Category Archives: Trade Unions

PCS Union AGS Election

election
PCS Union will hold an election for the union’s one Assistant General Secretary post in 2019.

This morning the results of the election to determine who would be Left Unity’s nominee as PCS’ Assistant General Secretary were released, with Chris Baugh being the elected candidate (subject to any appeals, etc).

Those who have followed the election will know this follows a protracted and strongly contested process. Chris Baugh, the current AGS post holder was challenged by PCS President Janice Godrich. Godrich in fact won that election late last year but for personal reasons  withdrew her candidature. A new Left Unity candidate, Stella Dennis, put herself forward and this morning it was confirmed that Chris Baugh won the Left Unity nomination by a small margin.

Therefore, there are now three declared candidates the election later this year, although there is of course time for additional candidates to put themselves forward.

Chris Baugh, the current PCS Assistant General Secretary will be running on the Left Unity slate. Chris’ statement released when his candidacy was first announced is here.

Lynn Henderson, currently a National Officer of the union and President of the Scottish TUC  is the only candidate not running a slate. There is a launch video and statement available here.

John Moloney, is a lay activist and running on the PCS Independent Left slate. John’s election platform is set out here.

All Change at RCN?

rcnIn August the General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Janet Davies, resigned from her post in the wake of anger at alleged misinformation provided by the union to members to induce them to agree a multi-year pay deal.

There is anger across the health sector unions over allegations of misrepresentation but the situation for RCN is particularly dire after the union admitted that it wrongly informed members that they would all receive a 3% pay rise in the first year, when in fact only proportion of nurses would. It was in the wake of that admission of error that Janet Davies resigned.

Any hopes of the executive council that that resignation would assuage member anger and put a lid on the issue were destroyed yesterday however. In an unusual move the union were forced under membership pressure to convene an Emergency General Meeting and vote on a motion of no confidence that read:

“We have no confidence in the current leadership of the Royal College of Nursing, and call on Council to stand down”.

The motion was overwhelmingly carried with just under 79% supporting the motion. Danielle Tiplady, a nurse and the speaker for the motion, has said that this is a opportunity for a renewal of the union.

But will the Council actually resign? The Chair’s response to the vote is opaque at best: “Today’s honest and open debate in Birmingham has cleared the air and the college will emerge stronger as a result.” And the official response on the RCN website does not assist either as members are told simply that “Council members and the College are now considering the next steps to be taken as RCN Council enters a period of transition.”

There is no statement that there will be resignations in an orderly time just that they are considering “next steps”. Could one of those next steps be to refuse to stand down as required by the motion (albeit with no timescale specified in the motion)? It is certainly not heard, as my union will itself attest, for a vote of members to be ruled invalid if the result does not suit. I would be surprised if they would go for this option but it is not conceivable, more likely perhaps is a fresh round of Council elections with the hope that a majority will still retain their seats.

The next month or so will be interesting to see what change really takes place in RCN HQ.

UVW Members in Trade Union Victimisation Victory

topshopThe UVW union (United Voices of the World} have this week announced that a case which its Petros Elia, a member of the union’s Executive Committee, has described as  the “most significant tribunal case in UVW’s history” has concluded.

The employment tribunal heard evidence, after a ten day hearing, that Susana was dismissed because of trade union activities in helping to organise for UVW and campaign for  London Living Wage. Carolina was also found to have been dismissed for union activities but, interestingly, the employer did not even pretend to deny his having conceded liability on the first day of the hearing (I wonder if the union will be seeking costs from the employer?)

The employer, Britannia Services Group, provided cleaning services for Topshop and one of the cleaners had been cleaning the flagship store for seven years when she was dismissed. Her offence? Taking part in a union demonstration calling for Topshop to ensure all those working for them, directly and indirectly, be paid the London Living Wage and carrying a placard which read “Topshop shame on you.”. Evidence showed that her dismissal was made under pressure  from Topshop management. Topshop’s actions followed national coverage of the dispute and the Topshop’s withdrawal of a policy document that they supported a living wage after the ill-treatment of outsourced workers was highlighted.

Judging from UVW’S published information it is not clear that there has been a remedy hearing and the outcome has not been finalised. In fact, is although the Respondent is said to have admitted the reason for the dismissal was to inhibit trade union organising and for trade union reasons it is not clear that there has yet been a formal decision on liability. In terms of remedy, the best that can be hoped for is a reinstatement order or aggravated damages, personally I don’t think that is not adequate enough and where there is wilful action to impede the exercise by staff of their human right to organise (as seems to be the case here by both Topshop and Britannia Services Group, there should be a penal element to any judgements.

