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Len McCluskey of Unite, is demanding that the government discloses the full impact of any roll-back of workers’ rights on the country’s millions of women, vulnerable and minority workers.
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey has written to Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister responsible for the ‘review’, to demand not only that an equalities impact assessment of any changes is undertaken and published in full, but also that the secretary of state sets out clearly how he intends to engage trade unions in the review process.
Unite has described efforts to cut rights as a ‘bad bosses’ charter’, a gift to rogue employers which will force workers to work longer hours, lower pay and seriously undermine family life.
The union’s call comes ahead of a debate in the House of Commons today (Monday 25 January) where Labour will seek to force the Conservative government to come clean on the real motive behind its ‘review’, which is thought to embrace working time, overtime and holiday pay.
Kwasi Kwarteng initially denied that any consideration of workers’ rights was underway, before being forced to confirm its existence. The review also comes after over a year of emphatic promises from the prime minister that his government would not reverse workers’ rights but instead would ensure that they were a ‘beacon’ to the world.
Stating that Unite will vigorously oppose any efforts to diminish the rights of UK workers, Len McCluskey says that there is no appetite from employers for the review and that the upheaval legal changes will bring is the wrong priority for a country that needs stability, economic investment and an industrial strategy to recover post-pandemic.
In his letter, Len McCluskey writes: “Unite is engaged with some 38,000 employers around the country, of all shapes and sizes, on a daily basis and I can confirm categorically that altering the basic legal rights of their workers is not their priority. Instead, they tell us that they want stability, investment, improved skills across the workforce and the promised industrial strategy to lead to active government engagement with them in the support and renewal of UK industry.
“We oppose any efforts by the government to diminish the rights of the workers of this country, who have committed themselves fully to public service during this year of crisis despite the appalling behaviour of some employers.
“This crisis in one way has been predictable; it has seen opportunistic employers including British Airways, Heathrow Airport Limited and the Go Ahead group move to rewrite contracts, reduce wages and extend working hours. The ease with which they can do so, confident in there being no reproach whatsoever from the government, underlines that workers in this country are already the easiest to mistreat and make redundant among the European economies.
“A responsible government, committed to levelling up and arresting inequality, should be moving to prevent such abuses, not making them more likely.
“I would also urge you not to make the mistake of previous Conservative administrations of refusing to engage with the trade unions of this country. Any moves that divide employers from their workforces, those who will feel the full effect of any subsequent government policies, only serve to sow the seeds of distrust and concern, which would be extremely unhelpful at any time but particularly so while the country faces profound enormous health and economic challenges that are best met collectively and positively, not with working people fearing attack.
“I urge that you move swiftly to involve the trade unions in your advisory panel and accord them the same stakeholder status and full engagement as that given to business.
“I also call upon your department to undertake a full equality impact assessment of any proposed changes to workers’ rights. As the row over Universal Credit reminds us, there are millions of working poor in this country and they are disproportionately women, black and Asian ethnic minorities, disabled and young workers.
“Attacks on working time, are highly likely to make the lives of these workers and that of their families even harder. Longer working hours are certain to lead to pay cuts, putting many below the legal minimum wage. Longer working hours also put health and safety at risk because exhausted workers are unsafe workers, and will place rest and family time under immense stress. These consequences must be fully considered and be fully and publicly disclosed.
“Job insecurity, low skills and low wages are endemic in this country. For our people and economy to thrive, I would urge that government focuses its efforts on addressing these very real challenges, not on divisive, potentially discriminatory and fear-inducing plans to revise workers’ rights, for which there is no clamour.”
“The reports in The Times are an extremely crude attempt to smear Unite and its leadership through a disgraceful attempt at guilt-by-association.
“They attempt to create an impression of a connection between Unite and the criminal investigations taking place in the City of Liverpool on the basis of what even the newspaper is forced to admit is no evidence whatsoever.
“There is absolutely no link between the union or any of its officials with those investigations. Merely coming from Merseyside is not an offence save in the outlook of the Murdoch media, which long has form in this respect.
