Friday, November 28, 2014

A Living wage for all Newham Council workers?

At the last meeting earlier this month of the Regeneration and Employment Scrutiny Commission, Councillors considered a "Living Wage" for all Newham Council workers.

We had a presentation by Emmanuel Gotora and Paul Regan from Newham citizens on behalf of the Living Wage commission.

Our Scrutiny meetings are open to the public and recently the Council constitution was changed to allow photographs to be taken during such meetings.

At our first meeting following the election in May we had agreed the work plan for the next year. This included an examination into whether Newham Council should be a Living wage employer, which was a manifesto commitment and Labour Group policy. In order to scope out how we will investigate this our Scrutiny officer had contacted the Living Wage Commission who had recommended we invite Newham Citizens to come in and present to us on this subject.

Paul was a retired Methodist minister and long term Newham resident who is a Board member of the Living wage commission and Emmanuel is a paid senior organiser for Newham Citizens.

The Living Wage is now £9.15 per hour in London and £7.65 per hour in the rest of the country. While the National Minimum Wage is £6.50 per hour.  All directly employed workers for Newham Council are paid at least the living wage but not indirectly employed staff such as care workers or agency cleaners. To be an accredited Living wage employer, there must be a plan in place for all staff, direct and indirectly employed, to be on a living wage.

Low pay is a huge issue in Newham, which according to these statistics "the proportion of residents paid less than the London Living Wage was highest in Newham (37%) followed by Brent (32%). while the borough with the lowest proportion of residents in low paid work was Richmond upon Thames (11%). Nearly 20% of Newham workers are also estimated to be paid less than even the National Minimum wage. 

Paul and Emmanuel explained that the number of living wage employers was now over 1,000. There are also now 19 FT 100 companies who pay a living wage compared to only 4 two years ago. You have up to 4 years to complete the process to be a living wage employer.

11 London councils (out of 33) pay a living wage and in total 30 councils nationally. There are about 600,000 predominantly black and female workers in London who somehow exist on below a living wage. The taxpayer is forced to subsidise these poverty pay employers with housing benefit and tax credits.

Being an accredited  living wage employer only costs a maximum of £400 per year for a local authority (£50 for a small employer) and there is very little ongoing compliance costs since unions and workers are relied upon to "whistle blow" if they are being cheated out of an agreed wage.

Over 80% of businesses report positive economic benefits of a Living wage.There is greater retention of workers, which means spending less money on recruitment and training.  There is also less time reported off for sickness. A living wage also builds individual economic resilience and helps "make work pay".

They suggested that perhaps the Royal Docks ward should be the first Living Wage zone in the Country. Beating the plans of Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets who are actively thinking of doing this.

When business consultants KPMG introduced a Living wage for their office cleaning contracting staff, they redesigned the contract and improved quality while also reducing costs. Bins were taken away from individual desks and offices were given collective bins. Cleaners were asked to work during the day rather than early morning or late at night. This meant that cleaners felt they were part of the company and were also available for spot cleaning during the day. This saved money and improved quality.

Paul and Emmanuel also talked about their campaign elsewhere in Newham. They have met with London City Airport who won't pay their cleaners a living wage. They say that they would look into it if their partner Newham Council, also became a living wage employer. Newham council has a powerful voice and could be an important exemplifier to other local businesses.

This was a positive and constructive meeting but we cannot forget that due to the savage Government spending cuts in Council grants, Newham is facing unprecedented financial challenges. Further commission investigations into the Newham Living Wage will be held in the New Year.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mansion tax would affect just four families in every thousand

If you own a £2million home you can afford to pay the Mansion Tax to help save the NHS. As Ed said it's Pure and Simple

Amazing that the Tories think its okay to throw poor people out of their homes if they can't pay the bedroom tax but want rich millionaires to to pay less income and property taxes.

Check out the truth about the tax here. I know that some have genuine concerns about this policy but I cannot wait for a Labour Government to introduce this measure. The report below shows that it will only affect 4 families in every 1000.  I am bothered about the needs of the many and not the rich. It is simply about time that the rich and wealthy in this county paid their fair share of taxation.

"A study compiled for the Evening Standard newspaper suggests that Labour’s proposed mansion tax would only be paid by 110,000 households, of which 86,000 would be in London.

This needs careful examination, as there is obviously a concerted campaign going on against this proposal.

