Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why its never that boring being "on the knocker" for Labour.

Picture is from last weekend's Plaistow North ward "Super Sunday" Labour door knock with our West Ham MP Lyn Brown, which which went really well. UNISON members James Beckles (2nd from left) and Forhad Hussain (2nd from right) are both candidates. The 3rd Labour Candidate, Joy Laguda is also a UNISON member.  Joy had to attend a funeral and was unable to attend. All 3 candidates work or have worked for the NHS. 

Tonight I am just back from being out in West Ham Ward. It was a warm and sunny evening.  It too went really well but just a little too perfect. There was a fantastic "Labour promise" response rate. Household after household said they would vote for us. We had mums bringing out their cute young children out to meet the candidates.

I had a detailed and interesting explanation of democratic Polish politics since the Solidarity strikes and the fall of the Communist State.

Excited first time voters who were delighted we had come to see them and who couldn't wait for 22 May and the opportunity to vote Labour. 

A woman very angry with this Tory led government who she blames for being made redundant and being now only able to find insecure part time work.

An unsubstantiated (but very specific) allegation of political and contractor corruption across the other side of the River Lea.

I also had one man in his 30's who admitted that he has never voted, agree that it was about time he participated and promised to do so this time (for Labour).

I knew it was too good to last. Towards the end of the session the law of averages re-established itself.

I came across a very unpleasant racist who scorned Labour because of all "these dirty foreigners". There was a short and sharp exchange with resulted with the front door being slammed shut very loudly in my face and me marking the address on our list as "Against".

Apart from that - it was a good evening.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pearson PLC AGM question on "gag orders"

Last Friday lunchtime I went to the Pearson PLC Annual General Meeting in central London. Pearson is a FT100 British multinational publishing and education company. It also owns Penguin Books and the Financial Times.

I was there as a UNISON staff pension fund trustee and share owner representative. This is the question that I asked the Pearson Chair and the Board.

"Earlier this month, a New York City City school principal named Elizabeth Phillips wrote an opinion piece for "The New York Times", outlining her concerns about a recent Pearson-developed standardized test. Phillips was not able to comment about specific deficiencies with the test, due to a contractual “gag order” imposed on teachers and administrators.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, recently addressed her concerns about these “gag orders” to the board. In her letter, President Weingarten raises concerns that “Gag orders and the lack of transparency are fueling the growing distrust and backlash among parents, students and educators in the United States about whether the current testing protocols and testing fixation is in the best interest of children.” President Weingarten asked that Pearson cease using these prohibitive clauses in their testing contracts.

QUESTIONs: Given that the North American market is Pearson's largest, don't you think that this could harm our companies performance?

Will the board respond to accusations, raised by the American Federation of Teachers, about Pearson's use of “gag orders” in their standardized testing contracts"?

In response, the Chief Executive John Fallon seemed to suggest that Pearson was not to blame for the "gag orders". I had with me two guests from the American Federation of Teachers, Bradford Murray and Dan Pedrotty. They certainly did not seem to agree with his analysis, however they were reassured by his firm commitment to engage with the American Teaching unions on this matter (and on other issues with the British unions). I know after the AGM there was a constructive discussion with Bradford and the CEO.  Further meetings are planned.

Many thanks to our UNISON Capital stewardship maestro Colin Meech and our Staff pension fund administration team for sorting out all the AGM entry arrangements.

"Remember the dead, fight for the living" WMD 2014

Workers memorial day which took place yesterday is not just about remembering and honouring those who are dead.

It is also a campaigning day on health & safety to make sure that that we fight for the living.

Picture of Community Service Group Housing UNISON members from Mole Valley District Council branch in Surrey marking the campaigning side of Workers Memorial Day.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Workers' Memorial Day (and stop the Slaughter in Qatar)

Every year on the 28 April it is International Workers' Memorial Day (WMD). A trade union led day of remembrance for those killed at work or who have died of industrial injuries or diseases. Some 50,000 British workers still die every year prematurely due to their work.

It is also a campaigning day for those currently in work and to try and ensure they are safe. I will be wearing my WMD purple 'forget-me-not' ribbon and hope to attend an event later today.

The WMD theme this year is 'Protecting workers around the world through strong regulation, enforcement and union rights'.   I would suggest that you ask all political candidates in the forthcoming Council and European elections - are they in favour of this theme? Then vote accordingly.

See Hazards website for details of UK events.

Last week marked the 1st anniversary of the disaster at Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh which killed over 1100 workers. Remember also the estimated 400 workers dead so far in Qatar building the football stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. At the present rate 4000 workers will be dead by then.

While construction deaths in this country are still at a unacceptable level, thanks to regulation and trade unions, not a single worker died in the UK during the building of the 2012 Olympics.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tower Hamlets UNISON Labour Link Mobilisation House of Commons 2014

Collage from last weeks UNISON London Labour Link Tower Hamlets mobilisation reception in the House of Commons (click on picture to bring up detail).

