Tuesday, 31 August 2010

People in Glass Houses

Dave Prentis has been elected to a third term as Unison's general secretary - apparently.

The good news was reported recently in the press - with little fanfare and sparse details about the ballot result.

Even a vist to the Unison web site throws little light on the subject - beyond the number of votes cast for each candidate - which are reported as follows:

1 Dave Prentis 145,351 (67.2%)

2 Roger Bannister 42,651 (19.7%)

3 Paul Holmes 28,114 (13%)

What's not available is information about the national turnout - or a breakdown of how votes were cast region by region, for example.

Elsewhere on the Unison web site - the union proudly boasts to have in excess of 1.3 million members - how much in excess is not explained.

So, what does this mean in terms of turnout for the general secretary's election?

Well, 1.3 million divided by 216,116 (the total number of votes cast for all 3 candidates) - equals a turnout of 16.6% of the entire union membership - at the very best (since using 1.3 million instead of 'in excess of 1.3 million' inflates the percentage share).

Taking the votes cast for Dave Prentis on his own - 1.3 million divided by 145,351 - equates to the support of just 11.2% of Unison members - again at the very best.

The trade unions are secretive and sensitive about these issues - for obvious reasons.

What they have to face up to is that a very low turnout in a union election - means just the same as it would in any other election - a poor and questionable mandate for the winner.

So, as the trade unions' self-declared 'war' over public spending hots up - no doubt some will challenge the mandate of the coalition government to carry out its programme.

But before they start throwing stones at other people - Dave and his chums should check on their surroundings.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Democracy and Bananas

The big three public sector unions have spoken - GMB, Unite and Unison - or at least their 'political committees' have made known their recommendations.

Ed Miliband is the man they want to be the next Labour leader - in preference to his brother David who is seen as a 'moderniser' - and is therefore regarded with deep suspicion by union bosses

Ed was previously one of Gordon Brown's inner circle - and is now seen as the only man who can stop brother David from being crowned king of Labour's castle.

Two other candidates - Diane Abbott and Ed Balls - are both much closer to the unions in policy terms.

Particularly Diane Abbott who has always been against the war in Iraq - and has always been in favour of scrapping Trident, Britain's 'independent' nuclear deterrent.

Diane is also the only candidate who was not a minister in the last disastrous Labour government - and who opposed Gordon Brown's disgraceful decision to abandon the 10p tax rate.

Yet despite these impressive credentials Diane has failed to win the backing of the GMB's, Unite's or Unison's political committees - who have all coincidentally declared in favour of the Brother Ed.

So, now millions of trade union members will be urged to vote - for someone they don't know - for reasons they don't understand - and this process will help decide who will be the next leader of the Labour party.

It really is as crazy as it sounds.

But the electoral college system was set up for precisely this purpose - to give union bosses and their faceless political committees - undue influence over the Labour party's internal affairs.

Most ordinary union members won't even bother to vote - the great majority of the millions to be balloted - will not take part in the election, and rightly so.

Yet the unions will still cast collectively one third of the total votes - in Labour's most important leadership election.

Now, if that's democracy - then I'm a banana!

25% Cuts

When Unison came into being in 1993 - it was a shotgun marriage, a wedding of convenience - a financially driven merger of three formerly independent unions - COSHE, NALGO and NUPE.

One of the first things the new union announced, after an initial spending splurge - was that budgets had to be cut - which would mean 25% fewer staff.

Because the new organisation had to tighten its belt to survive.

No longer could the new union simply - spend, spend spend - otherwise members' contributions would have to go through the roof - and that solution was completely unacceptable.

A new era had arrived which meant tough choices and hard times ahead - relatively speaking at least - compared to the salad days of the past.

Now there were trade unions inside Unison, of course - representing the interests of different groups of staff - and the foot soldiers, as ever, were not responsible for creating the financial crisis.

Nonetheless the strategy of slashing spending was implemented - forcefully and with absolute determination.

Budgets were scaled back without hysterics - and without anyone mounting the barricades - because there was, quite simply, no other choice.

People went about the task of fitting square pegs into round holes - building again for better times in the future - and all this had to be done without damaging 'front-line' services to union members.

So while trade unions are great experts at telling everybody else what to do - or what not to do - even they would have to admit that sometimes people have to live within their means - even the unions themselves from time to time.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Labour's Recipe for Happiness

The Labour party is on the verge of bankruptcy - says the old Labour seadog, John Prescott - now Lord Prescott of Hull.

Labour is £20 million in the red - but aims to clear all its debts by 2016 - which all seems very admirable.

As Mr Micawber once said:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six - result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six - result misery."

If the Labour party were a metaphor for the UK economy - you would have to say they are following the same policies laid down by the coalition government.

Labour is not trying to spend its way out of trouble - racking up ever more debts for someone else to take care of - at some point in the future.

Oh no - Labour is facing up to its problems - by deciding to live within its means.

Labour spent £10 million in this year's general election and is now heavily reliant on union bosses to provide the party with cash - never a good idea.

The big union donors in the second quarter of this year were: GMB - £1.05 million, Unite - £1.67 million and Unison - £1.2 million.

Mining a Rich Seam

The Independent newspaper confirms that the financial arrangements surrounding Arthur Scargill are even more ridiculous than they first appeared.

Here's what the paper says about the unbelievably generous payments still being made to the former NUM president - who retired eight years ago in 2002.

"Since resigning as president of the NUM in 2002, Scargill has continued in the role of honorary president. He still maintains an office at the union's headquarters in Barnsley. He is paid a salary of more than £30,000 and the NUM pays £33,000 a year for his flat in the Barbican area of London.

Until recently he was receiving allowances for his fuel and telephone bills. Those were stopped after the NUM conference in June, and the union is now deliberating whether to continue paying for his flat and salary. Mr Kitchen said: "It seems ludicrous that he is drawing more money per year than what the official members are drawing, given that he retired in 2002."

Scargill will no doubt fight any plan to take away his salary and flat, just as he did when his other perks, believed to be worth about £5,000, were withdrawn earlier this year."


With the NUM's membership standing at only 1500 these days - that's a lot of members' money going straight down the drain.

Speaking the Truth

John Simpson, the respected journalist and broadcaster, speaks the truth in an interview with the Sunday's Times - about fat cat salaries at the BBC.

He says:

"I'm a public servant, so my salary should be made public."

Simply put, well said - and to the point.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hard Times and Tough Choices

The Labour party always agonises over choosing a new leader.

Because unlike other parties Labour has lots of vested interests - for example the trade unions - who try and build support for a candidate they can hope to influence as party leader - and possibly as a future Prime Minister.

But the trade unions are not really motivated by who is really the best person for the job.

So, in the 1990's the unions tried to persuade their members to vote for 'anybody but Blair'.

No matter what people might say about Tony Blair now - he was clearly the best candidate, head and shoulders above his rivals.

His main rival at the time, Gordon Brown, didn't even throw his hat into the ring - knowing he would have been outshone by the relaxed charm of Tony Blair - even with the trade unions on his side.

The unions didn't like Tony Blair because of what he represented in their eyes.

He was not 'one of them' - a bit of a maverick, someone who believed in merit and individual ability - not keen on old tribal loyalties and the stuff of smoke filled rooms.

When Gordon Brown stood as party leader - the unions and others ensured there would be no contest - no clash of ideas and no real debate.

The party went back to its old habits - Gordon Brown was elected unopposed - and what a disaster he turned out to be - confounding people's expectations in almost every possible way.

The unions loathed Tony Blair (not over war in Iraq) and acted as cheerleaders for Gordon Brown - but while Tony Blair won the party three consecutive elections - Gordon Brown fell at the first hurdle.

