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The employers body Confederation of British Industry has set out its proposals for the first hundred days of the new Government – and it doesn’t make comfortable reading for the Tories.
The CBI’s ‘Best Foot Forward’ report states that the next government should initiate a comprehensive spending review that, when public finances allow, would increase capital spending as a percentage of GDP.
The report also cautions that during the deficit reduction period “whilst additional capital spending in this period must be fully-funded, an overemphasis on achieving budget targets by a particular point in time should be avoided.”
The report also urges the new government to set out terms for keeping the UK in the European Union and to extend the fifteen hours free child care to all families with one and two year olds to help family finances.
In response to the CBI TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Businesses and trade unions agree on the need to increase capital spending as a share of GDP. But the Chancellor’s plans to permanently shrink the state will leave it in the doldrums.
“The CBI rightly argues that inflexible budget targets should be avoided if they put urgently needed capital spending at risk. They now need to go further and recognise the importance of an immediate capital boost to secure the recovery and eliminate the deficit. And the Chancellor needs to recognise that the budget targets he set out last week risk landing the economy in serious trouble.”
“Reforming the financial sector to focus on long-term investment in the real economy, instead of casino-capitalism, is an area of common cause. We need a plan that will turn Britain into a modern manufacturing economy, making the UK a strong exporter and a global leader in green technology.
“However, a particular area of concern is the CBI support for rushing into the TTIP treaty, which risks leaving future governments unable to roll back privatisation in the NHS, and unable to bring public goods like the railways back into public ownership, despite clear public support for this policy.”
To call George Osborne’s performance, hopefully for the last time, at the Commons’ despatch box a budget for the nation is stretching credulity to its limits. With 50 days to go before the most important general election for a generation it was an hour of party political propaganda with Osborne boasting about his economic stewardship for the past five years. As Ed Miliband said in his reply, Osborne failed to mention the issues that affect the vast majority of people – nothing on investment in the NHS or in our public services. There was likewise no mention of the longest squeeze in living standards in history or of the growth in food banks and insecure work.
While GDP headline figures place us in economic growth, on a significant measure such as house building under this government fewer homes have been built at any time for nearly a hundred years. He bragged about the employment figures and talked of full employment, but not the type of employment being created; zero and short hours, ‘umbrella companies’ that put workers into bogus self-employment, insecure and precarious. It is also worth noting that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts on employment did not change since December – in short because there was no announcement to create more, or better jobs. .Under this government we have seen a further shift of obligations from the employer to the employee.
Wages have not recovered their pre-crisis levels- and damningly for the government the OBR has judged there is nothing in this budget that will positively impact on wages.
What we did see was what we have seen before – a raising of the personal tax allowance. Putting forward plans to raise the threshold to £11,000 in 2017 – a stepping stone to the previous announcement that they want to raise it to £12,500 and at the same time raising the 40 per cent income tax threshold to £50,000.
When the Tories announced these plans, the Institute for Fiscal Studies responded that less than two-thirds of the total adult population have high enough incomes to pay income tax at all. Higher earners benefit from increases in the personal tax allowance, as it increases the amount that is untaxed. Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats spin this as their big achievement, claiming that it will benefit the lowest paid by removing them from paying income tax. But when the lowest paid people are already earning under the threshold, they receive no benefit – in fact it is a big achievement that is built on shifting sand.
The numbers benefitting from raising the higher rate of income tax are likewise small and at the top of the income scale – 80 per cent of people earn under the higher rate of tax on the latest figures.
In truth, austerity was never about reducing the deficit. In 2010 the deficit was £153.5 billion and £93.6 billion in 2014. The June 2010 budget prediction was for it to be £37 billion in the financial year ending April 2015. The Tories have emphasised the deficit and debt in order to justify their austerity programme and it has now become the established orthodoxy.
But for whole swathes of people the consequence of austerity has been misery. In real terms, wages are down by £1,600 under this government. The TUC and IPPR also calculated that the total net impact of low wage growth over this Parliament leaves the Treasury £35.7 billion worse off this year alone And let’s not forget one in five workers earn below the Living Wage. The IFS say that the average household has lost £1,127 under this government just in tax and benefit changes.
