What should we do about supply chain disruption?

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On one day recently around 2,000 petrol stations had run out of at least one type of fuel. And at thousands of others, there were long queues as drivers tried to fill up.

Fuel disruption is one aspect of the shortage of lorry drivers. Fuel exists, but it can’t be delivered to petrol stations to meet demand (especially when demand increases).

The drivers’ shortage is also hitting supermarket supplies and patients are facing delays to their prescriptions and shortages of ­over-the-counter drugs because of a lack of deliveries.

Uncontrolled immigration is not the answer to supply chain problems

In a TV interview with Andrew Marr before the Tory conference, Johnson acknowledged that disruption to some supplies could continue until Christmas, but said the only short-term solution was to resume uncontrolled immigration, which would be wrong.

What we can’t do … in all these sectors is simply go back to the tired, failed old model, reach for the lever called ‘uncontrolled immigration’, get people in at low wages. And yes, there will be a period of adjustment, but that is, I think, what we need to see in this country.

Asked whether labour shortages and the associated disruption they caused were an inevitable part of his Brexit policy, Johnson did not disagree. He said: “When people voted for change in 2016, and when people voted for change in 2019, they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill, and chronic low productivity. And we’re moving away from that.”

Better the one sinner who repenteth?

It’s not often that we agree with a Tory Leader but here he is right. Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity Union, commented:-

The Tories helped bosses drive down pay by attacking trade union organisation, outlawing some strikes, allowing fire and rehire and implementing a public sector pay freeze. If they are now saying they want a higher valued and higher skilled workforce many things will have to change. 

Importing foreign labour is not a long-term solution problem. The disruption to supply chains starkly illustrates how over-reliant we were on foreign labour in essential economic sectors. Solidarity has long argued that we should train UK workers to do these jobs.

I welcome the announcement by the Department for Education that it will be investing up to £10 million to create “skills boot camps” for up to 3,000 new British HGV drivers. Another 1,000 will be trained through local courses. It doesn’t go far enough, however. Logistics UK estimates that what is actually needed is about 90,000 HGV drivers. Supermarkets alone require an additional 15,000 HGV drivers to operate at full capacity ahead of Christmas. The government must do far more to support training.”

“My view is that the disruption to our supply chains is the result of a number of different factors: the effects of Covid-19, Brexit (and particularly poor planning to mitigate negative consequences) and partly about factors causing similar shortages across large parts of Europe.

I believe we can weather the storm and take prudent measures nationally and as consumers to lessen effects. In the longer term, we can emerge stronger as a nation and offer hope to our own people of a reasonably paid job.

So what “prudent measures” does Solidarity advise its members to take? 

  • Don’t panic buy but slowly build a small surplus of essential consumer goods. We suggest a month is achievable.
  • Order items that require delivery early for Xmas
  • Source gifts locally – it is better ecologically and economically anyway
  • Wherever possible buy UK made goods
  • Send gifts earlier than usual – they don’t have to be opened till Xmas
  • If you are in an insecure job or one you don’t like think about retraining – the change and disruption also provides an opportunity

Inflation up = real wages down

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Inflation is rising and that’s bad news for workers.

Inflation rose at its fastest recorded rate for at least a quarter of a century last month. 

Inflation is the rate at which the cost of goods and services rises year on year. In order to be able to buy the same amount of goods, your salary must increase by at least the same level as inflation.

Where the inflation rate outstrips wage increases, you lose money in real terms. You need to spend a higher proportion of your wages to buy the same goods, so your living costs increase.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed the CPI measure of inflation jumped by 1.2 percentage points to 3.2 percent—a nine-year high. Jonathan Athow, an ONS national statistician, says August “saw the largest rise in annual inflation month-on-month since the series was introduced almost” 25 years ago.

The British government prefers the CPI rate because it excludes housing costs and therefore minimises price rises. This is important when it comes to issues such as uprating benefits.

Working-class people are already being hit in the pocket with increasing food and transport costs behind the surge. Petrol prices rose to their highest since September 2013.

More bad news is coming.

Gas and electricity bills are set to increase sharply this autumn. VAT tax will rise back to 12.5 per cent for the hospitality sector at the end of this month and food and clothing prices are also expected to jump in the autumn.

The inflation rise comes as the Tories push through Universal Credit benefit cuts and National Insurance Contribution increases.

And the Bank of England warned earlier this summer that CPI inflation could rise to 4 percent by the end of the year.

Rehana Azam, GMB union national secretary, said, “The cost of food, of rent, of basic day-to-day living is the highest it’s been for ten years.

