WIN! Aircraft engineer wins BA unfair dismissal case

British AirwaysAircraft engineer John Higgins has won his protracted legal battle with British Airways for unfair dismissal.

The Prospect member worked for the company for more than 27 years but was dismissed after an error on a maintenance task, when he sought to repair a mistake by a colleague, on a day when BA was very short staffed.

He appealed against the dismissal as he had an exemplary career and BA had recorded the error as having little or no airworthiness risk. But, although his appeal was successful, British Airways would only agree to reinstate him as a mechanic, a position several grades lower that would see him lose his status as a licensed aircraft engineer.

John resigned and pursued a claim of unfair constructive dismissal. A tribunal agreed that demotion was such an extreme and disproportionate sanction in the circumstances that it amounted to constructive dismissal.

Speaking after the ruling, John said: “It is essential that any moves to undermine the status of the licensed aircraft engineer are opposed.

“I could not have done this without the support of the union’s Association of Licensed Aircraft Engineers branch which has seen me through this very difficult time.”

Prospect full-time officer Malcolm Currie, who along with union representative Keith Rogers gave evidence to the tribunal, said: “Thank goodness John was a member of Prospect or he would have been left to try to fight this without any resources or support. It’s so important for people to join a union.”

“If the employer had been successful in dismissing John under these circumstances the effect would have been to inhibit other engineers from reporting incidents to ensure the industry is as safe as it possibly can be.”

Marion Scovell, head of Prospect Legal, said: “This is a great result. Constructive unfair dismissal cases are very difficult to win because the law creates a very high hurdle for claimants. In this case the tribunal found that the decision to demote Mr Higgins was disproportionate and I’m delighted that they found in his favour.”

Milk strike off after “amicable conclusion”

milkStrike action by 100 milk delivery drivers, who recently transferred from Leeds-based Arla Foods to haulage company Moran Logistics, has been averted.

The strike action due to commence at midnight has been called off.

The members deliver milk to Tesco, Aldi, Morrison and ASDA supermarkets from Nottingham to the North East on the east of the Pennines and in Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancashire west of the Pennines.

GMB regional officer Rachel Dix said: “Both parties can confirm that an amicable conclusion has been reached so that no strike action will take place.”

NUJ calls rally to defend local news as Trinity Mirror closes two more offices

Trinity MirrorThe NUJ has condemned the closure of two weekly newspaper offices.

Trinity Mirror has announced it is to close the offices of the Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald and the Runcorn and Widnes Weekly News, moving journalists further away from the community on which they report.

An NUJ Trinity Mirror North Wales chapel spokesperson said: “Caernarfon has had a long and illustrious association with journalism and was known as the ‘ink capital of north Wales’ in the 19th century due to the number of printers in the town that produced a variety of newspapers and magazines.

“There has been a newspaper office in Caernarfon since 1855 and we feel that closing would be a big blow to the town’s history, heritage and culture.

“It would mean that anyone wanting to speak to a reporter, place an advert or a notice in the Daily Post or the Caernarfon Herald would no longer be able to do it face-to-face, as they have done so for decades previously.

“The chapel also has concerns about the Welsh language service the company would be able to offer customers and readers should the office close.

“Inevitably, it would also take journalists further away from the communities they are meant to serve and we fear that this would act as a prelude to the closure of titles within the company.”

NUJ assistant organiser Jane Kennedy said: “This has come as a shock and a bitter blow to colleagues and is a serious attack on the provision of a community-based paper which plays an important role in serving the Welsh-speaking community. It is clear that the community are not going to simply allow this to happen and the NUJ are at the heart of that fight.

“The further announcement to close of the Widnes office shows the acceleration of the withdrawal of Trinity Mirror from local communities and it is a blow for local journalism.”

Ken Smith, chair of the NUJ in Wales, said: “Trinity Mirror’s proposal to shut down its office in what is effectively the capital of Welsh-speaking Wales is exceptionally short-sighted. It is a limited cost-cutting measure that will have long-term consequences.

“If this happens, it would impact severely on quality journalism in North Wales, alienating local readers and making it far more difficult to hold regional decision-makers to account.

“We will make every effort as a union to persuade Trinity Mirror to reverse this decision, and will support wholeheartedly the campaign.”