“The reports are riddled with inaccuracies concerning the construction of Unite’s education, hotel and office facility in Birmingham and they include figures that are wildly erroneous, presented without source or verification.
“The facility in Birmingham also contains a 1000-capacity state of the art conference centre. Independent auditors have confirmed that the hotel, education and conference centre is as an asset to the union to the value of the union’s investment.
“At every stage of this project there have been clear and consistent tendering requirements, with progress reported regularly to the union’s Executive Council.
“Unite’s Birmingham complex is a world-class facility, built to the highest standards using unionised workers and it will help to regenerate a derelict area of England’s second city. Those who seek to misrepresent this project do so to advance their own agenda relating to the election for General Secretary which will take place this year.
“They have an established disregard for the truth.
“Unite is focussed solely on protecting its members during the current pandemic crisis. It does so effectively because its financial strength and democratic governance is second to none in the trade union movement.
“These smears and innuendos will not divert the union from its purpose but they do signify the further decline of a once-respected newspaper.”
Chris Reeves of Platform Films has produced a marvellous film which has taken several years to complete as Chris is heavily engaged in making and producing films on many workers struggles – present and historic – but he has been at pains to ensure it is a reflection of the story of the bitter News International Dispute from the point of view of those involved and the unions.
‘Wapping – The Workers’ Story’ is a film about the momentous year-long industrial dispute which began in 1986 when Rupert Murdoch plotted to move production of his newspapers overnight from central London’s Fleet Street to a secretly equipped and heavily guarded printing plant at Wapping, a docklands district in East London.
5,500 union men and women lost their jobs and centuries of trade union and industrial tradition in one of London’s last manufacturing industries came to an end.
Military-style police tactics, the use of anti union laws which shackled the unions’ hard won freedoms and strike breaking organised by the then right wing electricians union led to a Murdoch victory.
The dispute had international ramifications for Murdoch’s expanding press and broadcasting empire in the United States and around the world. It enabled him to finance his expanding empire including satellite TV.
It took place as the UKs Thatcher government embraced monetarism – deregulating finance, privatising key industries and undermining local democracy.
The story is told by sacked print workers of the NGA, Sogat, AEEU and the ‘refusenik’ NUJ journalists who joined them.
The film was made with the News International Dispute Archive group whose publications, website and travelling exhibition have given a voice to the sacked workers and their families.
The film is 70 minutes long and the DVD has subtitles in: German, English, Spanish, French, Italian and Polish.
The details of how to view the film online and to purchase on-line and DVD copies are contained in the message below from producer Chris Reeves:
“A new documentary about the Wapping dispute by platform films in association with the News International Dispute Archive is now available.
The film can be viewed on-line at: http://vimeo.com/ondemand/wappingtheworkersstory for £2.25.
A DVD version with extras is available from Platform Films, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU.
To purchase a copy or copies of the DVD please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org with your details.
The DVD price is: £8.00 + £1.00 P&P and cheques should be made out to Platform Films.
Read the review of the DVD & Film in The Morning Star by clicking on the following link https://morningstaronline.co.uk/…/real-story-wapping…
Tony Burke (UNITE Assistant General Secretary)
“Unite are proud to be associated with this film to tell the real story of the workers’ struggle with Murdoch, the police, the Tory Government and the right wing media.”
Ken Loach (Film maker)
“We need to know the story of the print workers’ battle against Murdoch. We can understand our enemies and see our strengths. Chris Reeves is a fine film maker and a true friend of the workers movement.”
Ann Field (retired UNITE print sector national officer and a founder member of the News International Dispute Archive)
“From the 1980s conspiracy to get rid of an entire workforce of 5,500 workers to the notorious phone hacking and corruption scandals 30 years later – this film exposes the deep-seated and enduring immorality at the heart of the Murdoch-led News International empire.”
‘Wapping The Workers’ Story’ Winner – Best Director, Best Documentary, Hollywood Hills Film Awards, November 2020
By Len McCluskey
With poverty and unemployment skyrocketing before lockdown, the government must act urgently to avoid a disaster – and support millions of workers who are already on the breadline.