This reception was for UNISON members who live in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets who have volunteered to pay the Labour Party political levy.  I was there as Chair of London Labour Link.

It is an opportunity for rank and file union members and their guests to meet Labour Party politicians to let them know what they think about issues important to them and for us to encourage them to get involved in the Party and campaign for Labour (and union values within it).

The guest speaker was Labour MP for Tooting and Shadow minister for London, Sadiq Khan, who is the son of a London bus driver and a good friend of UNISON. He and I briefly swooped horror stories on our London marathon adventures (he finished his 2nd marathon this year after 4 hours 19 minutes).

Labour Candidate for Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs, also gave a well received speech about the vital importance of making sure the next elected Mayor of the borough is outward not inward looking. I have worked in Tower Hamlets for nearly 25 years and known John for many of them and while we have not always agreed on everything (who does?) I think he will make an excellent Labour Mayor

We also had Sanchia Alaisa speak, who is a London Labour Link Committee member and a Labour Candidate to be one of our Members of the European Parliament next month. Sanchia stressed how workers have benefited from our membership of the EU and if we leave,  TUPE protection, maternity rights, holiday pay, health & safety and protection for agency workers will be risk.

I think these events are really important to connect our Labour representatives with their core vote, who were not at all shy about letting them know their views and who many have also volunteered to fight the good fight for Labour in Tower Hamlets during the next crucial few weeks. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Standing as a Labour Candidate for West Ham Ward, Newham Council 2014

My nomination papers were accepted last week and I am now again a Councillor candidate for West Ham Ward in London Borough of Newham. Standing with my good comrades Freda Bourne and John Whitworth.

I am very proud and honoured to have been shortlisted and reselected (for the second time) by West Ham Ward Labour Party.

Today (Saturday) I was out "on the knocker" with fellow candidates and ward activists in the morning and afternoon.

There is definitely a different feel to campaigning during an actual election when compared to our normal regular street surgeries. When we speak to electors they tend to be more assertive about their issues and problems which they want us to be aware of and to deal with.

It is humbling the support that the Labour Party gets in this traditional heartland. Now not exactly everyone shares this view but the majority identify with us and many actually say "Labour is our Party". This is a huge responsibility for all of us to do right thing by their loyalty. 

I thank all the democratic Newham Council candidates, regardless of which Party, for taking part in this election and hope it is a decent clean campaign, that will do the wider political process credit (of course I want all our Labour candidates to win!).

Best of luck as well to our Labour London European Candidates whose election is being held on the same day.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Offering a Living Wage is good business sense

"At KPMG, we believe that paying people a decent wage is the right way forward for responsible business. Indeed, we’ve ensured for more than 8 years now that all employees and contractor staff working out of our buildings are paid a Living Wage. Regrettably though this is far from universal in our economy. Our recent research suggests that there has been a substantial increase in the number being paid less than the Living Wage, which now stands at 5.2m people.

Disappointing though this may be, it can be tackled.  That’s why KPMG has helped establish the Living Wage Foundation, whose kite-mark is fast becoming recognised by forward thinking employers. It is great to see that the TUC is one of those organisations. There are now well over 600 accredited organisations but I look forward to the time when this is 60,000.

There is, after all, a responsibility on all of us to recognise and applaud organisations doing the right thing, as often the easiest course of action is to avoid making a choice at all.

But it’s not just about “being nice”, offering a Living Wage makes sense for business because, to have an efficient and effective operation, firms require staff who are motivated, rewarded and incentivised to go that extra mile in servicing customer needs. By way of example, since introducing the Living Wage, KPMG has seen a significant increase in the motivation and loyalty within on-site supplier staff over the last few years.  

We also found that staff turnover has more than halved, staff require less supervision and have also been trained to perform other activities which provide a more stimulating working day. There has been a marked improvement in the quality of service: our help desk gets far fewer complaints. And – perhaps the strongest business case for paying the living wage – there has been increased productivity, as attitudes are more flexible and positive. Staff are willing to give it that bit extra in terms of exceeding our external and internal clients’ expectations.

KPMG is proud to be a leader in paying all our staff the Living Wage, directly employed or contracted. This is one of the key components of our sustainable procurement programme, forming one of three core “pillars” of carbon, supplier diversity and the Living Wage.

In my view it is important to be clear this isn’t about whether services are outsourced or run in-house. Organisations outsource because the service is not within their core skill set. The organisation that outsources sets the parameters around which the contract arrangements are agreed. I am seeing for instance, suppliers increasingly interested in Living Wage recognition; this requires them pay it to all the people working on their own business premises e.g. cleaning, catering and admin staff etc, and they also commit to submit a Living Wage compliant bid alongside the regular bid.

