Monday, 30 June 2014

Calling North Lanarkshire



The position of residential care staff in North Lanarkshire is less clear that that for other groups of workers because their pay arrangements, prior to Single Status in 1999, were more complicated than most and involved a lot of different shift patterns.

But their pay arrangements under a new job evaluation scheme (JES) should still be fair and consistent compared to the treatment of other Council jobs in 2006, particularly in relation to the Council's traditional male jobs which appear to have fared much better than all their women colleagues.

So to understand the position in North Lanarkshire clearly, I'd like to meet up with a few residential staff who have been in post since 2005/2006 and who understand the transition from the 'old' to the 'new' pay arrangements which were introduced at the time of job evaluation.

I am especially interested in any paperwork and documents people may have received from the Council and indeed the trade unions because this will help to explain what has happened to this particular group of staff.

If you think you can help, then drop me a note, in complete confidence of course, to the following email address: markirvine@compuserve.com

Purifying Islam

Here's an interesting article from The New Yorker Magazine in which Lawrence Wright argues that the latest wave of terrorism in Iraq is all about purifying Islam in an effort to 'resolve' by violence and murder the centuries old dispute between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

ISIS’S SAVAGE STRATEGY IN IRAQ


POSTED BY LAWRENCE WRIGHT



The Islamist storm passing through Iraq right now has been building up since the United States invaded the country in 2003, which unleashed longstanding sectarian rivalries that spilled over into civil war. But the appalling brutality currently on display, initiated by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, is more than a carnival of revenge.

At the time of the American invasion, Al Qaeda was essentially defeated, scattered, and discredited all over the Muslim world. Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda then. After all, Shiites comprise about sixty per cent of the population, and some figures have Sunnis making up less than twenty per cent. Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant—and successor—Ayman al-Zawahiri did not see Iraq as a likely candidate to become a Sunni Islamist state.

Al Qaeda didn’t reckon with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bin Laden and Zarqawi had been rivals since the days of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, in the nineteen-eighties. Bin Laden, a Saudi, along with Zawahiri, an Egyptian, populated Al Qaeda training camps with young fighters largely drawn from their own countries. In 2000, Zarqawi, a Jordanian who had been a convicted thief and sex criminal before turning to radical Islam, created his own group, drawing from his country and the region known in Arabic as al-Sham, or the Levant—that is, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. He called his force at that time the Army of the Sham.

The rival organizations had different objectives. Al Qaeda was originally envisioned as a kind of Sunni foreign legion, which would defend Muslim lands from Western occupation. What bin Laden invoked as an inciting incident for his war on the West was the First Iraq War, in 1990, when half a million American and coalition troops were garrisoned in Saudi Arabia in their successful campaign to repel the forces of Saddam Hussein, who had invaded Kuwait.

Bin Laden had asked Zarqawi to merge his forces with Al Qaeda, in 2000, but Zarqawi had a different goal in mind. He hoped to provoke an Islamic civil war, and, for his purposes, there was no better venue than the fractured state of Iraq, which sits astride the Sunni-Shiite fault line.

The crippled condition of Al Qaeda’s core after 9/11 left the field free for Zarqawi to wage his own brand of jihad. Guided by certain Islamist thinkers who believed that attacking Shiites would draw Sunnis to their cause, Zarqawi concentrated his violence on native Iraqi Shiites, not the American military. He began his campaign in August, 2003, just five months after the American invasion, with a car-bomb attack on the Imam Ali Mosque, in Najaf. As many as a hundred and twenty-five Shiite Muslims were killed at Friday prayers, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, who might have provided moderate leadership to the country. Zarqawi also targeted Iraq’s professionals—the lawyers, teachers, doctors, and academics who together formed a fragile social matrix.

In 2004, Zarqawi pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. Zarqawi then called his organization Al Qaeda in Iraq (A.Q.I.). For bin Laden, Zarqawi’s network offered the opportunity to extend the Al Qaeda brand in a field where American boots were on the ground. For Zarqawi, it drew new recruits to the fray, who longed to fight under the Al Qaeda black banner.

From the start, however, bin Laden’s lieutenant Zawahiri despaired of Zarqawi’s bloodthirstiness and his fixation on the Shiites. “Can the mujahideen kill all the Shia in Iraq?” he asked in a July, 2005, letter to Zarqawi. “Has any Islamic state in history ever tried that?” Zawahiri also counselled against cutting off the heads of captives; a bullet would suffice, without the damaging publicity.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were certainly familiar with the use of violence against civilians, but what they failed to grasp was that, for Zarqawi and his network, savagery—particularly when directed at other Muslims—was the whole point. The ideal of this movement, as its theorists saw it, was the establishment of a caliphate that would lead to the purification of the Muslim world. The Islamist strategist Abu Bakr Naji offered a revealing outline of Zarqawi’s method in his 2004 book, “The Management of Savagery.”

