Monday, 29 November 2010

Victorian Employers in South Lanarkshire

Alex Neil MSP continues to champion the cause of council workers in South Lanarkshire - who are still fighting for equal pay.

Here's a copy of a recent press statement - in which Alex Neil compares South Lanarkshire Council to a Victorian employer.

"MSP Neil calls on South Lanarkshire Council to stop acting like Victorian employers"

Central Scotland SNP MSP Alex Neil has strongly criticised South Lanarkshire Council for treating many of its employees with contempt over the issue of single status and equal pay.

Mr Neil, who has taken up the case on behalf of hundreds of South Lanarkshire Council's workers, says the treatment being meted out to employees reeks of the contempt with which Victorian employers treated their workers.

At issue is the Council's refusal to provide the basic information it used to decide the wages of hundreds of workers as part of the introduction of single status, ie equal pay for the same work.

Many women workers in particular are losing out badly because the Council won't pay them the rate for the job.

A decision by Scotland's Information Commission is due and Mr Neil has strongly urged him to force the Council to reveal all the information on its review of equal status.

He added:

"For some strange reason the Tory/Labour Administration in South Lanarkshire is the only council out of 32 not to have taken part in the National Job Evaluation Scheme, which determined the outcome of these claims. It ran its own Evaluation but won't tell the workers who did it, what its terms of reference were, what its recommendations were or how it reached these recommendations.

The whole exercise is bringing the Council into disrepute and making it a laughing stock amongst all the other councils in Scotland.

They should fez up, tell the truth and settle on the basis of the national review, as clearly their own was deeply flawed."


Readers in South Lanarkshire are having a big effect by raising the the fight for equal pay with their MSPs - the issue is gathering steam - as we start the run in to the next round of MSP elections in May 2011.

What is your MSP doing - on your behalf?

Lording It Up

The Telegraph newspaper continues to perform a great public service - by drawing attention to the expenses claims of members of parliament - this time in the House of Lords.

Details of the expenses racked up by Scotland's 61 'noble' peers have been released - totalling 32 million - including overnight accommodation and travel costs.

Lord Maxton claimed the highest sum of £63,429 - followed by Lord Sewell and Baroness Adams of Craigielea who each claimed £63,215.

Labour peer - Baroness Adams - was ordered to return £4,100 in expenses she claimed as an MP - but challenged Parliament to sue her for the money.

Since leaving the House of Commons and joining the House of Lords - Baroness Adams has picked up more than £60,000 a year in allowances since 2006 - but has spoken in just three debates, according to the Telegraph.

Baroness Adams emerged as the second costliest peer this year - with claims totalling £63,215 - including £28,000 in overnight expenses and £11,000 to travel to Westminster from her home in Glasgow.

What a racket.

Plan B

In the end the Scottish weather did more to disrupt the football calendar - than the strike action of referees.

And up till now - the only real casualties have been a Category 1 referee who resigned over the weekend - and the Head of Refereeing Development at the Scottish Football Association (SFA) - who seems to have been sacked.

So, let's hope the referees have a Plan B - because the tactic of withdrawing their labour and leaving an empty chair at the negotiating table - has patently failed to work.

In football as in life - Jaw Jaw is normally a better option than War War.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Having A Laugh

The 'Members Briefing' from Unison in South Lanarkshire is proving to be a big hit with readers - though for all the wrong reasons as far as the local union branch is concerned.

Here's another little gem from from December 2005 - setting out Unison's 'advice' to members on - Single Status, Equal Pay and South Lanarkshire:

"In brief, other councils are now rushing to catch up with the position arrived at in South Lanarkshire some time ago."

Now whoever wrote this must have been having a laugh - because no other council in Scotland has done what South Lanarkshire Council has done.

Seems to me that Unison was just acting as a mouthpiece for South Lanarkshire Council.

Instead of standing up for the interests of their low paid women members - who have lost out - compared to their counterparts in other Scottish councils.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Unison Briefing

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have already been in touch - to ask if they can get a copy of the notorious Unison branch briefing on Single Status.

Well, the answer is - of course you can.

All you need to do is to drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com - and I'll send you a copy straight back.

Angry union members should use this document - which is dated 1 December 2005 by the way - to ask some very pointed questions of the local Unison branch.

Because the advice to local Unison members has been completely contradictory - and many union members may have lost out - as a result.

See previous post dated 19 November 2010 - 'Don't Get Mad, Get Even'.

Compare and Contrast

A kind reader from South Lanarkshire has sent in a Unison 'Members Briefing' from December 2005 - which makes the union look completely daft.

Here's an extract of what it says;

"Councils and unions also had to cooperate to introduce a Job Evaluation system that measured jobs and ensured that jobs of equal value were paid equally - 'equal pay for work of equal value'.

Across the country employers refused to progress local negotiations either never started or proceeded very slowly. Except in South Lanarkshire, where the council were keen to progress.

Negotiations led to the introduction of the common conditions for all staff and the implementation of the Council's job evaluation scheme - the Competence Initiative.

UNISON, GMB and TGWU were fully involved in the negotiations. Finally, following a ballot of all members, an agreement was reached."

So in December 2005 - Unison were acting as cheerleaders for South Lanarkshire Council - extolling the virtues of a local Single Status Agreement - which 'the unions were fully involved in before an agreement was reached'.

Yet in November 2010 - the union finally admits that council employees may have a valid equal pay claim after all - here are Unison's latest thoughts which were published on the blog site recently

'We (Unison) recently commissioned an assessment of the scope for equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire - and we believe that as in other areas there may be some potential for some members being able to pursue equal pay claims'.

Now both statements can't be right - can they?

So lots of angry union members in South Lanarkshire - will be demanding to know - just what the hell's going on.

Men In Black

The ongoing refereeing dispute is turning Scottish football into a farce - with the footballing authorities looking more and more like the sporting equivalent of - the Keystone Cops.

The referees have a strong case - but they're going about things in completely the wrong way - by their visible lack of strategy - and unbelievably bad negotiating skills.

In fact, as Craig Brown (the Motherwell and former Scotland manager) points out - the referees have not even tried to make common cause with anyone else - before refusing to play ball.

So instead putting forward ideas and suggestions that could bring about some welcome changes to the game - the whistle blowers simply exit stage left.

In a thoroughly petulant display - which is, of course, as ridiculous and childish as some of the behaviour - that Scotland's referees have been complaining about in the first place.

The 'beautiful' game has a lot to learn from other sports - including rugby, tennis and cricket.

Where modern technology is used not just to stamp bad behaviour and cheating - but also to correct and improve decision-making - particularly at crucial moments.

The simple truth is that the Men In Black don't always get it right first time - the difference is that other sports reached this conclusion a long time ago.

Friday, 26 November 2010

You Heard It Here First

On Wednesday (24 November) I posted an article on the blog site - about the ongoing row over the Scottish Parliament's tax varying powers - entitled 'Much Ado About Nothing'.

The very next day the following comment piece - by Iain MacWhirter - appeared in the Herald newspaper.

"This taxing question is just so much ado about nothing"
Published on 25 Nov 2010

"The world held its breath yesterday as conflict erupted between North and South Korea; Ireland braced itself for civil unrest as its government imposed a crushing austerity budget; and higher education and school students took to the streets and occupied universities over tuition fees.

And Holyrood spent the afternoon rowing over the unspent cost of collecting a tax, the Scottish variable rate (SVR), that no-one intends to raise and is about to be abolished. Cover up? Abuse of power? Grow up.