First, DCLG statistics suggest that there are 27.7 million homes in the UK. The Mansion Tax would be levied on a small minority of very expensive properties worth more than £2 million. 110,000 households equates to 0.4 per cent of the UK total – just four households for every thousand.
Second, despite misinformation to the contrary, there is actually a very close association between owning a house worth £2 million and having a very high degree of income and other forms of wealth. In blunt terms, a mansion tax would be a tax on the rich".

hat tip stronger unions Paul Sellers

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Private school pupils and their continual monopoly on privilege.

Researchers found that ’31 per cent of private school pupils in the 1970 birth cohort obtained a degree from an elite university, compared to 13 per cent from grammar schools, 5 per cent from comprehensives, and 2 per cent from secondary moderns.’ hat tip leftfoot forward

So wealth alone results in a hugely privileged education for the very few in our society. Grammar schools don't challenge this and until all our kids get a fair crack at our top universities then this stupid, regressive and divisive monopoly on life chances will persist.

I was born a little earlier in 1962 and went to an ex secondary modern comprehensive but was the first person in my entire family history to go to university.  I was very lucky but suspect that these appalling statistics are pretty much the same today. I simply do not believe that kids in private schools are more than 6 times more intelligent than those in Comprehensives. Money talks and just reinforces selfish privilege.

Does anyone, anywhere, think that this is in anyway good for our society?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Performance management is a bad business

I support 100% this criticism about so-called "Performance Management". It is in my experience divisive, unfair and destroys team work. Didn't realise that it encouraged "cannibalism" but...

"Performance management, a worker assessment system that pits workers against each other and is linked to a massive intensification of work (Risks 624), is also a very bad idea for business, the union Prospect has said. Studies have shown the approach to cause high levels of workplace stress, burnout (Risks 664) and ill-health (Risks 661). 

But Prospect says while a long list of blue chip companies have abandoned the “rank and yank” system, the UK civil service is persisting with an approach that is bad for staff and bad for performance (Risks 639). Prospect national safety officer Sarah Page says it is now a year since software giant Microsoft announced to its staff its decision to abandon the performance management system that had been blamed for 10 years of lost creativity, instead creating “a culture of cannibalism”. 

Big names that have also dropped performance management include Ford, General Electric and Caterpillar, she says. The Prospect safety specialist adds that in the wake of financial scandals, “when many like Prospect are promoting Good Work – employee voice, a culture based on trust and fairness etc – it is alarming to witness the apparent corrosion of civil service performance management.” 

She warns: “The predictable escalating conflict and levels of employee ill-health with their inevitable impact on service delivery will expose this false economy.” Hat tip TUC risks

Monday, November 24, 2014

"UKIP are bringing fear and intimidation in to British politics"

"After this week’s Twitter row at the Rochester by-election, I am using my keynote speech to the
Labour East Regional Conference today to say that it is UKIP who truly offends working class sentiment and represents a party which is fundamentally un-British.

Today I am lucky to serve as a Euro MP but, like many in our movement, I grew up on a council estate living in poverty, so don’t need any lectures from UKIP about snobbery.

First, we can’t counter UKIP simply by labelling them as extremists as we learnt was not enough either with the BNP. But make no mistake – they are.

Doing a deal with a Polish party that says Hitler didn’t know about the holocaust; that it shouldn’t be a criminal offence to force non-consensual sex on a woman; that women shouldn’t even have the vote.

But it’s not just what they think, it’s how they behave.

When I joined criticism of UKIP’s attitude to disabled people, I started to receive around 50 messages a day from people who were self-professed UKIP supporters, using the most foul and disgusting abuse against me personally.

Two UKIP MEPs actually interrupted a private conversation I was having with two guests from a Stevenage business in a public coffee bar of the European Parliament itself, and proceeded to shout at and abuse me.

I have no doubt that this was an orchestrated campaign in which UKIP’s MEPs were directly involved.

Then last weekend a gang calling themselves UKIP supporters physically attacked aLabour street stall in East Thurrock which is part of my own constituency, injuring two elderly activists.

UKIP are bringing fear and intimidation in to British politics.

UKIP can deny responsibility for attacks like the one on our stall, but no-one should deny that this is the product of ultra-nationalism re-entering British politics.