Naji proposed a campaign of constant harassment of Muslim states that exhausted the states’ will to resist. He suggested concentrating on tourist sites and economic centers. Violent attacks would create a network of “regions of savagery,” which would multiply as the forces of the state wither away, and cause people to submit to the will of the invading Islamist force. Naji believed that a broad civil war within Islam would lead to a fundamentalist Sunni caliphate.

Zarqawi was killed by an American bomb, in 2006. American forces, along with a movement of Sunni tribes who rejected Al Qaeda, called the Awakening, bottled up his movement in Iraq; but the revolution in Syria created a new opportunity.

The movement is led now by an elusive figure named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reflecting its expanding turf, A.Q.I. changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. Zawahiri urged ISIS to stay out of Syria, leaving it to the designated Al Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Characteristically, ISIS engaged in shocking brutality, even against rival Islamist groups. In 2013, it took over the provincial capital of Raqqah, in northern Syria, on the banks of the Euphrates—the first real victory in the rebellion—and once again drew many foreign jihadists to its cause. Zawahiri couldn’t tolerate the insubordination of Baghdadi’s troops, and in February of this year Zawahiri booted ISIS out of the Al Qaeda consortium. By that time, ISIS had returned to Iraq and taken over Fallujah, the first major city in the country to fall under its rule.

According to one estimate, in the Long War Journal, ISIS now controls a third of Iraq. The strike has been so sudden and surprising that other forces haven’t yet responded, but they will. And then the long-sought goal of Zarqawi and his progeny—a vast war inside Islam—will become a reality.

Photograph: AP.

Eyes Wide Shut




Here's a good example of what passes for serious comment at The Guardian these days - an inane opinion piece by Joanna Bourke in which she argues that the British 'jihadists' who have joined the murderous terror group ISIS, may not be religious warriors but instead be driven by modern (western) forces that glamorise war.

Now this is a ridiculous argument and is not supported by any evidence other than Joanna's passing reference to a number of 'shoot em up games' while saying almost nothing about the concept of 'jihad' or the religious feud between Sunni and Shia Muslims which is at the centre of events in Syria and Iraq.

Interestingly, Joanna describes herself as a 'socialist feminist' and was educated at home by her Christian missionary parents which may help to explain her rather odd views and difficulty in telling the difference between a fantasy computer game and the ability to commit acts of murder and terror in the name of a twisted religious faith.    

The British jihadis in Syria might be driven by more than just religion

Young men going to fight in Syria may have also been influenced by wider modern cultural forces that valorise war


By Joanna Bourke - The Guardian


Nasser Muthana (R), 20, from Cardiff, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni, in the online video. Photograph: Al-Hayat Media Centre/AFP/Getty

Reyaad Khan and Nasser Muthana sound like typical British young men. They are educated, mad about sport, and were raised in a loving family in Cardiff. When, a few days ago, they were seen in an Isis film urging British Muslims to join insurgents in Syria and Iraq, the shock was palpable. How could this have happened? Are their actions symptomatic of religious fundamentalism? Or are they simply an extreme form of youthful angst? After all, one had told his mother before disappearing that he was going to a friend's house to revise for a maths examination.

For some commentators, these young men represent a crisis unique to British Muslims and are a justification for a further extension of surveillance of Muslim communities. Religious radicalism in the UK and throughout the world is a serious problem, but blaming religion alone takes us only so far. The problem is much wider. It includes the glamorising of violence: a fascination with armed conflict permeates male sub-cultures, crossing religious, ethnic, and class boundaries, while remaining very rooted in masculinity.

At the most general level, there is a quaint assumption in Britain that we are a peaceable people, engaging in armed conflicts half-heartedly and only when threatened by aggressors. Our role as perpetrators of violence is often overlooked. There is still considerable reluctance to acknowledge the atrocities committed during the age of empire. There is a similar reluctance to admit the role British policies have played in creating the political and economic environment that has helped foster terrorism in the Middle East.

But the problem is more complex. The glamorising of violence and military culture has effects beyond any particular group. It is not unique to young Muslim men – or, indeed, young men in Cardiff – to be excited by the prospect of combat. War is often seen as a rite of passage for young men – finally able to prove themselves as adults, not only to their parents but also to their peers. In all armed conflicts, men are heard boasting about the exhilaration of fighting, often neglecting to acknowledge their fears of dying.

