Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Day in the Life (of Newham Youth)

This is an excellent snapshot of a day in the life of young people in our borough.  Made by members of Newham Youth Council and introduced by film director Danny Boyle. Very professional looking production with sharp observations, some great shots of Newham and a thoughtful twist at the end.

Friday, June 29, 2012

UNISON to ballot on Local Government Pension Scheme

Key Facts About LGPS 2014 Proposals and LGPS Members

·                     90% of members will pay the same contributions as now

·                       Nearly All part-time workers and those earning between £15,801 and £21,000 will pay less in LGPS 2014

·                     Over 55% of local government workers work part-time

·                     Only those earning over £43,001 will pay more

·                     They make up just 4% of LGPS members

·                     95.6% members earn less than £43,000 - the point at which contributions increase

·                     The LGPS 2014 will deliver a better pension than LGPS 2008 for members until 20 – 25 years of membership

·                     But the average length of membership in the scheme is just 7 years, so most members will do better in LGPS 2014
·                     From 1 April 2014 the Normal Pension Age (NPA) will be linked to the State Pension Age – which is set to rise to 68 between 2044 and 2046

·                     But many members retire before 62, the increase in NPA will not stop this.

·                     Those who have to work longer will get a bigger pension because they will be paying contributions – and benefitting from employer contributions for longer

·                     Because all earnings will be pensionable – including non-contractual overtime and additional hours for part-time workers – members will have bigger pensions than now
·                      Most UNISON members not in the LGPS give cost and low pay as the reason.  The “50/50 option” will help them to join.

Recruit and Organise - You will soon receive a recruitment leaflet based on the LGPS 2014 proposals.  PLEASE USE IT!  Many low-paid and part-time members will be able to join the LGPS for the first time because of UNISON’s negotiations – and most members will pay no more for the same – or better pension.

This is a big achievement in the face of a hostile government which wanted to end defined benefit pensions, increase contributions and worsen benefits.

Let non-members know what UNISON has done and will continue to do for our members.

(based on UNISON LGPS Campaign news 20 which I have updated a little)

Consultation is taking place until July 11 - the ballot  starts 31 July and finish 24 August.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Effective working across the Labour movement "

(hat tip London Labour Party - members only) Saturday 7 July 10.30am- 4pm, Labour Party Head Office London 
Join us at Labour's new London HQ to learn how local Labour Parties are working with our Trade Union and Socialist Society partners to campaign and organise in new and innovative ways.

We will be joined by Helen Symons, National Campaigns and Communications Officer for the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO) as well as guests from the socialist societies. 

Sign up to:

Find out how to make contact with and buiild relationships with Trade Unions and Socialist Societies in your area

Learn about some great joint campaigns across the country, meet, share ideas and best practice with fellow Labour campaigners 

The training day starts at 10.30am and will finish by 4pm. Lunch will be provided and the cost for the day is £10.

To sign up click here.

(What a good idea to have this training. I hope it goes well.  I would have gone but will be at the UNISON Labour Link Forum at Cardiff that day)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

West Ham Labour Party AGM 2012

Tonight was the Annual General Meeting of West Ham Labour Party. The Party Rooms in Stratford were packed with delegates from all our wards, trade union affiliates and socialist societies.

Picture left (and congratulations) is of our new Chair, Charlene McLean, seen here promoting the TUC March in March last year.

The Party Rooms themselves were unrecognisable since they had been freshly painted and re-carpeted. We are hiring the rooms out to a local History society who will be using it as a special museum during the Olympics (I'll post full details another time).

I did ask the outgoing Chair, Conor McAuley, at the beginning of the AGM if I could tweet during the meeting and he said there is nothing he can do to stop people texting or tweeting what was going on. I've used these tweets to make this post.

Conor is stepping down as Chair because he felt after 6 years it was time to give someone younger (and skip a generation) the chance to take positions of responsibility in the local Party. He was given a vote of thanks and applause for his long service to the Party as Chair.

During reports we learnt that membership has increased by 128 since the last AGM. Also that during the last election we had delivered the Labour vote (alas not enough to elect Ken).

I will post full details on the elections when I have checked I have got everything right. I stepped down from Agent/ Campaigner Co-ordinator since I have completely over stretched myself and the poisoned chalice (a term that all agents from all parties will recognise) has passed to Gordon Miller! I am still a trade union rep on the General and Executive Committee (for my sins).

During AOB the Keir Hardie tour next week was plugged and the coming by election in Wanstead and Leyton. Afterwards, off to the Golden Grove pub for more politics and of course lots of gossip.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Keir Hardie 120th Election Anniversary as first Labour MP

Next Wednesday 4 July it is not only the anniversary of the only successful British Revolution, it is also the 120th anniversary of the election of the first ever Labour MP Keir Hardie. Who was elected as the MP for West Ham South on this day in 1892.

West Ham is in the London Borough of Newham the home of the 2012 Olympics.

To mark the anniversary, members of the modern day West Ham Labour Party and Newham TULO are organising a free walking commemoration tour around Stratford town centre.

Meet 7pm Wednesday 4 July 2012 outside the Old Town Hall, Broadway, Stratford, E15. Which of course was where the 1892 election count took place and it was from its open balcony overlooking the High Street that the result was read out to cheering crowds and Hardie made his first speech as a Labour Member of Parliament.

The tour will be very informal and will take around 90 minutes following which people will be the opportunity to go for an optional meal at Manus Indian Restaurant in nearby West Ham Lane. Or a beer (or Temperance soft drink) or two may be purchased at the King Eddies or one of the other historic pubs in the area.

