Win! Union strikes first blow in zero hours contract dispute

Marks & Spencer150 staff at Marks and Spencer’s Swindon distribution depot are to be offered permanent jobs after a campaign by the GMB against zero hours contracts.

The union has been fighting against a two-tier workforce that has seen agency staff being paid £2 less an hour than permanent staff.

GMB organiser Carole Vallelly said: “We welcome the news that DHL are to offer 150 permanent jobs to workers on the Marks and Spencer distribution site.

“This means our members will have the opportunity to have permanent, secure contracts, and will end the precarious nature of so many peoples working lives.

“We hope this is a move towards ending the two tier workforce and eventual pay parity across the site, with all workers, whether agency or permanent receiving the same pay for the same work.”

Charities bring Easter cheer

Food banks are gearing up to address growing demand during the Easter school holidays. Hard-pressed parents have to step in with lunches normally provided free at a school and may rely on charitable food banks for the kids meals.

As well as three-day food parcels, charity the Trussell Trust will provide Easter eggs as part of the food parcels to make “Easter a little brighter for families and children who are struggling to put food on the table.”

Last year a cross-party group of MPs recommended that free school meals should be provided to vulnerable kids during school holidays. Their report – Feeding Britain – recommended working to make the UK “hunger free” and called for a rise in the minimum wage and scaling back benefit sanctions that left claimants without money for food.

The latest report from the Department for Work and Pensions Select Committee published on March 22 demanded the government provides evidence the sanctions regime was not just “purely punitive”.

Sanctions and food poverty

Dame Anne Begg MP, who chairs the select committee said: “Recent research suggests that benefit sanctions are contributing to food poverty. No claimant should have their benefit payment reduced to zero where they are at risk of severe financial hardship, to the extent of not being able to feed themselves or their families, or pay their rent.”

The Committee said a hardship payment system designed to prevent people being left without money was not effective. This is because “hardship payments are not available until the 15th day of a sanction period. It is not reasonable to expect people to live without any source of income for two weeks.”

Prime minister David Cameron was challenged on the rise of food banks in the first TV debate. Interviewer Jeremy Paxman pressed Cameron in the increase in food banks from 66 in 2010 when he took office to 460 at the end of those five years.

While Cameron has been vocally supportive of food banks, some parts of government and his cabinet colleague Ian Duncan Smith have been scathing. Duncan Smith has accused food bank providers Trussell Trust of “scaremongering” while the DWP has accused them of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking” and accused the charity of “aggressively marketing their services”.

The charity has confirmed that Iain Duncan Smith has still not met its chairman Chris Mould. This is despite a request dating back to 2013.

But Trussell Trust, a Christian charity has refused to curtail its charitable activities despite the ire of Duncan Smith and the DWP. Having provided more than 1,000,000 food parcels in the last year, they have comfortably fed more than the 5,000.

Trussell Trust UK foodbank director Adrian Curtis says: “School holidays are especially difficult for low income families whose children usually receive free school meals or support from breakfast clubs. Many of the UK’s poorest parents are concerned about being able to feed their children over school holidays, and many skip meals to feed their children.

“Benefit delays and changes – including sanctions – are the trigger for 45 percent of referrals to Trussell Trust foodbanks nationwide. Over Easter many foodbanks will give out Easter eggs alongside the standard three day emergency food parcels to help make Easter a little brighter for families and children who are struggling to put food on the table.”


If you would like details of how you can assist Trussell trust, please visit its website here.

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North Sea strike gets closer after unions vote ‘Yes’ in consultative ballot

North Sea oil rigA strike by North Sea oil workers has come a step closer after GMB and Unite members agreed to ballot for action in response to attacks on jobs, pay and working conditions.

Members of both unions voted in a consultative ballot to move to an official ballot for strike action after talks with the industry body Offshore Contractors Association (OCA) broke down. The OCA is attempting to force through changes on rotas, rates of pay, sick pay and holiday patterns as a consequence to the decline in oil prices.

GMB national officer Dave Hulse said: “Members have voted overwhelming for GMB Scotland Committee to give the go ahead for an official ballot over the proposals from clients and contractors to change terms and conditions of employment.

“The vote quite clearly demonstrates the anger and frustration of our members employed in the offshore industry. Members are prepared to strongly oppose the changes from clients and contractors

GMB does not believe proper risk assessments and consultation have taken place before unilateral action on this. We are concerned that moving to new rotas will have an adverse impact on member’s safety health and quality time.

“We will now move to the next step to ballot our members for industrial action. On the deadlocked talks we urge the contractors and clients to reconsider their proposals and get back round the table to arrive at mutually agreed arrangements.”

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “This massive support for industrial action should come as no surprise to offshore employers. Since the turn of the year workers covered by the OCA have been at the coal face of the opportunistic cuts agenda, which has continued unabated across the industry despite the Chancellor’s £1.3 billion tax break.