The fact is that, increasingly, Living Wage accreditation and recognition differentiates decent organisations in the market place, from those with different values. Paying the Living Wage is not altruism but a sensible commercial position regarding the benefits of staff retention and productivity. So much evidence now exists to suggest that suppliers have found contract retention levels are higher, due to the improved level of customer service. As we come out of recession, customers will have higher expectations about receiving a quality product and service, which in turn requires a stable and motivated workforce. It is hard to see how this can be achieved whilst not paying a Living Wage.

In summary, paying the Living Wage makes sense – as it benefits workers, their families, communities, and also the businesses for which they work. Although it might not be appropriate for every business, KPMG encourages our contractors and suppliers to follow suit and every employer to consider whether they can make the change to pay the Living Wage. For us, the last eight years have been an exciting journey with the Living Wage changing from being an initiative that was not really understood by business to one that good employers wish to embrace".

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"I'm Bryan" One Housing lobby in support of victimised trade unionist

Yesterday, I was able to go and support the lunchtime lobby outside One Housing Group headquarters in favour of the victimised Unite Convener for One Housing, Bryan Kennedy (see picture from last year in bottom left).

See my previous post about Bryan and One Housing history of victimising trade union activists. They also have a really awful reputation for treating residents badly and for tearing up agreements.

I have not come across any Housing Association that is so disliked by so many residents groups, Councillors, MP's etc yet it pretends it does not give a damn what anyone says about them.

See my previous post about the really, really rubbish governance arrangements of so many publicly funded Housing Associations.

At the Lobby was Labour Party London Assembly member and their Housing Spokesman, Tom Copley (see picture bottom middle  - who was also a speaker at our recent UNISON branch AGM).

At the lobby it was announced that Bryan had been certificated as being sick and that it had been agreed to postpone his hearing.

I hope that even at this late stage that One Housing comes to their senses and deal with this issue properly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Millionaire Nigel Farage SSH

Well, I cannot possibly comment on whether Millionaire Investment banker, Nigel Farage is a SSH or not.

But surely he is.... :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Are Pension Investment consultants worth it? - Rethinking Pensions 2014

Finally got around to posting on the fascinating presentation by Professor Tim Jenkinson (picture right) on the value of investment consultants at last months "Rethinking Pensions" conference. 

It was called "Picking winners? Investment consultants' recommendations of fund managers"

Tim and his fellow researchers Howard Jones and Jose Vicente Martinez believe that there is evidence that (FT) "pension funds are wasting billion of dollars every year on worthless advice from investment consultants". 

This has obviously not gone down all that well with the investment consultant community and it is joked that Tim and his fellow academic researchers should check beneath their cars every morning on the way into work (this is what I have heard being said and not from Tim or his colleagues). 

Tim argued that there had been little academic research beforehand in the effectiveness of investment consultants in the $25 trillion of assets they control or advise upon. His team had found that many asset managers and plan sponsors didn't think they did a good job and that there were many potential conflicts of interest.

It could be that investment consultants have an interest in complexity so to justify their fees. Tim argued that it was a complete mystery to academics why anyone recommends using active fund managers when "hundreds of papers" show passive (trackers) are better. 

Their research showed that investment consultants on fund managers in US equities only averaged 7.13% in return when non recommended fund managers averaged 8.13%.

The investment consultant community are up in arms about this research and are apparently threatening to refuse to engage in future academic research, which if true, I think is completely and utterly disgraceful.

I will ask all of my three different pension fund consultants for which I am a trustee, on what they think of this issue and will also be expecting them to welcome and facilitate such research into their professions performance.

We need to know the facts and everyone should be doing everything they can to get at the truth. 

Trade Union victimisation....One Housing Group and Déjà vu?

This Wednesday 23rd April 12.30-1.30pm there will be a protest outside the gross misconduct discipline hearing of suspended Unite convenor, Bryan Kennedy.

This will take place at the One Housing Group Head Office, 100 Chalk Farm Rd, NW1 8EH (next to the Camden Roundhouse).

I can't be there on Wednesday since I have to represent a trade union member out of London that day. I hope that Housing Association (and other) trade unionists will attend to support Bryan. 

Bryan is a top trade unionist and also a dedicated housing worker and anyone who has ever met him would be astonished that any employer is thinking of sacking him. To be clear, Bryan is an intelligent, pragmatic, softly spoken, reasonable and consensus seeking trade unionist who wants to protect and defend his members and is willing if necessary to take on his employer to do so. 

He is facing a hearing on Wednesday where he could lose his job which his employer is saying has nothing to do with his trade union activities such as when he led his members on 11 days of strike action last year. 

Hmmm. While I don't know all the details about the allegations against Bryan I think they are rubbish. You see, One Housing Group has form on these issues.

I remember speaking at a protest meeting in 2009 against the sacking by One Housing Group of its UNISON convener Debbie Cordroy. At this meeting we had local residents, Labour Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Tory Councillor Tim Archer, Former Labour Councillor (and Barrister) Martin Young, UNISON NEC member John McDermott and myself all speaking in favour of Debbie. 