Yet the government persists with pushing forward a real terms pay cut for public sector workers.  

“Their cruel agenda is taking food from the mouths of our carers, our NHS workers, our school staff and our council workers.”

She added, “After the pandemic and a disastrous decade of cuts workers should be rewarded with a proper pay rise—not more slashed wages.

“Any recovery needs pay to not only beat the cost of living but also start restoring what’s been lost over the last ten years.” 

Many workers have suffered substantial pay cuts in “real terms” – adjusted for inflation – since the beginning of the financial crash in 2008. 

Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, commented: “Without union protection workers will be faced with attempts by bosses to give wage increases below the real level of inflation or, worse still, face pay freezes. Effectively instead of a pay rise, they will be getting a pay cut. Only unions can stand against this and unions now represent only 25 percent of the workforce compared to the 45 percent back in the 70s. Union members will not be as hard-hit as other non-unionised workers. That’s just a sad fact. Still, we owe it to our fellow workers to reach out to them and urge them to join a union.”

Jobs at risk as furlough ends

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The furlough will end at the end of this month.

One in 16 companies now say that they are in danger of closure in the next three months.The lives of around a million people are set to be thrown into chaos when the Tories close the furlough scheme at the end of the month.6 percent of the entire workforce in Britain was still furloughed as of 22 August.More than half of staff in passenger air transport were still temporarily laid off at the end of July.

Areas close to airports are among the places with highest rates of workers still on furlough. A staggering 10 percent of all employees in the London boroughs of Hounslow and Hillingdon and the town of Slough remain on the scheme.These are areas that surround Heathrow airport. The picture in Crawley, near London Gatwick airport, is similar.Deven Ghelani, chief ­executive of the analysts Policy in Practice said, “By removing the pandemic’s ­protective measures too early, the government is introducing an autumn of income shocks to families who depend on this support.”

Peter Lambert of the London School of Economics Programme on Innovation and Diffusion said, “I think there will probably need to be some continuation of support in specific sectors.“My bet is there’ll be more targeted support because unless the economy really, really picks up, there’s going to be lots of people still left in the lurch in specific sectors.”

Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity commented: “These are uncertain times for workers. One step you can take is to join a Union that can help you if you have problems. With the end of furlough and continuing economic worries we expect the number of people in need of representation to increase.”

“TECHNOLOGY SOVEREIGNTY” SOLIDARITY CALLS FOR ACTION

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During the pandemic, it became increasingly obvious that a country needs to be able to provide its population with essential supplies using its own domestic capacities. Our country must not be dependent on other countries for key needs.

All states or federations of states should be able to provide or produce in their own countries the infrastructures, services, and products, e.g. medicines, needed for society and the economy and for carrying out their own public tasks and must have the appropriate technologies and sufficient research capacities for innovative solutions.

That’s why people are talking about “technology sovereignty” or ‘TechSov’. But what is it?

For us, it means the ability of a state or a federation of states to provide the technologies it deems critical for its welfare, competitiveness, and ability to act and to be able to develop these or source them from other economic areas without one-sided structural dependency.

We believe the UK should preserve options by developing and maintaining its own capabilities and avoiding one-sided dependencies. We also believe that the UK government should be able to block foreign takeovers of UK businesses or impose strict conditions where there are national security or public interest considerations.

At present, a number of key defence companies have been bought by overseas concerns or are the subject of takeover bids. In addition supermarkets like Morrisons and Sainsbury’s face foreign takeovers with huge potential effects on UK suppliers and workers.

Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, commented: “I believe that the UK State should hold golden shares in companies which are strategically important to our national interest. This should be easier now that we are not part of the EU. A golden share is a type of share that gives its shareholder veto power over changes to the company’s charter. One golden share controls at least 51% of voting rights. This would enable the UK government to exercise some control over ownership of a company taking account of our national and strategic interests. Both the UK and Brazil have used them in the past. This should be accompanied by stricter rules on the financing of takeovers and the powers of the State to pause and investigate them. The outcome of the TechSov debate is vital to our countries future.”

Foreign takeover threat to key UK companies

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Cobham a US-owned firm is trying to buy Ultra Electronics which produces vital technology for the RAF. They are offering £2.5 billion. That’s £35 a share, more than 40% higher than the company’s all-time record share price. Dorset-based Cobham, was itself bought by the US private equity firm Advent in a £4bn deal in 2020.Why should we care about this? We should care because ‘Taking Back Control’ doesn’t mean much if key parts of our industry are controlled by foreigners. Foreign ownership of British companies will mean that research departments and production jobs will increasingly relocate overseas. And any assurances or promises are given by these overseas bidders are far from guaranteed.