If the Tories win again the programme they have planned for spending cuts up until to 2019/20 – the whole of the next parliament. After the December autumn statement the Institute for Fiscal Studies assessed that £35 billion of cuts had been made since 2010, and their latest figure is that £50 billion of cuts are still to come over the next five years under these plans. Not only is this figure much higher nominally, with a growing population it is greater in real terms. They have also announced that they want to make a further £12 billion of benefit cuts. Only £3 billion of this has been identified so far.
Though Osborne can use sleight of hand in statistics to present the richest as suffering most over the past five years, this is only true in cash terms – because of the simple fact that they have the most cash. As a percentage of income, the worst affected by this governments’ tax and benefit changes have been the poorest, as the IFS chart shows.
The chancellor made much of investment and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ but under this government, public capital investment has fallen by a third in real terms. In private business, there remains a ‘cash hoard’ of £500 billion that they are not investing. Until we raise investment levels we will not see a sustainable economic recovery.
Steve Turner, assistant general secretary was damning in his summing up of the budget: “Today we saw a budget for the rich from a government of the rich. Nothing to boost wages, nothing to tackle the crisis in social housing, nothing to address growing workplace insecurity and nothing to stem growing personal debt or the collapse of public services. A budget without hope, a failed opportunity by a failed government”
Len McCluskey, general secretary, said the only way to get the change we need is to vote Labour on 7th of May: “There are only 50 days to go to make sure that George Osborne’s budget is not only the last budget of this parliament it is the last that he delivers.
“The rot started with his very first emergency budget when the chancellor, the prime minister and the back slapping deputy Nick Clegg delivered their austerity hammer blow to the economy and to people in and out of work.
“Their obsession with the deficit and an ideological drive to shrink the state has meant misery for vast swathes of people.
“If you’re a hedge fund, wealthy retiree, or a business shy of providing fairly paid, secure employment, Osborne’s Britain is the place for you. If you’re looking for decent job, a home in which to raise your kids or a safe NHS, then it is not.
“This election is the most important in a generation. It is the fight of our lives and it is a fight that Unite is up for. For change, for hope on 7 May we have to vote Labour.”
Italian trade unionist Luca Visentini is the proposed successor to Bernadette Ségol as General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.
This week a meeting of the ETUC’s Executive Committee voted the 46 year old current Confederal Secretary of the ETUC as ‘General Secretary Designate’, subject to final decision by ETUC Congress in October in Paris.
Visentini won unanimous support after the German DGB withdrew the candidature of former European Metal Workers General Secretary Peter Scheerrer. The British TUC and Unite supported Luca Visentini
Luca has been a member of the Italian union UIL since 1989, and has worked for UIL at local, regional, national and international level including as General Secretary of UIL in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of north east Italy. He is the author of four books of poetry and a novel.
“It is a huge honour and a great responsibility to be put forward as General Secretary of the ETUC” said Visentini. “Our first priority has to be growth and quality jobs, through a significant change in EU economic policy including an end to austerity. We need a stronger, renewed ETUC.”
Visentini will take up his duties full-time in Brussels in October 2015. Congress will also elect a team of two Deputy Secretary Generals and four Confederal Secretaries.
One the major tasks facing Visentini will be galvanising trade union opposition to austerity policies which are weakening trade unions across the EU.
Many countries, notably in southern Europe and the UK and Ireland have seen consistent attacks on trade union freedoms, employment rights and collective bargaining.
In addition there is growing trade union opposition across the EU to the two main trade agreements involving the EU – the TTIP Agreement with the USA and the CETA agreement with Canada, with have been described as opening a second front for turbo charged neo-liberalism.
Note: The ETUC was set up in 1973 and now comprises 88 national trade union confederations in 37 countries, plus 10 European trade union federations.
Ontario, Canada: Ontario Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn is appointing Morton Mitchnick to conduct an Industrial Inquiry Commission to facilitate a resolution in the dispute involving the United Steelworkers and Crown Metal Packaging Canada LP.
On rare occasions the Minister may find it necessary to use additional powers granted to him under the Labour Relations Act, 1995 to examine labour disputes.
