Archive | July, 2011

Manufacturing Matters

28 Jul

The decline in manufacturing across the UK but particularly in Scotland has been, and remains, an economic and social catastrophe.   Its erosion over the last 30 years has blighted Scottish communities and plunged generations of families below the breadline.

Scotland is still suffering from Margaret Thatcher’s economic legacy; you can visibly still see the fallout across our country where landscapes lie bare in our towns and cities across Scotland.

Following the election of the ConDem Government at Westminsterits déjà vu as they wreak havoc with a new generation of neo-liberal policies.  However, it cannot be a case of blaming Westminster irrespective of the political colour because the Scottish Parliament has had the opportunity to be strategic about supporting the sector over the last twelve years – and has fallen far short from doing so.

Manufacturing employment in 1997 stood at 343,600 while the latest statics show that in the first quarter of 2011 it totalled 161,900. In just fourteen years it is more than halved. This is an eye-watering statistic. There remains anaemic employment growth projected for the sector.

In the latest Fraser of Allander Economic Commentary (June 2011) Scotland’s manufacturing sector contracted by -0.6% in the fourth quarter while UK manufacturing grew by 1.1%.  In the fourth quarter of last year UK manufacturing had recovered 42% of the output lost while Scottish manufacturing had only recovered 26% of the production lost in recession. Again, another frightening statistic.

Manufacturing still matters to Scotland’s economic revival and there are success stories such as the hybrid technology bus-build in Falkirk, and, new opportunities present themselves with the construction of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and also the 35,000 projected jobs in the renewables industries across the UK.

It is briefly worthwhile re-emphasising the Alexander Dennis case study as it showed how strategically targeted public investment can boost manufacturing growth.  The £4.4 million ‘Green Bus’ Fund resulted in 90% of the orders placed for hybrid buses being confirmed for production at Dennis.  Only 12 short-months ago this company and its workforce was emerging from a 3-day working week.

So how do we ensure more success stories? Well Unite’s proposal for the introduction of sectoral bargaining forums can provide the platform for the creation of more manufacturing success stories.  It is an opportunity to be strategic which should look at a series of issues including supply chains, productivity, skills levels, procurement and wages.

Delivering this is absolutely necessary if we are to truly achieve a balanced and integrated economy rather than the over-used slogans that never deliver any outcomes. An industrial strategy must entail looking at how we fairly award contracts and targeted investment in sectors such as construction, transport, general infrastructure, and, energy.  Such a strategy has to include pressuring financial institutions – particularly where public bodies have large accounts – to ensure that lending is given to small manufacturers in particular so they don’t go under and where jobs and skills are lost for generations.

If Scotland looks at our European competitors this is exactly what happens. Governments ensure that companies are supported and that supply chains are horizontally and vertically integrated and not thrown to the mercy of globalisation. We all know that the collapse of Bombardier in Derby with a loss of 1500 jobs and the knock-on effect on supply chains and local economies just simply would not have been tolerated in France or Germany. So,  Scotland has an opportunity to act – and it must – or we will simply celebrate the ghosts of our manufacturing past rather than celebrate a new future.


Unite Statement on Scottish Ambulance Service

27 Jul

Unite the Union has today (27 July) issued a clarifying statement in advance of a scheduled meeting and ongoing talks with Scottish Ambulance Service and representatives of the Scottish Government.

Unite who represent the majority of operation staff in the Scottish Ambulance Service remain fully committed to resolving an extremely complex set of challenges including a reduction of the working week and meal breaks.

Prior to the introduction of Agenda for Change (National terms and Conditions for all NHS staff in the UK) in 2004 our members in the Scottish Ambulance Service worked a 40 hour week (inclusive of meal breaks). Agenda for Change introduced a 37.5 hour week exclusive of meal breaks for all NHS staff. An unpaid period was introduced in the Scottish Ambulance Service during each duty period (i.e. shift) to facilitate the reduction of the working week. The ‘unpaid period’ is now being referred to in the press as a ‘meal break’.