I understand that exactly the same discipline panel that dismissed Debbie Cordrey will be hearing the case against Bryan on Wednesday. 

This just stinks. I have come across senior managers who boast that due to lack of regulation and accountability they can do practically anything they like and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

I am in the main a supporter of Housing Associations but genuinely think that due to the lack of probity and democratic governance in many parts of the sector, it is setting the seeds of its destruction. I am constantly surprised how vehemently disliked and mistrusted the sector is amongst a very wide spectrum of our society. 

It is seen by many as an undemocratic and unaccountable oligarchy enriching its senior management team and Board at the expense of residents and workers, feeding off decades of huge public capital grants and benefit subsidy by taxpayers. 

Politicians are also acutely aware of its massive assets base which they think could be better managed. 

We use to talk about the press in this country "drinking in the last chance saloon". I think the same applies to the housing association sector and unless it significantly changes it ways then I honestly don't think it has a long term future as independent self run organisations.

One Housing Group could signal that there could be a change by not acting in a nasty, vindictive, and corporatist manner on Wednesday.  This would be a start.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) - Easter 2014

Picture (off message) from summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) last Monday. I went last week to North Wales to see my Mum and family (and also sneaked in a few walks).

The weather was again sunny and clear and I have even returned from North Wales with a bit of a tan. Most unusal for April (or dare I say North Wales?)

We went up and down the Rangers Path which I recommend for its stunning views (in good weather) but also it is the quietest by far of any of the routes up the mountain with no hoards of walkers that you will find on the more popular paths.

April 14 was also the 12th anniversary of the death of my father, a keen hill walker, whose ashes the family spread from the summit. I also remembered an old friend who also is no longer with us who did the 3 Peaks with me in 2004.

But it was not at all a sad day. It was a glorious day and one to remember and celebrate.

More pictures on Facebook here

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A CEO earns the UK average salary in just three days

Inequality Briefing have worked out that the average FTSE 100 Chief Executive earns the equivalent of the average UK salary in just 3 days.

"Explaining the data:
CEO pay of £4.25 million is take from the Manifest survey of CEO pay, while workers’ pay of £27,000 is taken from the Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. To calculate hourly pay, we have (generously) assumed that CEOs take just 10 days annual leave and work an average 12 hours a day, 6 days a week".

Hat tip picture from twitter of US trade union @AFSCME

Friday, April 18, 2014

A tale of Bob in Barnet

A modern day Morality tale about the fate of wicked and evil Privateer Councillors (with a very catchy tune). Hat tip Barnet UNISON. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fascism in 1930's East London

Fascinating post by local history blog "E7 Now & Then" on Fascism in  Forest Gate, Newham, East London during the 1930s.

I have lived in Forest Gate since 1988 and I knew that Mosley and his fascists use to hold open air meetings at the old bandstand  near to where I now live in Wanstead Flats.

I didn't realise that I passed the former local British Union of Fascists district headquarters everyday on the way to and from the railway station.

The post is largely about Forest Gate but mentions fascist activities elsewhere in East London.

I think we should be proud that despite the mass unemployment and economic hardship of the 1930's that the fascists were never able to win any significant level of electoral support in London.

The Forest Gate fascists seemed to have been composed solely of racist middle class anti-semitics and working class jack boot uniform fetishists. I suspect they differed very little from our modern day racists and  fascists.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The truth about UKIP (they're even worse than the Tories)

Great post on "Unions Together" on the truth about UKIP. What many workers fail to understand is that UKIP is not just a protest vote against Europe led by some loud mouth millionaire maverick who doesn't like his Brussels sprouts!   UKIP is an ultra right wing Tory extremist Party, who would cut our pay, get rid of TUPE protections, maternity rights, sell off the NHS, cut taxes for the rich and get rid of paid holidays. 

I think the wider Labour Movement has to take some responsibility for our failure to make it clear to our members that many of the employment rights that people take for granted in this country are actually only there because of the European Union and if right wing fanatics such as UKIP had their way, workers in this country would be completely stuffed.

Our relationship with Europe does need reform and we need to have grown up conversations about immigration and our national identity but for most folk voting UKIP is simply cutting your nose to spite your face.

The last thing we all need is a political Party even more right wing and reactionary than even this current Tory led coalition Government.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Workers' Memorial Day 28 April 2014 - Remember the Dead, Fight for the living.

"A short film commissioned by Hartlepool TUC to mark Workers' Memorial Day, and annual commemoration of all those affected by work-related accidents and illnesses.

Because worker safety is a full time job".

 Video Created by Gary Kester, Marketing & Media Services Hartlepool College of Further Education ©2014 Category Education Licence Standard YouTube Licence

Monday, April 14, 2014

Appeal to Welsh Rugby Footballers (1914)

Not sure whether to smile or cry at this Welsh newspaper clipping from the First World War.