In the end, it took Boris Johnson just eight minutes to tell the country it was being locked down again. He didn’t address his government’s dangerous and shambolic handling of this virus, or offer additional help to our NHS firefighting a level five threat ripping through the system, leaving staff exhausted as they deal with the human costs of his government’s dither and delay.
Frankly, it is far from prime ministerial as can be imagined that the people of the country were told to brace themselves for further months in an economic coma but with no attendant support for incomes and health.
There are huge milestones on the footpath we must now follow, and they are coming at people fast.
On Monday, the ban on landlords in England evicting their tenants ends. Later this month, the deadline for applications for the third grant under the self-employed income support scheme passes. And the last day of January brings the deadline for mortgage holidays and the end of the ban on home repossessions.
These imminent cliff-edges are swiftly followed by the closure of the government-backed ‘bounce back’ loan schemes, withdrawal of the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift – a lifeline for many struggling families – and the April end of the job retention scheme.
Rishi Sunak has announced £4.6 billion worth of grants for the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors. Astonishingly though, the chancellor, whose initial enthusiasm for fast and vast action has been replaced by a tendency to last minute limited fiscal crisis-responses that have to be dragged out of him, had nothing to say on jobs and livelihoods. For that, we must await his 5 March budget.
Well, workers can’t wait. The millions on benefits, the low-paid, the self-employed and precarious workers, and their children, cannot wait for springtime stock-taking to know if they will receive longer term income support or be pushed further into poverty.
Fix the furlough scheme for parents and make it clear to employers that they can and should use it. Deliver the long-promised laptops and internet access, and act to increase statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage and available to all, Chancellor. If you do not, then you ignore the plight of millions – and with that the recovery of our country.
Almost one year ago Unite first called for emergency legislation to ensure that workers not entitled to SSP receive it from day one if they can’t work because of coronavirus. Nothing has changed, other than the virus has mutated and become even more infectious. And it remains the case that poor workers can’t isolate, and if they can’t isolate the virus can’t be beaten back. A TUC survey has found that one in five people forced to self-isolate and unable to work from home have received no sick pay or wages confirms this.
This virus feeds off inequality, targeting the poor and the vulnerable, sadly to be found in shameful levels in the UK, the fifth richest economy on earth. But this government is making deliberate choices. Its failure to provide sick pay that people can live on and where all workers who need it can receive it is a conscious, ideological act but this pandemic will not be defeated until the diabolical choice between health and income has been removed.
Those of us in the union movement who know from our members exactly the struggle they face were, of course, disappointed that Keir Starmer followed the PM on air last night with a comment that there were ‘no absences’ in his speech. I sincerely hope that this is just a failure to think on his feet rather than a genuinely held belief. I prefer to regard Anneliese Dodd’s media round calling for genuine and full income support as the more accurate representation of where HM’s official opposition stands.
Tomorrow’s debate in parliament must not be hijacked by the few on the Tory benches who have all too readily had the ear of the PM in which to pour their lockdown scepticism. No, this must be where the Prime Minister and his Chancellor talk to the people of the country and for the people of this country, not a self-interested faction that will lead us to greater despair.
Speak for the industries that have gone without long-promised help, supply chains that are trying to get to grips with Brexit, and SMEs trying to figure out how to make workplaces secure amid an airborne disease and need urgent support if they are to keep people in work.
Help them by giving them the certainty that the JRS will extend for as long as needed and in line with a vaccine programme that can see the safe re-opening of the economy. And workers sick with fear need to know that they will not lose their homes and that their incomes will not be destroyed.
The signs so far are not great. For those who still have jobs in our hardest-hit industries, many furloughed on below minimum wage levels – which has to be addressed, now – and terrified of what those cliff-edge January dates will bring, the new package offers no hope. They are, as ever, the forgotten victims of a shuttered high street.
This pandemic will subside, thanks to the genius of our scientific community and heroic efforts of our health workers. But the seeds of a new crisis are already being sown – that of endemic, generational poverty and unemployment.
