commit half a million pounds."

At a time when the council is being forced to make £50m in cuts, she said that spending public money without investigating properly raises the risk of making costly mistakes, which the council "cannot afford to make".

Call-ins are very rare, with Walls saying only two have been made by Newham's OSC in 12 years".

Check out previous posts on this proposal (Warning: more than 140 Charactors)

here; here; here and

here & here

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A tale of sorrow while walking up Moel Famau - the "Hill of Mothers"

Two weeks ago, I went on a holiday walk from the North Wales market town of Ruthin to the top of the nearby Clwydian hill range, Moel Famau, and then back down to Ruthin. At the summit is the remains of a monument to the 50th Jubilee of King George the Third, which was destroyed by lightening shortly after it was built.

This is a beautiful walk in good weather and while demanding is not that difficult.  I did not have a map which was stupid but I had spent a good part of my youth walking up and down the range and was fairly confident that I could find my way.

On the way up I came across by chance the ruined medieval Church of Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd or “the church St Peter in the Vale of Clwyd”. It is an amazing place away from the main village and the new 19th Century church of St Peter. The first mention of it in historical records was 1254.

This is a romantic ruin with a wooden bench sited in front overlooking the lovely Clwyd vale with the wonderful inscription on it "To the last of the summer wine" but in the abandoned graveyard, there is also a stone (see bottom right of collage) with the inscription "In memory of Seven Children of H & G Evans, Cae Nant" and then the initials of each child. There is no date nor further information but the old church has not been used for burials since 1905.

How unspeakably horrible to lose 7 children.  Its a reminder how people often romanticise the past and forget what a struggle it was to live and bring up a family during those times.

Despite this melancholy sight I would still recommend you walk up the abandoned footpath to this ancient church and then onto the glorious and windswept views at the top of the "Hill of Mothers", Moel Famau.  Then walk down amongst heather, ferns and sheep along the bottom ridge paths back to Llanbedr then Ruthin.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Campaign to Elect Dave Prentis: Fundraiser London Wed 2 September 2015

This fund raiser hosted by Kevin Maguire ("Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror & TV pundit") will take place tomorrow - Wednesday 2 September.

From 6.30pm at "The Parcel Yard, Kings Cross Station, London, N1 9AL."

Tickets £5 each. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Friwin Memories - New Ballast Pit Short

Bass Maltings Short from Friwin on Vimeo.

This is an amazing drone video of an historic site. When he is not on his ship off the coast of South America (month on, then month off) he is trying to set up a promotional video company with an old school friend. From close up weddings, naming ceremonies, business launches to ariel drone flyovers. My talented nephew. He obviously takes after his Mum's side of the family :)

Vote against Keith Hellawell as director of Sports Direct

"VOTE AGAINST resolution 4 to re-elect Keith Hellawell as a Director of Sports Direct International PLC at the AGM 9/9/15

We believe that voting against the chair Keith Hellawell is appropriate in order to send a message about our concerns about management and employment practices, and weak corporate governance at Sports Direct, which the chair must take responsibility for.

Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) is a group of investors representing the financial assets of the labour movement and committed to long-term responsible investment. We collectively have over £1bn in assets under management and our membership includes affiliated unions that represent workers at Sports Direct.

We urge you to VOTE AGAINST resolution 4 to re-elect Keith Hellawell as a Director of Sports Direct at the Annual General Meeting on the 9thSeptember for the following reasons:

The company’s questionable corporate governance and employment practices are long-standing issues that pose potential risks to investors. Yet the current chair has not addressed them despite concerns being raised repeatedly by various stakeholders, further he has been criticized by MPs for his lack of knowledge of important events at subsidiary USC.

Voting against Keith Hellawell would communicate that shareholders concerns can no longer be ignored and that Sports Direct has to change the way they do business if the long term reputation and success of the company are going to be sustained.

MPs have said that the chairman Keith Hellawell of Sports Direct is presiding over a FTSE 100 company run like a “backstreet outfit” where executives made deals behind the board’s back, withheld payments to force suppliers and landlords to the negotiating table and failed to consult with staff over the pre-pack administration of its fashion chain USC.

For many investors and the wider public, Sports Direct is synonymous with the use of zero hours contracts and other controversial management practices. Sports Direct was even the subject of an investigation by Dispatches on Channel Four in April this year.

The risks posed by the use of zero hours contracts and other management practices revealed by Dispatches need to be disclosed to shareholders, and it is clear that investor expectations are growing. A report issued by the National Association of Pension Funds in June recommended that PLCs disclose the breakdown of full-time, part-time and “contingent” workers. The NAPF specifically highlighted the use of zero hours contracts as a potential risk that investors need to assess.