I doubt that any form of footballer skills were much use against German barbed wire, machine guns and artillery during British infanty attacks on the western front.

You can see the pressure that was put on young men to join up- if you didn't you were either unpatriotic or a coward (or both)

See list of Welsh International Rugby Union players killed in First World War.  

Hat tip Captain Swing (who I have asked for a reference for this clipping)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Therefore, when we build," John Ruskin "The Seven Lamps of Architecture" (1849)

On hoarding outside building site in Holloway Road,Islington, London near my branch office. I wonder what people will think of this modern development in 50 years or so?   Will it meet the test? 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Strange Death of Private Pensions in Tory Britain

Excellent article below by Michael Johnson on the possible consequences of the budget announcement on annuities. Michael is of course a former advisor to David Cameron but now describes himself as "non political". So I hope he doesn't mind my competely non partisan title and photo in this post :)

A very senior Labour Pension figure described Michael to me as being "100% wrong on Public Pensions and 100% right on Private Pensions".

"Osborne may have sounded the death knell for private pensions"

by Michael Johnson April 10, 2014, 8:59pm

THERE is a scene in The Italian Job in which the gang is testing how to gain access to the contents of a security van. The resulting explosion destroys the vehicle, prompting Michael Caine to comment, “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Similar sentiments could be expressed about the Budget’s consequences for private pensions: it could prompt their demise, although some believe they are already in terminal decline.

The Budget revealed a contradiction in the government’s personal pensions strategy. Pensions minister Steve Webb is pursuing a collectivisation agenda, under his “defined ambition” banner. In particular, this encourages people to pool their longevity risk, which is sensible given that it is cheaper to hedge risk collectively. Annuity books use the same risk pooling principle. But by removing any requirement to buy an annuity from 2015, the Budget has catalysed a collapse in future annuity purchases. Is risk pooling “in” or “out”? One senses a philosophical clash in the corridors of power, between paternalism, liberalism and statism. Perhaps this is a price of coalition politics, but it has potentially significant implications for the future of private pensions.

Essentially, the government seems to have forgotten that annuities are pensions. They are the principal source of the retirement income certainty that most retirees crave. Bad value some may be (QE has a lot to answer for), but ready access to the whole pot at 55 is unlikely to be in everyone’s best interests. The problem is that there are no obvious alternatives, although “self-annuitisation” may catch on. By steadily buying long-dated corporate and government bonds from the age of 50, say, savers could cut out the industry’s regulatory costs and profit margins; larger pensions would result.

That aside, the government has left a void. Or has it? By increasing ISAs’ annual allowance to £15,000, has the chancellor signalled that private pensions are finished, a tacit acceptance of public disenchantment with pensions, distrust of the industry, and the latter’s poor performance? The shift in emphasis towards saving is illustrated by the growing popularity of stocks and shares ISAs (£16.5bn subscribed in 2012-13, up 59 per cent in the last six years), perhaps the last trusted brand in the savings arena. By comparison, individuals’ contributions to personal pensions (including stakeholder) totalled £7.7bn (which includes basic rate tax relief), down 25 per cent over the same period. And as for Generation Y (the under-35s), the word “pension” simply does not resonate.

Politically, encouraging people to provide for retirement through Isas is hugely attractive. It would give the chancellor a unique opportunity to grab a generation’s worth of cashflow, because an Isa’s main tax incentive is in retirement (drawings are tax free), while pensions attract tax relief on contributions, i.e. a generation earlier. Last year, retirement saving incentives cost the Treasury £54bn, more than the combined budgets for Scotland (£28bn), Wales (£15bn) and Northern Ireland (£10bn). In January 2014, the chancellor said that, after the next election, a further £25bn must be cut to help eliminate the deficit. For a cost savings-hungry chancellor, pensions tax relief is now the lowest-hanging, juiciest fruit in Whitehall.

From Labour’s perspective, tax relief’s inequitable distribution is a logical target. It is extraordinary that the top 1 per cent of earners, in least need of financial incentives to save, receive 30 per cent of all tax relief, more than double the total paid to half of the whole working population. This partly explains why the huge annual spend has failed to catalyse the broad-based retirement savings culture that Britain needs. Proposing a more redistributive framework for tax relief would attract widespread support, given that those who would lose out are the 13 per cent of taxpayers who pay higher rate income tax: 87 per cent of workers would in some way benefit.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s tax relief contributions make it the fund management industry’s largest client. Since 2002, it has injected, through people’s pension pots, £270bn in cash, on which charges and fees are levied. This is akin to a state subsidy of one of the highest paid industries in the world. The industry’s defence of the status quo confirms that it knows that it is a primary beneficiary of the Treasury’s largesse. To misquote Sir Winston Churchill: never was so much taken by so few from so many.

