Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"West Ham tenants’ anger over 40 per cent rent hike"

"A group of tenants is up in arms after their landlord announced a 40 per cent rent hike...

Eve Whitcombe and Jamil Khair (picture right) will have to pay a 40 per cent rent hike or leave their home of the past 18 years. Picture: Jon King
The neighbours live in flats reserved for key workers - who have jobs in schools and hospitals - with cheaper rents than market rates, but their landlord One Housing Group have said they should pay more or get out.
Tenant and retired NHS secretary Eve Whitcombe, who has lived in one of the West Ham buildings affected for almost 20 years, said: “We like it here. We wouldn’t want to move.
“They’re going to lose an awful lot of good people. It’s difficult to recruit teachers and NHS staff. Newham will be in deep trouble if they’re going to push keyworkers out of the area,” said 62-year-old Eve.
According to Eve, tenants received letters from One Housing last month telling them their rent would rise by 40pc on April 1 claiming people were subletting, but even now their landlords refuse to meet them in person to discuss the increase, which would add £200 to her monthly rent.
Now the neighbours - who live in Teasel Way - have signed a new, annual tenancy agreement and will be forced to pay up or leave their homes within two months.
“I want to feel secure at my age,” Eve added. “We feel One Housing are being greedy.”
Eve’s partner Jamil, a paediatric nurse, said: “There would be no difficulty finding jobs out of the borough because of the huge shortage of nurses and teachers.”
A One Housing spokesman said: “These homes are not general needs social housing. We offer them at a discounted rent as part of our mission to create homes that people with all incomes can afford.
“To make sure we are fair to all our residents, we look to charge appropriate rent according to the tenancy arrangements. In this case, we discovered a historic error by a predecessor organisation that meant residents have been underpaying for a significant period.
“As this rent is similar to a general needs rent some residents may have believed that they are general needs tenants,” he added.
“We recognise a rent increase is never welcome, which is why we are increasing them gradually and have talked to residents throughout to give as much notice as possible.”
The spokesman also said the homes remain excellent value for money and that since a public meeting on March 20 a number of people who attended had contacted One Housing looking for a home to rent at the new rate.
Cllr John Gray, who has met with tenants, said: “Myself and other councillors were horrified to hear about this. It is going to drive out key workers who perform vital public services for the people of Newham. What we know is that it is practically impossible for teaching assistants and care assistants to either rent or buy anymore unless key worker accommodation is secured.
“We are going to struggle over time to get staff for our schools and hospitals and care communities.
“I am really disappointed that One Housing is planning to do this without prior consultation, not just for residents but with key stakeholders like the council and local councillors.”
Hat tip Newham Recorder for story and picture. Check out my blog on the scandal here. It would seem from above that One Housing are planning to raise the rents even more than 40% and that its Comms team must live in LaLa land if they believe that the key workers who attended the meeting last week wanted to pay the new rate. 
I am still waiting for a reply to my Councillor members enquiry from One Housing about why are they doing this and asking them to put the increase on hold until at least they meet residents and explain what they are doing. I have been told that I will get a reply by Friday 31 March (which is a whole day before the rent is increased on 1 April 2017). 

What Brexit could mean...

On what is to me a sad day I couldn't help smile at this cartoon in the UNISON members InFOCUS magazine.

Update: below is fab as well. hat tip Franzi Bee

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

UNISON London Community Service Group AGM & Seminar 6 May 17

The seminar is on "The future of Housing in London" and all UNISON members are invited. Some key figures have been invited as speakers and panel members. Wait and see - but I think this will be really good event. Registration forms have been sent to London branches but contact me if you want any further information.. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Tory Tribunal fees prevent justice at work.

For those who think they don't need trade unions to fight for justice at work, I say think again.

Making an application for an employment tribunal now costs £250 and then a further £950 for a hearing. As this research shows, low paid workers with strong cases are being blocked.

"A new report to be published in academic journal Modern Law Review on Monday (27 March 2017) will put forth that the introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 was "a clear violation" of UK and EU law.

