Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 27 April, 2016 - 11:44 Author: Dale Street, Ollie Moore, Gemma Short, Charlotte Zalens and David Ball

CCTV workers employed by Glasgow Community Safety – a Glasgow City Council Arms Length External Organisation (ALEO) – are back at work having won a 24% pay rise after twelve strike days over six weeks. The 19 workers, all Unison members, struck to achieve equal pay, i.e. parity of shift allowance payments, with other employees who work the same pattern of 12 hour shifts in a round-the-clock service. A campaign by Glasgow school janitors, also Unison members, in primary, nursery and Additional Support for Learning schools continues, with another three-day strike in late April following on from a three-day strike in March.

Employed by Cordia, another City Council ALEO, the janitors are demanding Working Context and Demands Payments, paid to other ALEO and Council employees who meet the relevant criteria, as do the janitors. Glasgow City Unison is also currently conducting two separate ballots. A consultative ballot of 4,000 members mainly employed in the Council’s Corporate Services, CBS, Financial Services, and Social Work Fieldwork and Daycare has been underway since the end of March, with the result due out as Solidarity goes to press on 26 April. The ballot is being run in response to the City Council’s proposals to cut public holidays, flexi-leave and annual leave, targeted in particular at new workers. Another thousand Unison members – employed in Social Work Residential Units, Standby, 5/7 Daycare and Land and Environmental Services Cleansing – are also taking part in an official ballot on industrial action. They are shift workers who are rostered to work on public holidays. They therefore face average pay cuts of around £600 a year as a result of the Council’s plans to cut the number of public holidays. Ironically, given that Glasgow is one of the few remaining Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland, one of the six public holidays to be scrapped is May Day.

GMB is also balloting its members in the City Council workforce. Following on from an indicative ballot earlier this year, 1,500 GMB members in cleansing, refuse, social care and Land and Environmental Services are now being balloted on industrial action in response to the Council’s plans to cut the number of public holidays. GMB members also stand to lose upwards of £500 a year from changing public holidays into annual leave. The results of the ballots are due in mid-May. The bigger picture is the SNP Holyrood government’s savage cuts in the funding of local authorities, especially Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council. The SNP claims that they have not cut local authority funding. Alternatively, and inconsistently, they blame the cuts on Westminster. But the Tories have cut the block grant to Scotland by 4.5% since 2007, whereas Holyrood’s cut in the funding of local authorities over the same period amounts to 8.5%. Instead of implementing the SNP’s cuts by axing 1,500 posts and cutting the terms and conditions of employment of the rest of the workforce, the ruling Labour Group on Glasgow City Council should ally itself with the council unions in a joint campaign against the cuts.

Southern Rail guards strike to keep trains safely staffed

Guards on Southern Rail services will strike from 26-27 April in an attempt to stop Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), moving to “Driver Only Operation” (DOO). Further strikes are planned for 10-11 and 12-13 May. DOO will mean that drivers, rather than guards, will perform safety-critical tasks such as opening and closing doors. The workers’ union, RMT, says that DOO will hit passenger safety. GTR’s move comes on the back of a series of other cuts on Southern routes.

An RMT statement said: “This company has already axed catering services, threatened ticket offices and delivered appalling levels of customer service in their drive to milk these routes for every penny they can regardless of the impact on safety, reliability and quality. These trains are desperately over-crowded and the conductors are the eyes and ears preventing a major tragedy on the platforms and carriages.”

In the ballot for the industrial action, workers returned a 95% majority for strikes and a 99.6% majority for action short of strikes. Bosses have lashed out at workers. Chief Executive Officer Charles Horton sent a letter to staff in an attempt to intimidate them out of striking. The letter, which insists that “taking strike action is pointless” and “will achieve nothing”, also announces the immediate suspension of normal sick pay and shift swap arrangements. It also demands that staff return travel passes and parking permits, and says it will deduct two days’ pay for any shift lost through strikes. It says that workers who give “guarantees” that they will not strike, for the remainder of the industrial dispute, and will work any shift asked, whether rostered to or not, “may” have some of these things reinstated.

In a letter to member, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “Some of the things that the company are threatening, for example taking the Govia travel passes from your partners and dependants, is basically pathetic. A petulant child wouldn’t be that petty. Some of the other threats regarding pay deductions are much more serious and I am getting urgent legal advice on this matter and will email you again Monday. In the meantime don’t be intimidated by the company’s letter. Stand firm, the fight goes on, support the strike.”