The opportunity to reform retirement saving incentives is potentially attractive to both the political right and left, albeit for different reasons. That notwithstanding, the structure of the UK’s incentives framework faces a fundamental dilemma. Income tax is progressive, so tax relief is inevitably regressive. The net effect is to nullify what is intended to be a progressive tax system.

It is time for a fundamental rethink of how we incentivise retirement saving, particularly given the nudge from the Budget that ISAs are the future. The Centre for Policy Studies will soon publish some proposals for a way forward, which includes sweeping away today’s tax relief framework.

Michael Johnson is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies".

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Out of Order" Outward - UNISON protest against Poverty Pay

The picture collage is from this morning's lively and colourful protest by low paid UNISON carers who work for registered Charity "Outward" (Part of Newlon Group) in North and East London.

Over 400 workers are employed by Outward to provide care and support to over 1000 clients with severe learning disabilities, older people, young people leaving care, mental health and autism spectrum conditions. Some of whom need 24 hour care.

Many of Outward workers already earn less than a living wage and the charity is proposing to cut pay even lower and increase their working week.

Parents of clients attended the protest and spoke about their fears for the quality of service for their children if the pay of carers was reduced even more.

Apart from the absolute moral argument there is a clear business case for workers to be paid at least a living wage from improvements in quality of care, sickness levels, recruitment costs and training budgets. The reputational risk to Outward and Newlon from employing staff in London on poverty pay rates is also clear.

This morning was the last day of consultation on proposed cuts to pay and conditions. I hope that Outward will listen to their workers.

Check out today's National UNISON press release.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fob Off Amazon!

We’ve had an Amazon delivery!

"Hi John
After 4 months and over 59,000 signatures, Amazon has finally responded to the living wage petition that kickstarted Amazon Anonymous.
But Amazon is trying to fob us off. Click here to send an email telling them to try harder.
Amazon’s reply says that: "Permanent UK associates start at a minimum of £7.10 per hour increasing to a median of £8.00 per hour after 24 months…Additional benefits for permanent employees include private medical insurance, a company pension plan, life assurance, income protection and an employee discount."
Even ignoring the fact that £7.10 per hour is STILL under the UK living wage rate outside London, the real problem with this reply is the word “permanent”.
Amazon is trying to sidestep the small matter of tens of thousands of temporary contract workers to whom it pays poverty wages.
It’s simply not good enough.
Let’s show Amazon we’re not going to be fobbed off! Click below to tell Amazon's 'Employee Relations Department' what you think of their reply. We’ve included some template text but feel free to explain to Amazon in your own words:
Thanks for all your support,
Amazon Anonymous"

(just to say that there is alternatives to Amazon - recently I bought online a DVD series box set which was cheaper than Amazon. The only way consumers can change corporate behaviour is to boycott thieves such as Amazon. You cannot engage or persuade such large private pirate companies who get off by robbing their workers).

Monday, April 07, 2014

"Care & Support workers deserve a Fair Deal, says UNISON"

Check out our branch protest this Friday 11th April 2014, 9-10am at Outward, Newlon House, 4 Daneland Walk, Hale Village, London, N17 9FE. This has been picked up by Inside Housing. 

Press release "Low paid workers who care for some of north and east London’s most vulnerable people will be demonstrating to demand a fair deal over pay.

Over 400 workers are employed by Outward to provide care and support to people with severe learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum conditions. Most earn below the London Living Wage. Their employer is proposing to cut pay, extend the working week and implement a restructure which staff say will make services less viable.

UNISON members are lobbying their management to protest against the proposed cuts and to demand a Living Wage* for all staff.

UNISON Housing Associations Branch Caseworker Nazan Sen said: “Staff at Outward are being paid below the Living Wage and took a pay cut in the last restructure less than three years ago. They do a hard job, which is a lifeline for those they support.”

“If people are not paid enough to live on they will get a job elsewhere. This will have a direct effect on quality of care for very vulnerable people.”

“The London Living Wage is not an extravagance, it is simply the minimum necessary for a dignified life and the increasing numbers of employers who pay it recognise the benefits it offers in improving staff morale and retention.”

Support worker Donna Shannon said: “My job means a lot to me, I can see the difference I make every day, but I can’t afford to work for less.”

The lobby will take place on Friday 11th April, 9-10am, at Outward’s management offices in Tottenham Hale.

For more information contact Josephine Grahl, UNISON Housing Associations Branch Outreach worker, on 020 7697 4030/4033 or

Sunday, April 06, 2014

London UNISON Labour Link AGM, Collins Review & GLA Mayor Selection

Last week there was the UNISON Greater London Labour Link AGM. This is our UNISON Labour Party supporting political fund for London. I was pleased to be re-elected unopposed as Chair of the committee.

We had a very good London Assembly report by UNISON member, Joanne McCartney AM (see left of collage) who briefed us amongst other things on the bizarre and contradictory "evidence" that Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson gave to the Assembly in favour of buying second hand German Police water cannon to deal with public order disturbances.

