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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.


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


Shattering ‘gold-plated’ pension myths in the health service

14 May

By James Ito

You could be forgiven for thinking that the only issue facing staff in the NHS in Scotland was an attack on their so-called ‘gold-plated’ pensions.  Unfortunately, not only is the ‘gold-plated’ description wrong, there are numerous other concerns, both local and national, facing our NHS members.  Here’s a insight for readers to consider…

Local – Perhaps the biggest impact on NHS staff are the day-to-day issues at local level.  Services are being ‘modernised’. Usually this means doing more work with fewer staff and changing the skill mix ratio to have more unqualified or unregistered staff.

Governments at UK and Scottish level have boasted that the health service budget has been protected and given increases equal to inflation. Whilst this is superficially true, it ignores the fact that ‘NHS inflation’ is higher than RPI. This is partly due to the increasing cost of drugs (new drugs for serious conditions like cancer tend to be very expensive) and partly due to the increase in life expectancy (older people need more health care for more complex conditions on average).

The end result is health boards faced with a shortfall in money compared to the service demands. They solve that problem by employing fewer staff on lower grades – resulting in staff that at best are under pressure and stressed, and at worst are bullied into lowering standards.

Pay – NHS staff have had three years of significant pay cuts compared to inflation. In 2010 most received a 2.25% pay increase when the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation was 5.3%. The following year, they were subject to a pay freeze when inflation was 5.2% and in 2012 yet another pay freeze (March RPI = 3.6%).

In 2011, the standard rate of national insurance was increased by 1% and most Unite members in the NHS have had to pay an extra 1.5% towards their pension this year (with another 1.3% average still to come). Added together this means the equivalent of a 15% pay cut for most.

For some members the position is even worse. The removal of the National Recruitment and Retention Premium (NRRP) for Estates craft workers, healthcare chaplains and perfusionists is another pay cut equating to another 15% or so for these groups.

Terms and conditions – At the Joint NHS Staff Council the Management Side have brought forward a series of proposals to reduce staff terms and conditions.

The latest proposals would reduce sick pay to basic pay only and introduce performance related pay with incremental progression being dependent on staff exceeding certain locally determined criteria. The top points would be ‘non-consolidated’ so staff on the higher pay band points could have these removed and they would not contribute towards pension benefits.

Pensions – Prior to the April 2012 increase, NHS staff contributed about £8 billion to the UK Treasury and the Treasury paid out about £6 billion. The Treasury retains the £2 billion surplus – and yet the NHS scheme is described as ‘unfunded’ as though the taxpayer was paying out instead of receiving a massive excess sum of money over expenditure.

The UK government’s current proposals are to increase most Unite members’ contributions from the previous 6.5% to 9.3% with some paying 14.5%. None of this extra money is being used to pay today’s NHS pensioners or being invested for the future.

Public sector workers are being asked to pay what is effectively an extra tax as a deficit reduction measure and nothing to do with the affordability of pensions.  As well as the increase in contributions, the government proposes to reduce pension scheme benefits by making the age at which the pension can be drawn equal to the state pension age (age 66 in 2020; age 67 in 2026) and basing the pension on average earnings throughout your career rather than final salary.

Put simply: pay more for longer; get less.

James Ito is the Vice Chair of the Glasgow Health Service Branch, currently serving Unite members in the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde and Forth Valley Health Boards and the Golden Jubilee National Hospital.

For the latest local and sector updated, please visit the Branch website at

Unite urges politicians to ‘listen to the people’ on Scottish constitutional future

11 May

Unite has urged politicians to ‘listen to the people’ on Scotland’s constitutional future after nearly two-thirds of members stated their desire for a second question on further devolved powers to be included in the referendum.

In a specially commissioned poll to coincide with Unite’s response to the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation, members were asked: ‘Would you like the option of further powers to the Scottish Parliament on the ballot paper?’ 62 per cent replied ‘yes’ and 38 per cent replied ‘no’.

Some 64 per cent of the members who opted for the inclusion of a second question on the ballot paper did so because they wanted more powers for Holyrood and that they believed all options should be available to the electorate. Over 1,700 members across Scotland participated in the poll conducted in March.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “The poll results come as no surprise as our membership has reflected what other opinion polls have been telling us for months: that the increasing will of the Scottish people is for all options to be on the table in this referendum.

Since the starting pistol was fired on our constitutional future we’ve heard a lot of political bluster and squabble.  That’s not good enough because this referendum has significant transformative potential for our democracy whether you are pro-devolution, pro-independence or pro-union.