So now we come down to the two Milibands - brothers David and Ed.

I do not have a vote and have no axe to grind one way or the other - but it seems to me that David Miliband is the more impressive of the two.

If it were an interview, based on merit and the ability - rather than a popularity contest - David Miliband would be my choice.

But who knows what will happen - the big public sector trade unions (GMB, Unite and Unison) are all trying to persuade their members to vote for Ed Miliband - but MPs and ordinary party members seem more impressed by his older brother, David.

The result is due next month - in time for the 2010 Labour party conference.

Model of Democracy

Henry Ford, with typical American chutzpah, is said to have sold his revolutionary Model T Ford with a firm pledge to potential customers: "You can have any colour you like - so long as it's black."

Well, the trade unions could teach the arch-American capitalist a thing or two - about the hard sell of politics - a hundred years later.

Union members can support anyone they like when it comes to party politics - but union bosses will continue to act as if their members all vote Labour.

Take Unison's political fund, for example - unlike other Labour affiliated trade unions - Unison has two political funds.

One is called the Afffiliated Political Fund and channels all its money into the Labour party - the other is the General Political Fund and is used for more general political campaigning.

The two political funds came about becaue Unison merged from three former unions - COHSE, NALGO and NUPE - in 1993 but before then NALGO did not affiliate to the Labour party - while both COHSE and NUPE did.

So, the solution was a third way - a twin political fund in one union - whereas the other big beasts in the union jungle, e.g. UNITE and GMB, retain just one fund - which only supports Labour.

But, of course, this freedom of choice only extends so far - witness what the following Unison recruitment leaflet has to say:

"4 Political Fund
It is important that you indicate a choice of funds by ticking one of the boxes below. Your subscription above includes a political fund payment so you do not have to pay any more by being in one of the funds."

In the following section, members are given the 'choice' of ticking one box - for either the Affiliated Political Fund or the General Political Fund - no mention is made of the fact that members can, of course, choose not to pay into either fund.

The bold statement that - 'you do not have to pay any more by being in one of the funds' - is also untrue and deliberately misleading.

Because by 'opting out' to pay into the political fund - a member's union subscriptions would be around 8% less - a significant saving.

So, the very different worlds of selling cars and politics - are more alike than you think - or at least they were - since times have changed in the motor industry since Henry Ford was in his pomp.

Now you really can get a new Ford - in any colour you like.

But sadly, the trade unions are still stuck in the last century - they say reflect their members' views when it comes to party politics - but only so long as they are pro-Labour.

Bald Men and Combs

During the week, the newspapers reported that Arthur Scargill was effectively being thrown out of his own trade union - the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers).

According to those now in charge, Arthur Scragill he can no longer be a full financial member - a move which denies him full union benefits - though he remains honorary president for life.

Sounds a bit petty - but the key players do conjure up the image of two bald men fighting over a comb - with the once proud NUM now reduced to a mere 1500 members, i.e. smaller than many local union branches.

But it was always going to end in tears - after the bitter miners' strike of 1984/85 - which split the union from head to toe.

Jimmy Reid once famously said that if Kamikaze pilots set up their own trade union - Arthir Scargill would have been the ideal choice as leader.

The latest spat follows Scargill's recent threaten of legal action over the NUM's refusal to continue subsidising the fuel used at his Barnsley home or to contribute to the cost of a burglar alarm at the property.

Scargill, now 72, has also said he'll go to the courts, if necessary to retain his over his use of a union-subsidised flat in the Barbican Estate in London.

Quite why a firebrand socialist wants to hold onto a swanky flat in London is a good question - no doubt Arthur Scargill retired on a handsome pension - so what's the big deal?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Equal Pay for Women

Refuse workers in West Lothian are apparently going on strike - in a local dispute over equal pay.

The details are rather sparse, but the important question to ask is:

"Why do the trade unions always get their knickers in a twist about equal pay for bonus earning male workers - when there has never been a single strike in favour of equal pay for women?"

Now whether a strike is the right tactic is a moot point - but you get my general drift here, no doubt.

As soon as the interests of traditional male workers is threatened - the trade unions are manning the barricades.

But for years the trade unions simply ignored the fact - that their women members were being taken for a ride.

The trade unions just turned a blind eye to the fact that a Home Carer or a Cook earned only £6.00 an hour - while a street sweeper or refuse worker earned £9.00 or £10.00 an hour.

The unions - as a friend said to me recently - are a disgrace when it comes to equal pay.

Money's No Object

An enterprising reader recently asked Edinburgh City Council - a very revealing Freedom of Information (FOI) question.

The question was: 'Can Edinburgh City Council confirm how much it has spent on external legal fees - in defending equal pay claims brought by former APT&C staff?'

The answer is a whopping great - £184,759.25 to date - according to the council's Head of Legal Services.

Edinburgh City Council's behaviour in defending these cases has been described previously - by the Employment Tribunal - as 'defending the indefensible'.

Yet the council continues to write cheques for huge sums of money - despite having lost the underlying legal arguments - at every turn.

Just who is giving this advice - how can it possibly be worth £184,759.25 - and why don't senior councillors and officials question whether they are getting value for money?

No doubt Edinburgh's Cook Supervisors, Social Care Workers and Classroom Assistants - will be outraged to hear that such huge sums of public money are being wasted in this way.

The fact is that the equal pay claims of these former APT&C staff groups are perfectly valid - and the sooner the council gets round to settling them the better.

More Kind Words

More kind words from a regular reader in North Lanarkshire Council.

Some people have had to wait a bit longer than others to get their settlement offers resolved - but thankfully all's well that ends well.

"Hi Mark,

Finally got my offer in this morning.

Thanks very much for all the hard work your team have done - I'm very pleased.

Home Support Worker"

Foot Dragging Councils

A regular reader has written to the newspapers about foot dragging councils - i.e. those allocated additional borrowing funds by the Scottish government - but who have yet to explain how they intend to spend this extra money.

Here's an extract of what the reader has to say:

"Dear Sir,

Equal Pay claims in Scottish Councils

Having plenty of time of my hands since being made redundant recently, I decided last weekend to conduct my own research into the “secret world” of equal pay claims in Scotland.


I say “secret” because no-one has been able to tell me what happened to the Scottish Government money that several Scottish councils “borrowed” to help them fund equal pay claims.

This week, I have been writing to Michael McMahon MSP. Mr McMahon informs me that he is also frustrated that these claims are taking so long to settle but he continues by laying the blame for all of this at the SNP Government.


Ironic?! The SNP Government are not to blame for this! They only inherited the problem. The problem goes back to the Unions – who knew about this years ago but kept their members in the dark and the Councils themselves, who also knew about this but continued to sweep it under the carpet.

The only problem with this is that the carpet can only hold so much and eventually things come out the open, and not only does it come out in the open but it tends to make things a whole lot worse!

I appreciate that the Government cannot force these councils to settle these claims, however, when they are borrowing money from the Government, surely they have to account for how they have spent it?


Someone, somewhere has to take responsibility for sorting out this whole fiasco for once and for all!

Yours sincerely

GJ"


Well said.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Man Who Wasn't There

It has become something of a sport these days to bash the Liberal Democrats.

Now that the pantomime of the last Labour government is over - Punch and Judy politics has turned its attention to Nick Clegg and his supporters.

Yet the fact is that it's been the Lib Dems - or more particularly Treasury spokesperson Vince Cable - who got it absolutely right about the mess the last government was making of the UK economy.

In the House of Commons in 2003, the Lib Dem's Vince Cable asked Gordon Brown (the then Chancellor):

"Is it not true...the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?"