Apart from the usual AGM business of elections, minutes, finance report and work plan, we had a excellent debate on the Collins Review and its consequences for UNISON Labour Link.

Since UNISON has had for the last 20 years separate and voluntary, Labour Party and General Political funds, it is likely that we will be affected less than other affiliated unions by the Collins Review. In fact UNISON could become the largest trade union affiliate to the Labour Party.

The first big election test of the new arrangements could be the selection of the Labour Candidate to be London Mayor for 2016. While UNISON will have to ask all our existing Labour Link members to sign up as Party supporters in order for them to take part in this selection, this should be easier since they have already made a  conscious choice to support Labour than the other unions.

There are about 60,000 existing London UNISON Labour Link member who could be entitled to vote for the selection of a London Mayor candidate. Since there is one person, one vote - this means there could be more UNISON members voting than Party members in London.

There is a huge job of work for us to do in the next few years. While many affiliated trade unionists think that the Collins report was an unnecessary distraction, it is now clearly Party policy and we just have to get on with it.

Picture collage of AGM and top right is that of me with GMB, West & East Ham CLP Comrades and Ray Collins at the Special Labour Party Conference on March 1.

 Hat tip pics Gerard McGrath

Saturday, April 05, 2014

My "last" Overview & Scrutiny Committee Meeting...

On the 25th March I went to the Newham Council Overview & Scrutiny (O&SC) Committee meeting at Newham Town Hall.

This is the last such meeting before many Council functions close down for "Purduh" due to the impending elections on May 22nd.

As a Newham Councillor I am a member of the O&SC because I am Vice Chair of the Housing Scrutiny Group.

I am re-standing as a Labour Candidate for West Ham ward (many thanks for the support of ward Party members in my reselection). So if it goes badly in May this could have been my last O&SC meeting.

Check out the publicly available agenda and minutes here.

There was some controversial items about the proposed closure of the Vicarage Lane "walk-in" medical centre and a planned 6% cut (Tory speak for NHS cuts is "over target"). Our local NHS budget is also planned to be "flat" (0%) for the next 2 years. This will mean that in real terms (after inflation and it was confirmed that the cost of health care rises faster than normal inflation) that the cuts to our local health services will be much, much worse than 6%.  So much for the Tory pledge that the NHS will be safe in their hands

Next item was the on the Britannia Village Medical practice. Representatives from NHS England confirmed that the lease on the practice will not be terminated early but it will remain under review when it does end.  

There was also an update on "NHS Health Check".

The final item was a written report and presentation by the Newham Council team who are implementing the national programme locally on "Troubled Families". The report was very positive about the teams efforts to turn around the lives of such families. This scheme was introduced following the riots in 2011. Councils are given money to give these families intensive support to change their lives.

I am very supportive of these initiatives but made the point that if families live in extreme poverty and overcrowded homes there is only so much that can be done.

I did ask whether any of the officers presenting this (very good) report had heard of the social housing pioneer, Octavia Hill? Sadly, they said they had not, but said they would look it up. I am sure they will.

I love history and find it fascinating that this new government initiative on "Troubled Families" mirrors very much the work by Octavia Hill  (see picture) more than 100 years ago.  She said that you cannot deal with people and their homes separately. I would of course add that you cannot ignore poverty either in that mix.

If the good folk of West Ham ward repeat what is in my view their very good judgement of 2010, I hope to be back in some Council scrutiny role after the elections in May.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Pension deficits and La La accounting

I have posted this comment on the "Inside Housing" website in response to this article on "deficits" in the Social Housing Pension Fund (SHPS).

"Hang on, the so called "deficit" in SHPS is mostly La La land accounting.  The "deficit" is based on the price of gilts which are at a 200 year low. It is a completely ludicrous way to measure liabilities and bears little relationship to any real deficits.

If you had to pay off your home mortgage by investing in gilts at current rates you would very soon be bankrupt and homeless. Why is your pension treated so differently?

Due to recent changes in the gilt market and good investment returns the SHPS deficit will now be probably hundreds of millions pounds less.  The irrational volatility of these "deficits" is a real concern for schemes and employers but the fault lies in the yardstick, not what it measures.

SHPS should be working with its stakeholders to take on the government and accounting bodies for their failure to do anything to defend modern sustainable funded defined benefit schemes from the "Alice in Wonderland" regulation it currently suffers from.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Don't keep cutting NHS workers Pay!

Picture of London NHS workers protesting about the announcement of the Tories latest public service pay cut.

Please make sure that everyone understands that any pay "offer" under the rate of inflation is a pay cut. 

Why is it when the rich in this country are getting, richer and richer, the Tories are cutting the pay, again and again, of those we want to look after us when we are sick?

"UNISON today described health secretary Jeremy Hunt's pay plan as "divisive, unfair and disingenuous", as NHS staff across the country took part in protests against it.

