Archive | September, 2012

Edinburgh’s bin men not to blame for shambolic new collection arrangements

26 Sep

By Peter Lawson, Unite Shop Steward, City of Edinburgh Council Waste Services

It seems that across the capital hardworking frontline refuse collectors are being blamed for rubbish not being picked up on time. We appeal to the public to understand that this is not the fault of the guys out on the street collecting the refuse.

Two weeks ago the Council introduced a new shift system for refuse collection. One local resident we spoke to said, “I don’t have a clue what is going on with the new bin days. The information I’ve been given by the Council is completely inadequate.”

Discussing the problems on the kerbside one Unite member in Refuse Collection told us that he and the crew had been confronted by an angry resident. Dissatisfied with the response given by the crew member the resident then shouted at the crew, “F****** lazy b******s, just do your bloody jobs.”

These hardworking men and women have not received adequate information and training to deal with the public with regarding these changes. We’ve literally had to pick up the pieces of the Council cutbacks to the service.

On top of these problems our dedicated workers have seen their pay and conditions eroded over a period of many years. The latest changes have been the introduction of shift patterns they are now expected to work. There are unresolved issues with regards to payment for these shifts and, in addition, there have been considerable changes to the work/life balance of our members.

In terms of problems with Health and Safety, we would like to remind people that Health and Safety Executive research shows that refuse collectors are 10 times more likely to be killed at work than those in most other professions.  Also, the incidence of serious and enduring musculoskeletal injury dramatically increases when directly handling heavy and bulky waste bags.

This is not a ‘rubbish excuse’ as the Scotsman newspaper and Tory Councillor Jeremy Balfour were quick to argue. Our claims are backed up by evidence:

Regulation 4 of The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 states, “Each employer will, so far as is reasonably practicable, avoid the need for his employees to undertake any manual handling operations at work which involve a risk of them being injured.”

These regulations were one of the main reasons the ‘wheelie bins’ were brought into use in the first place – something worth remembering.

The Council has to comply with the law and the trade unions can be helpful in assisting with this.

It’s worth noting we don’t wholly oppose the changes to the collection days being implemented by the Council. Our hard working members are bending over backwards to make this work. However, the current arrangements cannot continue indefinitely. The current situation will be revisited in the coming weeks should the situation not improve.

The reality is that these problems have arisen because of poor planning and communication at management level. It’s as simple as that.

Again we call on the public not to blame the workers at service delivery level.  Like everyone else in this economic climate we’re just trying to do our jobs in very trying circumstances.

Glasgow taxi drivers meet over new registration fee fury

25 Sep

Unite Scotland members will hold a mass meeting on Wednesday evening (26th September) over an imposed annual £50 registration fee for drivers at Glasgow Taxis Limited (GTL), which will cut take-home pay and further fuel a race to the bottom across the local industry.

The Executive Committee of GTL told all drivers that a new registration fee of £50 must be paid by October 1st if they are to continue working from their existing radio circuit – from which they already pay towards and where work has been cut by 20% due to the loss of a key NHS contract. The previous registration fee was a one-off £10 payment.

With many drivers saying they are being squeezed beneath the low-pay threshold, the fee further restricts the ability to make work pay for many GTL drivers already working their maximum allocation of hours.  It prompted a furious response but concerns were stonewalled by an unsympathetic Committee.

Unite Rep for the Taxi Industry Drew Connelly said, “It’s beyond belief that GTL Executives, who know full well the conditions drivers are currently facing, have imposed this cash grab without any consultation whatsoever. 

GTL’s taxi drivers are at breaking point. It’s a choice between walking away from employment and joining the dole queue or increasingly slogging it out in a vicious circle of low pay and long working hours.

Drivers contribute significantly to some very handsome profits for GTL and provide an important public service, yet find their own earnings rapidly going downhill. This race to the bottom is unsustainable and Wednesday’s collective response has been a long time coming.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:  For further information please contact Unite Rep for the Taxi Industry Drew Connelly on 07980845196.

The meeting for all drivers, union and non-union, will take place in the Thistle Hotel, Cambridge Street, Glasgow on Wednesday 26th September at 6.30 pm. 

People’s Charter demand for ‘more and better jobs’

23 Sep

The Scottish Committee of The People’s Charter has put forward proposals for the protection and creation of jobs in the face of the Government’s failed austerity programme.

The Unite and PCS trades unions are calling for the revitalisation of collective bargaining and trade union rights to help boost pay and conditions. Furthermore, urgent state intervention and private investment in strategically important sectors of the economy are both required if the UK is to lift itself out of recession.

The proposals are central to the Charter’s radical alternative campaign which launched its new e-petition last week in the Scottish Parliament, already gaining cross-party support and over 1,000 public signatories.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “The increasing inequality of the UK economy can be linked to the decline of collective bargaining over the last thirty years and the legislative assault on trade union rights.

It’s a simple fact that in economies where high levels of collective bargaining and trade union freedoms exist, workers benefit from greater job security and stability of pay and conditions while wider society enjoys greater equality and prosperity.