Gordon Brown - who was in sole charge of the government's economic policy replied:

"The Honourable Gentleman has been writing articles in the newspapers, as reflected in his contribution, that spread alarm, without substance, about the state of the economy..."

Game, set and match to Vince Cable - I would say.

Now the best thing you can say about Gordon Brown is that he did play a big role in preventing things from going into complete meltdown - once the rot had set in.

Nonetheless Vince cable was bang on the money - and skewered the government for encouraging debt to spiral out of control.

Gordon Brown and the last Labour government helped create the conditions that led to the banking collapse - and for that they deserve no credit whatsoever.

Gordon Brown had a political reputation as Macavity's Cat - as the Man Who Wasn't There - but on the economy his fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime.

Elephant in the Room

Trust the GMB to miss the elephant in the room - and to go off on a tangent about something of no real importance to their members.

The GMB is banging on about some head teacher in London - who earned over £200,000 last year - which the GMB has uncovered using the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

Now one person - even a high flying head teacher - should not be earning two full-time salaries from two separate full-time jobs - out of the public purse.

Even though MPs and other politicians have been getting away with doing just that for years - two wrongs don't make a right.

So, the GMB makes a fair point - but just where has the union been all these years?

Where was the union in exposing the big pay differences between male and female council jobs - which directly affected the interests of its own members?

Instead of dealing with the real issue - the elephant in the room - the GMB takes the easy option and has a pop at some head teacher in London.

Well that won't win them many brownie points with low paid members in South Lanarkshire for example - which is an equal pay free zone for the unions Scotland - including the GMB.

The fact is that the GMB is completely uninterested in the big pay differences between male and female council jobs - in places like Hamilton or East Kilbride.

Yet the union is as keen as mustard - apparently - about exposing unlikely looking pay arrangements in the heart of London.

GMB members in South Lanarkshire will be scratching their heads in confusion - over the strange priorities of their union leaders.

GMB - 'We're Full Up'

Readers in Glasgow have been in touch to say that their trade union - the GMB - is telling them that they're full up.

The union is no longer open for business - when it comes to equal pay claims.

Apparently, a decree of sorts has been issued and the GMB is telling members that they will not take on any more cases - if claims were not already registered by the end of March 2010.

Quite why this should be so is a mystery - why leave people high and dry - why draw artificial lines in the sand when people face enough problems in the fight for equal pay?

Maybe it's just too much bother - who knows.

Anyway, the good news is that what the GMB is saying is a load of old baloney - so if you think you have a legitimate claim - don't be put off by what the union says.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Brasso and Brass Necks

Ed Miliband has come up with a wizard wheeze in the Labour leadership election - he hes written an open letter to Liberal Democrat supporters - inviting them to 'come home' to Labour.

Here's an extract of what Brother Ed had to say:

"At some point you have to conclude that this is not a mistake here or there, but part of a pattern. The pattern is of a leadership that has sold out and betrayed your traditions, including that of your recent leadership: Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and Campbell.

I believe that from this leadership contest you can see a party emerge which under my leadership shares your values. To the 1.5 million people who supported Labour in 1997 but have since then switched to support the Lib Dems, and to those who are long-term Lib Dem supporters, I ask you to look again at Labour.

If you join Labour you can come together with the emerging majority in the Labour party who want change that is real and lasting. If you join before 8 September you can vote to make that change in the leadership election.

Help build the society of equality, liberty and democracy that we all believe in, and stop the unfairness of this coalition. Leaving your party is the most honourable course when your party leadership leaves you."


For a moment I could see - in my mind's eye - thousands of Lib Dem supporters being spurred into action until I thought.

Hold on a minute - Ed Miliband was a minister in the last Labour government - he's the same chap who in government:
  1. Supported the PM's decision to abolish the 10p tax rate
  2. Presided over a system of MPs' expenses - that became a licence to print money
  3. Treated Gurkha soldiers like second class citizens - until Joanna Lumley road to their rescue

And that's without even considering his track record on the war in Iraq - which he now considers to be a great mistake - but, of course, Ed failed to voice any concerns at the time unlike, for example, Robin Cook, the former MP for Livingston, who at least stood up for his principles.

So on reflection perhaps the best thing Ed can do - is to buy a big bottle of Brasso to polish up his brass neck.

Rogue Factors

Picking up where I left off on 20 August 2010 - the best way to deal with a rogue factor is to get organised.

Educate, Agitate, Organise - as they used to say in the trade union movement.

Like most people moving into a new building - initially you will have much more on your mind than factoring charges - so it takes a while before the penny drops - before you can see the wood through the trees.

But after some weeks or months - you will start to notice that some jobs you're paying top dollar for aren't actually being done.

Or maybe the job is being done - but that it takes a tiny amount of time and effort - compared to the charges being levied by the factor.

So, the thing to do is to ask to see the records and receipts - and if that causes 'Haw Maw' or if the records are full of gobbledegook - you should definitely smell a rat.

The problem is that rogue factors fight dirty - they don't play by the Marquis of Queensbury's rules - they hide the truth and try to play people off against each other - divide and rule is the name of their game.

So what you need is a list of the owners and residents - because if you're isolated and alone, you will be fobbed off - but with the support of others you can get the whip hand.

And the whip hand means making communications as easy as possible - preferably through e-mail addresses and phone numbers - which might mean knocking on a few doors to get things moving.

But with a little bit of effort it's possible to get the majority to understand how much they're being ripped off and taken for a ride.


More importantly - that that they can do something about it - by all pulling together.

Next time: The Rogue factor's Nightmare - A Residents Charter!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Bermuda Triangles v Freedom of Information

As regular readers know, South Lanarkshire Council is Scotland's Bermuda Triangle - when it comes to freedom of information.

Mysterious things happen - people claim to lose all memory of important events - logic gets turned upside down - in fact it's like an episode of 'LOST'.

So, here's a copy of an e-mail that was sent yesterday to all South Lanarkshire MSPs.

Some have already responded and asked for further information - or indicated that they will be taking the issue up with the council.

The more readers who ask their MSPs to get involved - the sooner we'll get to the bottom of things.

Watch this space for further news and developments.


"Dear MSP

Freedom of Information v South Lanarkshire Council

Please find enclosed a copy of a FOISA review request to South Lanarkshire Council.

Every other council in Scotland is quite happy to explain the background and origins of their job evaluation schemes - which are, of course, instrumental in determining how different council jobs are paid.

South Lanarkshire Council, on the other hand, is trying to keep these details secret, for reasons that are as yet unclear, but the council’s stubborn refusal to answer a straight question with a straight answer is troubling.

Why is South Lanarkshire Council so keen to prevent the public from understanding the basis on which senior officials gave their advice in connection with an ‘in-house’ job evaluation scheme?

The credentials and/or qualifications of the senior officials involved would normally be a matter of public record. Such information should be recorded in committee minutes, as part of a professional and transparent decision making process.

Instead, a routine query is being elevated into an issue of major importance, but only because South Lanarkshire Council is behaving as if it has something to hide.

I am encouraging readers of the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site to raise these matters with their local MSPs. If you require any further information, e.g. a copy of the council’s initial response, please let me know.

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

Enclosure x 1

16 August 2010

South Lanarkshire Council
FOI Review Request Team

Dear South Lanarkshire Council

South Lanarkshire Council – FOISA Review Request

I refer to the letter from South Lanarkshire Council dated 3 August 2010 regarding my FOISA request.