PS We are still drawing up the itinerary - if you have any Labour Movement history sites to suggest we visit on route please let me know.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More reasons to shop at Morrisons? DB Pensions!

The Pensions press seem to be astonished that the supermarket giant Morrison's is still going to offer a defined benefit pension (DB) scheme to its staff when auto enrolling begins. Now the "cash balance" scheme they will be offering is not that great, but as "Professional Pensions" points out it has bucked the trend away from DB schemes and "runs contrary to the predominant theory that the decline of defined benefit provision spells doom for retirement incomes".

So well done to Morrison's who seem to be proving that they actually are a company that does pride itself on its business ethos. They obviously do not want their 115,000 employees to end their days dying in abject poverty.

Unlike their so called "ethical" rivals methinks?

Modern Defined Benefit Schemes are as valid and affordable now as they have ever been.

Minister wakes up to Pension "Nightmare...Killers"

I'm still catching up after last weeks UNISON Conference bubble only to read that Lib Dem Coalition Pension minister, Steve Webb, has finally woken to the completely nonsensical "mark to market" accounting standards which are (quote) "a complete nightmare" and "killer" for pension schemes.

Private sector defined benefit pension scheme value their liabilities  (how much they owe current and future pensioners) by using the yield of 15 year government gilts (bonds/loans). These yields are at a historic 200 year low due to the Euro crisis "flight to quality" and the governments quantitative easing policy.

"Mark to market" accounting is now completely ridiculous Some pension commentator's are scaremongering since they can make more money out of closing pension schemes rather than keeping them open and because of this some employers are panicking.

I hope indeed that Steve will "not stand idly by" and do something. I am not sure however that his coalition partner's have enough about them to stand up to huge vested interests who appear to be quite happy for decent pension schemes to continue to go to the wall.

Hat tip thingy TGLD

Newham Freedom of the Borough to G Company, 7th Battalion The Rifles

On Saturday morning I went to the London Borough of Newham presentation of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough to G Company, 7th Battalion The Rifles. G Company is our local Territorial Army Unit based in West Ham Park (in my ward).

The event started with the Regimental band "The Waterloo Band and Bugles" playing music in West Ham Recreational Park. Who went on to led the Company to the Old Town Hall in Stratford. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chair of Council and Major General Greg Smith then inspected the Company. This was followed by a march past outside the Town Hall along Stratford High Street. Finishing with a reception inside the Town Hall.

It was a very moving occasion. Soldiers from G Company have put themselves in harm's way in all the major conflicts of recent years. A number have recently served in Afghanistan and more are due to be sent out soon. Whatever you think about our involvement in these conflicts I would hope you would recognise the bravery and self sacrifice of the troops who are carrying out the wishes of our  elected government.

The local link with the Regiment can be traced back to the formation of The Rifle Rangers in 1859. 61 members of The Rifles have been killed in action in the last 5 years and many more wounded.

The Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, made it clear that the Borough was also honouring the families whose loved ones had been away on active duty or had suffered loss.

A special day. It was particularly satisfying to see all sections of Newham's diverse community coming together to respect and cheer their local regiment.

Update: Click on this Youtube video of the event here. You may even recognise someone tapping his fingers to the music (probably out of time)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

UNISON NDC 12: End of Conference

At 3.45pm on Friday the UNISON National Delegate conference begins to wind down with the traditional motion of thanks for our  President. Who this year was Eleanor Smith, a
NHS theatre nurse from Birmingham (see photo left).

The general idea is to gently tease the President with embarrassing reminisces and photographs from childhood.

Eleanor was in tears when her two daughter's spoke to conference about their Mum and how proud they are that she had been UNISON's first black President.

At the NEC meeting on Friday Morning Chris Tansley, a child care social worker, from Nottingham who did such a great job as Chair of the Local Government Conference debate on pensions, has been elected as the new president of UNISON together with Maureen le Marinel and Lucia McKeever as our vice presidents.

I don't think that you can really understand UNISON if you haven't witnessed the end of national conference. Anyway, roll on NDC 2013 which will take place I understand for the first time next June at the fair City of Liverpool!

UNISON NDC 12: What to do if your employer wants to close your pension scheme?

This picture is of me supporting the call for the TUC demo on October 20th was in the Friday morning edition of "London Calling" which is our regional conference new sheet. Next to it was this article I had written about:-  

"What to do if your employer wants to close your pension scheme?"

Tomorrow’s debate on the future of the traditional public sector pension scheme will be very important. But we must also remember the current threat to UNISON members in the Community and Private sectors.

Some employers have started consulting our members who work in Charities and housing association about getting rid of their pension schemes held with the Pension Trust and the Social Housing Pension fund. While the contractor Sodexo (which provides many privatised town hall and hospital services) is at this moment trying to close one of its defined benefit schemes.

If you are aware of any attempt to close your pension scheme you must get in touch with your branch ASAP. Do not believe the misinformation being put out about by some employers about how their pension fund deficits means they have no choice but to close. This is rubbish! In nearly all cases such “deficits” are completely artificial. Its "funny money". As everyone knows due to the recession the stock market is depressed and government bonds (which are used to measure such deficits) are at a 200 year historic low.

Most importantly, if you close your pension scheme it does not mean you get rid of the deficit. It is still there and could make things even worse since a closed pension fund has to sell its long term investments to raise cash to pay out existing pensions. 

I am writing a guide on what trustees and members should do if their employer tries to close your pension scheme. This should be out soon.