“The industry agenda is clear in that it wants to impose a reduced number of employees to work longer and for much less – it’s a ‘race to the bottom’ disease that is unsustainable and unacceptable.

Unite’s message to OCA employers is simple: Our members are not prepared to accept these impositions and they want proper participation over their livelihoods and the future of the offshore industry.

“It’s not too late to talk but the ball is in the employers’ court.”

Government’s justification for introducing ET fees is based on myths

Thompsons Solicitors logoThe latest statistics for employment tribunals show a drop of 12% in single claims for the last quarter of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

The figures published by the Ministry of Justice show the number of single claims (involving one individual with a claim against an employer) received in October to December 2014 was 4,386.

Although the trend in single claims had been gradually declining for the last five years, the rate of decline increased in October to December 2013, coinciding with the introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013. The number of single claims peaked at just over 6,500 in July 2013 before falling sharply to 1,000 cases in September 2013.

The number of multiple claims (where two or more people bring claims against an employer) in October to December 2014 rose to 622, an increase of 222 cases on the period July to September 2014. The increase is almost certainly as a result of holiday pay litigation following recent rulings about the level at which holiday pay should be paid. Prior to this quarter, the number of multiple claims cases had been falling.

According to the figures for October to December 2014, it took 53 weeks on average for a tribunal to clear or dispose of a single case and 205 weeks to dispose of a multiple claim.

In terms of fees and fee remissions, 11,338 remission applications were submitted for the issue fee and 2,494 for the hearing fee in the 12 months ending 30 September 2014. Around a third of issue fee remission applications were either fully or partially successful compared with almost two thirds of hearing fee remission applications during this period.

A recent report by the University of Bristol looking at the reasons offered by the coalition government to justify the introduction of fees and other changes to the employment tribunal system has found that they were based essentially on myths, rather than concrete evidence. Their study, the first to provide longitudinal, qualitative data on experiences of the employment tribunal system calls for a complete overhaul.

Neil Todd of Thompsons Solicitors said: “The report from the University of Bristol makes clear that many of the government’s alleged justifications for the implementation of Employment Tribunal fees are not substantiated by any evidence.

“This was a point made by many who opposed the implementation of fees at the time. There is much to suggest that the introduction of fees was part a wider political agenda being pursued by the coalition government rather than any genuine attempt to review all of the evidence and improve the tribunal system as a whole. This insightful report stresses that the present system is failing employees and preventing them from accessing justice, meaning problems in the workplace remain unresolved.”

* Why are two-faced Tories rubbing their hands in glee over ET fees?

Meet the Martyrs – Tolpuddle trail brings tale to life

Dorset Equity members play the roles of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in the South West TUC's Tolpuddle Trail

Dorset Equity members play the roles of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in the South West TUC’s Tolpuddle Trail

The South West TUC today launches an audio visual trail in Tolpuddle to take visitors back in time to when the Martyrs were transported to Australia for forming a trade union.

The project, supported by a £38,7000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, allows visitors to listen to the story of the six Dorset farmworkers as they stroll through the village.

The tour, which lasts around an hour, starts with Maxine Peake, star of Silk and The Village, declaring: “Looking around at the quiet idyllic village and peaceful countryside, it’s hard to imagine that this was once a place of suffering and unrest. And that events which took place here in 1834 still intrigue and inspire people today. ”

The tour stops at various points in the village where scenes from the story will be recreated on mobile phones or tablets by members of Equity’s Dorset branch playing the Martyrs and their wives.

Visitors will be able to stand in front of the famous Martyrs’ Tree and view a re-enactment of the 19th Century farmworkers discussing how to resist further pay cuts, and instead of seeing just a plaque marking where the secret oath was taken, people will be able to see a short film of the ceremony.

There is also a special version of the story for younger visitors.

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said: “We’re very excited about bringing the Tolpuddle story to life. The Martyrs joined a union after consecutive pay cuts – a situation that will resonate with many people today.

“The Martyrs’ tale is one of courage, resistance and, ultimately, success as they won their freedom after a nationwide campaign. Importantly, they also enshrined in law the right to join a trade union.”

The Tolpuddle Martyrs app can be downloaded from the App store.

Details of this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival are here.

Probation in crisis as Sodexo culls one in three jobs

sodexoNapo has condemned the announcement by Sodexo that one in three jobs are to go in the probation service.

And the union understands the private company plans not to honour an agreed voluntary redundancy scheme because it would cost it too much money.

Sodexo is today expected to announce the job losses which will take place over the next twelve months. Napo says the cuts are extremely worrying given the current staffing crisis in probation and the reasons behind them pose a significant risk to public safety.

Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “We are angry and disappointed about this news. Probation staff have been through hell over the last 18 months dealing with Grayling’s so called reforms and now many of them are facing redundancy and job insecurity.