There is a strand of infantilism in the Scottish Parliament that occasionally causes MSPs to get things out of proportion. Henry McLeish’s resignation as First Minister in 2000 over subletting his constituency office when he was an MP in Westminster was a case in point. MSPs get so wound up by petty squabbles that they lose all sight of the big picture, or even the little picture, or even the thumbnail print. Really, the SVR is such a silly issue that I can hardly bring myself to pontificate about it. “The greatest act of political sabotage since devolution,” according to Andy Kerr. Get a life.

The Scottish Parliament’s tax powers have not been “abandoned” or “abolished” or “taken away”. The Scotland Act has not been repealed. The Scottish Government merely took the decision that it wasn’t worth spending £7m to upgrade the machinery for collecting the SVR – or tartan tax – since there was no foreseeable prospect of it being used. The SNP’s own election manifesto in 2007 specifically ruled out using the tax, as did everyone else’s, apart from the Scottish Greens.

Yesterday, Finance Secretary John Swinney gave a comprehensive apology for failing to inform parliament of this before now, as well he might since, technically, this could stop an incoming government levying the tax until 2013. Mr Swinney ate his humble pie like a man. But the Labour leader Iain Gray’s claim of a “deliberate, secret disempowerment of this parliament” was risible. Especially after it emerged that Labour had mothballed the tartan tax in much the same way in 2000.

Why didn’t Mr Swinney tell parliament? All he needed to do was drop a line into the Budget debate saying he didn’t think it was worth blowing the annual cost of 275 nurses on a dodgy IT project. Probably human error, no-one thought it through, too much going on. Perhaps also the omission arose from a subliminal reluctance to raise the issue of tax at all. A refusal to face up to reality of the Scottish Parliament’s existing tax powers, while arguing so vehemently for new ones.

The real question, which wasn’t, of course, raised yesterday, is precisely why in the current financial crisis, no party apart from the Greens is even considering using the SVR to raise revenue for threatened services. It could raise around a billion pounds for the Scottish Government. A penny or so would meet the cost of free personal care. Another penny would fill the hole left by the raising of tuition fees south of the border. But the SVR remains the great unmentionable – a toxic tax. Mr Swinney is not alone in his selective amnesia. Labour has been proposing an increase in council tax to maintain local services and has called for cuts in the NHS. What it hasn’t done is look at the most direct way of raising revenue: though the SVR.

Now, the tartan tax has many critics, of whom I am one. There has always been a suspicion that it was never really intended to be used since it only allows variation in the standard rate. There is no mechanism for amending the higher rate of tax, above £43,000, or introducing new bands or any of the other adjustments that the UK Chancellor can introduce to make tax less taxing. However, there is no doubt that it is a tax on general income – which everyone agrees is the fairest method of raising revenue. It is the progressive alternative.

And while the SNP rejects the SVR today as beyond the pale, it has not always had this attitude. Recall the 1999 Scottish election when Alex Salmond called for a “penny for Scotland” to save Scottish public services. You might have thought that a penny for Scotland could be rather better spent today than in the boom years of the late 1990s.

Of course, the SNP got its fingers burnt in that election. It discovered that, contrary to conventional political wisdom, the Scots are no keener on paying tax than the English.

This is still probably the case. Which raises the question of what Scots will make of the new tax that is intended by the Coalition Government to replace the tartan tax.

Next week, the UK Government will unveil the Scotland Bill, which is intended, among other things, to implement the Calman Commission proposal to give Holyrood the power to raise or lower up to 10p of income tax across the bands. This, of course, is the real reason we had the SVR row this week. The Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore, saw an opportunity to wrongfoot the Scottish Government on the eve of the debate, so he leaked a letter in which he revealed that Mr Swinney had mothballed the tartan tax without telling anyone. It made it look as if the Nationalists were rather poor guardians of parliament’s existing economic powers.

This will make it more difficult for the Scottish Government to reject Calman out of hand.

The SNP claims that Scotland would have lost £900m if Calman had been in operation. It is deflationary and ill-thought-out. That may or may not be true. But my own view is that Calman presents an opportunity for the SNP rather than a threat. It should use the Scotland Bill as an opportunity to present its own progressive tax alternative to both Calman and the tartan tax.

Just talking about fiscal separation isn’t good enough. In any federal system, and that is the only serious option right now for Scotland, there has to be a mechanism for fiscal redistribution – for allowing wealthier regions to support less wealthy ones. This implies tax sharing of some sort.

Mr Swinney, Mr Salmond and the rest are clever guys. They can surely turn this debate to their advantage and secure Scotland’s financial wellbeing. And they might even raise another interesting question. Just how much would it cost to establish the Calman machinery, and how long would it take?"

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Who's Sorry Now?

Turns out that the idiot 'protester' who threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower in London - during the tuition fees riot - is another posh middle-class boy.

Not - as some suggested at the time - a signed-up member of 'Anarchists R Us'.

Edward Woollard, 18, pled guilty to a charge of violent disorder at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court - and his solicitor said on his behalf:

'Mr Woollard is pleading guilty and I make it very clear - he is very sorry for his actions.'

A charge of violent disorder carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison - under the Public Order Act.

Woollard's parents watched from the public gallery - as his case was referred to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing - at a later date.

The 18-year-old attends a top performing school - Brockenhurst College in Hampshire - and is studying for A -levels in politics, classics and philosophy.

Woollard apparently lives with his parents - in a four bedroom £275,000 detached house.


But he seems to believe that people from much less comfortable backgrounds - should pick up the tab for his higher education.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

The Scottish Parliament will spend much of its energy today - debating the 'loss' of a tax varying power which no one has ever used.

In fact - since Holyrood was established in 1999 - no one has ever got as far as suggesting that the parliament's tax varying powers should be used.

And - surprise, surprise - and no one is seriously suggesting - that the parliament's tax varying powers should be invoked now.

To do so would involve a complete waste of public money - which politicians are normally happy to spend - so the fact they are showing such restraint makes a welcome change.

Should the parliament have been told before now?

Yes, definitely.

Is it all a big fuss about nothing?

Yes, definitely.

Should the parliament be finding better things to do with their time?

Absolutely - because it makes the Scottish Parliament and our politicians - look completely ridiculous.

Children First

As I read an article about education reform the other day - in my mind's eye I could see the teaching establishment - working itself up into a rage.

A group of teachers from the Teach First scheme - that recruits high-flying graduates to schools in deprived areas - has suggested that teachers should lose their rights to long summer holidays.

Instead, the group says that the school day should be reformed - with flexible rotas.

Under which some teachers would start early in the morning - and others work until late afternoon - or at weekends.

The Teach First graduates highlight a school in New York that increased its pupil learning time by 20 days a year - under a deal whereby teachers booked holidays at different times.

Staff working hours remained the same - but the school was also able to cut class sizes.

Now that's what I call putting children - and learning - first.

Election Mandates

Len McCluskey election as the new leader of Unite - has prompted lots of Guardian readers to comment on the newspaper's web site.

Most people registering a view are rightly unimpressed at the poor turnout.


Less than 16% of the union's membership participated in the ballot - which does raise serious questions about trade union democracy.

If 84% of the electorate cannot be bothered to vote - something is clearly wrong - and union leaders should do more than just shrug their shoulders - and move on.

Some commentators also attack Len McCluskey - on a personal level - which is clearly rather unfair.

Len has still been elected after all - he just needs to avoid getting too carried away.

Because any over the top attack on the government - and its mandate to govern - will sound completely ridiculous.

From a union leader elected with the backing of only 6.8% - of Unite's 1.5 million members.


Prince of Darkness

I watched a programme on BBC 3 last night about Lord Peter Mandelson - aka the Prince of Darkness - entitled 'Mandelson: The Real PM?'

It was a strange experience - rather like one of Jamie Oliver's early Naked Chef programmes.