A fresh focus on sector-wide collective bargaining coupled with legislative change from Government which supports and not attacks trade union rights are vital components for economic recovery and a future that works.”

The PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson added, “The failed politics of austerity has caused key industries to haemorrhage quality jobs, skills and slash wages with devastating effects on earnings and households.

Mainstream economic thinking increasingly supports our view that to achieve growth you must invest, so state intervention and an end to private capital strike in sectors like construction, manufacturing and green tech is now essential – its no longer up for debate.

It’s not rocket science; this will sustain existing jobs and create new opportunities, boost skills and increase purchasing power to help get the economy flowing again.”

ENDS

Notes for journalists:

For further information please contact Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns & Communications Unit on 07810157931.

The People’s Charter poses six demands as an alternative to the politics of austerity.

  1. A fair economy for a fairerBritain.
  2. More and better jobs.
  3. Decent homes for all.
  4. Protect and improve our public services – no cuts.
  5. Fairness and Justice.
  6. Build a secure and sustainable future for all.

In addition to the partners named above, the Scottish Committee People’s Charter is supported by a number of Unions, MPs and MSPs. Details can be accessed at:

http://peoplescharterscotland.blogspot.co.uk/

The People’s Charter e-petition (Scottish Parliament PE01452) can be signed at:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/peoplescharter

Radical new step for trade unionism in Scotland – introducing the Community Membership

20 Sep

By Jack Ferguson

 

“Unite community membership could vital for many. I’m part of a generation that feels like it hasn’t got a future. Since I graduated uni I’ve been unable to even find minimum wage employment, let alone graduate work. I think the only way we’re ever going to change that is if we get organised.”

Those are the words of unemployed 22-year old Liam Turbett, one of the over 43,000 young Scots surviving on Jobseeker’s Allowance. He signed up to become a community member of Unite as soon as he heard about the scheme.

“Young people are also a lot less likely to have worked in a secure permanent job where they will have heard anything about trade unions, and may not know anything about them. I hope that community membership is going to help develop a whole new generation of activists who’ll stand up for their rights at work and in the community.”

 

Community membership is a radical new step for Unite, and for the trade union movement as a whole. It opens up the benefits of being a trade union member to all those who are out of work for whatever reason. They could be unemployed, a student, retired, or a person with disabilities on benefits. At a much reduced rate of 50p per week, they can now become members of Unite. It also takes the union beyond just organising in the workplace, and into supporting ordinary people and fighting for trade union values out in the community.

As members, unwaged people will get access to the full range of benefits that come with being a part of Unite, such as free legal advice and debt counselling, as well as specific support for members who are trying to get back to work with CV writing, interview skills and a Unite job board.

However, the most important aims of the community membership scheme can be summed up in the old trade union slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise!’ Unite is aiming to build up a network of local community branches that are actively discussing issues in their area, and campaigning to bring about positive change.

It could be something really simple and local, like traffic calming for a busy road. Or it could be saving a library or community centre threatened by government cutbacks. Or organising a consumers’ co-op to tackle fuel poverty. Where possible, Unite can help organise joint campaigns between workers and users of threatened services. And of course, perhaps the most major issue effecting people who are out of work: the attacks on the welfare state and benefit system.

In order to support these local groups, we’re developing an exciting range of training to allow local activists to be as effective as possible, in areas such as community organising, using the media and the internet, how to engage with councils and government, as well as specific information about rights and benefits to ensure members get everything they’re entitled to.

The union isn’t going into communities with its own agenda and priorities to impose on people. Community membership is completely new, and we want it to be bottom up, and led by its members from the outset. People who actually live in communities are the ones who know best what affects them. What the union can do is provide resources, training and backup to people who want to take the initiative.

Having said that, it’s already clear what one of the main tasks of the union is set to be: standing up for the rights of benefits claimants. We’ve seen scandal and protest when it emerged that the Paralympics were being sponsored by Atos, the private firm tasked by the government with creating humiliating tests to get disabled people off benefits. Disabled people and others that rely on the welfare state for survival are constantly vilified in the media, meaning that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society are made to suffer as scapegoats for the greed and incompetence of the financial elite and government.

Attacks on people with disabilities or the unemployed come because those who victimise them believe they are weak and disorganised, and in no position to fight back. But with the whole of Unite the union as allies, that situation looks set to change. We aim to develop a network of members who have been trained in welfare rights and the procedures used by the likes of Atos, and are equipped to support each other through the bureaucratic hell of getting what they’re entitled to, buddy people to meetings and help prepare appeals.

Another group at the sharp end of government policy are those unemployed people effectively forced to become slave labour through workfare schemes. This issue is a key concern for the labour movement as a whole, as employers will delight in using workfare workers to undermine wages and conditions for all. Community membership offers a way to help organise people being forced to work for their benefit.

The trade union movement in Scotland has a proud history of improving the conditions that people work under. The key lesson of that history is that the only thing that makes the rich and powerful change their mind is when the people get organised about standing up for their rights, and force them to.