The authors, Jeremias Prassl from Oxford University law school, and Abi Adams, of its school of economics, analysed government data in order to show that for up to half of claimants with a strong case, the expense of taking their claim to court was higher than the expected payout if they were successful. 

These workers - usually in low-paid, insecure positions - are therefore put in the position of losing money to enforce their rights. As a result, the academics described the fees as "disproportionate" and argued that they are illegally blocking workers from access to justice.

The paper will be published on the day that Unison's judicial review against the fees will be heard in the Supreme Court, and the authors commented in support of the union's case".

Hat tip Institute of Employment Rights

Sunday, March 26, 2017

One Housing Group 40% rent rise for key workers update

Last Monday evening I attended a lively public meeting with One Housing Association tenants from across Newham, who are facing a 40% plus increase in their rents. These tenants are "key workers" who work in local hospitals, schools and social/care services.

Some of them have lived in their flats since 1997 and will have to leave their homes and their jobs if the rents are increased by this amount. This is not only a personal disaster to these tenants but will also mean Newham residents will lose key public service professionals.

The way One Housing Group has handled this is simply appalling. There has been no proper consultation and tenants have been given contradictory and misleading reasons and documentation. I have asked as a Councillor for the rent rises to be put on hold until at least One Housing Group agrees to meet its tenants collectively and explain why they feel they have to do this.

The key workers, as you would expect, are reasonable and pragmatic people but they are up for a fight if One Housing decides to provoke one.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tell The TUC: Survey on Zero hour contracts and Agency working

Are you one of the 1 in 10 people in insecure work - like a zero hours contract or working through an agency?

If so, we want to hear from you!

Many people now have jobs that give them little or no security. This may because you rely on an agency to provide you with work – and there’s no guarantee that they can find you work.

You may have a job where you have no guarantee of how many hours’ work you will have from one week to the next or maybe on a zero hours contract.

Or your employer might tell you you’re self-employed, but still want to control the hours you work and the jobs you take – without providing you with the minimum wage or sick pay.

We want to hear from people who have jobs like these. Please tell us about your experiences at work. It can be completely anonymous if you prefer. This will help us campaign for decent jobs for everyone.

Please complete survey by 29 March 2017.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Communists, Masons & War: Forest Gate South Labour doorknock 18.3.17 with Lyn Brown MP

Picture collage from last Saturday in Forest Gate South ward,West Ham CLP, London. Our MP, Lyn Brown (with her Labour attack dog Cara), local councillors and party activists out knocking doors and talking to residents about Council services and national issues.

We also gave out leaflets on the Labour party campaigns about "Education not Segregation" and "Our NHS is underfunded".

I had an interesting conversation with some students from India whose home state Kerala, (and also in West Bengal state), icontrolled by the Marxist Communist Party of India. They were not supporters but recognised that in their state they have the highest levels of literacy, women to men ratios and life expectancy in India.

While door knocking we had a discussion with long serving members on how in the 1970s the Freemasons in Newham Council (Councillors and Council officers - used to have a lodge in East Ham Town Hall) were kicked out of the local party and the Council for alleged corrupt practices.

After the canvass Cllr John Whitworth, Cllr Anam Islam and I went to see the excellent "Far from the Western Front" First World War Exhibition in the Minhaj-Ul-Quran mosque in Romford Road which is due to finish tomorrow. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fancy being a Newham Labour Councillor Candidate?

This should be an interesting introduction for local Party activists but I am worried that ordinary members may attend in the expectation that they will have at least a chance to be selected as a Labour candidate. I am concerned that there is simply not enough time for non active members to prove their campaigning commitment. Since selections are probably starting soon and candidates who cannot show a history of campaigning should not really be long listed.

This meeting should have been organised months ago to give people the chance to prove themselves. This is not the fault of our organiser but I assume it's down to our our Local Campaign Forum Executive.