I am asking for a review of the council’s decision for specific reasons, which I will turn to shortly, but let me say, first of all, that I regard South Lanarkshire’s behaviour as a complete abuse of the FOISA process. The council makes the following statement about freedom of information on its web site:

"Freedom of Information legislation is designed to ensure openness and accountability. This means that wherever possible, we will make the information you request available to you."

Yet, the council behaves quite differently when it comes to dealing with my original request (about the council’s job evaluation scheme) which was first raised on 10 September 2009. However, by raising bogus objections about my request being ‘vexatious’, the council has managed to drag the process out until August 2010.

In my experience, no other council in Scotland behaves in this obstructive and unhelpful way – which is in stark contrast to the council’s public claims to support openness and accountability.

Turning to the specific reasons for my review request, these are detailed below for your information and attention:

1. What were South Lanarkshire Council’s reasons for not adopting the nationally recommended COSLA (Gauge) Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

The council has refused this request on the grounds of excessive cost.

I find the South Lanarkshire’s response incredible - the council behaves as if it has no collective memory and that senior officials have no recall of major strategic events. To suggest that a junior admin person should try discover this information by spending up to 70 hours trawling blindly through countless committee reports is simply absurd. The council is not being asked to find the equivalent of a ‘needle in a haystack’.

2. What was South Lanarkshire Council’s share of the £250,000 costs of producing the nationally recommended COSLA JES?

The council has refused this request on the grounds of that it does not exist.

I am asking the council to explain what steps it has taken to find this information and to share the details in responding to my review request. I find it incredible that South Lanarkshire Council has no record of its financial support for a nationally approved JE scheme, developed in conjunction with all 32 Scottish councils, COSLA and the trade unions.

3. Who were the creators or authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

The council has refused this request on the grounds that it potentially breaches data protection principles.

I am not asking about people’s personal details, as the council knows full well. I am asking for information about the professional role of senior council officials. I am asking the council to explain who carried out this important specialist task and what credentials or qualifications they possessed to allow them to advise the council on matters of such strategic importance. As public officials engaged in public duties which were paid for out of public funds – I believe this is a matter of legitimate public interest. My request is essentially no different to asking about the salary paid to the council’s chief executive, Archie Strang, which the press reported earlier this year as £146,502 per annum. Why does South Lanarkshire Council want to keep public information secret when its web site claims to support openness and accountability?

4. What payment did the creators/authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES receive for their time and expertise?

The council has released this information stating that no additional payments were made – the costs being met within normal salaries and workload.

The council’s response is noted, but on its own, of course, this information is meaningless since the identities of the senior council officials involved are being withheld.

5. What credentials did the creators/authors possess for developing South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES?

The council has refused this request on the grounds that it potentially breaches the data protection principles.

Please consider my response and comments under Paragraph 3 above

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and would be grateful if you could ensure that your response is sent to me by e-mail: markirvine@compuserve.com

Kind regards


Mark Irvine

South Lanarkshire MSPs

South Lanarkshire MSPs are beginning to get stuck into the issues surrounding South Lanarkshire Council and freedom of information.

In one way or another I've heard from the following MSPs - James Kelly, Karen Gillon, Margaret Mitchell, Alex Neil and John Wilson.

Not all MSPs responded which could be for a variety of reasons including:

1 Some MSPs are just not interested - despite what they say
2 Some MSPs may have been on holiday
3 Some MSPs want to consult colleagues - before deciding what to do or say
4 Some MSPs are allowing another colleague to take the lead

In any event, the proof will be in the pudding - what MSPs actually do to stand up for their constituents - and hold South Lanarkshire Council to account.


The more people who contact their MSPs, the better - so once again here's a list of Holyrood MSPs covering the South Lanarkshire Council area.


Constituency MSPs
The following constituency MSPs all cover specific geographical areas of the council - and will normally only deal with constituents living in their local constituency - are five all Labour party MSPs.
Karen.Gillon.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Clydesdale

James.Kelly.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Rutherglen

Andy.Kerr.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- East Kilbride

Tom.McCabe.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Hamilton South

Michael.McMahon.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Hamilton North


Central Scotland - List MSPs
The Central Scotland group of List MSPs covers the bulk of the South Lanarkshire Council area - and can raise issues on behalf of constituents living in area.

The idea of a list MSP is to achieve political balance across the country - to provide local people with a choice of whom to contact for advice and support - in case one single party dominates the constituency MSP section - as Labour does in South Lanarkshire.

Jamie.Hepburn.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Linda.Fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Christina.McKelvie.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Margaret.Mitchell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Conservative

Alex.Neil.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Hugh.O'Donnell.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- Lib Dem

John.Wilson.msp@scottish.parliament.uk
- SNP

Voting With Their Feet

Special Needs Assistants continue to vote with their feet - see the exchange of e-mails below with a reader from North Lanarkshire.

Similar enquiries are now coming in from Fife - because of the debacle over 'lost' paperwork and internal grading appeals.

If you feel the same way, drop mark Irvine a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

"Dear B

Do you actually have a claim underway with Unison?


If so, you can simply transfer this to Action 4 Equality Scotland instead of starting up the whole process all over again.

All I need at this stage is your address and post code - to get things moving

Kind regards

Mark

Original Message
- Subject: equal pay

Hi Mark,

My name is BC and I was given your e-mail by one of my school colleagues.


I have worked as a Special Needs Assistant since 2001.

I'm sure at the time of the equal pay dispute I filled in a claims form through the union Unison, but their response hasn't been great and they don't give much information.

I hope that you will be able to help me with this claim. If you could send me an Action 4 Equality Scotland claims form that would be great.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Yours

BB"

Monday, 23 August 2010

Fife Council

A number of readers have been in touch to ask if their equal pay claim is affected by this Fife debacle over 'lost' grading appeals.

If you've got a claim running with Action 4 Equality Scotland - the straight answer is NO.

Because your claim for the 'protection period' is already underway - and unlike council the management and trade unions - Action 4 Equality Scotland hasn't managed to 'lose' vital pieces of information.

In fact, if any readers want to transfer their claims to Action 4 Equality Scotland - that can normally be done quite easily.

Just send your full name, address and post code to Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

LOST!

No, it's not that barmy American science fiction programme I'm on about - but something just as unbelievable, it has to be said.

Fife Council has apparently 'lost' all the paperwork concerning the grading appeals of Pupil Support Assistants - which is a bit like losing your passport, birth certificate or winning lottery ticket.

Now most people put these things in a safe place.

In fact in this day and age important documents are all backed up on computer disks - so they are virtually impossible to lose!

But not Fife Council - so how could this happen?

No one knows - or at least no one is saying - and Fife's Pupil Support Assistants are all understandably up in arms.

As usual the trade unions are running about like headless chickens - predictably blaming the council for the mess.

Why didn't the unions have copies of their members appeals - if the unions were handling their cases?

Readers are keeping me informed of developments as they occur.

Let's hope things get sorted out - because if not the management and the unions will both have a lot of explaining to do.

Stop (One Third of) the Cuts!

David Aaronovich is a political journalist - a commentator who writes a regular column for the Times newspaper.

Like others of his trade, you can take or leave what Aaronovich has to say - depending on your views or your mood - on any given day.

But as a long-time Labour supporter - Aaronovitch deserves a hearing for speaking honestly as a critical friend - for telling it as it is, or as he sees it at least - without serving up the usual stale diet of slogans and party propaganda.

Here's a slightly abridged version of what he had to say in July - on the looming battle over cuts in public spending.

"But here's the problem. There is more than just a hint of the the old red elastic in the way Labour figures are now discussing politics. They are being pulled back into the comfortable Thatcher-era Labour politics of "stop the cuts" and "support the fightback" activism.