People throughout Scotland have had long experience of the consequences of decisions taken by people outside their communities, in which they have had no say, wreaking havoc with their lives. With the decline of traditional industries communities have become more atomised, with people living individual lives with little connection to their neighbours or others round about them. As Glen Hunter, a community member and community councillor in Glasgow’s Pollokshields, puts it:

“The first thing we need to do is rebuild and foster communities. Bringing people together through social and community events is so important if people aren’t going to be completely isolated from each other.”

Community membership offers a way for communities in Scotland to find their voice and rediscover the power of getting organised.  They might not have money, or political influence, but they have got people power – it’s just a matter of working out how to use it.

 

Jack Ferguson is the Unite Scotland Community Coordinator. You can reach him on 0845 604 4384 or via email at jack.ferguson@unitetheunion.org

 

Cumbernauld DHL workers vote for strike action in pay dispute

18 Sep

Unite Scotland members at the Cumbernauld-based DHL Supply Chain will take industrial action after a long-running dispute over pay and the future of the site.

Over 350 workers, mainly warehouse and logistics operatives, rejected management’s offer of  2% increase a year for two years and over 90% of ballot papers returned in favour of strike action.  This takes place against a backdrop of €53 billion in global revenue generated in 2011 for the German logistics giant.

Workers are also increasingly concerned about the future of the Westfield site after key contractor Marks & Spencer announced changes to its distribution network which will impact operations at DHL.

In last two years, over 100 workers have been made redundant and 15 jobs were lost over the summer following the M&S re-structure announcement.

Unite Regional Industrial Officer Tony Devlin said, “We’ve got to the point where the situation is untenable. This workforce readily accepted a global pay freeze in 2008 and has had to contend with a significant spate of redundancies in the last two years – their commitment to DHL and M&S is unquestionable. 

We’ve accepted the cuts and made proposals for the diversification of the business operation after the M&S announcement but have been continuously kept in the dark by DHL and M&S.  The recent pay offer was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The workers have said ‘enough is enough’ and our position is clear on what it will take to resolve this dispute: A better pay offer and clarity on the future of Cumbernauld from DHL and M&S senior management.”

A schedule for strike action will be announced in due course.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:  For further information please contact Unite Scotland Regional Industrial Officer Tony Devlin on 07810157908 or Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns Unit on 07810157931.

Collective bargaining re-established for the graphic industry in Scotland

17 Sep

Hundreds of Unite members, covered by the Graphic Enterprise Scotland National Agreement, have voted overwhelmingly in favour of re-establishing the National Agreement with the Employers Federation.

Although the provisions of the agreement had remained in place, there have been no nationally agreed pay increases since 2008.

Steve Sibbald, Unite national officer who conducted negotiations, said of the agreement: “We are delighted that we have now re-established national collective bargaining with the Employers Federation in Scotland.

“Although the increase for this year is modest at two per cent, our members recognised that it was worth accepting a modest increase for this year in order to get national collective bargaining for the graphic industry in Scotland back on track.”

Norman King, Unite regional officer who also conducted negotiations, said: “This agreement will bring more stability in an industry in Scotland that has been suffering over the last three years and will help to prevent fragmentation that could potentially be damaging.

“It may be a vain hope, but perhaps this will send a message to the industry federations south of the border.”

The agreement will benefit over 700 workers and covers negotiations for wages, overtime premium, shift premium, holidays, and all other aspects of work.

ENDS

For further information contact Steve Sibbald on 07860 538537 or Ashraf Choudhury in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2061 or 07980 224761.

Remploy struggle to continue for vulnerable Fife workers

17 Sep

Unite Scotland members at Remploy’s Cowdenbeath factory will take further strike action tomorrow (Tuesday 18th September) over the threat of Government-enforced closures.

Against a backdrop of total silence from the Westminster Government’s Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), the future of the Fife workforce remains at the mercy of interest from private buyers – something workers fear will lead to inevitable cuts and redundancies in itself.

The employment status of thousands of vulnerable workers across the UK has been fuelled by the Government’s Access to Work policy, underpinned by the findings from the Sayce Report, which recommends disabled people should be mainstreamed into the labour market in the midst of a second recession in four years.

Unite Shop Steward at Remploy Cowdenbeath Linda Menzies said, “The silence from the DWP & Remploy senior management is the biggest factor in our struggle now.  As a result, we can only expect the worst case scenario so we have to fight – a life on the dole doesn’t bare thinking about for this workforce.

Unite Regional Industrial Officer Lyn Turner said, “The way these workers are being treated is cold and shameful.  We urgently need our politicians to come together, work with our members to highlight their struggle and come up with a solution that saves these essential jobs.

We can’t call ourselves a decent society if we are prepared to sit back and let these vulnerable workers be thrown on the unemployment scrapheap in a time of economic recession.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Unite Regional Industrial Officer Lyn Turner on 07980871394.

Unite members at Remploy Cowdenbeath will be on the picket line outside the factory from 7:30AM – 1PM, Tuesday 18th September.

Read the views of Unite’s Remploy Cowdenbeath Shop Steward here: http://www.unitescotland.org/2012/09/05/remploy-workers-nightmare-fight-for-their-futures/