This process is a marathon, not a sprint, and as the Scottish Government consultation closes politicians must now listen to the people to ensure that all views are incorporated into this referendum.”


Notes to Editors:

Find attached a copy of the Unite Scotland response to the Scottish Government consultation ‘Your Scotland, Your Referendum’ and link to Mass 1 poll conducted on behalf of Unite Scotland.

Your Scotland your referendum response-2

Unite Scotland poll

i)                   The poll was conducted by text service in late February / early March 2012.

ii)                  1,739 Scottish-based members registered on the Uniteyou service responded.

For further information please contact Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns Unit on 07810157931 /

Constitutional Referendum Update – Edinburgh & Glasgow membership meetings

23 Mar

Unite Scotland is pleased to announce meetings in Edinburgh and Glasgow for Unite members to debate this important first stage of the constitutional referendum process.

Throughout March we’ve received a fantastic response from our members across Scotland who have taken the time to give their views on the key questions posed by the Scottish Government’s ‘Your Scotland, Your Referendum’ Consultation.

We’ll continue this debate throughout April. In particular keep an eye on the Unite Scotland website for updates on meetings open to Unite members in your area – we’ll be announcing more dates very soon.

In the meantime, please see below the dates and venues for Edinburgh and Glasgow:

  •  Glasgow – Monday 2nd April, 6PM, John Smith House, 145-165 West Regent Street (5th floor).

Please contact the Glasgow Office or email if you are able to attend.

  •  Edinburgh – Tuesday 17th April, 6PM, St Columba’s Church Hall, 14 Johnstone Terrace (by the castle).

Please contact the Edinburgh Office or email if you are able to attend.

For more details on how you can join the debate, visit the Unite Scotland Constitutional Referendum page.

It’s your future, get involved!

Constitutional Referendum – It’s your future, get involved!

1 Mar

As Scotland’s largest trade union and civic organisation, the constitutional question poses a raft of significant challenges for our members and our union which we must approach with democracy and transparency.  Undoubtedly, thoughts on independence and Scotland’s political powers will resonate differently across our diverse membership and sectors and we have to respect that fact from the outset.

Despite the early hype surrounding what will arguably be the most important event in modern Scottish political history, it is important to remember this process is a marathon and not a sprint. Over the coming weeks and months, the Scottish electorate will be subject to poll after poll concerning the question of Scottish independence and the issue will dominate media coverage in what is already a time of great economic and social uncertainty.

We believe that the Scottish people need a renewed sense of ownership over their democracy and Unite should facilitate this objective. This requires an analysis of the all the options available in the development of this referendum.

In the first instance this should prompt debate among Unite members, the Scottish trade union fraternity and the wider public and act as a platform for the development of our policy position, including our response to the Scottish Government’s official consultation document Your Scotland, Your Referendum.

The Scottish Government’s consultation document is quite lengthy, as you would expect, but if you have the time to read through it we recommend that you do so and give us your views on it.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll also be hosting a series of informal meetings where members can discuss the constitutional referendum questions in their local Area Activist Committees. Contact for more details and keep an eye on the Events section of the Unite Scotland website for updates.

Don’t worry if you can’t get along, you can also get involved in this first stage of the consultation process individually by forwarding your views directly to us at, by leaving a comment below or by completing our online survey – which we’d like you all to do!

Finally, if you have signed-up to our free UniteYou text service (Text ‘Cuts’ to 86888) you’ll have the chance to air your views on the referendum throughout March and April.  So, if you haven’t done so already, join the debate and text Cuts to 86888.

Have your say in Scotland’s future.



Let the people decide…

23 Jan

It’s been nearly five months since I argued that Scotland’s independence referendum could be a unique opportunity to achieve something genuinely different and better than the turgid neo-liberal orthodoxies our political system seems unable or unwilling to change.

Now that the starting pistol has been fired for a November 2014 referendum and a week of fevered rhetoric on both sides of the argument has passed, my original views have been reinforced and perhaps radicalised by recent events.

For the avoidance of any doubt, here are the key provisions I would like to see included in the referendum:

  • The inclusion of a defined increase of devolved powers option on the ballot;
  • 16 & 17 year olds to be empowered with the right to vote in this historic event;
  • Westminster handing over to the Scottish Parliament all powers required to fulfil the legal requirements of referendum; and
  • Then the referendum itself to be constructed and overseen by an independent commission to ensure the maximum fairness and transparency.

