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Unite releases phone bank results for Scottish Voluntary Sector

14 Dec

Unite Scotland has today (14 December) published results from an online phone bank showing that eighty-three per cent of workers in the sector face cuts. The phone bank spoke with 423 Unite members in ten voluntary sector organisations across the length and breadth of Scotland. This is largest representative survey done by a trade union in the sector.

Key findings:

  • 423 of the 468 members contacted completed the survey. Of those respondents eighty-three per cent said their workplace was being directly affected by cuts.
  • Nearly half of those who responded to the question: ‘are you affected by any of these issues’ stipulated that they were at risk of redundancy – a huge figure.
  • Worryingly seventy-four per cent stated that they had their terms and conditions changed and nearly a quarter stated that ‘bullying’ was an issue in the workplace.


As a result of the startling findings in our representative survey of voluntary and third sector workers Unite is calling for the following:

  1. A Scottish Parliament Inquiry into voluntary sector funding based on these results.
  2. A sector forum to be set up for areas of the voluntary and third sector in consultation with the relevant bodies which can help put in place and coordinate sectoral training, funding, investment, and, terms and conditions.
  3. For the Scottish Parliament to enforce that public procurement is used as a lever to ensure quality service provision and fairer conditions for the workforce.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said:

“For many years we have been aware of the precarious situation of the voluntary and not-for-profit sector. However, even we were taken aback by the crisis in the sector.”

“The results portray an extremely worrying picture for the sector and that organisations and the workforce are on the brink of breaking point. A workforce who have had their terms and conditions eroded, a sector that is being dragged to the bottom, and, people fearing whether they will have a job this time next year.”

“The Scottish Government on the back of these results must intervene and all of us have a collective responsibility to ensure that we protect this vital sector which delivers a fantastic public service.”

Unite for our Society report


Notes to Editor:

  1. For a copy of the report please visit our website here or can be obtained by contacting Andrew Brady and Peter Welsh.
  2. The phonebank was conducted between June and September 2011.
  3. Unite members were selected randomly.

Take part in research on agency work

10 Aug

Have you ever been an agency worker? Take part in some important research and share your experiences. Take the survey here.

– by Louise Haigh

With the EU Directive on Temporary Agency Workers due to come into force this October, the issue of their protection in employment law is once again up for debate. But what trade unions and political parties have failed to demonstrate is that this is not just an issue for agency workers but for workers everywhere. The loopholes that currently allow the exploitation of agency workers represent a crisis for social justice and the change that is coming will not improve the current situation; in fact, it may do quite the opposite.

Firstly, the last Labour government did its utmost to ensure that the legislation on agency workers was as weak as it absolutely could be. What further proof of this do we need than the fact that the Coalition government brought it in willingly, without having to re-negotiate, because it knew it couldn’t get any lower terms for agency workers than its predecessors had already managed. The UK and Ireland went further than any other EU state in extending the qualifying period before which agency workers receive equal treatment in terms of pay to an astonishing 12 weeks. Compare this to countries on the continent where agency work is strictly regulated so that companies can only use it in very limited circumstances – to cover high periods of demand, sickness and so on. Indeed, in certain countries, agency work is strictly prohibited, whilst in others, workers are engaged on flexible contracts but the rights that accompany these are not flexible – making a mockery of the argument from business that only reduced rights can deliver a flexible workforce.

Within the EU Directive is also the ‘Swedish Derogation’, which effectively provides yet another loophole for businesses and agencies to avoid paying agency workers at the same level as their comparators in the workplace. In situations where the worker has a contract of employment with their agency and if the agency pays the worker between assignments at a rate of at least 50% of an assignment pay, users of agency workers will not have to treat them equally in respect of pay or holiday pay.

Already, we have seen companies making full use of this – setting up agencies as companies within their own structures and avoiding the regulations, entirely legally but almost certainly immorally. Alongside this, software companies are taking the initiative and offering construction companies in particular, software that reminds them when the 12 week period is almost up, so they can disengage their agency workers and hire new ones. Some agencies are getting in on the act as well – offering another ‘service’ to help in the rotating of agency workers.

