Wednesday, July 26, 2017

UNISON gets employment tribunal fees scrapped

What a fantastic legal victory for UNISON and all British workers at the Supreme Court today. I must admit as a UNISON NEC member when we received reports on the 4 year legal battle which got turned down by the High Court and the Appeal Court that I was worried that we would lose and be liable for massive costs.

However,  today UNISON defeated the Government and they have been forced to scrap the (up to) £1200 fees for taking a case. The balance of power between the employer and the worker has dramatically shifted in one day.

While you cannot totally rely on employment tribunals for justice and security at work (for all our imperfections, you can only seek this from trade union membership) it is an important safety net.

Dodgy employers and bullying managers will think twice about the way they treat their staff since they will realise that their victims will no longer be priced out of seeking justice.

Of course, even if you don't have to pay massive fees, you still need trade union membership to pay for expert and professional legal advice and when appropriate, representation.

Well done to UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna and all her legal team.

"Employment tribunal fees will be scrapped after UNISON won a landmark court victory against the government this morning. 
The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.
From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.
 The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals  since July 2013, when fees were introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling.
Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.
Reacting to this morning‘s decision, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.
Read the full Supreme Court judgement in
R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor
 “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.
 “It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.
 “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.
“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”
 UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna added: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.  
 “The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”
 The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

"The police need to provide swift answers after the death of Rashan Charles" by Seyi Akiwowo a councillor in Newham, east London

After having a great time at the Afropunk London festival last weekend, I followed my usual ritual before going to bed on Saturday night: checking to see what I had missed on Instagram during the day. I came across the clip of CCTV footage that appeared to show a Metropolitan police officer attempting to restrain 20-year-old Rashan Charles from east London, who shortly afterwards took his last breath. I was stunned and confused. I closed the app with a heavy heart and said a prayer for Rashan and his family.
When I saw the statement from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) the next morning, reporting that it had “obtained evidence which indicates an object was removed from [Rashan’s] throat at the scene”, I instantly thought of Edson Da Costa. Just four weeks ago, 25-year-old Edson, also from east London, died after contact with the police. The IPPC also said that “the pathologist removed a number of packages from Mr Da Costa’s throat”.
I am a local councillor in Newham and the deaths of two young black men in east London in a matter of weeks is a cause for concern, to put it mildly. At this stage there is a lot we still don’t know about both cases and we should wait for the independent investigation to be completed, but I’d like some questions to be answered.
Whatever the packages or objects that were removed from Rashan’s and Edson’s throats were, is there is a safe way to do this? Is there a protocol? Is there a different protocol at an airport if someone is suspected of smuggling something? Does and should the same protocol apply to officers on the beat?
Were the circumstances the same as those of Edson’s death? If so, have the Met been recently given sufficient training and guidance to properly and safely assess the danger a person is in and be able to remove objects from someone’s throat?
If these cases were drugs-related, is this symptomatic of a wider drugs problem in east London? If so, why are drugs still a problem in 2017? Since 2010 we’ve seen central government cuts to local authorities’ budgets on an unprecedented scale, year after year. This has resulted in cuts to non-statutory services such as youth and drug prevention services. We’ve also seen cuts to the public sector and police budget. Police officers are essentially being asked to do more with a lot less. Information on our rights when being stopped and searched by the police is readily available; this should include the searching or removal of objects swallowed.
Part of the anger following this death, expressed by some at a vigil on Monday, is the suspicion that excessive force was used because of the colour of his skin. We know that black men are more likely to be treated harshly by the criminal justice system, at the stages of arrest, charging, prosecution and imprisonment.
Would witness statements and accounts from arrests of non-black people in similar circumstances mirror how we saw Rashan being treated in the video?
These questions are by no means accusations. I regularly work with the police and have seen first hand how hard our local Safer Neighbourhood Team work to keep our community safe. We hold joint surgeries and the team are responsive to the concerns residents have. I see them out around the ward: they produce quarterly updates, they hold various safety sessions and they actively build relationships with our diverse community. I feel this is important to say as, like politicians, they are often negatively generalised.
In recent dealings with the police for online abuse I received, they were helpful and supportive. However, just like politicians, the police are accountable to the public. Additionally, not everyone has or has had a positive experience with the police. There is still a lot more the police need to do to rebuild trust with community groups, beginning by being more representative of the society they represent. This is why, instead of being able to quietly mourn the death of yet another young man from our community and paying respect to his family, many are angry and suspicious of the police and demand the media cover the case accurately and without bias.
In the UK, we believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty and this extends to the police as well as Rashan Charles. The police, the Home Office, the Greater London Authority must respond quickly to deaths following contact with the police, working with community groups and leaders, giving as much information as possible as soon as they can. Otherwise, rumours will fill the vacuum in which myths are created and fictions believed – and that is not in anyone’s best interest".