Nonetheless, this is a brilliant outcome by UVW, a small union who have consistently punched well above their weight for a number of years now.  Hopefully, if nothing else, when the judgements are published (assuming they are) this will be picked up by the media and a light will be shone on the corrupt practices of those managers who were content to allow workers to continue to suffer under intolerable pay systems but dismissed them when they sought to unionise and better their lot.

 

 

Around the Unions

tucThree stories that caught my interest this week:

TUC

As the TUC celebrate its 150th year birthday it has published research showing that there is a generational pay deficit for younger workers as it also launches union recruitment plans targeted at younger workers. Write up here. There are some positive signs in the report and associated strategy but, fundamentally, the whole exclusive membership processes of the unions, and the lack of continuity of employment is an area upon which serious thought and cooperation needs to be given – time for a Bridlington II?

PCS

PCS’ dispute at ACAS has gained a fair amount of recent attention after ACAS conciliators voted for – and have  taken — a number of days strike action over enforced changes and inadequate resources. ACAS have now belatedly seen sense and in negotiations have agreed to offer assurances on job grading and agreed to recruit additional staff. PCS’ release is here.

UCU

The UCU conference saw bizarre scenes has union officials (represented by Unite) at the conference threatened to walk out after delegates sought to debate a motion calling for the General Secretary’s resignation and censure. LibCom was the first online source I saw to cover this which has since been picked up by mainstream media.

For my part I find myself sitting on the fence on this, clearly the GS is not just a ‘union official’ but presumably if the pensions dispute requires member anger should this not be directed at the NEC?

 

Around the Unions

PCSIn what may become a semi-regular feature here are the union related stories that have caught my attention this week.

POA

The shadow Chancellor John Mcdonnell MP has bowed to Northern Irish delegate concerns at the Prison Officers Association conference had withdrawn from his speaking engagement despite being minutes from stage when he made the decision given controversial comments McDonnell had made about the IRA. Steve Gillan, the union’s General Secretary in a statement reported by the Guardian said “John McDonnell asked to be excused from addressing this year’s conference as he wanted to avoid any distractions from the union’s policy making discussions and campaigning plans.”

PCS

Long standing president of the PCS Union Janice Godrich has announced on her she will be seeking election to replace Chris Baugh as Assistant General Secretary of the Union by seeking the nomination of the Left Unity faction and has received the support of Mark Serwotka in that decision. The Socialist Party are suggesting, bizarrely, that this is a  “divisive step that threatens a split on the left.” It’s worth noting that Janice has not declared she is standing against Chris Baugh in the election itself but is seeking to win an election for nomination within the Left Unity faction to go forward as Left Unity’s candidate and I would expect whomever loses that election to honour the result and not stand for AGS in the PCS election proper next year.

Unite

Former Unite General Secretary candidate and dismissed union official Gerard Coyne has lost one of his legal challenges to Len McCluskey’s re-election as General Secretary. The challenge was focussed on whether, in calling an election before his five year term was complete McCluskey broke union rules. Coyne has announced he has appealed the Certification Officer’s decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. For my part, having read the judgement I think the decision is the right one but Coyne’s appeal is perhaps stronger than the political commentators such as Swawkbox suggest.

 

Mark Serwotka on sacked PCS rep Candy Udwin

pic_PCS-NationalGalleryStrike3-2-15mp6Earlier today PCS Union General Secretary Mark Serwotka has written about the long running dispute at the National Gallery which has culminated in the dismissal of PCS rep Candy Udwin on the Peoples Assembly website. PCS does have questions to answer on the support it offers to victimised reps but here I entirely and unreservedly endorse PCS’s stance as set out by Serwotka. Please consider showing your support.

By Mark Serwotka

PCS is in dispute with the National Gallery over their proposals to privatise 400 of the 600 staff who work there. The first act of the National Gallery management, following the election is to sack one of our senior reps. This is a direct attack on our union and we will fight it every step of the way.

Our members there have already taken 23 days of strike action this year and a fresh wave of action will now be held. On Saturday 30 May we will hold a demonstration against the privatisation plan on the institution’s doorstep in Trafalgar Square in London. We already have some excellent speakers lined up and will be using our annual conference to help mobilise support for it.

Let’s look at the facts. Candy Udwin has been a PCS rep at the gallery for many years and has fulfilled her role brilliantly, standing up for her colleagues and holding the senior managers to account.

When the plans to sell off all the gallery’s visitor services were announced – something no other major museum or gallery has ever done – she was at the forefront of our opposition and, when the dispute reached Acas, was part of our negotiating team.

The first Acas meeting was held on Friday 30 January and our first strike was scheduled to start four days’ later. On the Monday, Candy was called in and told she had been suspended from work, a move that the gallery tried to claim also meant she could longer participate in the talks.