The format had the disembodied voice of a young female film-maker - posing rather vacuous questions off-camera - while remaining completely detached from proceedings.

Only at the end - as the credits rolled - was the film maker's identity revealed - Hannah Rothschild, giving a clue to behind the scenes connections of the great and the good.

As it turned out the programme was a big disappointment - a slight, if inoffensive, commentary on the death throes of the last Labour government - with little new to say.

The sub text was true enough though - because Lord Mandelson really did become a life-support machine for Gordon Brown - whose vital signs had signalled a slow but sure political death.

Yet Mandelson road to the rescue time and again - fighting off internal revolts, keeping Brown in office as Prime Minister - until the voters finally had their say at the general election.

Bringing Lord Mandelson back into the heart of government was a wizard wheeze - for a while at least - but ultimately it just showed how much Labour had run out of steam.

An unelected Prime Minister with an unelected Peer as his right hand man - was never going to breathe new life into New Labour.

Monday, 22 November 2010

What Do They Want, When Do They Want It?

Scotland's top referees are apparently going on strike next weekend - which could be a blessing in disguise - depending on which team you support.

But this is not a strike at all - in the normal sense of the word - because referees are not employed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

Instead referees are contracted to provide a service to the SFA - which they are planning to withdraw for one weekend - although the target and purpose of their action is far from clear.

Is it the SFA?
Is it the fans?
Is it individual clubs?
Is it the press?

So it will be interesting to see how this pans out - how will we gauge success or failure - what are the referees' demands?

Because it is sensible to know who the 'enemy' is and what your objectives are - before embarking on industrial action - since doing so afterwards is rather pointless.

At the moment the referees seem to be lashing out in every direction - which may create an even bigger mess than the problem they are trying to resolve.

Unite Election

Len McCluskey has been elected as the new leader of Unite - the UK's biggest trade union.

McCluskey received 101,000 votes - or 6.7% of Unite's 1.5 million members.

The other candidates were:


Jerry Hicks who came second with 52,000 votes (3.5%)
Les Bayliss who came third with 46,000 votes (3.0%)
Gail Cartmail, the only woman, with 39,000 votes (2.6%).

238,000 members took part in the ballot - which represents 15.8% of the 1.5 million members claimed by Unite.

Len McCluskey has been a member of the Labour Party for the past 39 years.

Moonlighting MPs

I seldom read the tabloid newspapers, but sometimes you've got to hand it to them - they are great at ferreting out stories - that expose the behaviour of the 'great and good'.

Here's one from the Mail on Sunday - about the exploits of former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown - who likes to project a 'hair shirt' image - as far as his personal lifestyle is concerned.

Yet he apparently insists on first-class travel and five star accommodation - when abroad on lucrative speaking engagements - while 'moonlighting' from his day job as an MP.

"Gordon Brown gave his first paid speech since leaving Downing Street yesterday, earning an estimated £60,000.

Mr Brown – who has barely been seen in public since he stepped down as Prime Minister in May – was a keynote speaker at a summit in New Delhi, the Indian capital.

He gave a 50-minute speech on the global economic crisis and how to prevent another one, which is estimated to have earned him around £1,200 per minute.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brown declined to confirm or deny the figure. But she said the money from the speech would help to cover the costs of a company he has set up to pursue a career of writing and lecture tours.

Mr Brown is following in the footsteps of Tony Blair, who commands fees of up to £200,000 for speaking engagements.

Unlike Mr Blair, Mr Brown has remained a backbench MP. It is believed that he has timed his entry into the lucrative speaker circuit so he can publicise his new book, Beyond The Crash, which is published next month.

In August it was reported that Mr Brown had joined a London-based speakers’ bureau, agreeing to give after-dinner speeches for £64,000 per event.

He also agreed to offer the services of his wife Sarah, who could present awards or prizes at the events with him for £12,000 at a time.

It is also understood that Mr Brown has asked that the host company offers him first-class travel and five-star hotel accommodation.

Anand Bhardwaj, one of the chief organisers of the event in India, said last night that they provided Mr Brown with flights".

More Kind Words

More kind words from a regular visitor to the blog site - a male reader this time:

"Dear Mark

Big big fan of the web site and all the janitors I speak to are fans too.

Keep up the great work - without people like you we would be in the dark because the unions never ever help the low paid workers.

Cheers and good luck.


W"

Hijacking Democracy

Labour's new leader - Ed Miliband - has been enjoying a short spell of paternity leave - which has allowed some of his cabinet colleagues an opportunity to make the headlines.

Alan Johnson - the shadow chancellor - has led the way with a call for the reform of the Labour party.

Johnson - a former trade union general secretary - declared that the voting system which elected Ed Miliband was wrong - and should be changed to weaken the grip of the trade unions.

Instead Johnson is calling for the full introduction of 'one member one vote' - not very revolutionary, but long overdue nonetheless.

Labour's electoral college means that a tiny percentage of trade union members - are allowed to hijack democracy - because the penny numbers who take part in the process - still cast 100% of the trade unions votes.

Here's what I said about the election result at the time.

6% = 70% = 90%

The Labour party's electoral college makes about as much sense - as one of the Mad Hatter's tea parties.

But to be fair it has done what it was designed to do - which is to give union leaders undue influence over key party decisions - by galvanising a small handful of union activists to vote in a particular way or, as in this case, for a particular candidate.

Democracy it ain't - instead it's all about machine-like, Tammany Hall politics - also known as vested interests and raw power.

Consider for a moment the voting figures which decided who would be the next Labour leader - and potentially, at least, the country's next Prime Minister.

199,671 trade unions votes were cast in the trade union section of the electoral college - 80,266 for David Miliband and 119,405 for Ed Miliband.

Before the ballot took place the unions were boasting that around 3,500,000 trade unions members would be invited to vote - in a veritable orgy of union democracy.

Yet the turnout of around 6% means that ordinary union members voted with their feet - apart from a tiny number of union activists - who have no claim to represent the views of the wider membership.

The voting figures also confirm that Labour's electoral college is to democracy - what Alice in Wonderland is to quantum mechanics.

Because the Miliband of brothers received the votes of 122,806 individual Labour party members - 66,814 for David Miliband and 55,992 votes for Ed Miliband.

Before the ballot - Labour claimed 170,000 members would be entitled to vote - so the turnout of party members is respectable - at just over 70%.

MPs voted in even greater numbers, as you would expect, and cast 262 votes in total - David Miliband receiving 140 and his brother Ed receiving 122 - so the turnout amongst MPs was well over 90%.

Yet all three sections of the electoral college get the same weighted vote - i.e. 1/3rd, 1/3rd and 1/3rd.

So the end result is that some votes are much more equal than others.

In Labour's electoral college reality is turned on its head - much like Alice in Wonderland - with the incredible effect that somehow or other - 6% = 70% = 90%.

Whatever this is it's not democracy - more trade union members voted (199,671) than the entire Labour party membership (122,806) - which just about says it all.

Maybe these people were Tory, Lib Dem or SNP supporters - seeking to influence the outcome - who knows?

But what we do know is that the new Labour leader was not elected by his own party members - which is a sad day and a bad day - for anyone with a passing interest in democracy.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Don't Get Mad - Get Even

As regular readers know - after years of being in denial - Unison has suddenly decided that some of its members in South Lanarkshire - might have an equal pay claim after all.

See previous post dated 16 November 2010 - Unison in Turmoil.

Sounds a little odd to me - especially as South Lanarkshire Council claims that Unison has been at the heart of local negotiations over single status - since 1999.

