Union News (11 June 2023)

Welcome to Union News the weekly podcast from the labour and union movement in the UK. In this episode Surge in Universal Credit Claims from Welsh Public Service Workers, RMT Members Accept New Pay Deal at ScotRail, Teaching Unions Threaten Coordinated Strikes as Government Withholds Pay Rise Report, Dundee Workers Rally in Solidarity with Bus Workers Ahead of Impending Strike, and finally, Amazon accused of ‘dirty tricks’ as GMB withdraws recognition bid. Music is by Tim Bragg.

Surge in Universal Credit Claims from Welsh Public Service Workers

A recent analysis by the GMB union highlights a significant increase of 167% in the number of public-sector workers relying on universal credit in Wales since the beginning of the pandemic. The study, based on Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, indicates a rise of 3,610 individuals receiving social security payments between late 2019 and the end of last year.

Expressing concern, Rachel Harrison, the national secretary of GMB, criticized the situation, stating that it tarnishes the honour of the nation when so many public-sector employees are compelled to depend on working benefits to sustain themselves. Harrison further emphasized that these workers should be adequately remunerated to support their families and maintain a stable living without having to rely on universal credit.

According to the ONS labour force survey, the number of Welsh public-sector workers receiving benefits stood at 2,162 in the final quarter of 2019, increasing to 5,772 by the fourth quarter of 2022.

RMT Members Accept New Pay Deal at ScotRail

In a positive development, members of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) union have accepted a new pay deal at ScotRail.

Under the terms of the agreement, the country’s largest rail union will see a 5 percent increase in their basic salary, with the lowest-paid workers receiving up to 8 percent. Additionally, the union highlights that the deal includes other benefits that contribute to an enhanced overall pay package.

“This exemplifies that agreements can be reached, and it is the government, not the unions, that bears responsibility for prolonging the rail strikes,” stated Pat Harrington, a representative of Solidarity union.

Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, expressed the challenges encountered during the negotiation process and the acceptance of this modest pay deal by the members. He noted that similar agreements have been successfully negotiated in various regions, including Wales, English regions, and now Scotland.

Lynch also highlighted the disparity between the treatment of RMT members and those working for 14 other rail operators who fall under the mandate of the Department for Transport. He emphasized that the RMT has been engaged in a year-long dispute with multiple strikes, whereas ScotRail members have received annual pay increases and additional value added to their overall pay packages. Some RMT members, on the other hand, have not seen a pay rise in the last four years.

Expressing gratitude, Phil Campbell of ScotRail acknowledged the constructive approach taken by their trade union colleagues during the negotiations and emphasized that the agreed-upon pay increase is well-deserved by the employees.

Teaching Unions Threaten Coordinated Strikes as Government Withholds Pay Rise Report

Teaching unions have issued a threat of coordinated strikes next month and strongly criticized the government for not releasing a leaked report recommending a 6.5% pay rise, calling it “extremely disrespectful.” The National Education Union (NEU) sent an open letter to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, demanding the immediate publication of the School Teachers Review Body (STRB) report and a resumption of pay negotiations.

The NEU, alongside the ASCL, NAHT, and NASUWT unions, had made these calls over two weeks ago but has not received a response. In their letter, NEU joint general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney described the delay as disrespectful and criticized the government for not engaging in discussions about pay, the STRB report, workload, and funding.

The NEU urged the Education Secretary to publish the STRB report promptly and arrange a meeting in the following week to address the dispute and the challenges faced by schools. If these demands were not met, the NEU’s national executive would consider the option of further strike action during the week starting July 3.

The NEU, ASCL, NAHT, and NASUWT had previously announced their plan to coordinate industrial action and are preparing to ballot their members for strikes in the autumn term.

The letter from the NEU comes after Schools Minister Nick Gibb stated that the Department for Education (DfE) was considering the STRB report’s recommendations and would respond in due course.

According to the leaked report, the STRB recommended a 6.5% pay increase for teachers after the NEU rejected a 4.3% offer. The looming strike action could impact nearly every school in England.

Government data revealed a doubling of teacher vacancies over the past two years, with a record 44,000 teachers leaving their jobs in 2022 alone.

In response, a spokesperson from the DfE stated that the independent STRB had submitted its recommendations on teacher pay for 2023-24, and the government would consider them before publishing its response.

Dundee Workers Rally in Solidarity with Bus Workers Ahead of Impending Strike

Workers in Dundee showed their support for bus workers as last-minute negotiations failed, setting the stage for an upcoming strike. The strike, scheduled to begin on Monday, is expected to last for 12 weeks. Employees of Xplore Dundee, the city’s sole bus operator, including drivers, duty managers, platform staff, and administrators, are taking action over pay issues. The strike was called after workers rejected a 7 percent pay offer deemed below inflation. Unite, the union representing the workers, reported that 93 percent of bus workers backed the strike. The rally received widespread support from local politicians and unions, with calls for the city council to intervene in the dispute.

and finally, Amazon accused of ‘dirty tricks’ as GMB withdraws recognition bid

The GMB union has accused Amazon of engaging in “dirty tricks” after being compelled to withdraw its historic bid for recognition at the internet giant’s Coventry warehouse. Despite months of strike action, GMB’s membership at the warehouse had surged to 800.

Last year, Amazon publicly stated that there were 1,400 workers at the warehouse, indicating that GMB members constituted more than the required 50 percent for statutory union recognition. However, when GMB officially applied to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), Amazon claimed to have 2,700 workers—a claim that was accepted by the CAC.

GMB members employed at Amazon Coventry allege that the warehouse has been inundated with up to 1,000 new hires since the start of the strike action. Additional strikes at Amazon Coventry are scheduled for June 12, 13, and 14.

Stuart Richards, GMB Senior Organiser, voiced concerns over Amazon’s actions, stating, “Amazon has refused to pay workers a decent wage but is now paying an additional 1,300 workers to try and bust the union. We estimate that’s more than £300,000 a week—just to prevent workers from having a voice in their workplace. This amount exceeds the cost of paying the original workforce the £15 per hour they were requesting. It’s plain and simple dirty tricks.”

While the GMB has been compelled to withdraw its application for statutory recognition, it remains committed to the cause. GMB members at Amazon are determined to continue the fight for a liveable wage and union recognition, despite the setback.

If you’ve got any thoughts or comments on this issue of Union News or want to submit a news item, simply use the comments section on whatever Social Media platform you’re listening to and/or reading Union News on or e-mail us privately at UnionNewsServices@protonmail.com. To get you started here are some questions you might like to comment on: What are your thoughts on the significant increase in the number of public-sector workers in Wales relying on universal credit during the pandemic?
Do you believe the RMT’s acceptance of a new pay deal at ScotRail sets a positive example for other unions and industries?
How do you feel about the government’s refusal to release the leaked report recommending a 6.5% pay rise for teachers, leading to threats of coordinated strikes by teaching unions?

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