Since Advent took over Cobham, large parts of the company have been sold off, including its Aero Connectivity arm (bought for $965 million by American rival TransDigm) and Mission Systems, bought for $2.83 billion by Eaton Corporation, which operates out of Ohio.Labour’s shadow business minister, Chi Onwurah, said ministers “should be doing far more than making weak and vague noises to protect [companies such as Ultra].

”Serious questions remain about potential threats to national security, the business model of the new owners, and future governance and operational freedoms,” she said.“The Conservatives have repeatedly failed to protect British businesses from takeovers that might compromise our national security and economic interests. Labour would introduce a robust takeover regime to support and grow our world-class industries.”

Unions too are voicing their concerns. Unite the Union has called for an end to “meaningless government statements” and to act “…to protect UK strategic assets, protecting jobs, skills and our national security.” Last year the Commons defence committee published a submission from Unite on “sovereign capability” calling on the government to generate a list of technologies that need to be secured to give Britain freedom of action without the intervention of other countries.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity commented: “I welcome the lead taken by Unite in speaking out in the national interest. We cannot be reliant on the whims and policies of foreign governments and companies. We must aim for economic and technology sovereignty and not just think about political sovereignty if we are truly to take back control. I welcome the announcement by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng of an inquiry into the proposed takeover of Ultra Electronics by Advent. I hope that the takeover will be blocked. It’s just a tragedy that action was not taken earlier as we have already lost key industrial companies.”

Picture: Ultra Electronics Business in the Knave’s Beech Business Park at LoudwaterJonathan Billinger/ Ultra Electronics https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Ultra_Electronics_-_geograph.org.uk_-_754776.jpg

PRO-BREXIT FIRE UNION OFFICIAL UNFAIRLY SACKED

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Pro-Breixt fire union official unfairly sacked, tribunal finds

Paul Embery has won a claim for unfair dismissal against the Fire Brigades Union – FBU.

He was sacked in relation to a speech he gave in a personal capacity (not as an FBU representative) and in his own private time to a pro-Brexit rally outside parliament in 2019.
Norwich Employment Tribunal ruled he was unfairly dismissed after a “witch hunt” with a pre-determined outcome.

The tribunal heard there had been regular disagreements between Mr. Embery and FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack over the issue of Brexit. Mr. Embery was warned of reprisals and at one point accused of siding with the ‘far right‘.

The conflict appeared to come to a head as Mr. Embery planned to attend the Leave Means Leave rally in Parliament Square.

Before the rally, the tribunal heard Mr. Embery was told by FBU President Ian Murray that he should not attend as a speaker and that to do so could breach the union’s policy against Brexit, which passed in 2016.

Mr. Murray was also said to have suggested it could contravene a statement prohibiting FBU officials from campaigning with political opponents during the referendum campaign.

Mr. Embery believed Mr. Murray was wrong, and that the policy had lapsed once the referendum was held, the tribunal was told.

The activist was introduced at the rally as an organiser of Trade Unions Against the European Union and used a speech to describe a battle to defend the principle of democracy, after a majority voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

Mr. Embery said in the speech that the “message to the leaders of my movement is, if you want to stay relevant, then it’s about time you put yourself on the side of the people over the establishment and big business, and you better do that damn quickly“.

This is a great victory – on a personal level – for Paul Embery. It’s also a great victory for democracy and the right of ordinary workers & trade unionists to openly speak their minds. Whatever union policy is members and officials should be able to publicly disagree as long as they make it clear that it is their personal view and that they are not speaking on behalf of the union.

Hard work should pay

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Here at Solidarity, we believe that people who work hard should be valued and paid accordingly.

Yet, sadly, that’s often not the case. In work poverty is a real problem. It’s not helped by many public workers in the NHS, Councils, etc being given poor wage rises. Zero-hour contracts and minimum wage jobs in the private sector are also to blame. There are so many factors that prevent workers from earning a decent living and giving them the respect that they deserve.

Now the situation may get worse. 

Union leaders are warning that workers’ pay will suffer after the Bank of England predicted a surge in inflation to the highest level for a decade.

According to the bank’s latest economic forecasts, inflation, currently running at 2.5 percent, will rise to 4 percent at the end of the year as the British economy recovers from the pandemic.

This would be double the bank’s inflation target and the highest level since the end of 2011.

TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The report from the Bank of England shows what unions, NHS staff, key workers, and the public have warned – the government is cutting the real-terms pay of millions of workers.