If the new look LGPS 2014 is accepted I hope it could become a model and beacon for all pensions schemes and lead to a rebirth of guaranteed defined benefit schemes - especially for the 60% of private sector workers who get no pension whatsoever from their employer".

UNISON NDC 12: Neville Lawrence addresses Conference

On Friday morning, Neville Lawrence, the father of murdered black teenager ,Stephen Lawrence gave a very moving speech to Conference about his family's quest for Justice. Neville and many delegates were openly tearful during his account
of what they had to go through (and still do).

Neville is opposed to the plans to privatise the Police service "he said: "I can tell you why it will be a disaster. If you privatise the police force, the government is no longer responsible. It won't be about crime any more, it will be about making money.

I had the privilege last week to meet and talk briefly to Mr Lawrence and to shake his hand. 

UNISON NDC 12: Branch Resources Review

If you are not a member of UNISON or a trade union then the chances are you are not going to be interested in this post. If you are a member of UNISON...then the chances are you are not going to be that interested either! Which is a shame because the future funding arrangement of our union is really important.

On Thursday evening I went to one of the two briefings on "Branch Resources Review" ably chaired by North West regional convener, Diane Kelly, together with my fellow NEC members Mike Hayes, Josie Bird and Elizabeth Cameron.  As well as Sotirios Loizou, Regional & Branch Development Officer and Steve Tasker, Director of Finance.

On average each UNISON branch receives back 23% of its members subscriptions. While the basic rate is 20% it varies due to geographical spread, reserves, whether you represent multi-employers or not and participate in our internal democracy (such as turning up to conference). The highest is 31% while the lowest is 17%.

UNISON has around 1000 branches and income of £170 million per year. This is a lot of money. There has been a growth in branch reserves from £33 million in 2002 to £55 million. However, most of these reserves earn an appalling rate of interest. Some £45 million of reserves only earns £58,000 (0.12%) interest per year. Which is just silly. UNISON estimates that if we invested these funds collectively (while ownership still remaining with branches) that we would earn at least £1 million extra per year!  Which to me is also a no brainier.

The review is also looking at encouraging branches (where it makes sense) to share resources and facilities with each other. Getting the money right is probably the most important thing the union can do. If we don't get this right then everything else we want to do is under threat.

As a former branch treasurer, current secretary and regional finance convener I thought the fringe went well but there were a few unhappy folk who seemed to me to carp and moan somewhat unnecessarily. Ironically they reminded me of a couple of tenant residents meetings  I've attended in the past where I was in the firing line because as you know - all council officers are useless, overpaid and forget who are paying their wages etc. Now I know people are worried about change but in a trade union setting I found such criticism to be honest - pretty off. Anyway, onwards and forwards.

UNISON NDC 12: Kicking the Far Right out of the Union

During the rules debate on Thursday afternoon I was really pleased that Conference finally agreed to change membership rules that will enable the union to expel existing members of far right political parties and refuse admission.

(It did help on this occasion that members of the People's Front of Judea finally showed enough gumption to publicly tell the Judean People's Front to stop their completely untruthful sectarian scaremongering and squabbling).

UNISON NDC 12: Defend the attacks on health and safety standards

On Thursday lunchtime I went to this fringe. UNISON National Health and Safety Committee Chair Nick Green chaired, John Bamford, Health and Safety Adviser, Greater Manchester Hazards Campaign spoke first. Followed by Robert Baughan, National Officer for Health and Safety.  Who is deputising for Hope Daley who is on a secondment.

During the fringe I made comments on some key points on Twitter again which I have used on this post. It saves making notes.

John started by arguing that there is "no evidence that health and safety is a burden to to business. Evidence instead that it is a benefit to business". "Today it the Longest day. We now have had 3 longest days since Cameron became Prime Minister and 700 long days to come".

"The "Brown Book" which contains the 1977 Safety Representative & Safety Committee regulations is the most powerful piece of worker legislation in existence". Regarding the new "Fit notes" for people off sick. John said that the only decent one he had seen was the one from a GP that said an employee can return to work "if the employer sacks the manager that is bullying him".

There has been a "1/3 cut in proactive safety inspection" by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Tories are now talking about "Getting rid of all safety protection for "low risk" self employed". The "Tories argue that work is not dangerous anymore! The TUC estimate 20,000 work related deaths per year. While Hazards believe that it may be as high as 50,000 deaths" 

Robert spoke about how we cannot rely on the HSE. Many of their officers are very good but it is fighting for its survival. In the Q&A I made the point that not only are cuts to the HSE making work more dangerous but that in my sector front line housing staff will take the blame for trying to deal with the cuts in Housing benefit as will other local authority staff dealing with the impact of government cuts. Check out the Inside Housing report here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lib Dem Sutton Council cuts Carers' wages by 40%

London UNISON press release:-
"Care staff lobbied London Borough of Sutton Council Adult Services Committee tonight (Tuesday19th June) and handed in a letter to the Committees chairman Councillor Colin Stears to highlight the plight of dedicated care staff

50 care workers looking after vulnerable London Borough of Sutton residents/clients with learning difficulties (previously known as mental handicap). employed by MCCH (a registered charity) are facing the prospect of a 40% cut in their pay, equivalent to £10,000 per annum, some of our qualified nurses face even larger pay cuts.

Many of the clients are ex-Orchard Hill (Carshalton) NHS patient/clients/residents who have been relocated into the community in 2008. The staff have cared for the residents/clients over many years and as former NHS employee have always taken pride in the quality of care they provide.