But set that aside for a minute and consider what Unison is actually saying - to its members in South Lanarkshire:

'We recently commissioned an assessment of the scope for equal pay claims in South Lanarkshire - and we believe that as in other areas there may be some potential for some members being able to pursue equal pay claims'.

Now Unison members who have loyally followed the union's advice - by doing nothing about equal pay for all these years - should be asking Unison some pointed questions:

1 When was this 'assessment' carried out?

2 Who did the 'assessment' - and what are its key conclusions?

3 How do I get a copy of the 'assessment' so I can see for myself what it ?

4 What is Unison going to do about the 5 years I've wasted - by following the union's advice not to lodge an equal pay claim - up until now?

5 Does Unison intend to compensate me for the money I've lost - which runs potentially thousands of pounds?

If you're one of the many members let down by Unison in South Lanarkshire - contact Mark Irvine and Action 4 Equality Scotland for advice - 0131 652 7366 or markirvine@compuserve.com


Don't just get mad - get even!

Voting With Your Feet

Here's an enquiry from a long suffering union member - and regular visitor to the blog site - who has finally decided to vote with her feet:

"Good Morning Mr Irvine

I am writing to you regarding the equal pay claim brought against my employer.

I have a claim and I am being represented by Unison.

However I feel that they have no real interest in their female members and the only information I get is from your Action 4 Equality Scotland site.

I am a care worker and have been with the council for 10 years and I would be grateful if you could advise me how I could transfer my claim to Action 4 Equality Scotland and Fox Cross Solicitors.

I am also considering leaving the union altogether especially when I heard it being described as a "multi million pound business" by one of its officials.

Yours sincerely

CA"

Well the simple answer is - just send me your contact details - and I'll take care of all the rest.

Spending Public Money

Here's a response from South Lanarkshire's chief executive - to my letter querying the council's use of public money - see post dated 16 November 2010.

Predictably, the chief executive does not even attempt to explain the council's actions - and instead just refers to the pension scheme regulations - in a typically bureaucratic response.

So the matter will now be referred to the Accounts Commission for Scotland - which has a remit to ensure that councils always strive to achieve 'best value' - in spending public money.

Dear Mr Irvine

I refer to your letter of 28 October 2010 and my subsequent e-mail of 29 October 2010.

In relation to your complaint, I would have the following comments:-

a) & b) The Council do not accept that we have acted improperly or in contravention of the pension regulations in connection with the termination of Mr Cuthbertson's employment.

The Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 1998 No 366 are intended to be read in conjunction with other relevant regulations such as The Local Government (Compensation for Redundancy or Premature Retirement on Reorganisation) (Scotland) regulations 1995 No. 340, and The Local Government (Discretionary Payments and Injury Benefits (Scotland) Regulations 1998 (as amended) and I would refer you to those regulations for their terms.

c) The regulations as detailed above provide for early retirement on the grounds of business efficiency and redundancy. Mr Cuthbertson's post was not redundant.

For your information, there remain a number of reasons whereby a member leaving employment early has the right to access their pension. I refer you to the regulations for their terms.

d) Your calculations in respect of additional costs are incorrect. The Council's calculations were based on the aforementioned regulations. Again, I refer you to them for their terms.

I am satisfied the Council has acted properly in this regard and will respond to any appropriate body should you choose to refer this matter to them.

Yours sincerely,

Archibald Strang

Chief Executive

Synthetic Anger

The newspapers are full of quotes today from allegedly 'furious' MSPs - if you believe the headlines.

Apparently, our opposition MSPs are spitting tacks - because the Scottish government has not kept the parliament's tax raising powers up to date.

To do so would have required paying a large sum of public to HM Revenue & Customs - who control the database that would be used to raise or lower income tax - by up to 3p in the pound.

What a load of old baloney.

Because not even the trade unions are calling for a hike in general taxation - since everyone knows full well that such a suggestion would go down like a lead balloon - with the voting public.

Now maybe Holyrood would be debating higher taxes - if Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish socialists were still in the parliament.

But of course they're all too busy - dealing with other pressing matters these days.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Unison in Turmoil

Unison is in complete turmoil in South Lanarkshire - as the union finally admits that it might have got it wrong all along - over equal pay.

The credibility of the union is now in tatters - as officials concede that they may well have given poor advice for the past five years and more - against the interests of their own members.

The union is writing to all members in South Lanarkshire - with a weasel-worded message to say that - 'some members' may have a valid equal pay claim after all.

As regular readers know - this comes after many years of the unions betraying the interests of their own low paid members - by doing deals with the council that benefited the better-off.

Unison in South Lanarkshire - according to reliable local sources - has been actively discouraging members from pursuing claims up until now.

And the Unison members who followed this advice have lost out - because their claims should have been registered years ago.

The reality is that while Action 4 Equality Scotland has spent the last five years fighting for equal pay council employees in South Lanarkshire - Unison has been sitting on its backside.

Contrast that with Action 4 Equality Scotland clients who have had had 18 days in the employment tribunal over the past year - with a further round of hearings already planned in the New Year.

Union reps and union legal advisers have been sitting in on the Action 4 Equality Scotland case - keeping a watching brief - but still the unions have taken no action.

So Unison is really shooting itself in the foot - because their advice to members looks woeful and downright shocking - in the cold light of day.

The union appears to have no shame as it tries desperately to change its tune - after years of delay and being in cahoots with the employer.

Members who have been let down in this way should consider holding Unison to account - by seeking compensation for their financial loss - which may well be substantial.

If you are one of the members let down by Unison - contact Action 4 Equality Scotland for advice - send your details to markirvine@compuserve.com or ring the Edinburgh office on 0131 652 7366.

You may well be able to hold Unison to account for any losses you have suffered up until now - which may run to thousands of pounds - due to loss of opportunity and the union's poor advice.

And the good news is that you can hold Unison to account - at the same time as pursuing an equal pay claim against South Lanarkshire Council.

Expert Commentators

Has anyone else noticed all these expert commentators popping up - to have their say on the 'gender impact' of the planned cuts in public spending?

'Women will be affected disproportionately' - they say - some from the safe haven of their well paid jobs in academia - and elsewhere.

But the obvious question is: What have all these experts been doing for the past 10 years?

Because the gender impact of paying bonuses - to only traditional male jobs - far outweighs the impact of any spending cuts.

For the past 10 years Scottish councils have been routinely paying male workers - up to 50% more than female workers - for every hour worked.

The women have been doing equivalent jobs - or jobs with much greater responsibility than the men in many cases.

Yet the expert commentators have had nothing to say.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Spending Public Money

Here's a letter of complaint regarding the use of public money in South Lanarkshire Council.

I've also submitted a separate FOI request on this subject - because South Lanarkshire Council - in my experience - is seldom willing to disclose such information - readily and willingly.

Archie Strang
Chief Executive
South Lanarkshire Council

BY E-MAIL

Dear Mr Strang

Executive Director of Corporate Services – Early Access to Pension Benefits

I would like to raise a complaint with South Lanarkshire Council over the circumstances surrounding the departure of its former Executive Director of Corporate Services, Alan Cuthbertson, who was allowed to access his pension early from 31 March 2006.

As you know, I have uncovered the following facts from the council following a FOISA request in August 2010:

1 The employment of the Executive Director, Corporate Resources, Mr Alan Cuthbertson was terminated on conclusion of his fixed term contract with access to pension benefits in line with the Local Government Pension Scheme (Scotland) Regulations 1998 as amended.

2 Mr Cuthbertson was 51 years of age on the date his employment terminated.

3 The principle of fixed term contracts for Executive Directors was approved by the Executive Committee on 27 February 2002 and Alan Cuthbertson's employment was terminated on 31 March 2006.