Shareholders are aware that much of Sports Directs workforce is employed on zero hours contracts, yet continue to be left in the dark about the extent of such practices. The chair has acknowledged that this is an issue by referring to casual employment in his statement in the annual report. However the 48 words that chair spends on the topic provides no further information. In the Corporate Social Responsibility section of the annual report there is neither any commentary on zero hours contracts or a breakdown of numbers in each type of employment.

We believe that the workers of any company are their greatest asset and they should be treated accordingly, something that we must ensure Sports Direct follows.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dave Prentis - UNISON General Secretary election 2015

Just as the Labour Leadership election is coming to a close there is another important Labour Movement contest for 1.3 million UNISON members. The 5 yearly election of our General Secretary (GS). 

I am supporting Dave Prentis to be re-elected as our GS. Dave is a members' champion and will always put the interests of the union first. Despite the Tory onslaught against public services and unions, UNISON has survived and continues to defend its members through thick and thin. We have even recruited record number of new members and activists.

We need an experienced, pragmatic leader and campaigner to defend members as we face a government determined to take us all back to a 1930s economy. 

Check out Dave's key pledges here

On Wednesday 2 September at 6.30 pm, in the Parcel Yard, Kings Cross station, London there is a fund raiser with Daily Mirror's Kevin Maguire.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Evidence from the UNISON Housing Associations Branch to the Select Committee

"We are a London-based branch of the national trade union UNISON, which organises workers providing public services. 

We organise over 3,000 workers across Greater London who are employed by housing associations and are recognised by most of the G15 housing associations as well as a number of smaller housing organisations. 

We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and have consulted with our members and activists in order to compile this response.

·                     Last year housing associations were assured that they could plan ahead for the future with a new rent increase model of CPI inflation plus 1% increases per year. Instead they have now been instructed to apply a 1% cut in rent every year for the next 4 years. This could mean that some will go bust since they modelled an increase into their business plans when they took loans and bonds to pay for new building. There is an advantage to social tenants in receiving a cut in rents but not if it leads to a net decrease in the social housing stock. 

·                      The reductions in rents will also inevitably mean threats to jobs and services. Housing associations have been for many years been providing additional services to residents such as floating support to vulnerable tenants, job training and youth clubs. These will all be at risk. 

·                     Housing costs in London are high and decent housing is scarce. The cost of non-socially provided housing in London outside is unsustainable, with private rents averaging £1,500/month, and the average cost of buying a house at around £480,000 (nearly 20 x average wages). Extending the Right to Buy to HA tenants is therefore likely to be extremely popular with London residents; for many this may be their only hope of every buying a property. For some inner London boroughs the number of properties purchased under Right to Buy is over 60%.

Implications of extending Right to Buy to housing associations
·                     Extending Right to Buy will also mean some housing associations going to the wall especially if the government does not fully refund any discount (which will be over £100k in London). Others will have financial problems with paying off early fixed rate loans (such as LOBOs) and meeting their convenants, even if they get the full value of any sale. 

·                     Many housing associations currently have charitable status and many of them have benefited from money or gifts of land in the past. This could cause problems with their status if they sell property in this way. This is a real threat to the existence of many associations and means that after years of real-terms pay cuts or stagnation our members may find themselves out of work altogether.

·                      If local authorities have to sell their housing stock in order to fund the discount then that will be not only unfair but financially disastrous for them and their tenants. The 3 year settlement on council housing finances has also been ripped up.  

·                     It has been rumoured that instead the government will take away the remaining subsidy for new investment and use it to fund the discount. This will pretty much end the supply of new homes at sub-market rents in expensive areas such as London. 

·                     Even if the government does fully refund the cost of Right to Buy (which has not yet been clarified) then since new homes costs more to build than existing properties there will still be an overall reduction in social homes. With high land prices and opportunities for development in inner London low, selling off housing association properties through Right to Buy would mean a net decrease in the numbers of social housing properties across the capital, as properties are sold and not replaced.

Changes to benefits
·                     The proposed maximum benefit cap of £23k per family in London and £20k outside will not only result in more evictions and rent arrears especially for tenants with children. It will also make it harder for landlords to let their empty properties to residents on waiting lists since many will not be able to afford the rent due to the cap. This is crazy.