When Orchard Hill closed, as a NHS employee they were transferred to MCCH (a registered charity) under TUPE arrangements the staff were reassured these arrangements would protect our terms and conditions into the future. They also hoped the London Borough of Sutton would honor those arrangements after it took control of the contract from the NHS.

However, now the care the clients receive and the pay and condition of care staff are facing significant detrimental changes. UNISON understands that the London Borough of Sutton have notified MCCH that they intend to cut significantly the hourly rate they are willing to pay for care.

The Council officers have stated that the reason for the high level of cuts in funding, is due to Central Government ‘s reduction in Council funding, yet as recently as 14th June 2012 Government Ministers have stated that far from being cut extra resources were being made available for Adult Social Service.

The cuts are such, that the pay falls well below that agreed by the Mayor’s London Living Wage commitment of £8.30 and at £7.60 represents a significant cut in our hourly pay. Apart from the loss in pay, the care staff are also set to have cuts to our holiday leave entitlement, sick pay entitlement, London weighting and our pension for our retirement axed.  Those single mothers employed by the organisation face particular hardship and now face the prospect of losing their homes as a direct result of these proposals.

Michael Walker UNISON Regional Officer states "The experience of cuts of this magnitude elsewhere in care services has led to the loss of dedicated staff who the clients know and trust, problems recruiting quality staff and high turnover of staff.  "The situation is very grave for the is group of long serving and dedicated care staff, UNISON is not going to stand ideally by and watch a spiral of pay cuts to develop in the care sector"

"We urge the London Borough of Sutton to reopen discussions with UNISON and the MCCH to resolve this intolerable and devastating proposal".  Kim Brown UNISON Steward at MCCH states  "The care staff are truly shocked at the level of pay cuts they are being expected to accept and have no idea how they will be able to pay their bills.

"Some long serving staff are informing UNISON that the cuts in pay are so severe that their take home pay is equivalent to that they were paid 10 years ago, in 2002, Other staff are informing us that their own sons and daughters are earning more at local supermarkets"

NOTE: Paul Burstow MP is the local MP for Sutton and is the Governments Community Care Minister. London borough of Sutton is a Liberal Democratic Controlled Council

UNISON NDC 12: Elder Abuse motion

Conference, President, Joel Bodmer housing association branch Supporting motion 83 Elder Abuse.

It has often been said that you can judge a civilisation not by its wealth, standing or privilege but on how it treats it’s most vulnerable.

The later years in one’s life should be a time for reflection and enjoyment, an opportunity to spend time doing those things people never had change to do in chance to do in younger life. After years of hard work , contribution and service to our society. The very least people should expect is that their basic human rights are protected.

That they are afforded the existence so many of us take for granted, a life free from physical or sexual assault, a life free from psychological abuse, or financial exploitation.  But for thousands and thousands of older people this is not the case, trapped in an existence of fear, shame and misery.

Conference, the commendable Elder abuse campaign run by our retired members, comes at a time when services for older people are under assault.Day centre closure after closure, cuts to community’s services relied upon by older people, cuts to care services, and cuts to terms and conditions of care workers. Whilst the population continues to age and need for services increases. 
It is now more pressing than ever that this issue needs to be highlighted, a concerted fight to eradicate the abuse of older people, and restore dignity to the lives some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

This motion commits us to take a firm policy viewpoint on changing the law to ensure there is specific legislation to protect older people from abuse. As well as more broadly campaigning and highlighting the issues.

Conference, please support this motion.

(sign the UNISON e-government petition on Elder abuse here)

UNISON NDC 12: Paul Kenny TUC President and GMB General Secretary

Paul gave a humorous and barnstorming speech referring to the "risk" he was taking appearing with a "UNISON rope around my neck" (UNISON lanyard which held his ID pass) was a good start.

Relations with GMB and UNISON have not always been sweetness and light at times.

I did like this comment :- "He spoke of his pride in being a trade unionist.”Outsiders don't understand us - politicians, bankers, the media - because we don't match up with their values. We don't do what we do for money - we do it because we care."

UNISON NDC 12: Income Inequality

Gloria Hanson, Regional Delegate and Regional Convenor for the Greater London Region, moving composite E – Income Inequality.

UNISON has a tremendous track record in fighting inequality. But there is one form we seem to have stopped talking about. Income inequality. Wealth discrimination. As my mum would say – the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

I know I don’t need to tell you this.  But it’s time to go back to basics. To expose the ever increasing gulf between rich and poor.

Today the richest 10%of the UK population own more than 100 times the wealth of the bottom 10%. What an absolute disgrace .
This is the biggest gap in wealth since the Second World War. What’s even more frightening is that the gap is becoming a gulf.

At work, income inequality causes low staff morale; resentment and mistrust from clients, residents and services users alike – where the ordinary worker earns chicken feed in comparison to the chief executive. Even ‘not for profit’ organisations are jumping on the bandwagon - paying huge salaries to senior managers and slashing pay and terms & conditions of those of us who actually provide services and do the job.‘not for profit’ organisations are jumping on the bandwagon - paying huge salaries to senior managers and slashing pay and terms & conditions of those of us who actually provide services and do the job.
The book "the spirit level" has shown a clear link between income inequality, health and social problems. If you haven’t read it –do; you won’t regret it. It proves that the smaller the gap between rich and poor, the more successful the society is. If we reduce levels of income inequality in the UK we could increase life expectancy, decrease infant mortality rates, reduce crime and achieve better education attainment for our children.