Meanwhile it is arrant nonsense for millionaire, public school educated, expenses-claiming, City trader Nigel Farage, who kept his savings offshore in a tax haven, to say that he is somehow more in touch with ordinary working people in this country than us – the party of labour.

My single parent mum taught us to say our please and thank-you’s and to apologise for our mistakes. We were the classic poor but proud.

When UKIP Members stood up and turned their backs at the inaugural sitting of the new European Parliament, they symbolised what they would do for our country – making us turn our back on the rest of the world. But what struck me when I knocked on doors the following weekend, was that ordinary voters hadn’t liked it.

When UKIP behaves with such rudeness and unpleasantness, I can tell you: it is them who are offending working class sentiment – not us.

The deepest irony of the United Kingdom Independence Party is how un-British they really are.
British values of reserve, of courtesy, of decency, of respect, and of fair play are values which – by their actions – UKIP shuns.

Patriotism isn’t: ‘My country – right or wrong?’ That’s chauvinism.

Patriotism is a pride in your country because of what you are proud about in your country.

And when I sit in the European Parliament and see the UKIP Members be boorish and insulting I’m not proud they’re British – I’m ashamed. And I don’t believe that’s what the British people really want.

Are there ways in which Labour has to change in the face of UKIP?

One conclusion after the European Elections which I did form is not to change our policies but that we do have to change our language.

It is time to start calling it as it is.

We’ve called a spare room subsidy a bedroom tax and we’ve won.

And so Europe can’t be about the Single Market or subsidiarity.

It’s about your job, your children, your security, your voice, your rights, your future.

And we’ll never win the argument on immigration with statistics or criteria.

We have to say the chance to travel and work in different countries is a good thing.

That low wages and zero hours contracts benefit no-one. To say there are not enough homes or jobs for anyone. That fairness must now be restored.

And we may not be as rude as UKIP. But many people in the electorate are angry and Labour has to show them we are angry for and with them.

The success of Ed Miliband’s so-called “fightback” speech two weeks ago where indeed he came out fighting, may be a lesson for us all.

He fought back and so will we.

Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Member of the European Parliament for the East of England and Chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party.

Hat tip Labour List 

The United Nations 10 Principles of Human Rights ("Nothing to do with us Guv" says Catalyst Housing)

These are "The 10 Principles of Human Rights". It is disgraceful that the senior management and board of British Charities such as Catalyst Housing Association do not believe in basic human rights.

Principal 3 "Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining"

"The UN Global Compact's ten principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption enjoy universal consensus and are derived from:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The International Labour Organisations Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption

The UN Global Compact asks companies to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption:

Human Rights
Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Asbestos Killing British Military Veterans but does the Government give a damn?

"As the country this month remembered those who have died in conflicts, the TUC has said those who suffered and died as a result of hazardous exposures while serving in the forces should not be forgotten. Many contracted diseases they contracted while serving in the military, including the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma.

According to TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson: “Around 2,500 people develop mesothelioma every year in the UK and a large number are ex-military. Many are ex-navy as most ships were literally covered in asbestos until the 1980s. It was used as a coating, insulator and flooring. Navy personnel were frequently exposed to high levels of asbestos dust in boiler and engine rooms, but even in their sleeping quarters and mess halls.”

Academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have predicted that over 2,500 naval veterans will die from mesothelioma between now and 2047.

TUC’s Hugh Robertson said many will be denied compensation as the Mesothelioma Act, which provides compensation to sufferers who can’t trace their former employer or their insurer, exempts the armed forces. He added that ex-service personnel who were exposed before 1987 - which is most of them - will not be able to make any claim, because the “Crown immunity” from prosecution covers all cases up to that date.

Instead, they are given a War Disablement Pension during their lifetime – but mesothelioma victims typically survive only months after diagnosis, so this is unlikely to amount to a great deal. If they live for a year, the maximum they can receive is around £31,000.

This compares with an average civil payment for mesothelioma of over £150,000. Hat tip TUC risks

TUC Stronger Unions blog.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why is there no sense of crisis about the future of the LGPS?

The AMNT yesterday sent in a response (below) to the Government (DCLG) consultation on proposed new regulations on how to run the new look Local Government Pension scheme (LGPS).

The LGPS is collectively the biggest funded Pension scheme in the UK and the 5th largest in the world. There are at least 4.6 million people in the UK who are members of the £180 billion LGPS. Yet hardly anyone seems to understand that unless we are able to control costs and increase return then its entire future is in doubt.