Yet, by its own estimate, some two thirds of the cuts being made by the coalition would have been made by a Labour government. And the electorate knows it.

If oppositions were once cut slack for having no plans of their own, I suspect that those days are gone. Should ... Labour ... demand an expansion in higher education, say, but oppose any measures including increased tuition fees to fund it, they'll simply look ridiculous.

Labour will have to say what it would have cut, what it would have saved, and why."


Precisely.

"Stop the Cuts!" - may be what Labour says.

But - "Stop One Third of the Cuts!" - is what Labour really means.

Openness and Transparency

The Taxpayers Alliance has been having some fun at the expense of union leaders - by publishing a 'rich list' showing that some of them enjoy very healthy salary packages.

For example, Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, is reportedly paid a salary and benefits package worth £127,436 a year.

Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union receives £115,804 - while Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union earns £111,112 - apparently.

Unison in responding to the Taxpayers Alliance said that Mr Prentis 'is worth every penny that he is paid - and it is not taxpayers' money'.

A spokesman said: 'He has 1,500 staff, a turnover of around £160 million and has a lot of meetings with chief executives who are paid in the gazillions.'

Now, I've met more chief executives in the public sector than I care to remember - but I have yet to meet one who is paid in the 'gazillions'.

In any event, the comparison is not very apt - what's the price of mince got to do with the price of mangoes?

Chief executives and senior officials come in all shapes and sizes - some are responsible for tens of thousands of staff - others may be involved in life or death decisions.

So, in terms of pay it's horses for courses - and pay arrangements need to be justified on their own terms - so that public money or union members' money is properly spent.

But what should underpin everything when it comes to pay arrangements - is a willingness to be open and transparent - as opposed to secretive and furtive.

Even the BBC is moving in this direction - with a commitment to go further than ever before in providing details about its top stars' earnings - so that some form of public scrutiny is brought into the equation.

As ever - 'daylight is the best disinfectant' - as the scandal over MPs' expenses showed.

Midlothian Council

Midlothian is another council where one of the local MSPs is getting involved - and is asking questions about equal pay.

Jeremy Purvis - a Liberal Democract MSP - has been contacted by some of the school meals workers - who are understandably fed up with Midlothian's shenanigans.

Again Midlothian Council asked the Scottish government to borrow extra funds to meet the back pay costs of equal pay - and was allocated £9.1 million by Scottish ministers.

But ever since the council has been dragging its feet - blowing hot and cold in settlement discussions - then trying to move the goal posts at the last minute.

In fact, Midlothian Council have behaved like this consistently - for years they refused to engage with Action 4 Equality Scotland to try and settle these matters on a fair basis.

In both 2008 and 2009 they made offers direct to clients - but refused to discuss the details - and tried to bounce people into accepting low offers of settlement.

Serious settlement discussions finally got underway earlier in 2010 - but out of the blue the council changed the terms on offer and required the claimants to give up part of their claim for nothing.

But why should people be bought out on the cheap?

The ball is now in the council's court - but their behaviour suggest this is a deliberate tactic to try and encourage their employees, once again, to settle on inferior terms.

So, unless the council comes to its senses - these issues will all have to go back to the Employment Tribunals - with the council having a lot of explaining to do to the Scottish government.

East Dunbartonshire

Readers in East Dunbartonshire are up in arms over the foot dragging behaviour their council.

East Dunbartonshire is one of the councils which asked the Scottish government for extra borrowing funds to meet the back pay costs of equal pay - and has been allocated £2.8 million for this purpose .

See post dated 4 August 2010 - for details.

Apparently, the local Liberal Democrat MP - Jo Swinson - has started asking questions about what the council is actually doing with the money.

But the answers that have come back are not very convincing - no one seems to be able to explain what plans the council has to use these additional funds.

Readers in East Dunbartonshire find this quite shocking - and no wonder.

So they are going to contact their local paper and highlight what's going on - which is always a good way to encourage senior officials and council leaders - to get their fingers out.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Early Years Workers

A reader from North Lanarkshire has been in touch and wants to know:

"Do Early Years Workers come under the category of former APT&C staff?"

The answer is a definite - YES - see post dated 21 August for more details.

So this group - along with many others - are still able to pursue an equal pay claim.

Cynical Council Buy-Outs

A regular reader of the blog site has been doing her own FOI research - and has uncovered this little 'gem' from South Tyneside Council.

The quote is an extract from a council report - explaining how to buy-out people's equal pay claims on the cheap.

In fact the very same approach used by many councils in Scotland - and was often endorsed by the trade unions, tacitly or otherwise.

Just goes to show how cynical some people are - no doubt many of them would regard themselves as 'good socialists' - but how they can sleep at night is beyond me.

"Mrs. X. has been employed by South Tyneside Council since 1997 and works as a both a Cleaner and School Kitchen Assistant.

Whilst her combined weekly hours of work (based upon contractual hours) totals 33 hours per week, a separate calculation would be undertaken for each job that she holds and the combined compensatory payment would not exceed a maximum stated payment of £8,000.

In addition to the compensatory payment, Mrs. X would be potentially eligible to receive an interim payment based upon her combined weekly hours and length of employment.

The maximum cost to the Council for any individual employee, based upon the two types of payment, would therefore be £9,200.

For the Council, this compares favourably to a potential payment from the Employment Tribunal of £30,000 compensation and the ability to submit further claims if the authority then fails to implement job evaluation."


A Short History of Equal Pay

Here are two previous posts from July - for the benefit of readers who may have been on holiday at the time.

A Short History of Equal Pay

"Action 4 Equality began its activities on equal pay in Scotland in August 2005 - but before we arrived on the scene equal pay was dead a dead issue.

The landmark 1999 Single Status Agreement had still not been implemented in Scotland and had missed two implementation deadlines in 2002 - and again 2004.No significant activity was taking place in the employment tribunals over equal pay.

The trade unions had always said that legal action against the employers would follow - if collective bargaining failed to deliver change - but nothing happened as the original agreement was allowed to slowly wither and die.

In reality, both the trade unions and the council employers lacked the political will to end the widespread pay discrimination in Scottish local government – which they had both promised to sweep away in 1999.

In 2005 Action 4 Equality Scotland began to explain - for the first time - the huge pay gap between men and women’s jobs – and the ability of women workers to pursue equal pay claims to the employment tribunals.

At first, the employers insisted that they had no equal pay issues - but as more and more employees voted with their feet by signing up with Action 4 Equality Scotland.

In response, the unions and employers hastily cobbled together a new National Framework Agreement - issued as Scottish Joint Council Circular SJC/22 - which recognised there were ‘many valid equal pay claims in the workforce’.

Where had they been all this time?

The SJC circular proposed compensation payments ranging from a minimum of £6,937 to a maximum of £13,875 (based on 37 hours and a maximum of 5 years service). Significantly, these figures were agreed without consultation with union members or the wider workforce.

Yet, the original 1999 Single Status agreement was struck only after individual membership ballots - in all three signatory trade unions (GMB, Unison and Unite).So, the unions were effectively dancing to the employers' tune - but without a mandate from their members.

Glasgow City Council (Scotland’s largest council) led the way in making settlement offers to their employees – in the form of one-off cash buy-outs which diluted even the proposals contained in circular SJC/22.

The employers refused to explain the basis of their offers- but often they were worth much less than 50% of the real value of people’s claims - in some cases around only 30%.

In every case where Action 4 Equality Scotland has achieved a settlement – the value of the Action 4 Equality Scotland settlement has been significantly higher than that proposed by the employers and trade unions under circular SJC/22.