The story is just the same as it is in any poorly regulated sector – gaping holes in regulation and its enforcement, make unscrupulous users and employers inventive and creative – and why shouldn’t it? The message hardly came loud and clear from government, either this one or the last, that agency workers should be treated fairly and justly. As usual, the interests of business were the only game in town and their endless demand for reduced terms and conditions in the wake of the financial crisis. Trade unions face a serious challenge in attempting to organise and protect agency workers, and disappointingly, perhaps even more so once the much campaigned-for regulations come into force.

Louise Haigh is secretary of the Unite Parliamentary Staff branch. She is doing a Masters in Law at Birbeck University on the vulnerability of agency workers in UK employment law and their experiences with trade unions.


Research: are ULRs State Agents or Social Partners?

19 Apr

The TUC’s learning and skills agency, unionlearn, has released new research on the role of Union Learning Reps (ULRs).

Union Learning Representatives: State Agents or Social Partners? by Bert Clough, was originally published in Labour and Industry, the journal of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics in Australia and New Zealand.

The paper compares the experience of union learning reps in England and New Zealand, reflects on the limitations of the current model and suggests some areas for development. If you’re interested in the bigger picture, it’s worth a read.

According to the paper, social partnership in vocational education and training is undeveloped in the UK, when compared to other North European countries. This is because of Britain’s fairly unregulated labour market, as well as Thatcher’s policy of removing union influence from skills and training policy. Tripartite bodies – such as industry training boards with skills levies – were largely abolished.

The Thatcher Government took a market driven, voluntarist approach to skills, and attempted to create a training market in which decisions to train would be up to individuals or employers.

Unsurprisingly, this policy failed, and the UK quickly developed skills gaps when compared to similar economies in Europe. These skills gaps have a serious economic impact, and lead the UK to under perform, particularly in manufacturing. This approach is still the norm, and one third of UK employers failed to provide any training at all in the past 12 months.

When Labour was elected in 1997, the new Government attempted to address this market failure by addressing the supply side of learning. Unions were recognised as stakeholders, and a number of initiatives were introduced to encourage employers to train. Specialist skills agencies were created, Sector Skills Councils were licensed, and the Union Learning Fund was created to support union-lead learning in the workplace.

Unions were recognised as being particularly good at engaging “hard to reach, non-traditional learners”.

This approach has been fairly successful, and 24,000 ULRs have been trained. There is evidence to show that they have had a positive impact on learning and skills in the workplace, and a large proportion of managers surveyed agree that union learning has had a positive impact on their company. The research also shows a positive correlation between having learning agreements and negotiating structures, and increased uptake of skills and learning.

However, there are limitations to this voluntarist model: the approach was “all carrot and no stick”, and the Tory’s light touch labour regulation was largely maintained, and few attempts were made to address the demand side of learning, for instance by reintroducing skills levies or compelling employers to train.

The paper argues that in many ways ULRs are “state agents”, because they carry out Government skills policy in the workplace. However, because they are union activists with statutory rights, they also carry out a representative role, and in many instances this supersedes their function as state agents. ULRs respond to members’ needs, and in some cases begin to bargain around skills and learning. This is the case in Unite. We are aware of Government skill’s policy, and we engage constructively with it, but when we design our learning programme it’s important for us to always put our members’ learning needs first.

Our learning programme been most successful in workplaces where we have robust collective bargaining around skills and learning. In addition to providing members with courses to support them, we also negotiate with employers to improve and widen their training offer, and invest in the long term development of their staff.

To create a world class economy in Scotland, industry will need to adopt high-involvement work practices (HIWP). This is a way of working that mobilises employees’ skills and creativity by giving them greater engagement and autonomy.

HIWP are proven to be successful at raising productivity and improving economic performance. The four key principles are giving employees Power, Information, Knowledge and Rewards. To successfully create this kind of economy, we will need to move to more collective bargaining over skills and training, investment in the company, job design and the organisation of work.

For union learning to reach its potential of revitalising both our union and the workplaces we are active in, we need statutory collective bargaining on learning and skills in union recognised workplaces – as is the case with pay and conditions.

Let us know what your views are.