This attitude is bolstered by war films, one of the most popular genres. Indeed, for many, war isn't hell; it's entertainment. Some of the most popular computer games are based on conflicts in the Middle East. They depict the thrills of battle taking place in "exotic" environments replete with scimitars, camels, caliphs, djinns, deserts, belly dancers, minarets, bazaars, and harems. Games such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor typically cast "insurgents" as faceless, scruffy fighters, in contrast to the clean-shaven, uniformed "good guys" who are fond of cracking jokes and have a strong sense of loyalty to their comrades. Depictions of both "us" and "them" generate a sense of shared excitement and mission. War-play is seen as such an important recruiter for armed groups that Hezbollah has developed its own games, Special Force and Special Force 2, to provide an alternative fighting perspective.

The language used in public to discuss war has become extraordinarily distorted – and not only among radicalised communities. Combat is routinely described in the media as though it were a form of sport: combatants are "silent hunters" or "duellists"; they "score a try". Making a kill is a "good shot placement". Enemy combatants are described as having "received" a bullet. Last year, when the British army introduced a new combat sidearm, the Glock 17, which replaced the long-standing Browning Hi-Power pistol, the weapon was described without any sense of irony, as a "lifesaver". The people that Glock 17s would maim and kill did not truly possess "lives".

All this is not to discount the importance of cultural alienation and religion in the decisions of Khan and Muthana to join Isis. Clearly, faith and ideology are important. It is to point out, however, that they have been influenced by wider cultural forces that valorise militarism. These effects should be discussed alongside other contributing factors.

Every Home Should Have One

21 June 2014
The Labour Party has got itself involved in a bizarre story about giving every citizen their own owl - for reasons a I don't even begin to understand.

But I think they may be on to something because eagle owls are apparently 'just the ticket' for scaring the shit out of seagulls.

So this is one Labour policy that I can support without a moment's hesitation and The Independent picked up on the issue with this cartoon depicting Ed Miliband as an owl.


No Sooner Said (10 September 2011)


Glasgow is an amazing place.

No sooner have I asked my fellow citizens for help in tackling the gull menace than a helpful reader responds with a link to The Trap Man.

Now this enterprising chap has a host of fearsome bird 'decoys' - including a Large Eagle Owl.

A ferocious raptor by all accounts which can be used to put the wind up some of our other  feathered friends including alien intruders such as the 'town gull'

Here's what the Trap Man has to say - I'm so excited I can hardly wait - I think I'll buy one as a birthday present to myself.

Let's just hope I don't get covered by a mountain gull 'guano'  when fixing the damn thing into  place!

"Large Eagle Owl"   

"How do I stop starlings and pigeons dropping their load over my prized car when I park it on the drive? 

The Trap Man Large Owl Decoy - this Large Eagle Owl Decoy will scare off the most reluctant bird squatters.

Manufactured from plastic The Trap Man Large Eagle Owl Decoy resembles a main predatory bird of feral pigeons, starlings, and gulls, when placed on close proximity to the roosting site it scares off would-be squatters.

Approximately 20" tall and less than one kilo in weight 

Plastic OWL decoy: £22.99

Product Code: OWL

Quantity: in stock

Product: Six Plastic Owl decoys £124.99

Product Code: OWL six

Quantity: in stock

Many people prefer to scare birds away,. The most common way of doing this is by positioning decoy birds of prey on the building. The results by using this method vary. Some find that their problem is solved immediately and the birds never come back, others find a small reduction in bird numbers.

Correct positioning is essential to success and turning once a week does seem to give better results."

Fantastic - the decoy even comes with handy product codes such as OWL and OWL six to help mere novices such as me.

And you even get a discount for buying in bulk.

Are you listening, Glasgow City Council?


Seagulls Don't Drink or Smoke (22 July 2011)


Seagulls are my least favourite creatures in the world - by a mile.

To my mind they are the vermin of the skies - and for the life of me I can't understand why they are a protected species.

Now my grievances against gulls are many, varied and deeply held - so let's get a few of their worst characteristics on the record.

Seagulls are highly aggressive, territorial birds that live in towns and cities these days - they  make their living by plundering people's rubbish - and by robbing their smaller avian cousins such as magpies.

Seagulls are not possessed of a lovely call or birdsong - instead they squawk and screech raucously - at all hours of the day and night - and without any regard to their neighbours or the noise pollution by-laws.

Worse still - if they have a chick - the ugly, fledgling bird follows its parents around for weeks on end - whistling incessantly as it begs for food.

In Glasgow these foul creatures spread rubbish everywhere littering the streets - crapping on everyone as the go - and seem to live on a diet of chips and half-eaten kebabs.

But they don't drink or smoke - as far as I can tell - so maybe that's the secret of their longevity and success.

As soon as I become Prime Minister - or even the leader of Glasgow City Council - I am going to campaign for a new law to rid us of these pests.

In a humane fashion of course - even though the demons inside me want to exact a terrible revenge.