The background to equal pay in Scotland should be seen in the context of a period of substantial growth - council budgets effectively doubled over the 10 years up to 2007/08.Yet equal pay never became a big enough priority for the employers or the unions during this period - despite their alleged support for equal opportunities and equal pay.

The truth is that Action 4 Equality Scotland has been the catalyst for change - and the great thing is that well over 100,000 low paid, predominantly female, council workers have benefited - as a result."

Local Government and Equal Pay

Last year, the Scottish Parliament produced a report on equal pay - following a lengthy enquiry by the Local Government and Communities Committee (LGCC). More recently the committee invited further views - here's a summary of what I had to say.

"Dear Convener

Local Government and Equal Pay

I refer to your letter dated 15 April 2010.

Action 4 Equality Scotland, in conjunction with Fox Cross Solicitors, has negotiated settlements with several councils over the past six months and our experience is that employers are becoming much more willing to settle cases when faced with a GMF (Genuine Material Factor) hearing.

A GMF hearing is where the employers have to explain, but also be able to justify their discriminatory pay practices. Because by the time a GMF hearing is held the pay gap between traditional male and female job groups has already been established as a matter of fact.

Faced with this situation at a GMF hearing, the employers, to be perfectly candid, have to either put up or shut up because there is nowhere left to hide.

Settlements in Glasgow City Council, North Ayrshire Council and Fife Councils followed once the GMF hearings were underway. In reality, the councils involved could all see which way these cases were going and, in the absence of any credible defences, they decided to settle on agreed terms rather than fight on all the way.

The City of Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire Councils have both followed suit - albeit on the eve of their respective GMF hearings.

The reluctance of the council employers to fight their cases all the way to an adjudicated settlement reflects the weakness of their case – both individually and collectively. If they had any realistic prospects of success, they would have soldiered on, but chose not to do so presumably based on their own legal advice and assessment of the risks involved.

As the Committee will recall, Action 4 Equality Scotland stated in its written and oral evidence last year that the legal issues involved in these cases are very clear and always have been since the Single Status Agreement was introduced in Scotland in 1999.

Sadly, the council employers refused to face up to their responsibilities and have dragged the process out to the detriment of thousands of low paid employees who should have benefited years ago from the introduction of Single Status.

The trade unions have had a major a role in this debacle and in the recent case involving Birmingham City Council, the trade unions admitted that they had been a barrier to change for many years. Ironically, the priority of the unions has always focused on defending the position of traditional male groups – rather than on improving the position of low paid women who make up the great majority of the workforce.

However, the Employment Tribunal in Birmingham in a landmark judgment decided that the employers are ultimately responsible for their own actions; they cannot hide behind the trade unions and use trade union intransigence as justification for widespread pay discrimination within the workforce.

Having worked closely with Scottish local government over the years, in my former role as Head of Local Government for Unions (Scotland), I would say that councils have been poorly served by COSLA's lack of leadership on equal pay. I attach a recent article from the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site – A Short History of Equal Pay – which committee members might find of interest.

As far as future settlements are concerned, I would observe that several councils have applied to the Scottish Government for additional borrowing consents to meet the back pay costs of equal pay. My view is that these councils should be closely monitored to assess what progress is being made to resolve their outstanding cases.

One employer does merit special mention, South Lanarkshire Council, which claims to have implemented the Single Status Agreement in 2004. But pay discrimination is still widespread in South Lanarkshire and predominantly female jobs remain stuck firmly at the bottom of the pay ladder. South Lanarkshire refuses to publish basic pay information to explain the big pay gap between traditional male and female jobs. Because of the council’s refusal to behave openly and transparently 11 days were spent in the Employment Tribunals last year and a further 23 days have been set aside in 2010 – over what is essentially a very simple point.

Finally Action 4 Equality Scotland would be happy to attend any discussion – either at council level or Scotland wide – which is aimed at focusing on key strategic issues and potential test cases that could help speed the process up and bring the outstanding cases to a speedy conclusion

Kind regards


Mark Irvine"

Saturday, 21 August 2010

North Lanarkshire

New enquiries from North Lanarkshire Council keep rolling in - from people who are in one of the former APT&C groups.

APT&C stands for - Administrative, Professional, Technical and Clerical - in other words monthly paid, formerly 'white collar' staff who are now employed in a wide variety of jobs.

Because North Lanarkshire Council has not made settlement offers to these groups - it is still possible to register an equal pay claim.

Hence the new wave of interest from a wide range of clerical workers, school support staff - and so on.

The trade unions, of course, have never encouraged former APT&C staff to pursue equal pay claims - even though many people were paid much less than traditional, male dominated 'manual worker' jobs.

The fact that a refuse worker, a gravedigger or a gardener was earning so much more - than a classroom assistant or a skilled clerical worker - never bothered the unions, even after they signed up to the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

So, if you are in one of these jobs - and you wish to pursue an equal pay claim - send your details to Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

South Lanarkshire - Hearing Dates

The next hearing dates involving South Lanarkshire Council are as follows:

20 - 22 September 2010

28 and 29 September 2010


The hearings will all take place at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal - 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS - a short walk from Central Station.

If any readers do go along, make a point of introducing yourself to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of the Fox Cross Solicitors legal team.

Friday, 20 August 2010

South Lanarkshire Update

Just back from an excellent meeting in South Lanarkshire - a good turnout with lots of questions and comments.

One thing people often want to know is how can they help - what can they do to knock some sense into the council?

Well they can certainly raise South Lanarkshire's ridiculous FOI behaviour with local councillors and MSPs - and there's plenty of information already on the blog site explaining how to go about that.

Another area where people may be able to help - is in relation to the treatment of traditional male jobs - roadsweepers, refuse workers, gravediggers, gardeners and suchlike - jobs that attracted big bonus payments.

The men doing these jobs have potentially very useful information - because they know what happened with the council's pay structures when South Lanarkshire introduced Single Status - in April 2004.

So, if you know anyone doing such a job - they might be a relative or friend - then get in touch with Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Even if they have left the council or retired in the past few years - they may still have something useful to say or pass on.

Anyone still employed by the council would have nothing to fear from simply telling the truth - and would also be protected from any victimisation by 'Whistleblowing' legislation.

All such enquiries will be treated in strict confidence.

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

South Lanarkshire Council's response to my latest FOI request has met with the usual answer - obfuscation and delay.

So, here's a copy of my request for a review of the council's initial response - which is part of the FOI process in Scotland.

No other council in Scotland behaves this way - the council's is trying to argue that how public money is spent is covered by data protection - which in my view is plainly ridiculous.

But read my review request letter and decide for yourself - if you would like a copy of South Lanarkshire's full response - I can send this by e-mail on request.


"Dear South Lanarkshire Council

South Lanarkshire Council – FOISA Review Request

I refer to the letter from South Lanarkshire Council dated 3 August 2010 regarding my FOISA request.

I am asking for a review of the council’s decision for specific reasons, which I will turn to shortly, but let me say, first of all, that I regard South Lanarkshire’s behaviour as a complete abuse of the FOISA process. The council makes the following statement about freedom of information on its web site:

"Freedom of Information legislation is designed to ensure openness and accountability. This means that wherever possible, we will make the information you request available to you."

Yet, the council behaves quite differently when it comes to dealing with my original request (about the council’s job evaluation scheme) which was first raised on 10 September 2009. However, by raising bogus objections about my request being ‘vexatious’, the council has managed to drag the process out until August 2010.

In my experience, no other council in Scotland behaves in this obstructive and unhelpful way – which is in stark contrast to the council’s public claims to support openness and accountability.

Turning to the specific reasons for my review request, these are detailed below for your information and attention:

1. What were South Lanarkshire Council’s reasons for not adopting the nationally recommended COSLA (Gauge) Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

The council has refused this request on the grounds of excessive cost.

