Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 27 January, 2016 - 12:54 Author: Peggy Carter, Gemma Short, Harry Davies, Gareth Davenport and Ollie Moore

Workers at the UK′s train operating companies are facing a huge attack on their pensions due to government legislation that ends the contracting-out of the Second State Pension. The legislation means higher National Insurance contributions for both employees (1.4%) and employers (3.4%).

The government has also passed legislation to help employers out with this — by allowing them to carry out annual raids on occupational pensions schemes, without even having to consult with scheme trustees.

You might think rail unions would mount a robust defence against any attempts by industry employers to use the new legislation to attack pension rights, but it seems not. All four rail unions (Aslef, RMT, TSSA and Unite) have voluntarily entered into a deal affecting almost all members of the Railways Pensions Scheme who were employed after 4 November 1993.

This “deal” worsens pension rights in two main ways: The normal retirement age (the age at which you can retired and claim your full pensions rights) has been pushed back from 60 to 62. Any increases in pensionable pay from April 2016 will be subject to a cap of RPI + 0.25% for benefits already earned (pensionable pay can still rise by more than that but will only count going forward from the effective date of the pay review). This includes “cost of living” increases and any increases in pay brought about by stepping up in grade (i.e. from Customer Service to Train Guard or Train Guard to Driver). So retirements have been pushed two years further away (unless workers are prepared to accept a reduction) and pensionable pay is no longer linked to final salary at the point of retirement but is based on “career average” earnings.

Unions seem to be arguing that this ″protects″ all staff across the industry from having the pensions plundered annually by employers, whereas if the issue was dealt with on an employer-by-employer basis some employers would agree to comparatively reasonable settlements — like Eurostar, who have absorbed the 3.4% increase while staff will have to foot the bill for their 1.4% — whereas workers with some companies would lose far more than this. It appears that the leaderships of the unions have looked at the graveness of the situation and bottled on the fightback, and are so scared of the reaction of members to this “deal” that they have decided not to risk consulting them. It is not inherently wrong to, as the phrase goes, “pick your battles” (although this is a battle we should “pick”!). It is, however, outrageous to take such a hugely important decision out of the hands of the people it affects.

Save London Metropolitan University

UCU members at London Metropolitan University are being balloted for strikes over cuts.

London Metropolitan University has been struck by a series of financial crises in the past five years, culminating in several waves of cuts. Last year Unison members at the university fought to stop redundancies of support staff, including their branch secretary. As part of the current package of cuts the University plans to close several of its city campuses, including the Cass Institute for the Arts which students occupied in protest in December. The cuts will also result in the loss of 93 staff posts, with no guarantee of no compulsory redundancies.

Recycling workers to strike

Further to the report in Solidarity 390, GMB members at the Sheffield Green Company recycling operation are being balloted for strikes from Saturday 16 January.

GMB organiser Peter Davies described management as a “set of bullies” who were damaging the company. The ongoing story of the recycling industry disputes in Sheffield is one of victimisation of workers and union activists, of exploitation and allegations of corruption. This struggle exposes a range of appalling practices and of unsafe and degrading conditions inflicted on staff who have continually stressed that their priority is to the community and to the efficient running of their workplace. Something that, like all organised workers, they know best how to do.

Tube unions suspend strikes

A strike planned by London Underground (LU) workers on 27 January will not go ahead, after the four unions involved suspended their action.

LU management have offered unions a deal on pay, terms, and conditions, which includes arrangements for running a 24-hour service on certain lines at weekends (“Night Tube”). The four-year deal promises a 1% pay increase in the first year, plus a £500 one-off payment. The company has also committed to trialling a four-day week for drivers on the Jubilee Line, facilitated by compressing their existing working hours into four days. Officials from the drivers’ union Aslef say they will recommend that their members accept the deal.

The deal also requires unions to accept LU’s “Fit for the Future” cuts programme on stations, which involves hundreds of job losses, displacements, forced regrading, and the imposition of new rosters and working arrangements for station staff. A mass meeting of reps and activists from the RMT, the largest union on the Tube, discussed the deal on Monday 25 January, and while an overwhelming majority thought the deal inadequate, some reps felt striking without the other unions would be counterproductive. Supporters of the rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker argued in favour of keeping strikes on, but the RMT Executive voted to suspend the action late on Monday afternoon, 25th. A Tubeworker supporter told Solidarity, “the suspension of the strike is disappointing, as it will have a demobilising effect on union members. The deal on the table is simply not good enough; the company makes vague noises about protecting work/life balance, but new rosters on stations will see many workers forced into extra weekend working. Accepting this deal should be out of the question, so unions urgently need to reinstate action to force management’s hand.”

RMT has promised a “week of action” involving station staff from 7 February, the week when LU plans to impose the “Fit for the Future” programme on certain stations, and has further strikes planned for 15-16 and 17-18 February.

• For regular updates, see the Tubeworker blog

100 Sheffield steel jobs to go

Up to 100 jobs could be at risk at Sheffield steel company Forgemasters. Forgemasters has started consultations with workers on the loss of up to 100 jobs, just days after Tata Steel cut 1,050 jobs at its plant in Port Talbot, south Wales.

Forgemasters, which employs 700 workers, says it will also be consulting on changes to workers′ constracts as part of a ″company turnaround″ to deal with the crisis in the steel industry. On 21 November last year hundreds of steel workers and other trade unionists attended a ″save our steel″ march in Sheffield, but as yet none of the unions organising steel workers have organised industrial action against the job losses.

Workers' Rights in a Global Economy

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Local government pay “offer”

Unison is consulting its members in local government after they were offered a 1% ″pay rise″ for each of the next two years. Last year Unison agreed to a deal that left most members stuck in a 2014-16 two year pay deal of less than they were originally offered before they struck for a better deal. Unison is recommending a rejection of the pay offer for 2016-18, which is good. But members must push to make sure strikes are called, and that the Unison leadership does not call them off for a bad deal again.