4 Mr Cuthbertson was awarded maximum compensatory added years in line with the pension regulations. This had the effect of increasing Mr Cuthbertson's pensionable service by 7 years and 6 days.

5 The additional payment to the Local Government Pension Scheme was £291,990 and was the result of South Lanarkshire Council allowing such a senior official to retire so early.

As far as I can tell, South Lanarkshire Council has spent over £1 million of public money in allowing this official to effectively retire at the age of 51 – i.e. £291,990 in additional pension benefits plus the extra cost of replacing the post for 7 years and 6 days which must have come to hundreds of thousands of pounds (@£120,000 a year = £840,000+).

I cannot see how South Lanarkshire Council can justify using public money in this way and, as you know, I invited you, as Chief Executive and Head of the Paid Service, to clarify the position before submitting a FOISA appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner – in an effort to get to the bottom of what has been going on.

My concern is that some of these matters go beyond the scope of the Scottish Information Commissioner to take corrective action. I am, therefore, considering a formal complaint to the Accounts Commission for Scotland as well as the Pensions Regulator. In summary I have the following concerns about South Lanarkshire Council’s use of public funds:

a) The end of a fixed-term contract is not a valid reason to allow a senior official to retire early, so how does the council justify spending £291,990 of taxpayers’ money on this particular individual?

b) The Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations appear to have been breached in relation to the award of an additional 7 years and 6 days service – when the regulations read as follows:

Power of employing authority to increase total membership of members leaving employment at or after 50

51.—(1) An employing authority may resolve to increase the total membership of a member who leaves his employment on or after his 50th birthday.

(2) The additional period of membership must not exceed –

(a) the member’s total membership on the date he leaves his employment (“the relevant date”);
(b) the period by which that period falls short of 40 years;
(c) the period by which that period would have been increased if he had continued as an active member until he was 65; or
(d) 6 243/365 years,

whichever is the shortest.

c) The Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations also require that a person under 55 years of age can access their pension benefits early – only if their post is being made redundant. In this case the Executive Director’s post was replaced, so how can South Lanarkshire Council justify its actions?

d) In replacing the post, South Lanarkshire Council incurred the additional cost of an extra salary for 7 years and 6 days which must have come to hundreds of thousands of pounds, i.e. an extra salary of @ £120,000 for 7 years and 6 days. How does South Lanarkshire Council justify this use of public money?


Mark Irvine

Empty Union Rhetoric

The unions are coming under pressure to say something meaningful - about the public spending cuts coming down the track.

So far, they resisted saying anything about the government's proposal to implement a public sector pay freeze - but only for workers earning above £21,000 a year.

The significance of £21,000 a year is that it would help to protect the lowest paid workers - two thirds of whom are women - in the council sector.

The government's announcement comes - of course - on the back of a complete pay freeze for all council employees - which has already been announced by the council employers - via COSLA.

So a relaxation of this policy - funded by the Scottish government - would be a big deal for the lower paid.

Yet the unions say nothing - other than to put forward ridiculous 'pie-in the sky' alternatives - that they know will never get off the ground - because they are not being made seriously.

The only proposal put forward by the unions - so far - is that the Scottish government should re-open all the PPP/PFI contracts signed in recent years - as a way of making potentially 'pain free' savings.

But this is exactly what the coalition government at Westminster did in relation to the out of control defence budget - only to find that the cost of ending or renegotiating contracts for two new aircraft carriers - was prohibitively expensive.

In fact it would have cost more to cancel the two new aircraft carriers - than the costs of finishing the building project (£5.2 billion and rising) - thanks to the way contracts were drawn up by the last Labour government.

And no doubt it would be the same in the case of PPP/PFI contracts - most of which were put in place by the last Labour-led administration in the Scottish Parliament.

In other words the unions bright idea for alternative 'pain free' savings - is a complete non-starter - and about as much help as saying Scotland should start exporting tea to China - as a way of solving the country's economic woes.

Time for the unions to wake up and show some leadership - on behalf of their members.

More Kind Words

More kind words from regular visitors to the blog site:

"Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland

A huge thanks you to you and all staff concerned with my settlement.

I am so delighted with the amount I received thanks to you.

ML"


"
Dear Mark

Just a note to say thanks to you and your team for all the hard work you had getting our great settlement - well worth the wait.

NL"

ROK Redundancies

Building services firm ROK has announced more redundancies - a further 268 staff in Scotland are to be laid off - after a deal to save part of the business collapsed.

Last week over 700 job cuts were announced - including 69 in East Kilbride.

Who knows whether the workforce saw this coming - and whether there was any prior warning or effective consultation.

If not the workers involved may be able to bring a claim to the employment tribunals - for a protective award.

If successful, a protective award could be worth up to three months pay - worth fighting for if you've just been thrown onto the dole.

So, if you know anyone that works for ROK - tell them to get proper advice before they agree to anything - put forward by the company's administrators.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Voting Reform

Voting Reform
Voting Reform
Be clear, therefore, that Labour is not trying to protect fairness from those who would destroy it but to perpetuate an unfairness from which Labour itself benefits. Inequality of constituencies is not the only source of bias in the electoral system – but it is certainly one of them. For the past five parliaments it has been biased towards Labour. No amount of red herrings about the danger of reducing the number of MPs, or the inappropriateness of including more than one major change in the same bill, should be permitted to distract from the essential propriety of correcting that bias. To claim this bill should be opposed because it is partisan is not just opportunism, it is an Orwellian inversion of the truth.

The principled stance would be to give the reform bill its second reading. Both of its main pillars – equalising seats and paving the way for the AV referendum – are progressive reforms. If Labour wants to make alliances with rightwing Tories to unpick the bill during the committee stage it can then try to do so, though it would not be right.

This week's decision to oppose the bill on second reading, however, defines Labour both as a party that is a defender of unequal constituencies and one whose commitment to AV reform has quickly become conditional. It raises the question of whether Labour will now, in fact, campaign for a yes vote on AV at all. When Labour looks at this bill it sees Clegg – whom it now hates – not electoral reform, which it should and until a few weeks ago did support. Nearly two centuries after the Chartists, one is bound to ask whether the Labour party is any longer a party of reform at all.

Publish Post Save NowSave as Draft

Raking It In

Former labour MP Margaret Moran is still doing very nicely thank you - from the MPs' expenses scandal.

Moran was forced to stand down after claiming £22,500 to treat dry rot at a seaside house 100 miles from her constituency in Luton - and stands to collect a £500,000 windfall from two former parliamentary homes - both of which were renovated at public expense.

Moran has just sold her Luton house for a profit of £185,000 and is understood to be keen to sell her Westminster flat too - according to the Sunday Times - which could realise an even greater profit of £300,000.

Moran's properties have been improved over the years - with new bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens installed where necessary - and all at the taxpayers' expense.

Incredibly the former MP is allowed to keep the profit element from the two houses - as they increased in value over the years - and as Moran repeatedly 'flipped' from one property to another to take advantage of Westminster's generous housing allowances.

Even though the mortgage on the property and other running costs were all being paid for - out of Moran's expenses claims.

Edinburgh's Shame

Gina Davidson wrote an excellent article on equal pay in the Edinburgh Evening News last week - here it is again for anyone who missed what Gina had to say.

Another group which has been treated very shabbily by the council - past and present, not just the present lot in power - are male workers in predominantly female jobs such as Home Carers and Catering Staff.

Now these men do exactly the same job as their women colleagues - who were made settlement offers years ago - yet the men are still waiting for justice.

No other council in Scotland has done what Edinburgh City Council has done - every other council in Scotland has made offers to men and women in the same jobs - doing exactly the same work.