I find the South Lanarkshire’s response incredible - the council behaves as if it has no collective memory and that senior officials have no recall of major strategic events. To suggest that a junior admin person should try discover this information by spending up to 70 hours trawling blindly through countless committee reports is simply absurd. The council is not being asked to find the equivalent of a ‘needle in a haystack’.

2. What was South Lanarkshire Council’s share of the £250,000 costs of producing the nationally recommended COSLA JES?

The council has refused this request on the grounds of that it does not exist.

I am asking the council to explain what steps it has taken to find this information and to share the details in responding to my review request. I find it incredible that South Lanarkshire Council has no record of its financial support for a nationally approved JE scheme, developed in conjunction with all 32 Scottish councils, COSLA and the trade unions.

3. Who were the creators or authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 Job Evaluation Scheme (JES)?

The council has refused this request on the grounds that it potentially breaches data protection principles.

I am not asking about people’s personal details, as the council knows full well. I am asking for information about the professional role of senior council officials. I am asking the council to explain who carried out this important specialist task and what credentials or qualifications they possessed to allow them to advise the council on matters of such strategic importance. As public officials engaged in public duties which were paid for out of public funds – I believe this is a matter of legitimate public interest. My request is essentially no different to asking about the salary paid to the council’s chief executive, Archie Strang, which the press reported earlier this year as £146,502 per annum. Why does South Lanarkshire Council want to keep public information secret when its web site claims to support openness and accountability?

4. What payment did the creators/authors of South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES receive for their time and expertise?

The council has released this information stating that no additional payments were made – the costs being met within normal salaries and workload.

The council’s response is noted, but on its own, of course, this information is meaningless since the identities of the senior council officials involved are being withheld.

5. What credentials did the creators/authors possess for developing South Lanarkshire Council’s 555 JES?

The council has refused this request on the grounds that it potentially breaches the data protection principles.

Please consider my response and comments under Paragraph 3 above

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and would be grateful if you could ensure that your response is sent to me by e-mail: markirvine@compuserve.com


Kind regards


Mark Irvine"

Rogue Factors

Normally the pages of the blog site are reserved for issues which have a link of sorts - to the fight for equal pay.

But as an exception to this general rule I'm going to share with people a personal experience - of getting rid of a rogue factor.

Moving back to Glasgow and into a new home all went very smoothly - but as time went by it became clear that our new factor regarded the job as a licence to print money.

Not only were the charges beyond belief - but the factor refused to let people inspect receipts or to explain how people's money was being spent.

So, something had to be done - otherwise people were just being taken for a ride - which was simply not on.

More details to follow.

West Lothian Council

Readers in West Lothian are gearing up to give the local council a hard time.

The reason being that people are fed up with the council's foot dragging behaviour - West Lothian is one of the few remaining councils not to have made settlement offers in respect of its outstanding claims.

Why is West Lothian so different from everyone else?

Who knows - they have blown hot and cold about settlement discussions for years.

Why has another SNP led council - such as West Dunbartonshire - managed to get its finger out by acquiring extra borrowing funds from the Scottish government?

While West Lothian sits on its hands.

Good question and that's what people have every right to ask - their local councillors and MSPs.

Striking the Balance

A new play - Striking the Balance - is being performed in Glasgow and Edinburgh next month to celebrate 40 years of the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

The play from the Mikron Theatre Group tells the story of women who fought for equal pay in the 1960's, 70's and 80's - and is being held on the following dates in September:

Glasgow: Tuesday 21 September, Scottish Youth Theatre

Edinburgh: Wednesday 22 September,Voodoo Rooms

Places are limited but can be reserved by up to 10 September - by contacting Shona Roberts at sroberts@stuc.org.uk or phone 0141 337 8131.

Quite how much there is to celebrate is a moot point and - of course - the trade unions' role has proved highly controversial.

Why did the trade unions keep their women members in the dark over equal pay - why did the unions turn a blind eye to the big bonuses paid to traditional male jobs?

Why are the trade unions not fighting for equal pay in South Lanarkshire Council - where they have yet to register a single equal pay claim?

So, if any readers do go along - be sure to raise a question or two.



Thursday, 19 August 2010

Trade Unions and Home Truths

Jimmy Reid has been paid many tributes since he died last week - many recalling the events from the 'work in' at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders - Jimmy's high point as a union leader.

Shrewd as well as tough - fiercely political but not sectarian - Jimmy was a wonderful speaker with a common touch and sense of humour.

Here's an extract of what Martin Kettle from the Guardian newspaper had to say:

"Reid had the background, the brains, the ability, the vision, the charisma to have been one of the great leftwing political leaders of modern Britain.. In some ways, this is what he actually was, especially in the early 1970s".

Yet for all his impeccable credentials - if Jimmy Reid had managed to jump into a time machine and arrive in the Year 2010 - he would not find a job in the trade union movement we have today.

Why not?

Because he would not be a member of the Labour party - unlike just about every trade union leader in Scotland.

How crazy is that when Scotland is a multi-party democracy - and has been for years?

Shameful as that statement may be - it's an unwritten rule of today's trade unions that its senior officials can only be trusted if they support the Labour party - and no one else.

If you're in the SNP, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Socialists or Tories - you're not 'one of us' - you're 'one of them'.

The unions don't even recruit independent minded people - with no particular party loyalty.

The fact is that the unions are stuffed to the rafters with Labour supporters - which is an impossibility in terms of equal opportunity recruitment - without a hidden hand at work.

A hidden hand that sifts out the 'wrong' people - while delivering the same Labour members and supporters year after year - in virtually every senior position.

Scotland's unions claim to be equal opportunity employers - yet they discriminate against the majority of Scots - because they don't have a single non-Labour figure to their name.

So, how then can they claim to be representative of their members - when all the top jobs are reserved for members of just one particular tribe?

The people who pay tribute today at Jimmy Reid's funeral - will be too polite to say what needs to be said.


The sad truth is that Jimmy Reid wouldn't get a job even as bog standard full-time official in one of Scotland's major public sector unions - unless he changed his party allegiance.

Jimmy's days as a former Communist Party member would have made him a marked man - but his more recent support for the SNP would have been a real 'deal breaker'.

And that's the malaise at the heart of Scotland's trade unions today.

The trade unions don't reflect the diversity of their members - they are one dimensional and full of clones - drawn from just one party and one narrow section of Scottish society.

And until they face up to that home truth - they won't be leading anyone anywhere.

Beats 'Tattie Howking'

The Guardian newspaper reports today that former Prime Minister and Fife MP - Gordon Brown - has signed a lucrative deal with a London agency - to attend speaking events at $100,000 (£64,000) a time.

Apparently, Gordon Brown has not spoken in the House of Commons since he stood down as Labour leader - despite remaining MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

He has been seen in the chamber only on a handful of occasions.

Because the one time 'Iron Chancellor' has been writing a book it appears - entitled "The Financial Crisis" - explaining how Britain dealt with the economic downturn.

No doubt while still drawing his £64,000 MP's salary - and his generous pension as former Prime Minister - which is worth around £70,000 a year for the rest of his life, i.e. half the PM's salary - even though he was in the job only a few years.

Beats 'tattie howking' any day of the week.

On leaving office, Gordon Brown's supporters contrasted his intentions with his old chum Tony Blair - who has made millions on the international lecture circuit.

But while Tony Blair had the good grace to give up his day - and resigned as an MP - Gordon Brown is still drawing his public pay and rations.

North Lanarkshire - New Claims

Enquiries from North Lanarkshire continue to pour in - with people asking: "Is it too late to register an equal pay claim?"