I’m not yet convinced about the SNPs arguments for independence.  They still have much to reveal about how an independent Scotland can rebuild and sustain collective prosperity.  Key questions remain unanswered.

But I don’t know if I can stomach the prospect of a probable Tory majority in Westminster after 2015, resulting in an extension of the austerity agenda aided by the subservient Lib Dems and weakness of the current Labour leadership.

Like many others in Scotland, I would welcome an increase in devolved powers as a means to counter the ConDem economic and social vandalism.  At the very least, I certainly want to debate the potential of an increased devolved settlement and have the opportunity to vote on it.

So from a trade unionist perspective it was pleasing to see the STUC take a deep breath before entering the debate.  Their call for the establishment of an independent Referendum Commission to explore all the potential options available in the formulation of this referendum and to offset legal uncertainty is entirely sensible.

Unfortunately it didn’t take long for our elected representatives to descend into predictable acrimonious bluster over ‘patriotism’, ‘Scottish-ness’ and such nonsense.  Politicians would do well get their minds focused firmly back on the issues at hand – proposals for economic growth, the future of our public services, dignity in retirement, tackling unemployment, making a positive case for your position in the referendum campaign…need I go on?  It would be a national embarrassment for gutter politics and buffoonery to dominate the next two years.  The stakes are simply too high for politics to be consumed by its own self-importance.

This process is a marathon and not a sprint.  With the eyes of the world focused on Scotland we have to show that we can deliver this referendum in a mature, open and truly democratic fashion.  The STUC proposals can help create a platform for the views of the Scottish grassroots to shape the referendum process prior to the campaign and vote itself, facilitating this objective. Surely this is something that any sensible politician should support?

We certainly need a renewed sense of ownership over our democracy.   In the last year my job has gave me the privilege of meeting people the length and breadth of the country.  Together, we’ve highlighted issues impacting their workplaces and communities.  We’ve also debated politics and policies; overarched by the spectre of the coalitions austerity agenda. And for me it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

On the UK economy for example, we know we are being sold a pup. The sheer folly of this growth-less austerity is unravelling by the day exposing the dying neo-liberal ideology that many of us on the left have argued it to be from day one.  Last week’s downgrading of the French AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor merely highlighted this to a bigger audience and reminded us all that the UK can’t exempt itself from the economic sickness it helped spawn. It’s also a damning confirmation that our politicians are further descending into the post-2008 political aporia.

Whether people are employed in the public, private or third sector, or currently unemployed, they are increasingly unhappy and frustrated with our economic direction.  They want something better for themselves and their families but most of all they want fairness. Anger is mounting because they are being punished for an economic mess they did not create and yet they see hypocrisy and injustice all around them whether its financial sector bonuses, capital strike, phone hacking or the expenses scandal.

People have simply had enough of the tail wagging the dog.

And it’s the politicians themselves who must take a large chunk of the blame for this.  Politics has disenfranchised so many people from the democratic process through its own examples of hubris and weaknesses.  This referendum is a chance for politics to pay the people back.  But can our politicians be trusted to set aside party-political inertia, at least for a short-time, to maximise the scope of the referendum debate and empower the people they are there to serve accordingly?

On the face of it, we know what to expect from the SNP and the Conservatives. Their respective views will be argued with passion whether you agree with them or not. Indeed, the SNP have made proposals for the referendum process – altruistic or otherwise – which I entirely agree with (like the extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds).

But like many in the trade union movement I’m sure, it is Labour’s position I find baffling.  The party of devolution continues to reject the possibility of a third option on the referendum ballot.  Last November Labour’s Douglas Alexander argued that Scottish Labour must make the case for more devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament ahead of the independence referendum.  Yet last week we’ve seen Labour slip back into to the ‘stronger together weaker apart’ mantra that failed them in 2007 and 2011.  Devolution and independence are ‘separate processes’, say Labour.

Instead of a social-democratic party like Scottish Labour being able to carve their own niche and make progressive policy arguments for the extension of devolution, Johann Lamont will be on the same stump as David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the eyes of the Scottish people whether she likes it or not.

It concerns me deeply that out of our four main political parties we only have two outcomes being touted – yes or no to Scottish independence.  I think this narrow scope stifles democratic debate and ultimately treats the Scottish people with some contempt.  At least one mainstream political party needs to champion a campaign for further devolved powers, complimenting the arguments for independence and the retention of the union, enriching the political debate.

This blunt ‘yes’ or ‘no’ politics merely intensifies the need for the Scottish people to shape the identity of this referendum.  Whether you are pro independence, pro-union or pro-devolution; surely the Scottish people are best placed to set the terms and conditions of what is arguably the biggest political, social and economic decision many of us will ever have the opportunity to take?