"AMNT comments on LGPS consultation on amended Governance Regulations"

The Association of Member Nominated Trustees is an organisation run by and for member‑nominated trustees, representatives and directors of pension schemes, both defined benefit and defined contribution, in both the public and private sector. Established in 2010, the Association now has about 350 members from occupational pension schemes with collective assets of approximately £250 billion.

These pension schemes range in size from £5 million to around £40 billion; they include defined benefit schemes that are fully open and those that are closed to further accrual or closed to new members. 

The AMNT membership includes LGPS member nominated representatives or observers. 

General Comments

Firstly, the AMNT wish to express their concern and disappointment that the government has not followed the proven private sector model of pension trusteeship with regards to the LGPS. Instead of a single partnership body made up of employer and employee representatives working in cooperation each of the 89 LGPS in England and Wales will have legally separate pension committees and pension boards.

The pension committee will continue to have no meaningful beneficiary representation in law. The only members of this committee that will be allowed to vote on decisions under local government legislation will be Councillors. It is likely that Member nominated representatives will continue to be “allowed” to participate and observe in a minority of LGPS schemes but there will be no legal right for MNTs or any beneficiaries to play a full role in the running of the scheme in the same way that their counterparts do so in the private sector.

The pension board will have some form of beneficiary representation but it is entirely unclear how these “employee” members will be selected or how its lawful role to "advise and assist" in the running of the scheme will actually happen in practice.

This appears to be confusing and unnecessary duplication. Instead of the usual co-operative approach found in the private sector trustee model, there may be conflict and disagreement between pension committee and boards. It is also unclear how such disputes and conflicts between a committee and board will be managed.

We do not understand why there is a requirement for board members to have prior experience. This is not expected of councillors on pension committees. Why is this different from the private sector where new trustees are given 6 months to gain relevant training and experience?

More detailed regulation is also needed with regard to ensuring that employee members of pension boards get sufficient time off to carry out their functions and that neither they nor their employers suffer  a financial detriment.

There is a clear democratic deficit compared to private sector pension funds. Why don't those who actual pay their own money into the pension have effective representation? Why should public pension funds be less democratic than private sector funds? The whole point of beneficiary representation is that you are more likely to get accountability and good governance since it is their money and their future pension at risk.

While in the past there was an argument that beneficiaries did not bear any direct financial risk this is now not the case. Under Treasury rules if the aggregate employer contribution for future accrual exceeds the cap of 13% then LGPS employees face benefits being reduced or contributions being raised. This could mean that more people would leave the scheme because it had become unaffordable and therefore risk the future sustainability of the entire LGPS.

It is therefore imperative that the LGPS is run as effectively and efficiently as possible. Costs must be controlled and return maximised. However, since the proposed scheme regulations are permissive, they do not comply in our view with best governance practice found in the private sector. How are funds that are being run inefficiently and poorly governed to be stopped from dragging down by poor returns the whole LGPS and breaking the employer cap?

We understand that a number of LGPS are already predicting that they will breach the 13% (19.5% with employee contributions) cost cap. When you think of the consequences if this happens then there should be a sense of crisis about the proposed arrangements and the overriding need to have accountability and good governance.

We appreciate that pension boards have to be in place by 1 April 2015 and some of the issues that we raise are the result of the Public Service Pension Act. However, there is a growing body of evidence that the proposed arrangements are contrary to European law and directives with regard to legal separation of the fund from the employer. This could mean further significant change.

Dennis Skinner blasts latest UKIP Bigot

This clip cheered me up no end. Loved the bit about an "United Nations Heart". Well said Dennis :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Christmas is a choice between eating and heating

We have had soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless for decades. But I despair that we live in a society that hundreds of thousands of UK children are dependent on personal charity to stop being hungry.

The cuts are getting worse, the safety net is being sold off and dismantled. Where is this going and where will it all end up? We are already suffering the biggest pay cuts since Victorian times.

· Statistics from The Trussell Trust show that there has been a dramatic increase in demand for food banks and charitable help in the UK, with more than 20m meals provided in 2013 – a 54% increase on the previous year.

913,138 people were given three days emergency food and support in 2013-2014, of whom 330,205 were children.

· 423 food banks have now been launched, with two new food banks being launched every week to support growing demand.

(hat tip recent email encouraging donations)