The ‘case’ against her was that she shared information about the use of a private security firm with her full time union official and asked him to take up the matter with the gallery. If that is not a bona fide thing for a trade union rep to do – and sacking her on the eve of a strike for doing it is not victimisation – then I don’t know what is.

No union rep worth their salt ever stood for election because they thought it would be good for their career. But to be victimised by your employer on that basis is a gross abuse of power.

We want everyone who opposes this unnecessary and damaging sell-off, and who supports the right of elected trade union representatives to raise questions on matters of strong public interest, to join the protest. This will also be an opportunity to protest against the kind of Tory cuts being cited as the reason for this privatisation, and against attacks on trade unions.

Tens of thousands signed our petition against the proposals, almost 10,000 people added their names to a statement calling for Candy to be reinstated and artists Grayson Perry, Mark Wallinger, Ryan Gander and Peter Kennard have signed a separate letter calling for a halt to the privatisation.

We have massive public support and we are determined to win. With your help I believe we can.

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union

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There is Power in a Union

Michael Reed is a solicitor and principal legal officer for the Free Representation Unit (the FRU). I should say at the outset that I have immense respect for the work of the FRU (and if you can, I would encourage you to support them).

As a union rep I have also referred cases to FRU and always been impressed with their work in securing good results for our members.

All of the above is by way of preamble to introducing a post Michael has posted on power relations in employment. Here’s a taster:

If we’re worried about people being mistreated and exploited in employment, the people we need to be concerned about are those who lack power. That means people working in unskilled and commoditised jobs, who are likely lack the cultural capital and personal characteristics to balance the employer’s power.

The point of employment law, really, is to give those people, without other sources, a bit of power. That, we hope, means they will be treated better than they otherwise would.

That’s what makes things like employment tribunal fees and zero-hours contracts so dangerous. They take power away from people who are already in an unbalanced power relationship with their employer. And the more unbalanced that dynamic becomes, the more likely they are to be badly treated.

There really is nothing in the post itself to disagree with. It is certainly the case that the greater the power differential in employment (as in the rest of society) the greater the extent of exploitative employment practices. Sometimes this is down to plain exploitation (I am thinking here of companies like Sports Direct who keep the majority of their staff on vulnerable employment contracts); but equally, sometimes there dynamic comes from more ‘soft power’ sources such as being from the same social grouping as ‘the bosses’, being a skilled worker (and thus harder to replace), or even just being more erudite.

But what baffles me about Michael Reed’s post is the complete absence of any reference to trade unions. Although trade union membership  has undoubtedly declined in the last three decades it still remains the largest political grouping in the UK, at just under 6 million workers. And although a significant percentage of trade unionism is within the public sector there are signs that the levels of membership private sector are on the rise.

Power in the workplace as it relates to trade unions works in different ways. On one level there there are occasions where a union being present or asking questions reduces inequitable treatment. On a personal level this does sometimes happen in disciplinary and grievance cases. A worker raises a question and they have no joy resolving an issue or are subject to disciplinary proceedings on tenuous grounds but when a union rep is involved the employer takes a different tact – more assiduously complying with fair processes for example.

To give a recent example I was recently approached by a union member who had had about 10 days annual leave from his allowance at the end of a leave year. He had previously tried to book that leave earlier in the year but had been refused and when he tried to book it again he was again refused as ‘he did not give enough notice’ despite giving trying to book over one month in advance. Despite the member escalating the issue through their line management chain they had no joy – however, after coming to PCS a simple question about how their decisions could be consistent with the Working Time Regulations resulted in the decision being overturned. Because of union intervention that member did not have lose 10 days leave and this was done without any need for an unlawful deduction of wages claim using an employment tribunal.

But the advantage is not just personal. One of the problems of modern trade unionism is it has a tendency to follow the individualistic turn or broader society. It is this type of tendency that leads to the the trade union as individual insurance policy type of approach. The main benefit of trade unions is on the collective rather than purely individual level, this is what TUC refer to as the Union Advantage. Trade Unions do deliver benefits to employees. Where a union is recognised for collective bargaining (which can only happen if individual membership reaches a critical density) members do get better pay and conditions of service which themselves minimises the power differential Michael Reed referenced. At it’s most basic that power is itself in the hands of members themselves. Individually an employee can be picked off by an employer and reject their grievances but if each employee stands together – for example, by unanimously taking industrial action together – those same grievances can be remedied. It is the union, therefore, that offers a remedy to the power differential which Reed referred, even more than an employment law system whether access to it is restricted or not.

I will leave you with the Billy Brag classic There is Power in a Union. But before I do so if you are not a trade union member why not join today? Not only is it in your interests but also in the interests of your colleagues.