For example, Section 37 of the Act gives the Minister of Labour authority to appoint a Commission “to inquire into and report to the Minister on any industrial matter or dispute that the Minister considers advisable.”
The strike began on September 6th, 2013, and involves 133 employees at the Crown Metal facility in Toronto.
At the request of Crown Metal, under section 42 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995, the Minister of Labour directed a “last offer” vote on March 24, 2014. The employees voted overwhelmingly to reject the employer’s offer.
Morton Mitchnick, an experienced mediator-arbitrator, has been appointed as the commission’s sole member.
He will be responsible for examining the relationship between the parties, identifying key issues in the dispute, investigating the dispute’s underlying causes and assessing prospects of settlement.
Following the inquiry, the Commissioner will report to back to the Minister of Labour within 14 days on any remaining issues in dispute and advise on next steps.
The United Steelworkers has welcomed the Ontario government’s decision to appoint an Industrial Inquiry Commission into an 18-month dispute.
“Crown has demanded concessions even though it is profitable and Crown does not want to allow all striking employees to return to work. This is unacceptable in Ontario and we hope that the commission leads Crown to finally understand that,” said USW Ontario Director Marty Warren.
“In the meantime, we will continue our fight against Crown’s U.S.-style union-busting tactics on all available fronts,” Warren said.
Philadelphia-based Crown, one of the world’s largest manufacturer’s of food and beverage containers, provoked a strike at its Toronto beer can factory in September 2013 by demanding massive concessions from workers. Crown has refused to negotiate a fair settlement with its Toronto employees in the ensuing 18 months, instead recruiting replacement workers to prolong the dispute and try to break the strike.
Opposition politicians at Queen’s Park and Steelworkers allies such as Unifor have joined the USW in calling on the Ontario government to help end the labour dispute by compelling Crown to negotiate a fair settlement.
“Most of the Crown strikers are long service employees who have given their working lives to build Crown into the huge and profitable company it is today,” Warren said.
“This 18-month strike has caused untold financial and personal tragedies for our members. Today’s announcement of an industrial inquiry must lead to an end to this long and tragic refusal by Crown to deal fairly with its dedicated employees.”
The United Steelworkers (USW) has announced that it has reached a ‘tentative agreement’ on a new four-year contract with Shell Oil as a pattern agreement for the rest of the industry. 7000 oil workers have been on strike across the USA for the past two months.
The agreement accomplishes the major goals as directed by the USW’s Oil Conference in October 2014, and has been approved by union’s lead negotiators and National Oil Bargaining Policy (NOBP) Committee.
“We salute the solidarity exhibited by our membership,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “There was no way we would have won vast improvements in safety and staffing without it.”
Safety issues were central to the negotiations, and the proposed agreement calls for the immediate review of staffing and workload assessments, with USW safety personnel involved at every facility. Daily maintenance and repair work in the plants was another critical issue that, too, was addressed.
“The new agreement calls for joint review on the local level of future, craft worker staffing- needs,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway. “Included are hiring plans to be developed in conjunction with recruitment and training programs.”
The tentative agreement calls for yearly wages increases as well as maintaining the current health care plan cost-sharing ratio.
“Preserving “retrogression” clauses in our agreements was also an objective established by our policy conference and we accomplished that, too,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers, who oversees the union’s oil sector. “There was no way we could turn our backs to the accomplishments of prior contract negotiations.”
The next step in the bargaining process is for the company to put the terms of the settlement agreement on all of the Shell and Motiva bargaining tables. Our expectation is that other employers will offer the same terms at their local bargaining tables.
The local unions will then review the employers’ proposals with Vice President Beevers. Approved settlement agreements are then submitted to the local membership for explanation and ratification votes.
This week the UKs biggest trade union, Unite, is launching its guide to encourage more young women to take up skilled apprenticeships in engineering and science at a series of events including the Voices Of Apprentices conference at Solihull; at the TUC Women’s Conference in London and at Unite’s head office in Central London.
So why do Unite, with 500,000 members working in manufacturing, think we needed to do this?
Well, as things stand only a small amount of engineers in this country are women, a paltry 7%. That’s the lowest in the entire European Union, a galling statistic in 2015 and one manufacturers need to be concerned about.