This government is now commonly referred to as the worst in living memory, riddled with cronyism bordering on corruption and stuffed with incompetents. We need an opposition that turns the spotlight on them, exposing them as unfit for office.
So, I appeal to Keir and his team: take off the gloves. The public will respect you for being strong and decisive, a welcome contrast to the shambles in No 10.
The people of this country have been put through hell by this government. They need a strong and confident alternative. Workers can’t wait.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) believes there is no Brexit that will benefit working people. In the circumstances, we welcome the European Union’s efforts to stop no-deal, guarantee the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border in Ireland.
However, the ETUC is concerned that the deal appears to have further watered down already weak commitments to workers’ rights, although further scrutiny is essential.
There is no longer any reference to a level playing field in the withdrawal agreement. Instead there is only an aspiration to maintain current social and employment standards in the non-binding political declaration. The only deal fair for working people would guarantee that employment standards in the UK keep pace with those in the EU27.
ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini said:
“We welcome the fact that there’s finally agreement on how to protect peace and respect the Good Friday Agreement by avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
“But there’s no good form of Brexit and this deal appears to have watered down already weak commitments to workers’ rights.
“Leaving social and employment standards for future negotiations will inevitably mean workers and their rights end up being used as a bargaining chip.
“Business interests are routinely put before those of working people in free trade negotiations and this deal gives no guarantee that this won’t be the case with Brexit.
“This deal shouldn’t be rushed through the European institutions in order to get Brexit out of the way. Clearly a new extension is needed to properly consider its consequences.”
Birmingham Business School
That a trade deal has been at been agreed at the last minute between the UK and EU comes as a huge relief for manufacturing sectors like automotive, which would have faced tariffs of 10% on exports and imports in the event of no deal – an outcome widely viewed as potentially ‘devastating’ for the sector. BMW for example recently stated that a no-trade deal scenario would push up costs by several hundred million euros, and that longer term it would look at where to make the Mini model.
It’s hoped that the deal now gives a green light to major investments in the UK that had been stalled amidst Brexit uncertainty, such as that by PSA in assembling the Vauxhall/Opel Astra at Ellesmere Port, and Nissan starting Qashqai production in 2021 at Sunderland. If so, that’s genuinely good news in securing a new round of model assembly at two plants at least.
But – and this is a big but – this is still a thin deal with major implications and costs for automotive. There are many ways in which UK manufacturing is deeply intertwined with the EU through complex supply chains. Even with the deal, Brexit will create additional costs for auto makers: think of tariffs, customs declarations, certification costs, audits to prove that rules of origin requirements are met, border delays disrupting just-in-time systems, EU customers switching to other suppliers, visa costs for EU workers, and so on.
“Non-tariff barriers will be quite substantial”
And so despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming that the deal ensures “no non-tariff barriers”, this is clearly not the case. In fact, non-tariff barriers will be quite substantial. Various estimates have put the cost of completing customs declarations alone at around £15bn for the UK economy as a whole, for example. And that’s before we get to complying with rules of origin rules.
And even with the deal, automotive firms will want clarity on a range of areas like data flows and the timescale for setting up UK regulatory agencies to take over work from their EU counterparts and so on. On data flows there is a temporary six-month agreement to keep the current rules in place for six months until a new ‘adequacy decision’ is sorted.
Some of the final sticking points in getting a deal over the line were over Rules of Origin in the auto sector and on batteries for electric vehicles in particular. On this there is good news in that there is full bilateral cumulation, allowing UK and EU parts to count towards local content rules in enabling goods like cars to avoid tariffs.
Although the UK’s ask for diagonal cumulation with third countries like Japan, China and Turkey was rejected by the EU, what’s been agreed will be enough for most car makers in the UK to avoid tariffs unless they are importing lots of high value components from, say, Japan.
Interestingly the UK government summary document refers to “modern and appropriate rules of origin” – what this actually means is not clear at this point. What it may imply is more flexibility over how such rules are applied.