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Medical Aid for Greece - Garden Fundraiser Saturday July 29th 5pm

"What a strange device man is: you fill him with wine, fish and radishes and out come sighs, laughter and dreams"! (Nikos Kazantzakis)

Let us see what comes out when we fill a bunch of nice, caring and interesting people with all kinds of drinks and home cooked kebabs, dolmades, pastitsio, mediterranean salads and dips, ravani and what you prepared by Vicky, Vivianne, Emine (and her mum) and Isidoros.

Friends and fellow travellers,

It is this time of the year again and I promise you ... my garden will be ready on time.

All in a good cause. The Solidarity Clinics movement in Greece need as much as ever our little (but important, if for nothing else, as a demonstration of international solidarity) contribution. Every single penny we raise goes directly to buying medicines, vaccines and basic medical equipment for the community run solidarity clinics and pharmacies helping those who have no access to adequate medical facilities, including thousands of refugees. Not a penny goes to admin, expenses or anything else.

Please let me know how many tickets you want (or see booking details below).

81 Stapleton Hall Road N4 4EH

 You can book your tickets by emailingPayment by cheque in post or by Bank transfer.  We will tell people the exact address when they have booked.

Medical Aid for Greece

Garden Fundraiser
Saturday July 29th 5pm
Stroud Green/Finsbury Park
BBQ, kebabs, salads, home-made dips and side dishes and choice of vegetarian dishes
Tickets £20 waged £10 unwaged
Book your tickets NOW!

Cheques to ‘Medical Aid for Greece’ to Greece Solidarity Campaign, Housman’s Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX. Pay direct: to Medical Aid for Greece A/C 20307259  Sort Code 60-83-01

(I have a clash which is a shame since this will be a terrific event)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Council and school workers deserve a pay rise!

As a Councillor I was sent this motion by UNISON which I support and will send to our Council Labour Group, Newham School Governors and West Ham Labour Party Branch and General Committee.  

(Please note that workers in local government and schools, pay and other terms and conditions are determined by a negotiating body; the National Joint Council (NJC) for local government services)

Personally I think that all workers should have their pay decided by joint employer and employee wage councils.


This London Borough of Newham Council notes that: 

• NJC basic pay has fallen by 21% since 2010 in real terms 

• NJC workers had a three-year pay freeze from 2010-2012 

• Local terms and conditions of many NJC employees have also been cut, impacting on their overall earnings 

• NJC pay is the lowest in the public sector 

• Job evaluated pay structures are being squeezed and distorted by bottom loaded NJC pay settlements needed to reflect the increased National Living Wage and the Foundation Living Wage 

• There are growing equal and fair pay risks resulting from this situation 

This council therefore supports the NJC pay claim for 2018, submitted by UNISON, GMB and Unite on behalf of council and school workers and calls for the immediate end of public sector pay restraint. 

NJC pay cannot be allowed to fall further behind other parts of the public sector. This council also welcomes the joint review of the NJC pay spine to remedy the turbulence caused by bottom-loaded pay settlements. 

This council also notes the drastic ongoing cuts to local government funding and calls on the Government to provide additional funding to fund a decent pay rise for NJC employees and the pay spine review. 

This council therefore resolves to: 

• Call immediately on the LGA to make urgent representations to Government to fund the NJC claim and the pay spine review and notify us of their action in this regard 

• Write to the Prime Minister and Chancellor supporting the NJC pay claim and seeking additional funding to fund a decent pay rise and the pay spine review 

• Meet with local NJC union representatives to convey support for the pay claim and the pay spine review

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Anti Fascist/Anti Nazi Vigil: Remember V1 Rocket Attack Forest Gate - 27 July 1944

Thursday 27th July Forest Gate North Labour Party will be holding an Anti Fascist/Anti Nazi vigil to remember those 20 or so local residents killed by a V1 rocket on the 27th of July 1944.

Meet at The Holly Tree Pub 141 Dames Road , E7, corner with Pevensey Road at 6.30 p.m. There will be a short ceremony with flowers laid.

The V1 rocket was a direct hit on a trolley bus. We only know the names of four of the victims; they are:

Abraham Ince, aged 76
Gladys Blackman, aged 39
Wendy Blackman, aged 4
Edith Tilley, aged 41

We will remember those victims of Fascism,as well as those ,who against all odds, held out against fascism and stood for democracy.