What's needed is a policy and plan for removing their eggs - replacing them with false eggs - because the birds are too stupid to know any different.

And before you know it - a whole generation or two of gulls get wiped out - and peace and calm is restored to our city centres.

Fookin' Seagulls

I published an article from the Hidden Glasgow web site recently - which had some interesting, if somewhat restrained, things to say about the menace of urban seagulls.

See post dated 6 August 2011 - 'No Mean City'.

But this article also had a number of readers' comments - which made me laugh my head off at the time - and help illustrate why Glasgow is such a funny, crazy place to live.

Even though the city has more than its fair share of seagulls.

Remember - the context of the 'discussion' is how to get rid of these killer birds. 

Re: Fookin seagulls

by crazygray23

purchase a bird of prey, seagulls are scared shitless by them.

Re: Fookin seagulls

by Doorstop

Yeah, I'm popping out to ASDA this morning for a spare Eagle, a replacement Buzzard and a half a pound of Sparrowhawk.

Re: Fookin seagulls

by Reenie Bujman

I'm going to dress up as Wile E. Coyote and use a giant Acme vacuum cleaner to hoover them out of the sky.

(It's quiet on the ward this morning...)

Monopoly on God


The Times reports that Muslims in Malaysia are demanding a monopoly the word God by banning Christians (as well as others presumably) from referring to 'Allah' in their spoken and written language.

Now how sectarian and ridiculous is that - a government dictating to people what words they can and cannot use in their everyday lives, it's the craziest thing I've heard in a long time.   

Christians in Malaysia banned from using the word ‘Allah’


Muslim activists wait for the verdict outside Malaysia's highest court in PutrajayaManan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

By Richard Lloyd Parry - The Times

Christians in Malaysia have been banned from using the word “Allah”, in the culmination of a five-year legal battle that has provoked violence and religious tension in one of southeast Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries.

Today the Federal Court in Putrajaya rejected an appeal by the Roman Catholic Church, and upheld a government ban on the use of the word Allah by anyone other than Muslims. The word is used by some of Malaysia’s Christian minority as the Malaysian language equivalent of the English word “God”.

The word Allah, which originates in Arabic, has been used for centuries by Christians in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia, as well as in Malaysia. But the government argues that it should be reserved for the Islamic God, to avoid “confusing” Malaysian Muslims, who make up 60 per cent of the population. For many non-Muslims, it represents the latest manifestation of a growing Islamisation of a country that was formerly regarded as a model of harmonious and peaceful relations between different faiths and ethnicities.

“We are disappointed. The four judges who denied us the right to appeal did not touch on fundamental basic rights of minorities,” said Rev Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic weekly newspaper, The Herald.

“It will confine the freedom of worship,” he said. “We are a minority in this country, and when our rights are curtailed, people feel it.”

The controversy began in 2007 when the Malaysian government threatened to revoke the publishing licence of the Malaysian language edition of The Herald, for using the word Allah.

In 2009, the case began making its way through the courts and after a victory by the Herald, later reversed on appeal, there were arson attacks on Christian churches. In January this year, the authorities seized hundreds of Malaysian bibles because of their use of the disputed word.

Many Malaysian Christians worship in English, Tamil or various dialects of Chinese. But Malaysian-speaking people in Sarawak and Sabah in Borneo have no other word for God, except “Allah”. Despite today’s ruling, some Christian leaders insisted that they would not abandon the use of the the word.

“We maintain that the Christian community continues to have the right to use the word ‘Allah’ in our Bibles, church services and Christian gatherings,” said Rev Eu Hong Seng, the chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

Tomato Sauce Strategy



Parliamentary sketch writers, more often than not, confine their observations to the goings on at Westminster, but in this example Ann Treneman from The Times shares her thoughts about Labour's plans to get fought on welfare.

Fighting with relish is Ed’s messy strategy

Ed Miliband gave a speech about how to make young people get out of bed and get a job Ray Tang/Rex Features


By Ann Treneman - The Times

To east London then, to see Ed Miliband give a speech aimed at saving Britain — and himself. It seemed a very un-Ed location. To get there, I walked down a street that was so hip hip that I kept looking for a hooray. Shoreditch is a place with more bike shops than pawnbrokers. I saw men wearing red velvet slippers — with tassels. There is a Banksy near by. There is, and here I rest my case, a cat café.

Fighting with relish is Ed’s messy strategyEd does not really fit in here. I tried to imagine Ed in velvet-tasselled loafers. Or in a cat café. How, I wondered, would Banksy draw Ed? I finally arrived, the only person not attached to a bicycle, at Rich Mix, the hipster emporium where they are celebrating the World Cup with a Brazilian culture festival called Joga Bola! Ed’s event, hosted by the think-tank IPPR, was on floor four.