Three times the size of our retail sector, whether it is transport, factories, hospitals, offices, white goods or communications – engineering and science skills are essential to our everyday lives.
The plain fact is the British economy needs another 87,000 new skilled apprentices every single year for the next decade in order to make sure we are able to meet the global challenges of the future – energy, climate change, food and water supplies and an ageing population.
Unite believes we need to get more women engineers and scientists into the workplace. Currently only 3% of engineering apprentices are female so there is a long road to travel.
For far too long women have been held back by an unconscious bias from teachers, parents and employers which has reinforced outdated gender stereo-typing when it comes to engineering and science apprenticeships.
Unite’s new guide – called ‘Thinking About An Apprenticeship?‘ – specifically for women considering engineering and science.
The key point of the guide is to get young women talking to others just like them about what the reality of working in engineering and science, and that includes going into schools and colleges and taking part in events such as Big Bang where Unite will be an exhibitor and talking about STEM subjects and the skills needs for the future.
There is a major difference here between these conversations and the one-dimensional aspect of some official company adverts.
This is part of an ongoing campaign by Unite to bust myths about engineering being unsafe, dirty work which women aren’t strong enough to do. Such old-fashioned notions belong firmly in the past. Or that science based apprenticeships are not for women.
We are talking about vast reserves of untapped potential among the nation’s young women and the best people to inspire the women engineers and scientists of the future are those doing this kind of work today.
Take Natalie Murray, a maintenance apprentice at the BMW Mini plant in Oxford. “My male counterparts treat me exactly the same as the male apprentices” she told me. “We should try to step away from the ‘stereo-type’ given to women so we don’t assume they want to do a clean, office type role, but a practical hands-on role.”
Amy Ensor, an engineering apprentice at Brush in Loughborough explained that it’s a “standing joke” that her dad started her career off. “I was one of those females who believed engineering was solely for males…my dad had to ring Brush to confirm they would even consider taking on a female. “One of my main concerns is that there are plenty of other females out there that have the ability and skill required to perform such engineering tasks.”
Emma Brown an apprentice at Unilever told us: “An apprenticeship is certainly not an easy option, but I really enjoyed it. After four years of hard work I now have a first class degree in Chemistry and a permanent position at Unilever.”
Such testimonies show that apprenticeships are a brilliant opportunity with a real, decent and secure job at the end of it.
On offer is qualification gained via a high quality work-based programme with the opportunity to earn a real wage, work in decent conditions and gain practical and portable skills.
In addition Unite will always work hard with employers and the sector skills councils COGENT and SEMTA (where the union is represented on the main boards) to help ensure that apprenticeships being offered are top quality, Gold Standard and meaningful – never bogus, low quality apprenticeships.
I’d say to all women interested in taking an apprenticeship in engineering and science – don’t be put off by outdated sexism. Britain doesn’t need it, but Britain certainly needs you.
You can get a free printed copy of the guide by emailing email@example.com
‘Blacklisted – The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists’ by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlin tells the story of the illegal strategies that transnational construction companies resorted to in their attempt to keep union activists away from their places of work.
This is a story of a bitter struggle, in which collusion with the police and security services resulted in victimization, violence and unemployment, with terrible effects on families and communities.
Drawing on first-hand accounts of the workers, the book reveals how, when major construction projects were unionized, those involved were unlawfully victimized.
From the building sites to the High Court, this is a story of ordinary working people taking on some of the most powerful transnational companies in the world.
With a full inquiry promised by the Labour Party, the practice of blacklisting is set to become a hot topic in the May general election. The book also reveals how blacklisting extended beyond construction activists to environmental campaigners, journalists, politicians and academics.
And it adds an international perspective with related stories from America and Europe.
Read the abstract of the book that appeared in The Guardian.
USW oil workers have been forced into an unfair labor practice strike. The workers are fighting to secure fair contracts that will protect the health and safety of workers and communities. The oil industry is the richest in the world, but their greed and their bad faith bargaining has stalled efforts to improve conditions in their workplaces. The industry has refused to address serious health and safety issues.