Saturday, April 12, 2014

Labour's Trade Union Charter

 Ed Miliband with Durham Miners Gala in background

The ten points below are taken from pages 6 to 8 of the Labour Party Consultative Document "Work and Business" which will shape Labour's General Election Manifesto. For the procedures in use to seek to influence the development of such documents, see here.


"1. Labour will protect working people from their wages and conditions being undermined by strengthening the National Minimum Wage. The minimum wage should rise in real terms to at least catch up the ground it has lost under this Government, and Labour will investigate whether certain sectors can afford to pay more without risking jobs.

2. We will also establish ‘make work pay’ contracts, giving a tax rebate to those companies that sign up to become Living Wage employers in the first year of the next Parliament. Firms that sign up will be eligible for a tax rebate, paid for from the actual exchequer savings from higher tax receipts and lower social security payments.

3. Labour will increase transparency on pay, by requiring companies to publish the ratio of the pay of their top earner compared to the average employee, and the pay packages of the ten highest paid employees outside the boardroom. The next Labour Government will also look at how to simplify executive pay packages, and we will ensure that there is an employee representative on remuneration committees to ensure that the views of ordinary staff are heard when decisions to award top pay packages are made. We will require investment and pension fund managers to disclose how they vote on pay and all other issues, and ensure that shareholders approve remuneration packages in advance.

4. Labour will help make work pay by extending free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents, paid for by an increase in the bank levy. We will ensure parents of primary school children have access to ‘wraparound’ childcare from 8am to 6pm.

5. Success will be built by the many, not the few, and the next Labour Government will take action to increase security in the workplace and protect workers’ rights, including the internationally recognised rights of freedom of association.  We will also ensure that health and safety in the workplace is a priority, and will explore ways to ensure workers have access to justice.

6.. ... the way the law is currently implemented in the UK allows employment agencies and companies, in some circumstances, to pay agency workers lower rates of pay than directly-employed staff. That simply isn’t fair, so the next Labour Government will take action to ensure agency workers are properly protected and that there is no exemption from equal treatment on pay.

7. Labour will extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to cover different sectors of the economy, such as construction, hospitality and social care, giving better protection to those workers. The next Labour Government will also look at what more can be done to ensure agricultural workers are properly protected.

8. Labour will also increase security in the workplace by acting to end the unfair practices and abuses associated with zero-hours contracts. We will ban employers from being able to require zero-hours workers to be available on the off-chance that they will be needed, stop employees from being required to work exclusively for one firm if they are on a zero-hour contract, and ban the use of zero-hours contracts when employees are in practice working regular hours.

9 ... if the current Government will not launch a full inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting in the construction industry the next Labour Government will.

10. Labour is clear about the positive role the trade union movement plays in delivering fairness, safe working conditions and supporting productivity in the workforce, and we recognise the important discussions around the role of collective bargaining in boosting pay and promoting pay equality, as well as employee representation in the workplace."

Hat Tip for photo : Left Futures.

5 comments:

Ernest Jacques said...

Harry

While this 10 point “Trade Union Charter” is full of warm words and (no doubt for many) will be deemed progressive, drill down beneath the suffice and it is full of ambiguities and weasel words such as could, should and might which, to my mind, amounts to a charter that guarantees very little.

E.g. The NMW “should rise in real terms to at least catch up the ground it has lost under this Government”

Harry, note the words “..under this Government” They are typical spin doctor words, bearing in mind that since its launch in April 1999, successive Labour and Coalition governments have deliberately devalued the NMW by refusing to update it in line inflation.

And throughout we are presented with meaningless statements such as “ Success will be built by the many, not the few…” which sounds more than a bit Blairite to me.

And please forgive me for being more than a bit cynical (actually sickened) with point number 10 when we know full-well that past Labour governments and Miliband's current shadow cabinet never, ever, support working people who try to defend their wages, condition of employment and their jobs. Is it too much to expect a Labour government to invest a few hundred million in skills training, job creation and in neighbourhood regeneration in those working class areas affected by the closure of Kellingley and Thorsby pits?