In the lift, I ran into a fashionista friend.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“Seeing Ed Miliband,” I ventured.

She looked confused and shocked at the same time, as if it were quite unthinkable that Ed would be in the building. She, of course, was on her way to see Erdem, the ultra hot British-Turkish designer who has his office here. I told her that Ed needed Erdem. “Yes,” she said, “but Erdem doesn’t need Ed.”

Ed’s speech was in a fringe theatre venue. The windows were covered with blackout blinds. Beforehand, we were served two kinds of giant cookies. When Ed came out from behind the screen, he looked exactly like he always does: geeky, goofy and ever so earnest. Ed is not, like Tony Blair, a camouflage politician. He is, for good or ill — and at the moment the polls, not to mention the Labour grandees like Lord Mandelson, favour the latter — authentically Ed.

The speech was all about how to make young people get out of bed and get a job. Labour has decided to offer something called the “youth allowance”, which provides training but not benefits to anyone under 21. Basically, it’s good for Labour’s budget, saving £65 million. For Ed, it’s all part of his economic revolution, where everyone in Britain has well-paid jobs, all based on his grand concept of “pre-distribution”.

Ed told us that, to find out more about young people and getting out of bed, he talked to one named Danny. “I spoke to him yesterday,” he told us. “I talked to him on the phone.” On the phone? I’m sorry but that is just ridiculous. How can you be a man of the people when you meet the people on the phone?

Afterwards, Ed took questions which were increasingly hostile until a woman from ITN asked, basically, if Ed’s leadership wasn’t mired in failure. She even compared him to Gordon Brown.

“Thanks for that nice question,” said Ed, flashing the teeth.

Ed stared at the horizon. It felt like, suddenly, he was in a movie. “I have got a big cause that I’m fighting for. And it is a tough fight.” He was fighting not for Labour but for Britain.

“And I relish the next ten months,” he said. “I relish the next ten months . . .”

I wondered if the record was stuck. “I relish the opportunity to fight for my vision of the country.”

Relish. Call it the tomato sauce strategy. It’s red and it’s Ed and, it must be said, messy.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Independence Debate

I have still to decide how to vote in the independence referendum on 18 September 2014.

But this latest nonsense from Ed Miliband will certainly help push me in the direction of the Yes campaign because the issue of low pay and zero hours contracts have not suddenly sprung out of nowhere which, apparently, the Labour leader would like people in Scotland to believe. 

No, they were big issues during the lifetime of the last Labour Government, especially Equal Pay which has been around for years  and the fact is that Labour had an overall majority in the Westminster Parliament for 13 long years between 1997 and 2010.

Yet Ed Miliband now has the cheek to suggest that things have got worse under the SNP Government at Holyrood and that we'll all go to hell in a handcart if the Scotland votes to become an independent country in September. 

Now that calls for a real brass neck if you ask me.



Ed Miliband to woo Scots with low pay pledge

SNP will drive down workers' terms and conditions, says Labour leader as shadow cabinet steps up anti-independence campaign

By Rajeev Syal - The Guardian

Ed Miliband: 'We are more likely to have two countries competing with lower taxes, lower terms and conditions and lower wages.' Photograph: Simon Cooper/PA

Ed Miliband will attempt to win over wavering left-leaning Scots who are considering voting for the Scottish Nationalist party by promising to tackle zero hours contracts and low pay.

In a speech in Edinburgh, the Labour leader will say that the SNP is involved in a "race to the bottom" over workers' terms and conditions because they want a future independent Scotland to compete with England by driving down workers' terms and conditions.

He will also highlight the role that Scotland has played in the UK over the past 300 years and the key role it will play in the future in changing Britain.

His speech comes as a number of Labour's shadow cabinet descend on Scotland to campaign against independence as September's referendum approaches.

On Thursday, Ed Balls was in the Scottish capital, claiming SNP leader Alex Salmond is trying to con Scotland into voting for independence by refusing to reveal his currency plans and transition costs.

Miliband will say: "My priority is tackling low pay and inequality. The SNP priority is a three pence cut in corporation tax. My priority is a 50p tax rate to restore fairness. They won't match it. My priority is an energy price freeze. They won't match that either.

"And there's a reason for it. Two countries divided with a border between England and Scotland means we are more likely to have two countries competing against each other with lower taxes, lower terms and conditions and lower wages," he will say.

Miliband will highlight the significant role that Scots including David Hume, Adam Smith, Keir Hardie, Tom Johnston, Jennie Lee and John Smith have played over the history of the union.

"Every time the United Kingdom has faced huge challenges, the people of Scotland have been there leading the way. Every time there has been a need for big economic and political change, the people of Scotland have been instrumental in making it happen.