Countries where the gap between the top and bottom earners is almost non-existent like Cuba; prove it -    improved mortality rates; quality free healthcare for all; quality free healthcare for all; lowest crime rates in all of Latin America; lowest crime rates in all of Latin America; 99.8 percent literacy rate.  They’ve got it right; all workers sharing the wealth of the country

But back to - ‘we’re all in this together Britain’. I’d like to know exactly WHO is in WHAT together;

The Tories are so divorced from reality. A reality where bankers – who we all know caused the financial crisis - are once again earning bonuses of millions of pounds each year. Whilst ordinary workers are still barely earning the minimum wage.  Having to do two or three jobs to put food on the table and simply pay soaring bills.

This Tory government is robbing the poor to stuff the bank accounts of the rich. Cameron; Clegg and Osborne are no Robin Hood or merry men; and I certainly don’t want to see them in green tights!
The Government isn’t listening; it’s blithely continuing with its agenda. So what is the answer?

Let’s go back to why trade unions were formed in the first place, why we formed the labour party over 100 years ago campaign for workers and the working class.  We need to remember our roots and lead the way in the fight for a fair and just society. Work with other like minded organisations; campaign for laws to ensure income regulation in the public sector.

In the London region we have affiliated to the Equality Trust; and will work with them to raise this issue with our members and keep them informed of the facts. We must elect politicians with enough bottle to tackle this; to work with us to win a society where workers earn what they are due and not a pittance because the rest is in the pockets of the fat cats; chiefs and bosses
As a mother I want a better future for my children and for their children.  As a life-long Labour party member; I want Labour to be brave politicians who will grasp this nettle and return Britain to the workers.

As a trade unionist, I want my union to work within the Labour Party to campaign for this policy to make Britain a fairer place to live and work.  Workers across Britain know what’s wrong; but they don’t know how to fix it – we need to lead the way.

Conference – I move

UNISON NDC 12: Labour Link fringe

On Wednesday lunchtime there was an informal fringe of UNISON Labour Link branch officers. Labour Link National Committee Chair Steve Warwick (left) and National Officer Keith Birch.

There was a wide range of Q&A's. One point that Steve was clear that the Party is going to have to listen to UNISON about pay in the public sector and end the freeze. 

I made a plug for the London motion on Income Inequality (I'll post on this later) which I think is a natural fit for unions and the Party. National Labour Link forum next month.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

UNISON NDC 12: Housing - Composite G

This is my speech that I gave yesterday during the Housing debate on behalf of the NEC.  "Vice President, Conference, John Gray, Community NEC member speaking in support of Composite G

Housing is a huge issue for UNISON, for our members, their families and communities. Yes, we have tens of thousands of members who like I, work in housing. But of course we all rely on housing for shelter, security and warmth.

But if you talk to any UNISON member, whether they work in housing or not, you will get a clear sense that something indeed is rotten with the state of housing in the UK. Even if you personally do have a home, we will all know someone who is struggling to find somewhere suitable and affordable to live.

The housing voice enquiry, led by UNISON, into the affordable housing crisis highlighted what the problems are.  The average number of new homes being built in the UK every year is at least 100,000 below what is needed. This growing failure of supply to meet demand is pushing housing costs up at the very same time our incomes are being hit.

In this context the housing options open to people on low to middle incomes have frankly been decimated.  In the year 2000 - households needed to save 16 per cent of their income for a deposit on a house. By 2009, post banker’s crisis, this had gone up 4 fold to 64 per cent.  The number of families on the waiting list is now 1.8 million. At the same time this Tory coalition government remains hell bent on cutting the money available for building new homes.

So a grim picture indeed conference and it gets even worse because it is the private rented sector where our members, will find themselves. Two startling facts from the UNISON member survey from last year.

One - that a third of our members have grown up children living at home with them 
Two - that there are now twice as any members living in the private rented sector as in the social rented sector.

The private rented sector of course does serve a purpose. It works for some people. But it’s also the sector with:

· the highest number of unfit properties
· people face the most insecure tenancies and the most unpredictable rent rises
· Rachman rip-off merchants, be they letting agents charging mysterious administration fees or dodgy landlords withholding deposits or not doing repairs.

The composite sets out a comprehensive programme of campaign work – all of it is valid, and will help us campaign for decent homes for all. Importantly it will also commit the union to campaigning for better regulations in the private rented sector.

The reality is that whilst we will campaign for more social housing, more of our members, their friends and family are finding themselves in the private rented sector. And they desperately need our help, our protection. Conference, please support this composite".

UNISON NDC 12: TUPE - Dealing with the challenge of privatisation and austerity cuts

On Tuesday evening there was a fringe  event on TUPE. Speakers were Dave Johnson, UNISON head of private contractors and community and Shantha David, Legal Officer, UNISON Centre and the meeting was chaired by AGS Karen Jennings.  Who was pleased that so many delegates were not tempted by the free Rum being offered at the Cuba Solidarity event next door.

Some key points:- TUPE is all about preserving existing rights not create new rights. It should apply if the "undertaking" continued and retained its economic identity after transfer. Unions can take legal action over Unfair dismissal, unlawful deduction of wages or failure to inform and consult.  If you refuse to transfer you will only be able to prove unfair dismissal if you can prove that you face a significant deterrent after transfer. Which is difficult to prove.