GTR bosses use courts to scupper strike

Govia Thameslink has secured a High Court injunction against train drivers’ union Aslef, which planned to ballot its members on the Gatwick Express service to operate new 12-car trains. Gatwick Express already has Driver Only Operation on its existing 10-car trains, but in line with its policy to resist any extension of DOO, Aslef planned to ballot members against plans to extend DOO to the new 12-car fleet. An Aslef statement said: “Longer trains without guards are not safe for passengers, especially with the rise in sexual assaults, and not safe for drivers. “This is purely greed and a cost-cutting measure risking safety – no member of the public has ever demanded a train without guards.”

John Roan teachers strike

Teachers at The John Roan School in Greenwich, south London, struck on Thursday 21 April, and again on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April in their on going dispute over cuts. After strikes earlier in the year a proposal to convert the school to an academy has been defeated, but the head teacher has attacked staff with a restructuring and set of redundancies. The school has proposed to cut 15 teacher posts, two assistant heads, and five support staff.

Due to unfilled vacancies, this would amount to 11.2 posts being made redundant, including two Modern Foreign Languages posts, two PE posts, 1.2 Psychology posts, two Sociology posts, one Science post and one Technology post. The restructure will also heavily attack teaching in certain subject areas, with Religious Education being cut to nine “focus days” rather than regular lessons, and Sociology and Psychology GCSE, Film Studies A-level, Government and Politics A-level and BTEC sport Level Three courses being cut.

The attacks will also involve increasing teaching periods from five one hour lessons to six 50 minute lessons, increasing teachers’ planning load. Teachers’ teaching hours will also increase to 22.5 hours a week. The GMB has now announced plans to ballot support staff over the proposed cuts, and the NAS-UWT (another teachers’ union) has announced strikes for 3, 11 and 12 of May. Teachers at Hornsey Girls School also struck on Tuesday 26 April in a dispute over oppressive management monitoring and excessive workload. Similar disputes are brewing in schools across the country, given confidence by the NUT′s decision to ballot for a national system of pay and conditions and to fight the education White Paper.

Government backs down on “check-off”

The government has said it will drop plans to end ″check-off″ (the system of employers collecting union membership dues on behalf of the union through deductions from pay) after a threatened rebellion in the House of Lords.

This is a good thing. However it will not neuter the other, worse, attacks in the Trade Union Bill, nor is a long-term solution. PCS members in the civil service have already had the system of check-off dismantled. Civil Service employers didn’t need legislation to do that. Local government employers could do the same.

Ultimately unions should move away from using check-off; it leaves them vulnerable to the whims of employers who could withhold collected funds or use membership data to discriminate and intimidate. However the government was about to end check-off without allowing time for unions to prepare to sign large numbers of members over to direct debit. It would have caused unions to lose members and a lot of money. It is good that the measure has been defeated.

The bill was passed on its third reading in the House of Lords on Monday 25 April, and has now been passed back to the House of Commons for consideration of the amendments. There is no suggestion that the Commons will either reject any of the amendments or reject the bill altogether, meaning it is likely to become law in the next few months. Trade union activists should start now build up union organisation in the workplace and networks of solidarity to fight aspects of the bill such as the new thresholds for ballots and new picketing rules.

Parents Defending Education campaign launched

On 23 April, Parents Defending Education was launched at a 300 strong meeting hosted in the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). The campaign aims to bring together parents campaigns against the Education White Paper, testing and forced academisation. An open steering committee meeting will be held on 21 May for those wishing to get involved.

In Barnet (north London), for example, activists are meeting to plan a campaign to defend education — against forced academies; for decent levels of funding; against the divisive and stressful testing regime; for continued representation of parents on governing bodies; and for defending professional standards on Qualified Teacher Status. Both Barnet Momentum and Barnet Trades Council have voted back and help build a big, active campaign against the proposals in the government’s Education White Paper. Local reps in the NUT and UNISON have met up with parents and governors in Barnet, forming the nucleus of a campaign.

We met up at the Parents Defending Education meeting on 23 April and will be stepping up the campaign over the next few weeks. Barnet UNISON (local government branch), along with Camden and other branches, also voted to submit proposals to UNISON Local Government conference in June to strike alongside the NUT and on a similar basis The motion demands a national contract for support staff in state-funded schools of every type and status.

• Twitter: @PaDefendingEd