The NUJ have called a rally on Saturday 11 April on Turf Square, Caernarfon at 1pm.

Paul Scott, chair of the NUJ North Wales branch, said: “We are asking people to rally with us to respond to the announcement and show Trinity Mirror that local people want local news produced by journalists working at the heart of their community. As a journalist who has worked for the Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald, Daily Post, Holyhead and Anglesey Mail and Bangor and Anglesey Mail, I know the high regard that these newspaper titles are held in.

“That’s why I’m determined not to allow them to succumb to the slow bleed that Trinity Mirror is subjecting them to.

“If you believe in local journalism as much as I and our members do, please support the campaign and join us in our fight for local news.”

SIPTU members to consider industrial action after break down of bus talks

SIPTU members in Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will meet tomorrow (Tuesday, 31st March) to consider balloting for industrial action following the break down of talks, facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), on plans to privatise 10% of public bus services.

SIPTU Utilities and Construction Division Organiser, Owen Reidy, said: “The talks, between representatives of the transport unions, the National Transport Authority (NTA), CIE and the Department of Transport, broke down today following a threat by the NTA to implement the privatisation of routes without agreement with unions.

“SIPTU opposes any privatisation of public bus routes. However, our members accept that if such a process is going to be implemented there must be agreement on what impact it will have on workers in terms of transferring to new employers, pension entitlements and other areas of concern.”

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Willie Noone, said: “These talks had been going on for several months. SIPTU had submitted a number of questions to the NTA in relation to our members concerns. Today, the NTA responded to these questions in a completely unsatisfactory manner, which fails to indicate how key issues such as the transfer of undertakings and legacy costs will be dealt with if routes are privatised.

“Without an adequate response to these issues it is impossible for our members to agree to participate in the NTA plans. However, when this was indicated to the NTA its representatives threatened to implement the privatisation of routes without agreement. It was at this point that SIPTU representatives withdrew from the talks and will not re-enter them until the threat is lifted.

“Tomorrow the members of the SIPTU Bus Éireann and SIPTU Dublin Bus committees will meet to discuss what course of action to take in light of the NTA threat. These meetings will consider the holding of a ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action.”

Dutch students fight for University free from commercialisation & colonialism

The resurgence of student protests in Amsterdam, and in particular the highly publicised appropriation (occupation) of the Maagdenhuis building , have succeeded in pushing the issues of democracy, transparency and accountability to the heart of a public debate about the management of higher education in the Netherlands. The success of the movement has been remarkable in the extent to which it has reconfigured this debate on its own terms and broadened the scope for what it is possible to demand and pragmatically expect to achieve through protest and struggle. Within this context, a group of students concerned about the various mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion in operation at university level have used the space of the Maagdenhuis to address these concerns and to push for them to be integrated into the demands of the broader movement. In order to see proof of such mechanisms of exclusion, one need only look at the glaring disparity between the diversity of the city of Amsterdam on the one hand and the uniformity of the university staff and student body on the other. A core organising principle has therefore been that as long as the issues of race, class, (dis)ability, gender and sexual orientation remain absent from our critique of the higher education system, then steps toward democratisation of the university will remain necessarily limited.

Image from the Bungehuis and Maagdenhuis Occupations  of the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

Image from the Bungehuis and Maagdenhuis Occupations of the University of Amsterdam (UvA)

We have thus far organised several public lectures in the Maagdenhuis with the aim of highlighting the academic and societal relevance of this struggle. On 17 March, social and cultural anthropologist Professor Gloria Wekker gave a public account of the phenomenon of what she calls ‘Dutch White Innocence,’ and the manner in which it manifests itself in academia through the stubborn resistance that many have encountered (Professor Wekker included) in attempting to include topics relating to Dutch colonialism and the slave trade in course content. The following week, we hosted Dr Sandew Hira, Director of the International Institute for Scientific Research and an expert on the history of Dutch slavery. His lecture was on the Eurocentric ideological biases of various university courses and the strategies that are best suited to decolonising education and the mind. The most recent talk was given by Chandra Frank, a Dutch/South African PhD candidate at Goldsmith’s in London, and was centred on the theme: “towards a decolonised university.” In this lecture, Frank examined decolonial and feminist research practices within neoliberal Western university settings.