Any post transfer variation to pay would be void if carried out for reason of harmonisation with other workers. Vital to have a clear "paper trail"to prove any failure to inform and consult. Dave Johnson shared some interesting advice about what to do with employers who try and use "Austerity" as a justification for breaking TUPE protection (an Economic, Technical or Organisational reason) which I will not post upon but members can get advice from their branches and region.

UNISON will be publishing updated advice on TUPE and procurement soon. We need to improve TUPE especially over consultation before transfer. Work with the Labour Party to change TUPE when they are next in power.

In the Q&A that took place afterwards there were many "horror" stories about what some employers are planning or have done. UNISON members are very worried by these attacks as well as the complexity and uncertainty of TUPE.

(NB this post based on my twitter feed)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

UNISON NDC 12: Dave Prentis Speech

Picture was taken from my table during UNISON General Secretary's speech to our national conference yesterday afternoon.

Check out link to Dave's speech hear

UNISON NDC 12: "Supporting organising on the ground"

Tuesday lunchtime I went to my first Conference "fringe".  Sue Highton  (NEC) was chair.  I was late so I missed the contribution from Graeme Horne, Branch Secretary, Birmingham LG.

However, I did listen to the branch organisers Louise Hoare and Lewis Carson who were employed via the UNISON fighting fund to recruit and organise in social care nursing homes. 

Many employers in the sector are either obstructive or even anti-trade union. They have had to resort to "cold calling" and leafleting outside workplaces. Yet they have recruited members and potential activists.  It is vital they support members to become activists or any recruitment will not prove sustainable.  A £10 "recruit a friend or colleague" prize proved successful.

Greg Thomson, Head of Strategic Organisers, UNISON introduced the new UNISON mobile phone app.  He was at pains to say that this is not a "new organiser" but there to support organisers. You can sign up members "on line". Diana Veitch, National Development Officer, UNISON explained that there will be 11 areas in the app. Three main aims is that it will enable mapping of members, be dynamic, efficient and future proof.

Roger McKenzie, AGS for Organising finished the seminar by saying what many members want from the union is a "superhero" to help them. What we need to do is to empower members to realise that they are the real "superheros". We do need to move away from a servicing model to organising model with a supportive servicing element.

Roger made it clear that there is no high tech substitute to talking to people but what we want to open is many gateways as possible. We do need to establish a new "2 way" relationship with our members. We need to look at the things we do differently.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

UNISON Housing Association Branch blog NDC 2012

The branch delegation have their own blog on this year's conference here.

The UNISON Housing Associaiton (Greater London region) web site is here.


I took this picture this morning on route to the UNISON National Delegate Conference in Bournemouth. This is my first conference as a member of UNISON’s National Executive Committee. So it feels very strange to be on the “platform” and not part of the branch or regional delegation.  
At 8.30am we had a brief NEC meeting on conference housekeeping. Then I went to meet my branch (Housing Association) delegation before the conference started at 10am.
The President, NHS theatre nurse, Eleanor Smith opened conference. First was the usual formal reports and Financial Statement. Followed by motions. The first was an excellent debate on Health and Safety. 
There is a live blog at the UNISON website here and even a Live Stream. Twitter hash tag #undc12
I’ll try and post on key debates and fringes as and when.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ford Workers strike to save pension scheme

Check out the Unite web site for details of the strike today by 2500 "white collar “workers to save their Final Salary scheme from being closed down to new entrants. The strikers are naturally worried that if Ford closes the scheme to new workers joining then it will mean that eventually the company will close the whole scheme to future accrual.

This fear is justified. It is unclear from reports why Ford is doing this apart from a claim that it is "unaffordable".  I assume they mean the deficit. Closing to scheme to new blood is one of the worse things you can do. It will do nothing to get rid of the deficit. It will be more expensive and just make things worse.

The deficit will remain and will have to be paid off eventually. But with the scheme becoming more and more "mature" (fewer and older workers) then the fund will have to be invested in low yielding assets such as cash and bonds and less in equities.  So the investment return in the long run will be less and the company will have to put more money into the scheme.

Ford is also planning to cut the pay of new entrants as well. Not good news for East London. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Karl Marx MasterCard

"The German bank Sparkasse Chemnitz recently launched a Karl Marx credit card. The bank let people vote online for 10 different images, and Marx was the "very clear winner," beating out a palace, a castle and a racetrack, among others.
Reuters has more on the story".

Link here and Hat tip Normblog

(The old RCP would have been first in line).

Members (not Miserablists) to decide on pensions

Today the annual conference for UNISON members who work in Local Government opened in Bournemouth.

I no longer work in Local Government so this year I was not present but I will be down for the UNISON National Delegate Conference on Tuesday as the NEC member for Community.

However, as a long standing member of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) I was very pleased to hear that the Local Government conference today rejected calls to oppose the new proposed LGPS 2014 and it will now go out to consultation to all members.

Check my post here on "The new LGPS 2014 (and the old Miserablists)".

I did follow some of the debate via twitter on #ulgc12 and #undc12 and apart from the usual silly trolls I was surprised to see how some delegates who lost the vote and therefore disagreed with the democratic decision reacted by attacking their own union for being "cowardly"? Which does make me really wonder why they want to remain a member of an union they publicly attack in such abusive terms? Very strange?

Now the chief miserablists are attacking the union because they disagreed with the Chair of the Conference for not calling a "Card vote" on a motion. Which is different.  I admit that I was not there today but everyone I have contacted about the vote say that the decision by Conference (although close) was clear and a card vote should not have taken place. So I assume it is sour grapes as per usual by the miserablists.