·                     The so called "pay to stay" will mean that tenants who earn over £40k in London (and £30k outside) will have to pay "market rates". This will be unworkable unless housing associations are given the powers to demand income details from tenants with criminal sanctions, which will of course, go down badly with all tenants. Changes to benefits such as the bedroom tax have already increased the workloads and stress levels of our members, who do a difficult job at the frontline of the government’s austerity regime.

·                     If "pay to stay" does go ahead and means that renters are charged full market rent they will be effectively forced to try and exercise the right to buy in order to stay in their homes. Even if you are on £40k per year salary in London, you will find it difficult to get a mortgage even with a discount – the Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association recently advertised a property in Hackney for sale under a supposedly ‘affordable’ shared ownership scheme for £1,000,000. Market rents will be completely unaffordable in parts of the city. This will increase social cleansing leaving large parts of London available only to the very rich.

·                     Inside Housing recently showed that around 40% of council houses sold under Right to Buy are currently being rented privately. There is no reason why this pattern should not be repeated in the housing association sector, meaning that private landlords will benefit from homes built through public subsidy. Furthermore, many of these properties are occupied by tenants who are claiming housing benefit – a transfer of wealth from the state to private landlords which would be completely unnecessary if these properties were still owned by local authorities.  It is this transfer of housing benefit to private landlords which has led to the Conservative government claiming that the welfare bill is unsustainable and to their cuts to the social security system – a problem that could be solving by relieving the pressure on housing both in London and nationwide.

·                     It is also possible that the certain individuals and rogue companies will be looking to make deals with vulnerable tenants into "loans" to enable them to buy their property in order to get hold of the £100k discount.

Sustainable future
·         The UNISON Housing Associations branch believes that the housing crisis, particularly in London, will not be solved and indeed will be worsened by extending Right to Buy to housing associations. As workers we feel this will remove or dilute the social aspects of our work and lead to increased stress, job losses and the forced closures of many associations. As housing workers and as London residents we do not feel this is the way to solve the housing crisis.

·         We call for a programme of mass house-building in the capital, both for social rent and for private ownership. We also call for greatly increased regulation in the private rented sector to give tenants greater protection and security of tenure, and for rent controls to be reintroduced and rents capped at a “Living Rent” set by an independent commission.

·         We note that Right to Buy for housing associations was defeated in the 1990s following a broad based campaign against it. The UNISON Housing Associations branch will continue to campaign against Right to Buy in housing associations and for a fair and sustainable solution to the housing crisis.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Murad Qureshi Standing up for City & East

'We need an experienced City and East representative like Murad, who can hit the ground running. With his strong track record of effectively holding the London Mayor to account, he offers all the people of East London a campaigning GLA member who will deliver results from day one of his election.Cllr John Gray (& UNISON)

Many eligible voters have already take part in the election for the Greater London Assembly City & East Labour candidate but there is still another 2 weeks of the ballot to go. There is even a hustings arranged for next week!

"As well as choosing our next Leader, Deputy Leader and Mayoral candidate, as a member in City and East London you will also get the chance to choose who you want to represent you as Labour's candidate for the London Assembly.

Before you vote you can put the candidates to the test in a hustings on Wednesday 2 September from 7pm at Queen Mary University. This is your chance to put your questions to the candidates and hear them make their case for why the want to represent City and East London on the Greater London Assembly".

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

UNISON Champion - June Poole RIP

I was shocked to hear the sad news that UNISON stalwart, June Poole, has passed away after a short illness. We were supposed to meet yesterday at the UNISON centre in London for a Board meeting of the Welfare Trustees.This meeting was cancelled out of respect for her.

My sympathies are with her family and her many UNISON friends and comrades.

June was a real UNISON grassroots "activist", who was not only a longstanding member of her branch, Rochdale Local Government, but took part in numerous regional and national committees as well as campaigning on disability issues, women rights and for Labour Link.

She will be best remembered as a "tireless worker for
 UNISON’s welfare organisation ‘There for You’".
I got to know June when we were both members of UNISON Community Service Group Executive. She became its Vice Chair. Earlier this year we both stood together on the same centre left ticket for the two UNISON Community National Executive Council seats. I managed to get in but June narrowly missed out by only 61 votes.  She would have made an absolutely brilliant NEC member.

June was a no nonsense, feisty, instinctive trade unionist, who stood up for workers and for their interests. While she did not suffer fools, she cared for members and there was no side to her. She did however have an infectious "wicked" sense of humour.

Our Labour movement family has lost one of its own.

UNISON will be letting people know the funeral details as soon as they are available.

(hat tip great picture to UNISON North West Region)