One element of flexibility appears to come with the self-certification of rules of origin (according to the EU summary document). Here it appears that assemblers will need to collect and maintain information on the origins of components, but this appears to give assemblers some time to set up systems to collate this information. The same EU document refers to “specific facilitation arrangements” for automotive. The UK government summary document also points to “predictable and low-cost administrative arrangements for proving origin.” All in all, the auto industry will be keen to see what this means for them and whether there will be a grace period.
The UK government summary document highlights that the Rules of Origin agreed for batteries and electric vehicles “will ensure that UK-made electric vehicles are eligible for preferential tariff rates”. I am guessing that this refers to the six year phase-in of the requirement for electric cars (and hybrids?) to have a maximum of 45% content from outside Europe, reducing over time, from 60% to 55% to 45%. The UK had asked for 70%, so this is a compromise. This could still be tight for some manufacturers when it comes to batteries or high value hybrid systems from outside the EU.
Toyota, for example, might struggle to qualify its UK assembled hybrids for tariff free export to the EU – although it has time to increase local content, such as via its UK engine plant. However, we don’t actually have figures on local content as they were – of course – not needed when the UK was in the single market.
What the deal means is that by 2027, there has to be 55% local content even for battery electric vehicles for these to qualify for tariff free trade between the two. This will pose a particular challenge for UK auto and industrial policy. The UK is lagging behind EU countries in attracting investment in battery making capacity and without a major effort to reorientate the auto supply change, UK car assembly will be increasingly dependent on imported components from the EU to meet rules of origin rules going forward.
Overall, UK automotive will welcome the deal in as far as it goes – after all this deal really is better than no deal for the sector. There will be extra costs for the industry in terms of non-tariff barriers but things could have been much worse. Much will depend on the degree of flexibility allowed and the degree of phasing in. The devil will be in the detail but on first inspection the deal will be welcomed by automotive manufacturers.
David Bailey works at the Birmingham Business School and is a Senior Fellow at the ESRC’s UK in a Changing Europe programme. This blog was first published at The UK in a Changing Europe Blog site.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This deal is better than nothing, but not by much. It won’t protect jobs and puts hard-won workers’ rights on the line. As we come out of the pandemic, we’re facing a crunch point for jobs and living standards. This deal is on the prime minister’s head – it’s his responsibility to make sure working families don’t end up worse off.
“Now the Prime Minister must make good on his promise to level up Britain. And he needs to act fast. There can be no more pointing the finger at the EU. Government must deliver an industrial strategy for decent work, with investment in jobs and green industries in parts of the country that need it most.
“Ministers must also urgently build on this deal to overcome the barriers to trade and higher production costs many sectors will face which puts jobs at risk. And we will not accept a race to the bottom on rights.”
Steve Turner, assistant general secretary for manufacturing said: “The overwhelming feeling for the country’s millions of manufacturing workers will be one of immense relief. The months of needless uncertainty caused by the government’s reckless negotiating positions have forced thousands into unemployment, choked off investment and put a brake on job creation and innovation at the very time when our economy desperately needs to rebuild.
“This is a thin deal and we consider the deal to be the floor and certainly not the ceiling of our future trading relationship.
“We will continue to campaign with our members and work alongside industry to press government and Labour to build on it, particularly in the area of component supply as the sector is simply not in a position to insource and build in the UK overnight.
“The details around rules of origin and diagonal cumulation will be of concern to our auto sector in particular and we will look to discuss these with government as a matter of urgency.
“The government must not be allowed to put its feet up and claim job done. Far from it.
“The new year will bring a need to roll up our sleeves in the national interest and build the broadest possible alliance to safeguard and advance the long-term interests of our manufacturing heartlands.
“A strong, confident future for UK manufacturing sector levels up the economy, providing secure, well paid, skilled jobs, and its high value exports help fund our public services.
“We are a proud, innovative, manufacturing nation and we want to stay that way. Unite will certainly continue to lead the fight for every job, apprenticeship, investment and opportunity as we lead the world in the race to green and clean our towns, cities and skies.”