I hope you can spare half an hour and attend this important local event.

Carel Buxton, Secretary Forest Gate North Labour

(check out report of atrocity at the Forest Gate History site "E7 Now & Then". Photo is of V1 rocket landing somewhere in London during World War 2)

Newham Labour Councillor Candidacy 2018

All Labour Party members in Newham, East London should have received a letter last week from the Labour Party encouraging those eligible to apply to stand as a candidate.

Quite rightly "Women, Black and Minority Ethnic members, Carers, people with disabilities, Council and social housing tenants and members 26 and under" are "particularly welcome".

To be a candidate you:-

Must live in Newham and be on the electoral register at the address where you hold your membership

Member of Labour Party before 1 January 2016 

Must be up-to-date with your member subscription

Cannot be legally disqualified e.g employee of Newham Council or be politically restricted

Must accept the standing orders of the Labour Group and the code of conduct

Will need to demonstrate a track record of campaigning for the Labour Party. 

To seek selection you need to fill out a form and then undergo an interview. If you pass that then you would have to selected by local Party members in a relevant ward. Sitting Councillors, such as myself, have to go through a similar process.

If you are interested and meet the eligibility then email the regional Labour Party on and ask for an application pack. This will need to be sent back by Monday 7 August.

Candidates who do not meet the track record of campaigning for the Labour Party will in my view have a real problem now with meeting this requirement.

I would strongly urge candidates who have never applied before to take advice from others on filling out the form and preparing for interviews. I and other existing Councillors will be more than happy to offer advice and support.

Finally, in the letters sent out about the process there has been some sort of an IT error and members told wrongly that they are in arrears or otherwise ineligible. Please check your eligibility and challenge if a mistake has been made.  

Good luck! 

All Black shortlists: UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2017

This post is the speech that Greater London delegate, Sanchia Alasia, had prepared but Forum ran out of time to hear. See also here the speech moving the motion by London delegate, Liz Baptiste, on behalf of UNISON National Black Members Committee.

"Forum, we celebrate the increase in Black, disabled and women MP’s in the Labour party in the recent general election. For parliament to be effective and face the many challenges that lie in the months and years ahead, it needs to have diverse representation and people from all walks of life. Parliament is stronger when it reflects the society that it seeks to represent.

However there is a BUT here. Research from the Runnymede Trust carried out shortly after this election shows that 52 BME MP’s were elected across the house – however changing demographics within society mean that the gap of BME MP’s reflecting society is now the same as it was 25 years ago.

So effectively what is happening is that in 1987 when the 1st BME MP’s were elected, Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng, there was a 35% gap as to reflect society parliament should have had 39 BME MP’s.

However now although we have 53 BME MP’s which is an increase on previous years, there now is a higher gap of 39%, as to reflect the current makeup of society parliament should actually have 91 BME MP’s. So a lot has been done but there is still a lot to do.

We have seen the dramatic effect of all women’s shortlists, however very few black candidates come through this process. It was also disappointing that in this recent election and I say this as a Black woman that given the over-representation of Black men in the mental health and prison systems, not a single candidate from our party was a Black (African/Caribbean) man. Black men need role models too.

So forum lets explore the options and work together to increase Black representation across public life".

Liz Baptiste moves Motion 21 on "All Black Shortlists" at UNISON National Labour Link Forum 17

Forum, Chair (Liz Baptiste) from National Black Members Committee moving motion 21

Forum this motion is seeking support to explore the feasibility of lobbying for all Black shortlists to address the under-representation of Black people in the political arena. We need only to look around the room to become aware of the lack of racial diversity that exists.

In June 1987 the first Black Labour MPs were elected, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz, and Diane Abbott as the first Black woman elected to Parliament.

However, the speed of progress has been very slow, It’s shameful that in 2017 our National Parliaments do not adequately reflect the diversity of our communities.

But now is the time to consider introducing all Black Shortlists in an attempt to increase diversity and representation in all UK Parliaments. In 1993 the Labour Party introduced a policy of all women shortlists to address the under representation of women in elected positions. This has had a clear impact for women, for example in Westminster, 45% of Labour Party MPs are women, compared to 21% conservative, likewise in Scotland the SNP has all women shortlists and 34% of their MPs are women. Although, all women shortlists have made it easier for women to be selected, but not for all women, because despite the shortlists – Black Women have not been recruited in significant numbers and the shortlist do not reflect all ethnicities.