"Every time that there has been a call for change in our country, the voices of the people of Scotland have been heard loudest in response," he will say.



Brass Neck (24 March 2014)





The business of politics requires a 'brass neck' - the ability to make claims that you know are exaggerated or even untrue, but this nonsense from the Scottish Labour leader about equality really takes the biscuit.

Because the fight for equality would have taken a huge leap forward if Labour councils in Scotland had kept their promises to deliver equal pay over the past 15 years, as required by the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

Now as I've explained before on the blog site the 'problem' was never about money or resources since the the Labour led Government at Holyrood and the big Labour councils managed to fund a major new pay deal for Scottish teachers (the McCrone Agreement) in the year 2000 which cost a mammoth £800 million a year.

Yet the same people and politicians turned a blind eye to the ongoing scandal in Scottish councils were traditional females jobs (carers, cooks, classroom assistants, cleaners and clerical staff) were all being paid much less than comparable male jobs.

Now funding the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have cost a whole lot less than the teachers pay deal, £400 to £500 million a year, but Labour councils reneged on their commitment despite the Labour led Coalition Government at Holyrood (until 2007) and the Labour Government at Westminster which had an overall majority between 1999 and 2010.

Johann Lamont was a school teacher before she stood as an MSP and she has been a full-time MSP ever since 1999, so the Labour leader must understand the underlying issues, yet I've never heard Johann say anything of significance about the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils, even though her seat (Glasgow Pollok) lies smack within the boundary of Glasgow City Council, the largest council in Scotland.   

Shameless behaviour, if you ask me.


Labour's Johann Lamont claims SNP fails on equality

By Andrew Black
BBC Scotland news
Johann Lamont will criticise the Scottish government - and pledge to make high earners pay more tax

Scotland's Labour leader will compare Holyrood's SNP government to the Tories, saying it has failed to deliver equality.

Johann Lamont will tell her party's conference that, despite seven years in power, Scottish ministers had failed to distribute wealth from rich to poor.

Branding the Scottish government "Osborne Max", she will pledge to ensure the rich pay their fair share.

Ms Lamont's speech comes ahead of the Scottish independence referendum.

On 18 September, voters in Scotland will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Ms Lamont will tell delegates in Perth: "Seven years of nationalism in Scotland - and not one policy which distributes wealth from rich to poor - in fact the opposite.

"Those in the richest houses saving most. Those with the most getting more. Those with the least getting less.

"That isn't just a betrayal of social justice - it is a betrayal of everything we believe Scotland stands for."

The Scottish Labour leader will urge members of the party faithful to "look beyond the saltire and plaid", to what she argued the SNP planned to deliver.

"While we will ask the rich to pay their fair share - the nationalists tell us that would put Scotland at a disadvantage," Ms Lamont will say.

"Social injustice is what puts Scotland at its greatest disadvantage and restoring the 50p tax rate will start to fight injustice.

"We have a nationalist government which refuses to reverse Tory tax cuts for millionaires - and a nationalist government which votes against giving workers on government contracts the living wage."

She will tell the conference: "Forget the talk of indy lite - this nationalist government is Osborne Max."



Politics of Equal Pay (2 August 2013)


I am often drawing readers' attention to interesting and/or thought provoking article in the newspapers and here's a real doozy which lays bare  the politics of Equal Pay in today's Herald - from none other than little old me!


So, go out and buy yourself a copy of the Herald, share it with your friends and use the information in the article to good effect - kick up a great fuss - for example, by posing a few awkward questions to your local councillor, MSP or MP.
Because when it comes to equal pay - Scotland's politicians, particularly its Labour politicians, have a great deal to answer for, if you ask me. 

Agenda: Political will, not economics, has stalled equal pay


There are still battles being fought on equal pay.
Earlier this week, I called on Eddie McAvoy, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, to resign after the authority lost a three-year legal battle which has cost the public purse more than £168,000 so far.

The Supreme Court in London ruled that the council wrong to withhold information from me. I wanted to check whether women workers at the authority were being discriminated against. 

The way in which Scottish councils chose to deal with equal pay has important implications for areas of social policy.

The business goes back to 1999 when a new national agreement was struck (the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement between Scotland's council employers and the unions. The stated aim was to sweep away years of historical pay discrimination against many female- dominated jobs which were paid much less, typically £3 an hour less, than traditional male jobs.

The way equal pay was to be achieved was by raising the pay of women workers to the same as the men. The costly price tag was around £500m a year: 90,000 women workers at £3 per hour x 30 hours a week (on average) x 52 weeks = £421m. 

You might well ask how Scotland's councils could afford to spend so much on equal pay. The answer is that the annual budgets of Scotland 32 councils and that of the Scottish Parliament doubled in size during the period between 1997 and 2007. So, money was never the problem – the problem was political will.