Hardly revolutionary but unlikely to even occur to politicians such Ed-Balls-Yvette-Cooper who were parachuted into mining constituencies via Labour’s well-oiled Party machine. And who's commitment to free market economics is somewhat fulsome.

And while point number 3 on transparency sounds progressive and helpful, anyone with a passable knowledge of the free market system and company law, knows that these so called transparency proposals will prove a useful as those church of England bishops who week after week – year in year out – pray for people to be good, for social cohesion, fairness and for an end to wars and nasty people, etc. etc. It is absolute buncombe that will change nothing and we do no one any favours if we take such political spin seriously and at face value.

Having said that, how we seek to respond in a way that wins friends and supporters and doesn't isolate and paint us as loopy ultra-lefties is very important and something again that (unlike you Harry) I am not very good at.

But however we respond, we do have a duty, I think, to point out that most of these proposals amount to very thin-gruel in terms of social change and fairness. Proposals that will make no appreciable difference to accelerating boardroom pay, bonuses and fringe benefits together with golden hellos and goodbye for those at the top and with influence or for those at the bottom who in increasing numbers find themselves on zero hour, minimum wage and temporary contracts. With growing numbers now paid just enough to ensure that companies such as ASDA, NEXT, Amazon, Google, et. al, don't have to pay NI, sick pay, redundancy pay and that their lucky staff do not even qualify for a state pension.

Sad to say, these trade union charter proposals – while being a recognition that there is a problem of workplace inequality and exploitation - will not and cannot, by themselves, reverse this trend.

To bring about change you have to first acknowledge the enormity of the problem, but tinkering about like this simply adds insult to injury and lays the groundwork for a repetition of past failures.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : The "Work and Business" consultative document can be found via this link - http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-commissions/living-standards-and-sustainability-policy-commission/living-standards-and-sustainability-policy-consultation

The section which (rather tounge in cheek) I call a "Trade Union Charter" is extracted from pages 6 to 8 of the above. Up to June 13th ten additions and amendments can be sent in to this via any Constituency Labour Party. But no more than four to any one document. These will then formally appear before the appropropriate body of the National Policy Forum who are dealing with the specific document. They will have to vote for or against the proposals they receive. It is an avenue for attempting to put some backbone into the proposals.

A less formal avenue is also available to express your views. You can send proposals in yourself using the facilities available via the "Your Britain" web-site. It will then be forwarded to the 21 members of the group who deal with this policy document. Numbers of whom are Trade Union representatives. When I did this in a different area, I received a supportive reply via the web-site from a member of the appropriate committee.But I did know her when we were MPs together. But it is an avenue to try and win friends and influence people.

I appreciate much of what you say. But what if the whole of the complex policy proceedure shows that Labour is (imperfectly) moving beyond the failed past of the Blair/Brown years? Probably not, or not very much. But just in case, isn't it a worthwhile and potentially practical (if strange) avenue to use? Even if it is mainly restricted to computer experts and those who are willing to give it a go - they might sometimes even be be CLP Secretaries.

In general terms the eight documents seem to me to be more radical than anything I hear at the moment from the party leadership. But the test will come when all the documents become Party policy. Will Miliband then push them and if elected live up to them? They may, at least, give us an avenue to press our case in the future. After all, we haven't got much else going for us.

I don't think that we should be afraid to get our hands dirty. We can always wash them afterwards.

Ernest Jacques said...

Harry

I fully accept what you say and, despite all my reservations, we should use every avenue to point up our concerns and to try and put some real backbone behind Labour manifesto commitments and programme for change.

And we should point out that whatever is eventually agreed, the reality is that the political system, neoliberal apologists, the establishment and the lack of any real commitment for change and controversy by would-be Labour Ministers, will conspire to water down whatever is eventually agreed by the Party’s movers and shakers.