Unite Scottish Secretary, Pat Rafferty:

 “Unite represents the majority of operation staff in the Scottish Ambulance Service. It is for this reason why we have become concerned about ongoing and very sensitive negotiations being played out in the press in advance of scheduled meetings with the Scottish Ambulance Service and representatives of the Scottish Government.”

 “It is vital to state that we have been, and remain, fully committed to a negotiated agreement and hope that we can find a resolution in the interests of the staff, and, importantly the public.”

 Unite Convenor, John Gallacher:

 “Unite welcomes the opportunity for continued dialogue with the Scottish Ambulance Service and representatives of the Scottish Government to continue working jointly towards a resolution of this complex matter.”


Contact John Gallacher on 07789 923749 – Unite Convenor for Scottish Ambulance Service.

Durham Miners’ Gala 2011

22 Jul

Members from across Unite Scotland headed to Durham earlier this month for the annual Miners’ Gala and the coinciding Unite Political Education School.

Each year Unite members from across the UK attend our two-day political school (or ‘Durham’ as it is more popularly known in Unite circles) to debate and shape political activism across our union. Our Unite Scotland Chair Stephen Deans comments on the effectiveness and success of the school in the clip.

This event culminates in the city’s famous Miners’ Gala which is one of the biggest annual political gatherings in Europe today. The Gala itself has its roots in the trade unionism of the once mighty mining communities of the North-East, with the inaugural event held in 1869.  Despite the decline of this proud industry the gala has evolved into a focal point for trade unionists from across the UK and the globe.

It’s a fantastic day in celebration of peace, justice and socialism and we hope the video gives you a flavour of the amazing atmosphere. If you were in attendance this year, see if you can spot yourself in the footage!

Learning launch at RBS Greenock

21 Jul

Unite launched a lifelong learning programme at the Royal Bank of Scotland mortgage centre in Greenock on 15 July. The programme will see union-delivered courses bringing new learning opportunities to staff. Unite has a learning agreement with RBS, committing the union and the company to working together to improve access to skills and learning for all staff.

On the day, staff filled out a learning survey, expressing their learning interests. By the end of the day, 221 people had filled in the survey. The union and company will look at the results together, and develop a learning programme to meet the needs of staff. The learning programme is being lead by workplace rep Stephen McCauley, and Union Learning Rep Sonya Cassidy.

Even before the start of the courses, the programme has proved popular, and several new members joined the union on the day. Stephen and Sonya have more than doubled the Unite membership on site since they became active, and staff are increasingly confident of their ability to resolve issues and work to make things better.

The survey asked questions about both work-related courses, and courses for personal interest. It included questions about IT courses, language courses,  Open University degrees and banking qualifications.

Mortgage centre staff who have not yet filled in the survey can do so here.

The graphs below show some of the interest in IT and language courses.

A Collective Conscious

15 Jul

Collective bargaining should be the life-blood of the trade union movement. It may be obvious but it’s worth stating once again what it is because the principle is eroding from the collective consciousness of workers, particularly young people, as less than one in three are covered by such agreements with the figure as low as 17 per cent in the private sector.

It’s the process of negotiations between employers and their representatives aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions. It’s what separates trade unions from other organisations in that we seek to raise the living and working standards of our members – and those who we seek to represent – across industries.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote in Industrial Democracy (1913) ‘By a series of remarkable legal decisions of the House of Lords, the Trade Unions of the United Kingdom have seen their use of the Method of Collective Bargaining seriously curtailed’. Fast forward a hundred years and many of us will come to the conclusion that we’re not in a much different position to then.

There’s no need for a history lesson on the reasons why there has been such a steep decline in collective bargaining coverage. Despite the rights based legislation of the previous Westminster Government collective bargaining coverage is five percentage points lower than when Labour came to power in 1997 – now standing at 31 per cent. This contrasts with around 67 per cent in 1960, 70 per cent a year after the Conservatives came to power in 1980 and over 90 per cent after the Second World War.