The day of protest on pay comes during Fair Pay Fortnight, and the union's head of health, Christina McAnea, writing for Labour List, pointed out that Mr Hunt is "will not even honour the recommendations of the independent pay review body to offer them [NHS staff] all a 1% increase to hourly rates".

Ms McAnea says that the recommended 1% was "woefully inadequate" after "years of below-inflation pay awards", but for staff in England, Mr Hunt "has restricted the 1% offer to those at the top of their pay bands" and it will come as a cash sum.

Over a third of non-medical NHS staff are paid below £21,000 and most health service staff have had their pay cut by 8-12% between 2010 and 2013 in real terms

hat tip Captain Swing

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Gregg McClymont MP: Rethinking Pensions Conference 2014

Picture of Labour Shadow Minister for Pensions Gregg McClymont MP, speaking at last months "Rethinking Pensions" conference. 

This took place only a day after the Budget, when the Government announced its plan to allow personal pension policy holders to "cash in" their accounts when they retire rather than buy an annuity. 

Gregg apologised to us that he would have to leave early since he had to go to the House of Commons to listen to Coalition Pension Minister, Steve Webb MP give further details of the proposed changes. 

This is the sort of situation when politicians earn their money. A massive change in pension policy (and largely unexpected by all including the media) was less than 24 hours old yet the "Loyal Opposition" had to come out very quickly with a considered response. 

Gregg suggested that he could be using this conference as a test bed for the debate in Parliament later that day. He wants more detail about the Budget proposals but thought that the the new approach of yesterday, seemed to be a move away from the Turner Commission consensus building on Auto-enrolment? It also seems at odds with the apparent government support for Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) schemes? How can CDC work if people take their money out in cash at age 55? How can you share the risk? Who and how will this "advice" to savers be provided? Are pensions becoming an Individual Savings Accounts (ISA)? 

As well as being a professional politician (and of course in my view on the side of the forces of light and reason), Gregg is also a former Oxford don - so was able to think on his feet and give a good account of himself. 

Check out this article in Professional Pensions about what I think is the debate between Greg and Steve Webb later that day in Parliament.

My own initial views on the Budget proposals are here

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Great British Rip Off

Last month I went to the "Great British Rip Off" debate at the House of Commons. Sponsored by "Unions Together"; "Class" and the Parliamentary "Trade Union Group".

The excellent Katy Clark MP, from Trade Union Group of MPs Chaired (apologies for not getting her into picture!).

Zoe Williams from the Guardian was the first to speak (2nd left - another useless photo by me). She thought tonight that she was speaking to the converted on why inequality is "bad" but she doesn't understand why the Tories don't get that despite the economy picking up on GDP, inequality is still growing? Wages have not gone up since 2003. 

There is 500k "self employed" who are not really employed but playing the benefit system and then another 500k on insecure "0 hour" contracts, then 150k on unpaid placements.  People are not being paid enough. They cannot buy enough. There is not enough demand and ideology is hamstringing the economy.

Tories would rather have a weak economy than free collective bargaining,

Even a living wage for all will not solve housing crisis. Housing is not affordable even on a high wage. So many cannot afford housing then something radical may actually happen. Solution is collective bargaining, land tax and collective housing provision.

Next was Sadiq Khan MP who agreed that we have seen a Great British Rip off in recent years. The most wealthy have increased their wealth while the poorest have become even poorer. 28% of Londoners live in poverty despite 60% of them being in work. 

In his constituency of Tooting he has many houses worth £1 million plus but it also has food banks.The last Labour government spent money on improving the housing stock but did not spend enough on building new homes. A future Labour government will build 200,000 new homes per year by the end of its term.

Sadiq noted that in most successful countries there is more collective bargaining over pay (I will ignore the silly interpretation that a branch of the stupid Party online made about his comments)

Matthew Pennycook, the Prospective Parliamentary candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich was next. He reminded us that for the first time, the majority of people in poverty were in work. Since the election the average family is worse off by £1600 per year. Stagnant wages have caused a massive cost of living crisis.

A living wage is part of the solution but not the silver bullet. We also need affordable child care and (real) affordable rents.

Final speaker was the General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O'Grady. 

Frances asked for not a plaster but to address the root cause of poverty. Which is giving Billions to subsidise poverty wages to employers who can afford to pay more. We need a fair share of wealth in this country and a right to bargain. We need wage councils or "Fair Pay" councils (whatever you want to call it) who can work on the whole pay package.

We need a new economy, a  fair economy and in tribute to the RMT trade union leader, Bob Crow who died recently, we need greater public ownership. 

Frances finished by quoting Docker trade union leader (and former Newham Labour Councillor) Vic Turner, who when asked what trade unionism is all about answered "its about working class people looking after each other".

(usual disclaimer about the absolute accuracy of my hurried note-taking)