Only bottom up - community and electorate - demand for change and a threat to the jobs and careers of Labour cabinet ministers and MP's is likely to bring about a change of heart.

But change is possible, insofar as if you listen to Alex Salmond’s recent Spring Conference speech and study the SNP social and economic programme, (bearing in mind there is lots about the SNP and its policies to dislike) progressive change and some semblance of social justice and inclusion, north of the border, is definitely on the agenda.

Having said that, I still think the odds are stacked against a Yes vote, but the tide is turning especially amongst traditional Labour voters who are starting to turn their back on Labour, in droves This is because the SNP manifesto is head and shoulders more progressive and Social

Democratic than anything on offer by Ed Miliband's Labour Party. This in addition to a natural tendency for the Scottish people to by turned off by a self-serving Westminster elite who have the audacity to suggest that the Scottish people are unable to govern themselves.

And the thought of getting rid of Trident and fatally damaging and wrecking the UK’s (so called) independent nuclear weapons system and of Scotland exiting NATO - THIS YEAR -must appeal to all ILPers, socialist and to very many trade unionists and Labour Party members north & south of the border. And if, additionally, Britain was to lose its seat and veto in the UN Security Council, then that would be an added bonus. Great, I say!

In this regard, I am not a puritan and I much prefer this pragmatic approach and the certainly of some progressive change than to wait in the hope that the Labour Party will get its act together and have a Road To Damascus conversion by putting equality, social justice and the working class as a priority.

The ILP fall-back position of the long haul is very unappealing. So with all its uncertainties and unknowns a Yes vote could deliver change, and at 75, I want a little bit of jam today and not wait for tomorrow.

Does any of this make any sense Harry?

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : Your make perfect sense, which is why I can both agree and disagree with you at the same time.

I appreciate your position as part of this discussion laps over from items we have debated on the ILP web-site. My position on Scotland differs from yours in that I support a "no" vote. But I do wish that the "no" campaign would take up a devo max position. Saying that they would push for a form of greater devolution if the "no" vote triumphed. This would help to raise the question of what we then press for for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English Regions. The later cover 83% of the UK population. The main figure that seems to have come up with devo max in the "no" campaign so far is Gordon Brown. To me he is now on the correct side, even though he failed in the bulk of the Blair-Brown years. For even if the two had personal rivalries, they were often politically and economcally like two peas in a pod.

In the end, you indicate that you are an impatient 75 year old (or did you hit the wrong key - I thought that you were nearer 65). However, I am perhaps an over-patient 77 year old. When I joined the Labour Party in 1957 I knew that I could not survive in it on its own. I initially had links with bodies such as the early New Left Review and the shortly-lived International Society for Socialist Studies, whom GDH Cole helped set up as his parting shot. On the Aldermaston March I walked with the New Left singing "Gaitskell is our leader, he will be removed". By the mid 1970s it was the ILP as a publications organisation which I looked to. Then in parliament I hoped to bridge the gap between the soft left Tribune-ites and the hard left Socialist Campaign Group. But the soft left then capitulated to Blairism for pelf and place. So I was stuck in the Campaign Group, criticising half of what they did. Today I try to do bits of left-wing networking to help keep me going, with my toe still in the Labour Party. But unless something dramatic happens in the near future, I except to go out as what GDH Cole described as being a "loyal grouser", with the emphasis on the later. Who knows I might have a death bed convertion back to what was really a Primitive Methodist/Donald Soper type tradition, which I ditched 58 years ago. For my own long haul will then be ending and my last remnants of understanding will have gone.

Ernest Jacques said...


Harry

Your last post cheered me up no end especially your reference to GDH Cole and being a Loyal Grouser.

Your potted Labour Movement history demonstrates that yours has indeed been a long haul and that you have been an eclectic and extremely busy - Labour Movement grouser.

Long may it continue.