"Dear Colleague,

Have you ever thought of becoming a councillor?  Newham Council goes to the polls on Thursday 3 May 2018 to elect a Mayor and 60 councillors – 3 in every ward in Newham. The Mayor and Councillors will serve for 4 years.
Many of our Labour priorities can only be delivered through local action. Labour’s core band of Councillors is the party’s frontline - a strong link with residents and local agencies. This is an exciting and challenging time to be a Labour Councillor.
We are looking for committed members with a minimum of 12 months continuous Labour Party membership who welcome the challenge of standing for election.

You will need a commitment to Labour’s aims, values and policies, and importantly, enthusiasm to be part of Newham Labour’s effective service delivery and relationship building team.

We are particularly keen to hear from women, young people and members of ethnic minority communities who would like to be considered.

To find out more please join us at our “Be a Councillor” Briefing.
Date:                    Saturday 1 April 2017,
Time:                   10am to 1pm
Venue:                 the Trinity Centre,
                              East Ave,
                              London E12 6SG.

Please register by Wednesday 29 March 2017 to be sure of a place

We look forward to seeing you.

Newham Borough Organiser

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We are Londoners: We are One

I was supposed to have gone to the House of Commons this morning for a pension briefing but had to cancel due to a last minute clash. I also had a long telephone conversation at lunchtime with an MP who was driving into Parliament to vote. Many of my friends and colleagues were at work today inside or visiting Parliament.

While we don't know the full facts on what happened this afternoon it seems that some brainwashed moron had decided to deliberately murder innocent tourists and unarmed public servants.

Why this cretin thought that such cowardly murders would advance any cause is beyond belief.

To me there is no difference between the fascist who murdered Jo Cox MP or the one who tried to kill MPs today.

I think our first response to such vile acts is to state that while we are proud and passionate about our religious or secular beliefs, we are also all Londoners.We are democratic, tolerant and proud of our diversity and the rule of law.

I love the Facebook friend who lives in Newcastle who said today's outrage also "felt like her own family had been attacked".

The best response is that such an attack on London is actually an attack on all of us - and we should all respond accordingly by not only condemning but doing something practical and real against all such hate and bigotry.
(hat tip photo Dave Hill).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

UNISON London Housing Association Branch AGM 2017: Secretary's Report

Today is the AGM of my branch (12-2pm and 6-8pm at the UNISON Centre, London) and this is my contribution to our annual report. Picture of 2016 Branch Executive. 

"2016 was a traumatic year for politics generally and for social housing and trade unions in particular. Attacks by the Conservative government on trade unions were seen off in part by united and targeted campaigning and protests.

The attempt to end social housing by withdrawing all grants for social rent, the introduction of the tenants “pay to stay” tax and the attempt to make “right to buy” in our sector compulsory has also so far failed even though we can expect the Government will come back again for the kill.

The branch must be prepared to continue to lobby and campaign against the implementation of the Housing Act and the proposals outlined in the recent Housing White Paper to make cuts to benefit for care and supporting housing projects and schemes.

The housing association world has experienced rapid change following the rise of the “mega mergers”. Huge existing associations are merging with each over to form even bigger
groups. While some mergers have failed due to “cultural differences” others have gone ahead with more likely to follow. Staff (and residents) can expect challenges ahead and while not all change is bad it will be important that we build strong unionised workplaces to stand up for our members.

While I find it somewhat ironic that one of the justifications given at the time for stock transfers from councils to housing associations used to be that council housing departments were too large and remote. The new mega housing associations are, however, promising to build tens of thousands of much needed new homes.

Our members will be developing, letting, selling, allocating, managing and maintaining these new homes. Our jobs and our future terms and conditions is dependent on making new and old employers successful and effective. No organisation will be successful if they don’t have good relationships with staff and their union. Our UNISON branch wants to work in partnership with our employers whenever possible but we will take on the small minority of bad employers who don’t want to work with us.

Finally, may I thank all our stewards and workplace contacts for the magnificent and often unappreciated work you do for members. You are the first line of defence for members and are our unsung heroes.

John Gray
Branch secretary"