Well, generally speaking the answer is - "No, it's not too late!"

Especially if you're in one of the former APT&C (i.e. former white collar/monthly paid) jobs - because the council has still to make any offers of settlement to these groups of staff.

So, school support workers - and admin workers in council offices all have perfectly valid claims - because for years they were paid less than unskilled gardeners, gravediggers and refuse workers.

Anyone who falls into one of these job categories - can get things moving simply by contacting Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Robin Hood in Reverse (2)

An interested reader has been in touch about the 'Robin Hood in Reverse' post - dated 22 June 2010.

While agreeing with the contents of the article - the reader goes on to ask about the many council officials who are allowed to leave the service - with a generous added years boost to their pension packages.

How come this only ever seems to apply to middle ranking and senior council officials - why do the lower paid groups never seem to get the benefit of added years? - the reader asks.

Good question.

I bet if you asked a Freedom of Information (FOI) question or three of Scotland's councils - along the following lines - you'd get a very interesting reply:

1 How many council staff have been allowed to leave in the 'interests of the efficiency of the service' in the past five years?

2 How much did this actually cost - in terms of added years and boosting people's pension benefits?

3 Of those who received enhanced pension benefits, how many earned more than £20,000 per year - and how many less than £20,000 per year?

Because the truth is that hardly any low paid workers are amongst those allowed to leave their council's service - on these generous, enhanced terms.

Such benefits are reserved for the higher paid groups - who already do much better than their low paid colleagues - from the final salary pension scheme.

Yet another illustration of how the local government pension scheme is a fine example of Robin Hood in Reverse - because the lower paid end up subsidising the much higher paid.

Here's a copy of the original post for information.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

"Robin Hood in Reverse"

"The final salary pension schemes operated by Scotland's councils - are a fine example of Robin Hood in reverse.

Why? Because they take from the 'poor' and give to the 'rich'.

What happens is that low paid employees - end up subsidising much higher paid groups - including many senior and middle ranking officials.

In effect, the part-time cleaner is subsidising the lifestyle - of the council chief executive.

The system works in favour of senior council staff of all kinds - including many teachers.

Let's take an example to illustrate the point - a chief executive paid £150,000 a year - now the person doesn't actually work at that salary level throughout his or her council career.

But their pension is based on this final salary - even if they've only done the job for a relatively short time - as part of their overall service which can be a maximum of 40 years.

The pension scheme rules changed in April 2009, but for the great majority of employees (i.e. those in post before April 2009) - the maximum pension is still worth half of a person's annual salary - plus three times their annual pension as a tax free lump sum.

So, a chief executive on £150,000 and a maximum service would receive - £75,000 annual pension plus £225,000 as a tax free lump sum, i.e. 3 x £75,000.

The new post-April 2009 rules provide for an even bigger pension - worth two thirds of a person's final salary - 25% of which can be converted into a tax free lump sum.

But under both sets of benefits and rules - the reality is that other lower paid council workers (and other tax payers) - are helping to subsidise the scheme - for the benefit of the better paid staff.

Why? Because the higher paid take out much more than they pay in - over their working lives.

Meanwhile - at the other end of the pay ladder - the scheme is not so generous.

Because most low paid workers remain relatively low paid - by and large they don't have a career path - or many opportunities for promotion.

For most low paid workers - their pensions reflects what they pay in to the scheme over the years - because their pay rises only very slowly and mainly through an annual 'cost of living' pay increase.

Now what would be much fairer - and more progressive - is a scheme based on average salary.

So that people get back roughly what they put in over their working lives - this could even leave a bit of room to boost pension benefits - in favour of the lower paid.

The unions like to pretend they're on the side of the low paid when it comes to pensions - but in truth they're propping up a system that favours the relatively better paid.

Does this remind anyone of how the trade unions behaved over equal pay?"

Posted by Mark Irvine at 00:19

Midlothian Council

Settlement discussions with Midlothian Council have been taking place over the summer.

Midlothian is one of the councils who have been granted additional borrowing consents by the Scottish government - to help meet the back pay costs of equal pay.

The Scottish government has allocated Midlothian Council - £9.1 million for this purpose.

Discussions with the council appeared to be progressing well until the last minute - when they attached strings to the offers - which had the effect of diluting their value.

Essentially the Council has tried to pull a fast one - by trying to settle claims for a longer period than that covered by the money on offer.

So the talks have stalled - until the council comes to its senses.

After all, why should workers in Midlothian accept less than those in other councils - when the basis of their claims is exactly the same.

The ball is currently in the council's court - with a bit of common sense the settlement process can proceed and conclude very quickly.

If not, it's back to the Employment Tribunals.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Common Sense Prevails

So the BAA strike is over - even before it began - and a good thing too!

The company made a 1% offer plus a further 0.5% with a few strings attached - about changes to the sick pay scheme.

The union had a ballot in which less than half the members voted - but produced a 3 to 1 majority in favour of industrial action.

No one really wanted a strike in these circumstances - and common sense finally prevailed - after a bit of ritual huffing and puffing.

The company increased the offer from 1.5% to 2% - and dropped the strings.

BAA employees will also receive a performance related bonus of between £500 to £900 - so long as the company meets its performance targets in 2010 - the workforce having narrowly lost out on a similar profit sharing exercise in 2009.

Honour being satisfied all round - no one is charging the barricades - which is just as well.

An Abuse of Public Money

The newspapers were awash yesterday with details of the crazy £285,000 tax-free golden handshake - paid to the former chief executive of the Shetlands Islands Council.

The Accounts Commission reported on the council's “haphazard” approach to governance and on “significant” tensions between councillors and officers - don't hold back then.

The former chief executive - David Clark – left the council with a shed load of public money - after only nine months in post.

While criticising the council for its behaviour the Accounts Commission - like most quangos lacks authority and real teeth - so that would appear to be the end of the matter.

In reality, both the council and the Accounts Commission are keen to pour oil on troubled waters - preferring to look forwards and not back.

But throwing away £285,000 in such ridiculous circumstances - is a complete abuse of public money.

The council, senior officials and councillors involved should answer for directly for their actions - simply being lambasted in the press is a punishment that doesn't 'fit the crime'.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Additional Support Needs Assistants

An Additional Support Needs Assistant from North Lanarkshire Council asks: "Do I have an equal pay claim?"

The answer is: "Yes".

Why?

Because North Lanarkshire Council has still to make settlement offers to former APT&C staff - which includes all grades of classroom support workers.

How do I get things moving?

Just send you full name, address and post code to Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Many thanks to the readers who passed on the copy of the South Lanarkshire Council report on Single Status - see post dated 23 July 2010.

The report referred to in the post is actually dated 23 February 2003 - a full year before the council implemented its Single Status pay and grading structures in April 2004.

In effect, the report betrays the council's real intentions over Single Status.

Because far from delivering on the historic commitment to equal pay - enshrined in the 1999 Single Status Agreement - South Lanarkshire was already planning to protect the old bonus-related pay hierarchy - which favoured the traditional male jobs.

Here's what the report said - for anyone who missed Friday's post:

“Acceptance and implementation of the Single Status package would be on the basis of trying to avoid employees experiencing a reduction in basis contractual earnings, this would be achieved using the Competence Based Grading Scheme.”

“This would include double time payments for Sunday overtime where this is part of employees existing conditions and current shift payments being consolidated and matched across.”

“The aim will be not to disturb protections in place for existing groups of employees which have already been agreed, such as arrangements for holidays, overtime working and how bonus has been dealt with.”

If you have any useful information to share - or thoughts about South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour - contact Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com