Because in the year 2000 Scotland's 32 local councils with the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government, implemented a much more expensive agreement on teachers' pay, the McCrone Agreement, with a far weightier annual price tag of £800m. Now this pay deal gave Scottish teachers an unprecedented 23.5% increase in a single year, whereas other very low- paid council workers were still waiting for the promises of their 1999 Equal Pay Agreement to be honoured.

Nowadays Labour and the unions are demanding a so-called Living Wage, yet I am struck by the thought that a rate of £9 an hour could and should have been achieved years ago. Not only would this have put more money into the pockets and purses of thousands of low-paid women council workers, but equal pay would also have eliminated the need for the crazy and complex system of working tax credits.

Those who failed to keep their promises in 1999 were the Labour councils who dominated the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) at the time and the Labour trade unions who decided not to cut up rough on behalf of their lowest-paid members. Instead this was done by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES), which arrived on the scene in 2005 and began to explain the big pay differences between male and female council jobs, which led to an explosion of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals. 

Aome people criticise A4ES because we charge clients a success fee of 10% (not 25% as some have suggested), but I've always regarded that as great value for money. The same people wrongly claim that the unions represented their members "for nothing", which is nonsense because they were, of course, taking millions of pounds in union contributions from these members –while turning a blind eye what was going on right under their noses.

So the fight for equal pay continues because certain councils decided to preserve the historically higher pay of traditional male workers when introducing job evaluation, which means that women workers have a potential ongoing claim while these pay differences continue. 

Other councils have cynically reduced male workers' pay to avoid the likelihood of claims from women employees, yet this was never the aim of the original Equal Pay Agreement: the problem was never that men were paid too much, but that women were paid too little. 

Mark Irvine was chief union negotiator in the 1999 Scottish agreement which was meant to deliver equal pay for women.


Scotland and Equal Pay (24 January 2014)


Here's another post about the politics of equal pay which I've decided to re-publish in light of the speech by Labour's Margaret Curran on Women and Independence.

If you ask me, Margaret Curran's comments are ill-informed and ludicrous because the main reason that the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was not implemented properly - was down to the role of the big Labour councils which controlled CoSLA at the time and the failure of the Labour supporting trade unions to stand up for the interests of low paid women workers.

Money was never the stumbling block because the Labour-led Scottish Government along with CoSLA (the umbrella body for local councils) managed to find £800 million to fund the McCrone pay deal which in the year 2000 handed an eye-watering 23.5% pay increase to another group of council employees - Scottish school teachers.  

Now this £800 million was built into the Scottish Government's base budget which means that it costs the country and extra £800 million every year to pay teachers a good salary - at the level determined by the historic McCrone Agreement. 

But the McCrone Agreement somehow leapfrogged and took precedence over the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement which, at the time, was estimated to be £400 to £500 million a year.

Interestingly, the Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement would have benefited well over 90,000 very low paid council workers, most of them women, while the McCrone Agreement gave an unprecedented pay increase to a smaller group of around 70,000 teachers.  

So, why was the money found for teachers and not other employees much further down the pay ladder?   

I don't know, but the answer to that question lies with the Scottish Government, the council  employers and the trade unions - all three organisations being dominated by the political priorities of Labour Party.  


Politics of Equal Pay (20 August 2013)

I came across this article on equal pay which I missed for some reason - when it was published in The Herald back in January 2013.

Now the writer involved - Ruth Wishart - is an experienced journalist, so I was both surprised and disappointed that the piece contained so many inaccuracies and mistakes.

For a start to use the words 'pay anomalies' to describe what was going in Glasgow  back in 2005 is an abuse of the English language - as if there were just a few wrinkles here and there.

Because what was taking place in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - right under the noses of the trade unions and seasoned journalists like Ruth Wishart - was widespread pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women.

Women in caring, catering, cleaning clerical and classroom assistant jobs - who were routinely being paid thousands of pounds a year less than relatively unskilled male jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

When Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) arrived on the scene in 2005, things began to change because we  explained to women workers exactly what was going on - and the fact that council employers and trade unions in Scotland had promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination as far back as 1999.

And this was during a 10 year period between 1997 and 2007 - when the budgets of councils in Scotland actually doubled in size, of course. 

But the employers and the unions failed to keep their promises which is why so many of these cases ended up in the Employment Tribunals - as union members voted with their feet and decided to pursue their equal pay claims with A4ES.

So much so that A4ES clients outnumber the trade union backed cases by a ratio of 10 to 1 - not 4 to 1 as Ruth Wishart wrongly suggests - and A4ES charges a its clients a success fee of 10% which Ruth would also know if she had bothered to check her facts.