“When we met with Sodexo earlier this year they told us there would be no reductions in workforce. The use of call centres and machines instead of highly skilled staff is downright dangerous and will put the public at risk.”


“Pupils twist things” – school staff call for anonymity to protect them against false accusations

anonymous94% of education staff think people working in education should have the right to anonymity until charged, according to an ATL survey.

And they think the right should be extended to support staff and those working in further education to help protect staff who are falsely accused from having their careers ruined and lives blighted.

One member said: “False allegations wreck careers and there is a right to ‘innocent until proven guilty’”. And a primary teacher in a state school in England said: “I appreciate that allegations by children should be taken seriously, but equally so should the possibility that the accused is totally without blame.”

The survey shows more than a third (38%) of school and college staff said a member of staff in their current school or college has had a false allegation made against them by a pupil.

And more than a fifth (23%) said a false allegation had been made by a pupils’ parent or family member.

During their career working in education, more than a one in five (22%) school and college staff have had a false allegation made against them by a pupil and one in seven (14%) by a pupils’ parent or family member.

Of those staff who had faced false allegations, most (69%) said the allegations related to when they were working with a class or group of pupils, while a quarter (24%) said it was when pupils were at school or college but not in lessons. Only four staff said the false allegations were made on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the most recent cases, half (50%) the staff said the allegation against them was dismissed by the school or college. Only 10 ATL members said their most recent cases were referred to a local safeguarding children’s board or service, and only 14 said the police were notified of the allegation.

Kathryn Booth, who is proposer of the debate calling for anonymity for support staff, a member of ATL’s Support Staff Members’ Advisory Group and joint branch secretary in Dorset, said: “The majority of teaching assistants come from the community in which the school is situated and the consequences of their name, and the allegation, being known locally could be extremely serious, leading to them being punished even when they have done nothing wrong.”

Several members said there had been an increase in the number of false allegations made by pupils, often because the pupils did not like being told off by school or college staff.

A state secondary teacher in Worcestershire said: “After 22 years in teaching I feel very vulnerable now, as pupils twist things that are said and make serious comments – they do not see the serious manner of their allegation when in fact it is their behaviour we are challenging.”

And several staff said the fear of false allegations was one of the reasons they are planning to stop working in schools and colleges. A primary teacher in a state school in Kent said: “The increasing occurrence of allegations is one reason why I will be leaving the profession sooner than I would like to. Poor parental discipline is leading to children always wanting their way. Unable to discipline children without a comeback has meant this sort of incident will escalate and very good teachers will be driven out when they are most needed.”

David Guiterman, ATL’s branch secretary in Cornwall and proposer of the debate about the time it takes to resolve allegations about safeguarding children, said: “Even if the allegation is shown to be false it leaves a lasting scar. In a local case a member decided to resign even though the allegation was shown to be false. He did not want to carry on lecturing.”

Many staff complained that their school or college had not been as supportive as they could have been. Only 43% of staff were largely or totally happy with how their school or college dealt with the most recent false allegation against them.

A member of support staff in a state primary school in Hertfordshire said: “I was disciplined, removed from the child and given a written warning- all without ever being told what it was that I had supposedly done wrong. My job role was changed. I no longer worked with the child in question. A member of staff resigned over the way I was treated. I left the post within two months.”

A primary teacher in a state school in the South West said: “Despite a class full of witnesses (both children and a teaching assistant) the allegation was continued and my classroom practice was monitored for the next six months.”

A primary teacher in a state school in Hertfordshire said: “It was established immediately that the allegation against me was false but I felt that everyone was talking about me. I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid to be in the class, I couldn’t face doing my job. I ended up mentally ill over it. My head teacher threatened me that if another allegation was made I would be suspended.”

And members also said schools were so anxious to be seen to be protecting children that they were not treating their staff fairly. A secondary teacher in a state school in Lewisham said: “Often the school wants to ‘be seen to have acted’ and even though the allegation against me was false they insisted on a restorative justice conference. The behaviour of the student which led to the allegations was never investigated.”

ATL general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: “It is only right and proper that children are protected and their welfare and safety must always come first, but the balance needs to be right so that teachers, heads and support staff do not suffer unnecessarily when false allegations are made against them.

“Schools and colleges need to recognise that young people sometimes make up allegations – they may be angry, under stress, suffering problems at home or have a host of other reasons – and take this into account when investigating them.

“All schools and colleges need to have clear, timely and fairly administered policies to investigate allegations against staff. And they need to make sure innocent staff receive the support and protection they need so that their careers and lives are not irretrievably damaged by a false allegation.

“We call on the police and local safeguarding boards to work harder to resolve cases and to protect the rights of education staff. And we call on the government to change the law to give all education staff the same rights to anonymity until charged – without this, innocent teaching assistants, school librarians and lab technicians as well as assistants, lecturers and managers in further education risk having their lives blighted unnecessarily.”

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