One further point. I note that some of the miserablists, while complaining that they did not win the day, said never mind there was plenty of time to rubbish the new scheme to members before there is a new ballot? 

Hmmm? Do these people actually realise how important pensions are to ordinary working people? I may be wrong but I think that it is probable that the LGPS 2014 will be accepted. Now I think that would be a good decision and it the right of others to disagree. But what these others should be conscious of is that we have already the worse uptake of membership in the LGPS of any of the public sector schemes. Now, you might think that the scheme could be better but if you start rubbishing it and you get one member not join or leave the scheme as a consequence and die in absolute poverty then shame on you.

With pension auto-enrolling later this year and next we have an once in a life time opportunity to organise, recruit and persuade members to join a decent pension scheme. No matter what your views are of LGPS 2014 - don't attack it as a "bad" or "rubbish" scheme.  You think it could be better, which is an entirely different issue. Once this ballot is over (one way or another) we will all have a job of work to do to get our members to remain and join the scheme.

(picture above of some of those who should be deciding the future of the scheme by a secret ballot).

update: Check out UNISONactive take on yesterday

Saturday, June 16, 2012

average FTSE 100 CEO saw their pay increase 12% to an average of £4.8m:

"It is important to remember why “radical reform” is urgently necessary. On Tuesday, it was reported that the average FTSE 100 CEO saw their pay increase 12% to an average of £4.8m: approximately 200 times average private sector pay. By contrast, disposable incomes for the rest of us are set to fall for the third year running (pdf)". hat tip

The new LGPS 2014 (and the old Miserablists)

On Wednesday I went to a presentation/Q&A by UNISON to London Region on the proposed new Local Government Pension Scheme 2014. It was on the whole a fairly good humoured and constructive meeting.

I think that the points that struck home with the audience was that 90% of scheme members will pay the same in the new scheme (or less). Only the very high paid will pay more (and they will be gain by higher rate tax relief)

Members within 10 years of retirement will be fully protected (so-called Grandparent Rights).

It will be a fairer, non-discriminatory scheme.  It will improve the build up of benefits for everyone but in particular will mean a better pension for low paid women workers who have average service who will pay less and gain more (70% of our members are women).

There will be a new temporary 50% cut in the cost of staying in the pension scheme (with a corresponding cut in benefits). This will help stop members leaving when they have temporary financial problems. One of my top stewards recently admitted she had to leave the scheme to pay for childcare. Something she had always regretted.

More room for flexible retirement age (still from age 55). I cannot count the number of members I have met who want to "downsize" when they get older and take less stressful roles but cannot under the present scheme since if they if they do so towards the end of their career their final pension will be massively cut.

Workers who depend on non contractual overtime and other earnings will finally be able to protect their full income when they retire.

While the preservation (against huge opposition) and extension of “Fair deal” will protect workers who face or have been out sourced. They will be able to keep their pensions! This is a significant improvement. Which nobody who really cares about the future of working people should put at risk.

The scheme is different and complex but not impossible to understand. There were a number of good questions and points made in the Q&A (even by some of the usual suspects). Yet the miserablists were also present. Barracking, muttering, carping, misrepresenting and scaremongering. Making grossly inaccurate statements and indulging in self important grand standing.

I made the point that as a member of the LGPS for 19 years I was pleased that we now finally have the prospect of a truly long term affordable and sustainable pension scheme. The LGPS 2014 is a world class guaranteed scheme. Which we should now be arguing that all employers, private and public, should either join the scheme if eligible (and many will be) or use as a benchmark to set up a similar scheme to give their workers decent pensions.

To illustrate the value of the scheme I pointed out that where I work those UNISON members who have no access to the LGPS and have to pay into a non guaranteed personal pension scheme would have to save over their career, a saving pot of £300,000 to get a similar £10,000 per year pension. This savings pot would also potentially go up and down due to the vagaries of the stock market. So who knows what you will retire on.

The current average lifelong personal pension saving pot is £32,000. Do the maths.

Everyone is perfectly entitled (and expected) to query and challenge. I can understand those who say that they don't yet understand all what is being proposed yet or even those who genuinely think that we did have the bargaining power to get an even better deal.

I am forced to conclude that the miserablists however don’t give the proverbial about what are the best interests for members. They are driven by their ultra left sectarianism. Nothing would satisfy them. As a longstanding pension activist I can say with certainly that they had no interest whatsoever in pensions before they saw the opportunity to "strike chase" on the backs of ordinary workers. They are extremists who want to hijack the dispute to indulge in their toy town gesture politics.

Ironically it is the Tory right who are spitting the most blood and crying "betrayal" at our deal.
This week I came across, let us say, a "leading opponent" of public sector DB pensions. Who told me that the Government had "surrendered" to the unions. When I told him that there was some opposition to the proposals, he was genuinely shocked and said "don't they really realise how good it is"? I said yes most of them do, but they pretend otherwise.

UNISON has been clear from the beginning that once we have a final offer then it will be put to the members to decide in a secret ballot.

Let us also make clear that LGPS 2014 is potentially a bloody good deal won by our negotiators and our collective action. A perfect deal? No deal is ever perfect but this is really as good as it gets.

But the members should decide.

(Youtube video of leading lights of UNISON united left HotAir guitarists plotting world domination)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Doreen Lawrence on "Desert Island Discs"

This morning I was driving to a hearing in Kent listening to Radio 4. Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence was this week's "Castaway" guest .

I challenge anyone with a ounce of humanity in their soul to listen to this interview and the music played without a tear (or many) in their eyes.