Upon the basis of these perspectives and others, we call for a decolonised education system that acknowledges the contemporary link between Eurocentric university curricula, the uniformity of the academic staff and student body, and a lingering unresolved colonial mentality. We have recently published a list of demands directed at universities in the Netherlands that aims to translate these principles into practice. These include but are not limited to: the establishment of critical studies departments that privilege such disciplines as postcolonial and decolonial, critical race, queer and women’s studies, the inclusion of non-Eurocentric disciplinary perspectives in university curricula, and the immediate implementation of policies that break down barriers to higher education by promoting universal accessibility and institutional diversity. While some of these demands may be further out of reach than others, they are all equally necessary if the process of democratisation of the university is to be substantive in nature and does not ultimately end up reproducing the exclusionary mechanisms that are currently in operation within the education system.

The occupation has sent messages of support to the University of Cape Town who have been fighting for decolonisation of their university through the Rhodes Must Fall campaign.

Solidarity to the students of UCT, Cape Town, South Africa,  fighting against institutional racism and for the decolonization of their university from the occupying students of UvA

Solidarity to the students of UCT, Cape Town, South Africa, fighting against institutional racism and for the decolonization of their university from the occupying students of UvA


University of Colour Facebook page:

The Demands of the University of Colour:

Die Nieuwe Universiteit site (student movement occupying Maagdenhuis):

Rethink UvA site (staff movement in support of occupation):

Written by Hassan Ould Moctar, who is a Masters student at the University of Amsterdam.

Workers Rights in a Global Economy

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Health & Fracking: impacts and opportunity costs

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USi Exclusive: young Chinese labour activist: I want to set up my own NGO

The government is reining in the development of labour organisations. New ones have been shut down. Factories are having difficulty making decent profits and many are moving outside the Pearl River Delta and even China, triggering a series of protests where workers demand severance compensation. Furthermore, the old-generation migrant workers (aged over 50) are retiring but find they don’t have proper social insurance in place. All those factors lead to the escalation of collective labour incidents in China.

This week, USi talked to a Shenzhen-based labour activist, who has been involved in major labour conflicts in the past few years. Recently he quit his job from a prominent labour NGO. He shared with USi his observations over the challenges of China’s labour movement, and his plan of setting up his own labour NGO.

Due to the sensitivity of the issues discussed, we decided not to reveal his true name in this story.

USi: What are the external environment of China’s labour movement in your opinion?

Labour activist (LA): We face both external and internal challenges. Externally, China’s economy is not performing as well as before. Governments are reluctant to support workers’ collective actions, and employers are financially limited to make compromises.

USi: How about internally?

LA: I think the biggest dilemma is how we can cultivate the new generation of labour activists. There is not much career progression for young people at labour NGOs.

Also, we have the long-standing problem of organisational management, which is an issue prevalent not only in labour NGOs but in all types of NGOs in China. The resources are always controlled by founders, and there’s a lack of supervision on how those resources are managed and allocated. There is a popular term in our circle, ‘founder syndrome’, which means the founder has the biggest say, and some are reluctant to accept young people’s ideas or recognise our talent.

USi: That must be frustrating. Is it the reason why you decided to leave this area for the moment?

LA: That is one reason. Another reason is I realised I can not be working on the frontline like our senior labour activists. They have protection but I don’t. I still need to make a living and support my family.

USi: You must have a plan of your own.

LA: Yes. Actually it would be a good idea if young people can set up their own labour organisations. We have our natural advantage. We are politically clean. We can work on a lot of issues that old NGOs cannot work on.

USi: What projects do you have in mind?

LA: I know collective bargaining is definitely the most important and promising project that may bring about an institutional breakthrough. But collective bargaining also requires the trainers to possess practical skills to handle immediate risks (e.g. police harassment). If the government thinks your involvement is too much, it can impose crackdown anytime. I think I will leave collective bargaining to the brave-hearted pioneers.

For me, I’d like to focus on community capacity-building, which is less sensitive and facing less pressure from the authorities. We can deliver training to raise workers’ citizen awareness and equip them with legal knowledge. The downside is the project outcome is often difficult to evaluate.