Pay discrimination against men is every bit as wrong as pay discrimination against women - and 'scandalous' is the right word to describe the council's behaviour.

Let's hope they get their finger out soon - and start restoring the city council's battered reputation.


Equal pay-up is long overdue

SCANDAL is a word over-used these days. Everything from Wayne Rooney's extra-marital expenses to Cheryl Cole's inability to choose which of her X-Factor proteges to give the boot should, apparently, leave us scandalised.

But there is a real scandal going on in Edinburgh right at the moment. One that no-one apart from those at the sharp end are talking about.

Unsurprisingly, it involves the city council and money. More surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the trams.

What it does involve are 340 people all fighting to get the money they are legally entitled to for doing their job. Money which their trade union has not, at least in the past, pushed to get for them. Money which the council is withholding illegally from its own staff. Money which would already be sitting in their bank accounts if they worked 50 miles along the M8.

These 340 are, of course, all women. And they have been discriminated against because of their gender ever since they took up a job with the local authority. Not that they knowingly signed up to be paid less than their male counterparts of course.

While the Equal Pay Act was introduced in Britain 40 years ago - which stated that men and women be paid equally for the same or similar work - it took until 1998 before local authorities faced up to the fact that they were paying their female staff far less than their male employees for equivalent work and that they would have to do something about it.

For years it was ignored that a home help would take home £12,000 a year compared to a bin man's £18,000pa, despite the former supposedly being on a higher pay grade. While they may not have been doing the same work, they were rated under a job evaluation scheme as being equivalent.

So in 1999 the single status agreement attempted to harmonise the pay and conditions of manual and clerical staff in local government. But still in Edinburgh the issue was ducked and in 2004 the council was given an extension to get it sorted.

Six years on and only now has the council finally agreed to compensate all those women (such as home helps and cleaners) who missed out on the bonuses that were fought for and won by trade unions for mainly male employees like refuse collectors. Apparently being a woman doesn't just mean you get paid less, because you don't need an extra incentive to complete your job, it means that you also have less need of representation by unions.

Anyway, for some this settlement has amounted to as much as an extra 50 per cent of their salary for every year worked.

Not that it's over. The on-going row about the three years of protected pay for bin men under the council's more recent revamp of its job grading system, still unfairly excludes these women.

So that's more discrimination, and the likelihood of more claims being made, although again it's not something you ever hear mentioned.

Even worse though is that the council is still fighting against paying compensation to those women who do "work of equal value". These women are mostly in clerical or administrative posts, and admittedly, establishing equal value can be difficult, but basically it boils down to demands of the job such as effort, skill and decision-making.

A nursing home sewing room assistant is judged to do work of equal value to a plumber, canteen workers and cleaners are of equal value to clerical workers.

Yet in its desire not to pay the women their legal dues, the council is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' money fighting a losing battle in the courts.

It has even gone as far as trying to deny that it is their employer, as the women are based in different departments, in different buildings, across the city. It would be laughable if it wasn't such an insidious dereliction of duty to its staff.

Already the council has been told by the Honourable Lady Smith at an Employment Appeal Tribunal that it has to pay up. It is now appealing that decision to the Inner House of the Court of Session, which won't be heard until next June - racking up more legal costs for the Edinburgh public, and lining the pockets of illustrious QCs.

And yet were these women employed by Glasgow City Council all of this would have been settled by now. That, if nothing else, should shame those running the city.

Getting the money to pay compensation is not the issue. The council set aside £34m which has been spent just settling the manual workers' claims. For the rest it will now likely have to borrow money - for which the Scottish Government has given its permission.

But secondly, morally and legally, the council has to pay. It is not the fault of the women involved that they have been underpaid for so long. It is the fault of past and present councillors, officials and trade union leaders.

The council will lose its appeal. It is also in danger of losing what's left of its good name. And surely the Lib Dems and SNP councillors would love to take the moral high ground over their Labour counterparts?

It is time to stop squabbling with the women who have done nothing but work hard for their employer. It's time to pay up.

Burma Campaign UK

If any readers would like more information about the fight for human rights and democracy in Burma - please visit the Burma Campaign UK at the following address: www.burmacampaign.org.uk

The site has a wealth of background information about Burma - and its pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

And it contains plenty of ideas about what people can do on a practical level - to support the Burma campaign from the UK.


Sunday, 14 November 2010

Pay Policy Helps Low Paid

The Sunday newspapers report today that the Scottish government will announce a new pay policy next week - which will freeze the pay of public service workers earning more than £21,000 a year.

Now this will bring the usual howls of protest from the trade unions - who always talk a great fight about protecting the low paid - yet never take decisive action.

But the reality is that the new government pay policy is actually a big improvement for low paid council workers - because up until now they also faced the prospect of a 0% pay increase until 2013.

Earlier this year the Scottish employers (COSLA) imposed a pay freeze for all council employees for the next two years - which was reported on the blog site on 4 September 2010 (see below).

So the Scottish government is actually behaving more progressively than the council employers - who proposed a 0% increase for everyone.

The trade unions of course indulge in a lot of windy rhetoric about low pay - but would never agree to such a deal - because of the backlash they would expect from union members earning more than £21,000 a year. How typical and cowardly.


So, well done to the Scottish government - no one likes a pay freeze, but if there's going to be one - at least do something to protect the interests of the lower paid.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Dog Bites Man

Union leaders made a shock announcement yesterday - they are going to 'think' about taking strike action - over the Scottish employers decision to impose a pay deal.

Now in terms of the news agenda this is definitely in the same league as 'Dog Bites Man' - rather than 'Man Bites Dog'.

I suppose it is an improvement on a lot of windy rhetoric about manning the barricades - and the prospect of another 'winter of discontent'.

But union leaders have only themselves to blame - the employers caught them on the hop and left them looking completely flat footed.

Because with the unions refusing to negotiate seriously - the council employers simply withdrew their previous offer and substituted a new one - worth only 0.65% across the board this year - and a 0% increase (a pay freeze) for the next two years.

So trade union leaders have come back with a worse outcome - worth less than half of the offer tabled originally by the employers - and that takes some doing.

To add insult to injury - it's also a worse outcome than the settlement proposed for England and Wales - which at least makes an effort to protect the lowest paid council workers.

The unions are meeting next week to discuss the mess they've helped to create - and decide what to do next - so don't hold your breath.

But the reality is that Scotland's councils and the trade unions - have both done a great disservice to the low paid.

Bloggers of the World - Unite!

The Times newspaper reported yesterday on a Palestinian atheist who secretly blogged against Islam's 'blind faith' - found himself being threatened with life in prison for 'insulting the divine essence'.

Wow - that's really heavy - and to think I've been a great supporter of the Palestinian cause all these years.

Walid Hussein - 26 - the son of a respected Muslim scholar was caught after his mother found atheist texts on his computer - cancelled his internet connection - which forced Walid to use an internet cafe to post his blogs.

Somehow the cafe owner took pictures of Walid's 'blasphemous' facebook pages - and reported him to the Palestinian Authority's intelligence agency - which promptly arrested Walid for his 'thought crimes'.

Walid now faces life in jail for calling Islam a 'blind faith that grows and takes over people's minds where there is irrationality and ignorance' - and comparing Allah to a 'primitive beduin'

Bloggers of the world - atheists and believers alike - should unite in protest at the barbaric actions of the Palestinian Authority.

How can the Palestinian Authority rail against their treatment at the hands of Israel - when they treat one of their own citizens - in such a cruel and inhuman way?

Pro Patria Mori

Over the years there have been plenty of wars and military adventures - which have never enjoyed my support - enthusiastic or otherwise.

Equally, there have been times when I though that the civilised world should have intervened - to stop genocide in its tracks.