The political route was the other primary way in which the Webbs viewed the trade union movement as protecting and advancing their objectives (with the emphasis being on the former). They termed it the Method of Legal Enactment. However, it’s clear that this avenue is not open to trade unions with the ConDems at Westminster and many neo-liberal oriented institutions in Europe.

Therefore, are trade unions in a quandary in that both the aforementioned methods of advancing working peoples’ interests are not open or viable? Must unions accept their plight, retreat and manage decline, or, are there other ways of getting collective bargaining on the agenda?

Well maybe we should look to a Celtic solution! It’s true that measures such as a higher minimum wage, increased in–work benefits and credits, and, broader income transfers that reach poorer households can’t come from devolved institutions. But, there’s an opportunity to think of applying old methods to the new constitutional landscape of the UK. This, of course, would require the support for extending the principle of collective bargaining by devolved institutions on the premise that it is a social good which can help to reduce the economic and social inequities of our societies.

Devolved institutions have an opportunity to take the lead and set themselves apart from the Westminster Government’s savage attacks. Sector forums – a principle enshrined in the Warwick Agreement in 2004 – would help to combat inequality and assist in improving workers’ purchasing power in contrast with the downwards spiral of consumer confidence and reduced incomes.

If we properly reward workers through collective voice machinery then they will spend more, if workers spend it creates demand and if there’s greater demand then we make things which in turn reduces the unemployment count. It’s not rocket science!  There’s a stronger case for collective bargaining fostering growth than the clamour coming from Northern Ireland and Scotland to have lower rates of corporation tax yet who is talking about this as a method to create growth?

Collective bargaining coverage in mainland Europe remains high (though under constant threat). Of the original 15 member states of the EU, the UK and Ireland are the only countries where coverage is less than 50 per cent of the labour force.   In some cases, density exceeds 90 per cent such as in France and Austria while Germany has 63 per cent of workers covered by collective agreements – a figure which would be higher were it not for reunification.

Although the main focus of sector forums within devolved countries would be on pay and other terms and conditions of employment it’s important to emphasise that forums would have other functions as well.   They should address other concerns, such as productivity, procurement, investment grants, competitiveness, and the skills and training (including apprenticeships) needs within the sector in question.

The revitalisation of collective bargaining must be a key strategy in revitalising our economies and to creating a fairer society. Countries with stronger collective bargaining, greater degrees of economic balance and regulation in the labour market have coped with the effects of the global recession to a greater degree than those countries that have pursued a neo-liberal agenda. Hence, it’s not a matter of economics it’s a matter of political will and the type of society we wish to create.

As Paul Krugman has succinctly put it: “So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity…we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages” (New York Times, 6 March 2011). Celts forward march!




Pat Rafferty at PCS rally

14 Jul


Unite Scotland regional secretary speaks at the PCS rally in support of the public sector strikes on 30 June 2011.

Threat of job losses in housing support in Edinburgh

11 Jul

– by Ian McDonald

Proposed changes to Housing Support Advice and Information Services in Edinburgh will lead to job losses and risk the quality of care provided for homeless people.

If these changes are implemented, they could lead to a loss of 30 jobs across the voluntary sector. Worryingly, the structure of the proposed changes appears to avoid TUPE liability. This would remove protection for workers affected by job losses. There are around 20 jobs in Edinburgh Council that focus on complex needs housing support as a result of a transfer of Edinburgh Homelink Partnership staff in 2009. This followed the failed tendering exercise for contracts to provide support to the most vulnerable and repeatedly homeless adults in the city. These jobs were saved after a last minute intervention by Unite on behalf of members in April 2009.

We are concerned that attempts will be made to use volunteers to offer support to vulnerable adults as a replacement for qualified staff. This will further diminish the skill set of the experienced workers delivering services. Using volunteers as cheap, unskilled, under-trained labour for work with vulnerable adults is no substitute to care provided by trained and experienced professionals.

The sole purpose of these proposals is to create competition between the voluntary and public sector members who currently deliver housing support to adults with complex and multiple needs.

The report will be put before the health, housing and social care committee of Edinburgh Council on August 16th.

– Ian McDonald is a Regional Industrial Officer for the voluntary sector.