Previous USi exclusives:

USi China Exclusive: Chinese workers’ fight for right to pneumoconiosis compensation – a profile of He Bing

USi China Exclusive: from student leader to labour rights defender, a profile of Lin Dong

Blacklisting – still going on?

A damning new report by the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC) published on Friday (March 27), found that construction companies involved in the blacklisting scandal have hardly atoned for their sins.



It’s been six years since the Information Commissioner’s Office first discovered a database containing the names of more than 3,000 construction workers. Those on the list would find themselves secretly barred from finding work anywhere in their field for reasons such as being a trade union member or raising a health and safety concern.



Since then, a compensation scheme was set up by 8 of the 30 companies who were caught using the blacklist to bar workers from employment, but the SAC report is scathing in its criticism of how little the scheme has done to secure the blacklisted workers justice.



The companies which set up the scheme claimed that it was agreed to by unions, when in fact, it was not. Thus far, only 149 workers have received any compensation. Compensation levels, which start at just £4,000, are far below what many of the blacklisted workers – some of whom were unable to find work for decades – should be entitled to.



The committee report slammed the scheme, calling it “an act of bad faith”, and adding that it was “likely to be motivated by a desire to minimise financial and reputational damage rather than being a genuine attempt to address the crimes of the past.”



The report concluded that much more was needed to be done to both redress the blacklisted workers and make sure it never happens again. The committee recommended that the companies involved put greater effort into contacting all workers on the list, including family members if the workers may now be deceased.






The greatest concern MPs sitting on the committee expressed was whether the “odious practice” of blacklisting may still be ongoing. The only way to find out, the committee concluded, was to conduct a full public inquiry.



Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail hailed the report, saying its recommendations covered Unite’s main concerns.



“The report by the Scottish Affairs Committee is a damning indictment of the underhand and cruel tactics that the construction industry employed against decent workers prepared to stand up and be counted on such issues as health and safety,” she said.



“We welcome, in particular, the employment of ‘blacklisted’ workers,” Cartmail added. “This is the only ‘proof positive’ that these major contractors are on the road to cleaning up their past dodgy employment practices.



“However, it is clear from the report that many companies are dragging their feet on the issue of compensation to remedy what the committee calls ‘the sins of the past’.



“Whoever is in government after May’s general election must respond to the repeated call for a full public inquiry into the long-running issue of ‘blacklisting’.



“The Scottish Affairs Committee, as a whole, and its chair Ian Davidson have shone a light on this murky world of blacklisting. We are indebted to them for their work and dedication in seeking out truth and justice,” Cartmail concluded.



Labour has pledged to conduct the full public inquiry on blacklisting if it is elected in May.



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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.”

Blow to Scottish economy

Rolls-Royce is set to deliver a blow to the Scottish economy as it announced plans on Friday (March 27) to further axe over 200 jobs at two aircraft engine plants in Inchinnan and East Kilbride.

An estimated 180 jobs will be cut at the Inchinnan site, which manufactures aircraft engines, and will entail slashing the total number of shop floor workers by a third. At the East Kilbride repair and maintenance facility, 30 job posts are expected to go.

The latest announcement follows an onslaught of 500 job cuts since 2007 at the Inchinnan site. Unite has called on the company to give guarantees over compulsory redundancies and assurances over the future of aerospace engineering in Scotland.

While the company has claimed that the cuts are needed following a drop-off in customer demand, Unite regional officer Debbie Hutchings argued that this strategy was short-sighted.

“These cuts are a huge loss of skills to the Scottish economy and will lead to a further hollowing out of the company’s skills base in Scotland,” she said.

“Decent jobs are being taken out of the local economy in a short-term move which will undermine Scottish engineering.

“There is every danger that Rolls-Royce will shoot itself in the foot with this move and face a skills shortage when there is an upturn in orders,” Hutchings added.

“The company needs to give assurances over its long term plans for manufacturing in Scotland and provide guarantees over no compulsory redundancies.”

In November of last year, Rolls-Royce, in a vicious cost cutting measure, announced it would slash 2,600 jobs globally over the next 18 months, with an estimated two-thirds of the cuts to be made in the UK, according to the BBC.



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