Another glaring error is Ruth's reference to a Scottish Joint Council Job Evaluation scheme which she says was still under negotiation - but the truth is that a nationally approved Job Evaluation scheme specifically developed for Scottish councils had been available for use since 1999 - and this scheme was supported by the trade unions.

So Glasgow's decision to use a different scheme had nothing to do with choosing a quicker option - quite the opposite in fact.       
        
I find this all the more amazing because Ruth is (or was until recently ) a member of the Leveson Expert Group - whose advice on how to implement the Leveson Report in Scotland was quickly binned by the Scottish Government.

Yet the original Leveson Report was concerned with journalistic standards in the press and media - such as the importance of behaving with integrity and getting your facts right even when writing an opinion piece.

For example, Ruth's comment that "The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing" is plainly wrong - because the unions charged their low paid women members millions of pounds in contributions (membership fees) over this period - yet let them down miserably when it came to sweeping away years of pay discrimination.   

I was genuinely taken aback to such an ill-informed and unbalanced piece, so I decided to write to Ruth Wishart recently and invite her to meet with Mark Irvine and Carol Fox - to set the record straight.

Sad to say that offer wasn't taken up, but there is still an open invitation for any journalist who - like Ruth - appears to be struggling to grasp the basic rights and wrongs of equal pay.   

No easy answers in the struggle for equal pay

By Ruth Wishart (22 January 2013)

On one level it sounds so simple.

People should get the same pay for work of similar value regardless of gender. The Treaty of Rome said so way back in 1957. The UK law enshrined it when the Equal Pay Act came fully into force in 1975. What could go wrong?

Pretty well every thing as it happens. From dodgy employers in the early days who thought it smart practice to promote every single bloke on the payroll, to mass re-writing of job descriptions, to assembly lines being re-jigged to make them single sex.

And even when the rogues were rounded up, the earnings gap stubbornly persisted. Still does. But now all these years of underpayment have come back to bite cash-strapped local authorities who, not exactly obstructed by male-dominated unions, continued to preside over arrangements which turned out to be institutionally discriminatory.

A landmark judgment at the end of last year found Birmingham City Council on the wrong end of a court case brought by more than 170 women claiming back pay over six years. It is likely to open the floodgates for hundreds, if not thousands more.

Meanwhile, next month sees Glasgow City Council at a second session of an employment tribunal – there's a third scheduled for May – defending the arrangements it has come to after a process which began way back in 2005. A process which has already cost it over £50 million in compensation packages to female employees.

But this is not a straightforward tale of winners and losers, nor for that matter heroes and villains. When Glasgow City Council did its job evaluation exercise seven years ago there was no shortage of pay anomalies tumbling out of the woodwork.

As was the case with other councils, pay rates had grown up which made the casual assumption that outdoor dirty jobs like refuse collection and grave digging were intrinsically worth more than indoor manual work like cooking and cleaning. No prizes for guessing which of these categories employed more men than women and vice versa.

On top of that was an extraordinary bonus culture which widened the pay gap quite dramatically. As one executive explained "it seems that in some areas bonuses were being paid for turning up to work". And a lack of transparency around who got paid what and why meant that many of the disadvantaged women had no notion just how poorly paid they were by comparison with similar or poorer male skill levels.

The workforce pay and benefit review was designed to examine and eradicate these anomalies. Glasgow decided not to use the Scottish Joint Council Scheme still under negotiation, but used the Greater London Provincial Model on the grounds it would be a faster option than re-inventing the wheel. This entailed putting diverse jobs into 13 "job families" depending on the working context and skills.

The exercise meant higher pay for almost 25,000 employees, but loss of earnings for just under 4000. Under the deal anyone losing more than £500 would be offered skills development and there would be pay protection for three years.

The unions had several complaints about this, suggesting – among other complaints – that employees having to sign on the dotted line before being compensated for previous inequities was a form of blackmail.

But their cages were also being rattled by a new breed of specialist lawyers who saw the fight for equal pay as a lucrative niche market.

Their pitch was that on a no-win-no-fee basis they could get the women a better deal than union reps who, they suggested, had been asleep on the job in order to protect the incomes of their male membership.

Since the lawyers' cut of a successful action involved anything from 10% to 25% of the women's compensation packages, it seems somewhat disingenuous to suppose the main motive was a lofty crusade against injustice and discrimination. The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing.

In the event, four times as many Glasgow employees plumped for a private law firm than for Unison, though not the least of the ironies in this saga is that many of the lawyers involved had previously worked for Unison.

But, as I said, this is not a simple tale. Righting previous wrongs is important. Equal pay for work of equal value is essential. Yet all of this unfolds against a backdrop of budget cuts inevitably resulting in job losses.

It's not so much being careful what we wish for, more a dispiriting calculation on benefits versus costs.