Surely we don’t want the agenda to set by the malign influence of the Ashcrofts, Souters, and Sainsburys of this world or be left with some half-baked plebiscite formed from the scraps that the politicians could only agree on?

Politics has never been and may never be more interesting.  This referendum is a golden opportunity to revitalise an environment blighted by distrust and apathy. We’re shaping our futures here and I have faith in the Scottish people to set a shining example of democracy and debate to the rest of the world – and also have the mutual respect for each other to accept the final outcome.  It’s time that politicians on all sides started to listen and learn.

Let the people decide.

This article was first published on the  ‘A Burdz Eye View’ blog:

Looking for Growth!

16 Jan

The key issue facing our economy is how we can get elements of growth in the most sustained contraction since the 1930s. We now hear the constant mantra – or in political jargon, ‘the line’ – of how we can’t reverse the cuts; tough public spending rounds are here to stay; we need a fairer distribution of what is left in the ever-dwindling money-pot, and, we have got to stick to the vast majority of the Tory deficit plan no matter the social destruction this unleashes. This of course ignores the fact that this is a self-enforced deficit reduction straight-jacket!

The drip-drip effect played out in the media in order to be ‘credible’ means what’s left is debating an ever-narrowing number of options on the table of how we try to stimulate our economy. It does a massive disservice to those in unemployment, in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

If we have the political will to face the root causes of the crisis, there are many potential solutions: a financial transaction tax; resisting the corporation tax cuts while companies hoard money in their accounts to the tune of up to £70 billion; addressing tax havens and evasion, and, applying constant bonus taxes on the Directors of companies who wrecked our economy until the debt they have caused is paid back.

There is an extensive list of potential taxes and levies which should be explored such as a Land Value Tax which can help to grow our economy. However, you don’t see this getting debated much because our political institutions and major parties seem wedded to accepting neo-liberalism or reigned-in capitalism.

A policy which has gained a lot of traction is a Living Wage. The gap between rich and poor has doubled in the last 30 years. It doesn’t take a genius to work out if there are fewer people in employment then those in employment must have higher wages in order to reflate the economy in order to consume products which in turn creates demand for production.

In Scotland the long-standing campaign for a Living Wage has intensified over the last year with the introduction of a Living Wage rate of £7.20p/h (uprated from £7.15) for all directly employed workers in Glasgow City Council and West Dunbartonshire Council. As part of their manifesto commitments Scottish Labour and the SNP pledged to roll-out the Living Wage.

Labour pledged to roll it out to all public sector workers while the SNP proposed to extend to all NHS and Government Agencies in addition to all Government workers who already receive it. An Inquiry is taking place in the Scottish Parliament at the moment on the Living Wage which our Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty gave evidence at in December 2011.

Statistics show that in 2009 there were 623,000 people employed in the public sector in Scotland, of which approximately 33,000 (5 per cent) were estimated to earn less than £7 an hour. By way of comparison, approximately 18 per cent of workers in the Scottish economy as a whole were estimated to earn less than £7 an hour during 2009. This shows why we can’t just restrict this policy to the public sector. We need to find ways to inflate the wages of workers across all sectors of our economy, thereby putting spending power back in people’s pockets and stimulating the economy.

The Scottish Government directly controls the pay packets of thousands of Scots through its various agencies, bodies and sub-contracting arrangements, yet they are failing to utilise the significant powers they have. There is no excuse for inaction. If the Scottish Government is serious about the Living Wage then they have got to lead by example. Otherwise, what hope have we got of the private sector following suit.

Unite Scotland’s ‘Making Devolution Work’ paper explores potentially how we can extend the concept of a living wage beyond the public sector where 77 per cent of all Scottish workers are in employment. Sectoral forums – the key strand of this strategy discussed at length on our website – also discusses how we can prevent public services being outsourced to the private sector. It would prevent private sector employers’ under-cutting their public sector counterparts paying the Living Wage.

I’ve never agreed with the London Mayor Boris Johnson in my life but I will make an exception, he said: “Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right – with the potential to massively reduce child poverty in London- but also it makes good business sense. What may appear to a company to be an unaffordable cost in a highly competitive market is more appropriately viewed as a sound investment decision.”

If a Tory Mayor can say this then it is time for the Scottish Government to get moving by introducing a Living Wage for the whole public sector and supporting sector forums to help extend it to the private sector – not today but yesterday.