This was perhaps not the best preparation for a wannabee rufftie tuftie union rep who should have been psyching himself up to take on management in a collective hearing over vital TUPE protection.

But thinking about it now perhaps it was.

Listen to here to the programme.

AMNT open meeting to members next Tuesday June 20

Association of Member Nominated Trustees. There is an open meeting of the AMNT next Tuesday 20 June at AXA Investment Managers’ London offices, 7 Newgate Street. London. Starting 1.30pm (sandwich lunch beforehand) and finishes 5.30pm (followed by drink and nibbles).
AMNT member and chief executive of Fair Pensions Catherine Howarth will give a presentation into the ‘Shareholder Spring’ and what it means for trustees.

Jonathan Bull of OPDU will also give a talk on the types of insurance available to trustees and what MNTs can to do to limit their own personal risk.

Followed by a report from the AMNT committee and breakout sessions on member concerns.

I have drafted a paper for the AMNT on "what to do if your employer wants to close your Defined Benefit Scheme". Which may be discussed either this meeting or the next. I'm at the UNISON conference next Tuesday so can't make it.

Find out more about the AMNT and join here. Email to apply if you want to attend.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tower Hamlets Pension Committee 14 June 2012

I'm back this evening from the Pension Committee meeting at the Town Hall, Mulberry Place which started at 7.30pm. The usual Pension Investment Panel beforehand had been postponed. I met the new Committee Chair, Councillor Zenith Rahman for the first time, introduced by Councillor Abdal Ullah.

The pension fund performance in the last year has been slightly below benchmark for the 3 months and the year, but for 3 and 5 years has been over the benchmark.

The fund value is currently £830.8 million (up by £35.7 million) over the quarter.  The fund currently has 8 different fund managers. I did ask a question about how we make sure that the Absolute Return manager, Ruffer Total Return Fund, complied with our Statement of Investment Principles. I was assured that the investment panel monitors their compliance. I have must admit that Ruffer is a relatively new manager and I have missed a few of the last meetings due to clashes. I need to check on the Baillie Gifford Absolute Return fund as well.

In response to concern about the performance of certain fund managers I offered the thought that while I believe it is our role to make the highly paid managers of our funds are fully accountable for their performance (and beat them up from time to time if they under perform) we should be mindful that we are here for the long term and we should not pay too much attention to short term swings.

I can't believe that I have been a member of the Tower Hamlets pension scheme since 1993 and sat on the Investment panel since 1996! How time flies when you are enjoying yourself etc etc.

The Pension Committee meetings of your local administrating authority is open to the public although there may be closed parts of the meeting if there is sensitive and confidential information being discussed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Asbestos Legal Update: London Regional Health & Safety Committee

Picture of Thompson's personal injury solicitor, Ann-Marie Christie, with London UNISON health and safety network members.

Yesterday lunchtime she gave an update to the Regional Health & Safety committee and branch officers network on the latest legal developments. 

The good news was that there was finally justice for many victims of the deadly asbestos cancer Mesothelioma following the recent ruling by the Supreme Court against 6 rogue insurance companies (the so called "trigger issue"). Who for the past 6 years had tried to get out of paying compensation by arguing that they should not pay out when the company they insured actually fatally exposed their workers to asbestos only when the cancerous symptoms developed. Since this was often decades later when the insurance policies were expired this of course would have meant that many of the 2,500 people per year who get Mesthelioma would receive nothing.

While this is indeed a victory (by the trade unions who funded the appeal) it is too late for all those who have died in the meanwhile since 2006.  Their families may now finally get recompense.

No such good news on the battle for Pleural Plaques compensation nor for a bureau to register the insurance policies for companies that have now gone bust. The TUC estimate that at least 5,000 people die every year from asbestos related conditions and that 1 in every 100 men born in the 1940's will also die prematurely from these conditions. The majority of asbestos imported into this country took place from 1955 to 1980.

The movie actor, Steve McQueen, died from Mesothelioma. Not because he was a racing driver who wore fire retardant overalls which contained asbestos, as I had read, but because he had worked in ship engine rooms and ship yards before he become famous. 

Update: I forgot to mention that I thanked Thompson's at the meeting for a £60k settlement they won for a member of my branch who suffered a nasty accident at work. Ann-Marie stressed the importance of taking pictures of the accident scene as soon as is possible.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

WPP: Have your say on High Pay

(better late than never) "Dear John,

You might not have heard of WPP but you’ll have seen what they do. They are the world’s largest advertising group, producing adverts for companies like Nike, Heineken and Coca Cola.

On Wednesday, at its annual meeting of shareholders, WPP will put its CEO’s pay package to the vote. That pay package gives WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell:
  • Total pay of £29 million
  • A 60% pay rise
  • An increase in his potential bonus from 300% to 500% of his salary

In 48 hours FairPensions will be at WPP's meeting in Dublin*. It’s time to tell overpaying companies, starting with WPP, that enough is enough. We're asking supporters to add their names to a petition that we're going to present to the WPP board.

Sign the petition and we'll take your voice with us to the meeting in demanding WPP change their pay practices.

We want to send a clear message to WPP and other excessively paid FTSE 100 CEOs telling them that the days of spiralling executive pay are over. We've only got 48 hours until the WPP AGM so please do share this action with friends and colleagues.

Thanks for your support

Matthew, FairPensions

*WPP moved to Dublin in 2008 to take advantage of lower corporation tax rates than in the UK. For more information on WPP and why we're targeting them click here: "