Rwanda being a prime example - where the world stood by - and watched tribal slaughter take place in Africa on a biblical scale - despite the presence of UN troops.

On Remembrance Sunday I always think of my two uncles - Edmund and Pat - who served in and survived the Second World War - including the British army's desperate retreat from Dunkirk.

I don't slavishly wear a poppy - and feel no need to wear my heart on my sleeve - though I always make a donation to the British Legion.

I heard some crazy person on the radio the other day - saying that she had refused to wear a poppy ever since she spotted Tony Blair wearing one at some memorial service - this apparently drove the poor woman over the edge.

How bonkers is that?

Wearing a poppy is not a statement of someone's support for wars - past, present or future.

But simply a sign of respect for those who have served in the armed forces - especially those killed and badly injured.

On this day of all days - we should remember the sacrifice these men and women made - nothing more or less.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Cash Strapped Councils

A regular reader has passed on some news - about the festive frolics planned by some of Scotland's 'cash-strapped' councils.

Apparently, Renfrewshire Council - which announced 500 job losses recently - is paying X-Factor loser Olly Murs £15,000 to switch on the Christmas lights.

Now I don't even know who Olly Murs is - but he is performing for 30 minutes before the big switch-on in Paisley.

So that's about £30,000 an hour - not bad work if you can get it - but why go to such ridiculous and costly expense?

South Lanarkshire are planning to spend £45,000 on six switch- on events - and North Lanarkshire - not to be outdone - is spending £50,000 on seven events.

No details are reported on what £95,000 will buy for the good citizens of Lanarkshire - but if anyone does know, drop me a note.

East Renfrewshire Council is not spending a penny on Christmas light ceremonies - maybe someone's volunteered to do it for free - overcome with Christmas spirit and good cheer.

Now I'm no party pooper - but I know which council would get my vote.

Why Subsidise the Well Off?

Readers have probably noticed that a young man was arrested yesterday - on suspicion of taking part in Wednesday's student protest at Millbank Tower in London.

Turns out the young man is not the one who hurled a fire extinguisher into the crowd below - but he was allegedly involved in the general mayhem and vandalism on the roof of the building.

Even more interesting is the fact that he comes from an apparently wealthy family - which owns a large country house worth up to £1 million - set in its own expansive grounds - in leafy Berkshire.

Jackson Potter - a 23 year old student at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridgeshire - joins the ranks of those charged with disorderly behaviour.

But you have to ask yourself this:

Why should the public subsidise the cost of sending someone like Jackson Potter to university - when he and his family seem to come from such comfortable means?

Never Give Up, Never Give In

In its own way, today's release of Burma's pro-democracy leader - Aung San Suu Kyi - is every bit as significant as that of Nelson Mandela - although the road ahead is not so clear.

Because Burma's military leaders show no sign of releasing their firm grip on the country.

Whereas in South Africa was apartheid effectively dead - by the time Nelson Mandela was finally allowed his freedom.

Yet this is still a day for great celebration - for everyone who has fought injustice in their lives - at home or abroad.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been a prisoner in her own home for almost twenty years - she has not seen her two grown up children for a decade and more.

She was also prevented from saying goodbye to her dying husband - knowing that if she left the country and its people - she would never have been allowed to return.

Sometimes the human spirit is truly incredible - in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi - indomitable and inspiring spring to mind as well.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Not So Usual Suspects

More revealing details about the London 'student rioters' - continues to spill out via the press.

An odd bunch, really - not the kind of people you'd expect to find - they're certainly not from the ranks of the poor, downtrodden and dispossessed.

Luke Cooper - 26 year old tutor in international studies at the University of Sussex - not a student at all, of course - and presumably well paid for his 'horny handed' toils in higher education.

Lewis Evans - a 17 year old school boy who was pictured hurling a chair through a plate glass window at Millbank Tower - aspirations unknown and unreported.

Clare Solomon - 37 year old president of the University of London Union - who has held various university union positions for the past seven years - apparently .

Tanzil Chowdhury - 22 year old with a degree in law and politics from Manchester University - former grammar schoolboy from Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Bryan Simpson - 22 year old student activist at the University of Strathclyde and a member of the Stop the War Coalition - doesn't pay up front fees of course as a Scottish student.

Mohammad Zain Kukaswadia - 19 year old student from Karachi, Pakistan - former public schoolboy who came to Britain last year to read economics at Essex University.

Simon Devey-Smith - a 51 year old grandfather was also the first person to appear in court - which heard that heard he lived in Lyon in France with his wife and children.

Liv Thurley - 18 year old schoolgirl who skipped lessons to join the march and has applied to study History of Art at Oxford University.

Miss Thurley told the newspapers: ‘Our parents are totally behind us as they were doing this in the sixties. We want our education for free as I can’t afford £9,000 a year.’

But last night Miss Thurley's dad Kevin, 56, denied that he had ever taken part in a student protest and blamed her ‘socialist’ school – Woodhouse College – for encouraging her to attend.

Outside his £800,000 home in Muswell Hill, he said: ‘I wasn’t involved in student protests – I was far too young at the time! – and I don’t condone violence. The protest was just an excuse for the kids to miss school.’

So, there you have it - not quite the stuff the revolution is made of - more like a bunch of middle class whingers - with more time on their hands than they know what to do with.


Wonder what the grandad was doing there though - someone should tell his wife in Lyon?

Midlothian Update

Midlothian Council has been blowing hot and cold for months - over new settlement offers.

Discussions have taken place in recent months, but no conclusion has been reached - despite the best efforts of Action 4 Equality Scotland and Fox Cross Solicitors.

A further CMD hearing (Case Management Discussion) on the Midlothian cases is due to take place on 6 December 2010.

If no agreement has been reached before this date - the aim will be to list a GMF hearing of the Midlothian cases - because the talking can only go on for so long.

The council has no excuses for its foot dragging behaviour.

Midlothian asked the Scottish government to borrow extra funds to meet the back pay costs of equal pay - and Scottish ministers granted their request months ago.

So it's time to put up or shut up - the council has until 6 December to come to its senses - after that all bets are off.

Violence Breeds Violence

The tabloid newspapers are having a field day - in the wake of the student march and protest in London over tuition fees.

Some newspapers have published the comments of Labour activists and Labour MPs on social networking sites - which make very interesting reading.

John McDonnell - Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington (London) said:

"The real vandalism is not a few broken Millbank windows but £9,000 fees destroying the hopes of young people going to university."

I bet John McDonnell wouldn't hold the same view - if an angry and out of control mob - gathered outside his own home or place of work - sprayed graffiti all over his walls - and generally smashed the place up.

Any responsible politician or student leaders knows that the scenes at Millbank Towers were bang out of order - peaceful protest is one thing - violent and threatening behaviour quite another.

And anyone who tries to make excuses for this kind of nonsense - is simply trying to encourage a repeat of the same behaviour - in the foolish belief that it will work to their political advantage.

Spot the Difference

A well informed reader has contacted me to say that a difference between Jim Devine and Phil Woolas - is that one was a former Unison official and the other a former GMB official.

Good point - and well spotted.

But I don't think a bit of old fashioned trade union rivalry - can explain the difference in treatment between the two former MPs.

The one found guilty in the courts has the sympathy of at least some of his fellow Labour MPs - who have launched a 'Save Phil Woolas' campaign.

The other (Jim Devine) has been found guilty of nothing - as yet - but is about as popular amongst his fellow Labour MPs - as a live hand grenade.

Who said politics was a dirty business?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Edinburgh and Equal Pay

Here's an excellent article on equal pay in tonight's Edinburgh Evening News - written by Gina Davidson - who quite rightly lays into the behaviour of Edinburgh councillors - past and present - city council officials and trade union leaders.