We heard directly from Angela Rayner yesterday who was on an all-woman shortlist, and confirmed that all Women shortlists are an effective means of reducing barriers for women to stand as candidates in elections, so why not All Black Shortlists to achieve the same outcomes.

We have seen some small improvements from the last election in the number of diverse labour MP’s elected to parliament, Dave Prentis provided details yesterday, the number of Black MP’s has increased from 23 to 32, but this still remains persistently and disproportionately low and does not adequately represent our diverse communities.

Forum the NBMC understands how important it is having fair representation across the sector and to this end we welcome the action to work with the National Labour Link Forum to equalise this balance.

I move  and please support 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Brexit Motion (No.14) Sanchia Alasia speaks at National Labour Link Forum 17

This is a little late but this was an important and succinct contribution on this motion by Sanchia.

"Good morning, my name is Sanchia Alasia from the Greater London region, here to speak in support of motion 14

Forum, we need to keep a close eye on the Brexit negotiations, so that public services, equality and health and safety laws are not weakened during the process. 

What the Tories call red tape, we call vital health and safety protections, anti-discrimination laws, equality legislation, the charter for fundamental rights, the social chapter, protection for those on maternity and paternity leave and protection for many part time workers like me.

We need to ensure that these hard won rights, fought for by the Trade Unions are not weakened in any way. If we look for example at the details that have emerged so far regarding the offer to EU citizens living here, there is a lot of information missing and a lot more work to do to strengthen the offer. We cannot allow Theresa May to take us to the cliff edge with noting in tow.

Support the motion so we can get the details that we need to make informed decisions for the negotiations that lie ahead.

Let’s stay united, let’s come together, one UK, one community".

Friday, July 21, 2017

"Why Boris Johnson should not decide where we invest our pensions"

On Tuesday I spoke at a seminar on the Government's attempt to instruct Council pension funds that they can only invest in accordance to their political prejudices. 

"John Gray explains why pension funds should be invested in members' interests and not at the whim of the current foreign secretary.

Over five million people rely on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) to pay them a pension. So ensuring that the LGPS is invested in scheme members' interests, and not the interests of the current UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is of paramount importance.
That is why the recent victory by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in its judicial review of new government requirements to make LGPS funds follow the whims of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence is so important.
Since the government has publicly announced it will appeal this decision, it still remains a really important issue. And if the government can get away with directing public pension funds as to where they invest then this should also be of concern to all private pensions funds.
To be crystal clear, pension funds must be run in the interests of scheme members. But if these members indicate, for example, that they don't want their pensions to be invested in companies involved in the occupation of Palestine and in the abuse of Palestinian human rights then funds have a duty to respond.
Now, you need to have clear, democratic and open mechanisms about how you gauge such concern, but the overriding justification for this concern is not just about politics but about risk.
There is also a stack of evidence and guidance from the Law Commission and others that non-financial or ethical considerations can be the basis for action. Or even failure to consider these considerations could be a basis for legal action against pension trustees and advisers.
Companies with business interests, for example, in the occupied Palestinian territories are placing themselves at significant reputational, legal and regulatory risk. Risks that also affect investors and our pensions. Risks that the government highlights in its own overseas business guidance. A document that makes it clear the government does not encourage or offer support to business activity with the illegal settlements.
Where funds invest in these companies their statement of investment principles should explain how they will manage and minimise these risks. In this case I would hope that if companies realise they cannot reduce these risks they will cease any activities that give rise to them.
Where a company refuses to listen to its investors' concerns and continues to act in a manner that may even undermine international law, then of course divestment may be necessary as a last resort, but it is far better to get a company to change its business practices first.
However, let us be very honest, to have a successful engagement policy, you must have, at the end of the road, an effective stick as well as a carrot. If companies believe you will never actually disinvest then engagement will simply not work. The reputational damage and the possible increase in the cost of raising capital by disinvestment is key to getting companies to change behaviours.
When the government consulted on their proposed changes to the regulations, my union's branches (Unison) submitted hundreds of consultation responses, got almost 106,000 members to sign a government petition calling for a parliamentary debate on the LGPS, and worked with the opposition to challenge the changes.
So congratulations to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for fighting this injustice through the courts. The guidance has been withdrawn and there is unlikely to be an appeal hearing for at least 12 months due to court delay. In the meantime, all of us who believe that pension funds must be run in the interests of their beneficiaries and not politicians should join us in opposing the appeal.
John Gray is a trade union appointed representative on the Tower Hamlets Council Pension Board, writing in a personal capacity"