Good for Gina and the Evening News - the city council should try facing up to its responsibilities - instead of wasting public money on defending the indefensible.

Equal pay-up is long overdue

SCANDAL is a word over-used these days. Everything from Wayne Rooney's extra-marital expenses to Cheryl Cole's inability to choose which of her X-Factor proteges to give the boot should, apparently, leave us scandalised.

But there is a real scandal going on in Edinburgh right at the moment. One that no-one apart from those at the sharp end are talking about.

Unsurprisingly, it involves the city council and money. More surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the trams.

What it does involve are 340 people all fighting to get the money they are legally entitled to for doing their job. Money which their trade union has not, at least in the past, pushed to get for them. Money which the council is withholding illegally from its own staff. Money which would already be sitting in their bank accounts if they worked 50 miles along the M8.

These 340 are, of course, all women. And they have been discriminated against because of their gender ever since they took up a job with the local authority. Not that they knowingly signed up to be paid less than their male counterparts of course.

While the Equal Pay Act was introduced in Britain 40 years ago - which stated that men and women be paid equally for the same or similar work - it took until 1998 before local authorities faced up to the fact that they were paying their female staff far less than their male employees for equivalent work and that they would have to do something about it.

For years it was ignored that a home help would take home £12,000 a year compared to a bin man's £18,000pa, despite the former supposedly being on a higher pay grade. While they may not have been doing the same work, they were rated under a job evaluation scheme as being equivalent.

So in 1999 the single status agreement attempted to harmonise the pay and conditions of manual and clerical staff in local government. But still in Edinburgh the issue was ducked and in 2004 the council was given an extension to get it sorted.

Six years on and only now has the council finally agreed to compensate all those women (such as home helps and cleaners) who missed out on the bonuses that were fought for and won by trade unions for mainly male employees like refuse collectors. Apparently being a woman doesn't just mean you get paid less, because you don't need an extra incentive to complete your job, it means that you also have less need of representation by unions.

Anyway, for some this settlement has amounted to as much as an extra 50 per cent of their salary for every year worked.

Not that it's over. The on-going row about the three years of protected pay for bin men under the council's more recent revamp of its job grading system, still unfairly excludes these women.

So that's more discrimination, and the likelihood of more claims being made, although again it's not something you ever hear mentioned.

Even worse though is that the council is still fighting against paying compensation to those women who do "work of equal value". These women are mostly in clerical or administrative posts, and admittedly, establishing equal value can be difficult, but basically it boils down to demands of the job such as effort, skill and decision-making.

A nursing home sewing room assistant is judged to do work of equal value to a plumber, canteen workers and cleaners are of equal value to clerical workers.

Yet in its desire not to pay the women their legal dues, the council is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' money fighting a losing battle in the courts.

It has even gone as far as trying to deny that it is their employer, as the women are based in different departments, in different buildings, across the city. It would be laughable if it wasn't such an insidious dereliction of duty to its staff.

Already the council has been told by the Honourable Lady Smith at an Employment Appeal Tribunal that it has to pay up. It is now appealing that decision to the Inner House of the Court of Session, which won't be heard until next June - racking up more legal costs for the Edinburgh public, and lining the pockets of illustrious QCs.

And yet were these women employed by Glasgow City Council all of this would have been settled by now. That, if nothing else, should shame those running the city.

Getting the money to pay compensation is not the issue. The council set aside £34m which has been spent just settling the manual workers' claims. For the rest it will now likely have to borrow money - for which the Scottish Government has given its permission.

But secondly, morally and legally, the council has to pay. It is not the fault of the women involved that they have been underpaid for so long. It is the fault of past and present councillors, officials and trade union leaders.

The council will lose its appeal. It is also in danger of losing what's left of its good name. And surely the Lib Dems and SNP councillors would love to take the moral high ground over their Labour counterparts?

It is time to stop squabbling with the women who have done nothing but work hard for their employer. It's time to pay up

Spot the Difference

Labour's old guard is out to defend the indefensible - and not for the first time

The party's dinosaur elements is trying to gloss over the behaviour of Phil Woolas - the fomer MP and government minister who has been booted out of Parliament - for spreading malicious lies about his Lib Dem opponent in the May general election.

The argument of the 'Save Woolas' brigade is that their man has not received - due process.

Because Woolas has indicated his intention to appeal the damning verdict of two high court judges - and presumably he remains 'innocent' in the eyes of some at least.

Unless and until he has finally and incontrovertibly been proved guilty - in some higher place or court - which might take years, of course.

Well these same tender mercies were not shown to the three former Labour MPs now facing court charges over their election expenses - Jim Devine (a Scot and former Unison official), David Chaytor and Elliot Morley.

None of these chaps has been found guilty of anything - as yet - of course.

Nonetheless they were bundled out the door and declared 'persona non grata' by the Labour hierarchy - without so much as a backward glance.

So what's the difference between Phil Woolas and Jim Devine?

Scotland's Shame

Scotland's real shame is its Jekyll and Hyde relationship with alcohol - which has blighted the lives of so many individual Scots and their families for years.

Far from a new generation of Scots embracing a more relaxed, social drinking culture - widely practised in other parts of Europe - binge drinking still has a fierce grip on the Scottish psyche.

So much so that all the health - and other indicators - that highlight the real costs of Scotland's excessive drinking culture have been ringing alarm bells for years.

Yet our legislators and politicians can't agree with a programme for action - which tells you that the Scottish Parliament still has a long way to go.

Because for Holyrood to do its job properly it has to cut through all the vested interests - including party politicking - that try to slow down and block social change.

The SNP government's minimum alcohol pricing plan was never a 'magic bullet' - capable of solving Scotland's alcohol problems at a stroke - but it was a start, an effort to take positive steps to face up to the scale of the problem.

Raising the price of cigarettes did not stop smoking in its tracks - but it was part of a long march towards a much healthier Scotland - and a more pleasant and convivial atmosphere in our public spaces.

The opposition parties who voted the government's proposals down should be thoroughly ashamed of their behaviour - they set a terrible example on how to tackle the greatest social problem of our time.

One that successive governments have done very little about - except to stick their heads in the sand.

Calling Home Carers - South Lanarkshire

I am interested in speaking to any regular readers from South Lanarkshire - who are either still employed as Home Carers - or who are recently retired as Home Carers.

In particular, I am keen to have a word with anyone who remembers the home care 'service reviews' - which apparently took place prior to the introduction of the new Single Status pay arrangements in April 2004.

Any documents or letters from that period - would be of interest as well.

So, if you were involved in that process - either as an employee or even as a union rep at the time - drop me a note at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Knock, Knock - Who's There?

Speaking from personal experience - I can vouch for the fact that most students are decent, hard working young people.

I can't think of anyone that I know who would deliberately throw a fire extinguisher from a great height - into a group of innocent bystanders below.

Yet whoever carried out this insane act cannot have been too smart - not a first class honours candidate, surely?

Because in this modern world such actions are inevitably caught on camera - and then broadcast for the world to see - often only minutes later.

The only good thing is that the young man responsible must have spent a really sleepless night - wondering when the knock on the door will eventually come.

And if his friends and fellow protesters have any sense - they'll turn him in without a moment's hesitation - he deserves his fate.

What will be interesting to see in the next few days - is whether those caught up in the wanton violence and vandalism in London - are actually students.

Or the usual 'class warrior' types who are always out to hijack such events - unless the organisers take proper precautions.

Either way the voice of the students is drowned out - and the public will understandably turn against any anti-cuts protesters - whose real aim is to disrupt the streets.