Lots of workers will find that prices are rising faster than their pay, especially those working in the public sector and other key workers who kept us going through the pandemic – like care workers, refuse collectors, and public health staff.

Keyworker pay is the acid test for the Prime Minister’s promise to ‘build back fairer.’ Every key worker deserves a decent standard of living for their family. But too often, their hard work does not pay. We owe them better.

Government nationalises steel company

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More than 600 steel-making jobs at Sheffield Forgemasters have been secured following the decision to nationalise the company. The takeover by the Ministry of Defence also secures the supply chain for high-quality steel for the next generation of Britain’s defence investment programmes.

The government stated that Forgemasters is the only available British manufacturer with the skills and capability to produce large scale high-integrity castings and forgings from specialist steels in an integrated facility to the highest standards required for these programmes. It will invest around £400 million in the company over the next decade.

The company specialises in forged and cast steel components for the defence, engineering, nuclear, offshore, petrochemical, and steel processing industries worldwide. Forgemasters will continue to operate in areas outside of defence.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of steel union Community, said: “We know with the right framework of support our industry has a bright future at the core of a low carbon economy, so we are pleased to see some much-needed investment going into Sheffield Forgemasters to provide long-term security.

We see this move as a recognition of the importance of the steel industry to our country’s economic future. The pandemic has shown us the danger of relying on fragile overseas supply chains, so we are pleased to see a viable future secured for Sheffield Forgemasters.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of manufacturing union Unite, said: “Critical infrastructure industries like steel function better in public hands and advanced economies like our own need to have stable, secure domestic steel production capabilities to protect our national security interests as well as to compete in global markets.

new bill to outlaw fire and rehire

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Fire and rehire is when bad bosses threaten workers with the sack and are told they will only be re-employed to do the same basic job if they accept less money and poorer conditions.

Even the government agrees that fire and rehire tactics are wrong but have refused to outlaw them. Jacob Rees-Mogg has described fire and rehire as “wrong” and a “bad practice” while Business Minister, Paul Scully, has branded it as “bully-boy tactics”.

Barry Gardiner is the MP for Brent North. He has introduced a Private Members Bill to outlaw it. Barry launched his campaign at Jacob Douwe Egberts in Banbury. As he pointed out in an article for the influential Insititute of Employment Rights:

Coffee consumption was up 40% during the lockdown and Jacobs Douwe Egbert made record profits, but that didn’t stop them threatening their workforce in Banbury with the sack unless they accepted a cut in wages of up to £12,000. No family should have to put up with that. I met hundreds of workers who told me what that loss of earnings meant for them: How do you pay your rent or your mortgage with a cut like that? How do you support your family? Every pound cut is a pound less to pay your rent, to pay your mortgage and the fear of eviction or repossession is very real.

The Bill proposed by Barry has already attracted support from over 100 MPs from every single party in the House of Commons – including a growing number of Conservative MPs. Patrick Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity union, declared: “Barry Gardiners Bill should have the support of every honest working man and woman in our country. He is 100 percent right that legislation, not just fine words, is needed to stop this disgraceful tactic.”

“STOP STEALING OUR TIPS!”

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When you give a tip in a restaurant it may not all be going to the worker as you intend. Instead, the company may be taking a hefty chunk of it.

Pizza Express, for example, recently decided to increase from 30 percent to 50 percent the amount that is deducted from the tips received by waiting staff.

The government had promised to address this problem. They first promised to introduce fair tips legislation in 2018 and the measure was included in the 2019 Queen’s Speech but no bill was introduced.

The lack of fair tips legislation, combined with the pandemic has created a huge fall in earnings for waiting staff.

One union, Unite, has written to the secretary of state for business Kwasi Kwarteng, stating the disappointment of hospitality workers that the government has failed to introduce legislation to introduce fair tips nor has it introduced “a code of practice to ensure fairness, transparency and genuine consultation on the allocation and management of tips”.

In its letter, Unite warns that as the hospitality sector opens up, experienced workers are increasingly reluctant to return due to low pay which is made worse by tips deductions. The letter says: “employers are again interfering with tips allocation and distribution, resulting in substantial cuts in amounts received. This combined with the acceleration of cashless pay and home deliveries has created a perfect storm which has effectively wiped out the value of the 2020 and 2021 uplifts in the national living wage and the national minimum wage.

Unite officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said: “A successful hospitality sector is essential for the recovery of the UK economy, but its return to health will be stifled by severe staff shortages until workers are paid fairly and properly. The Conservative government has continued to promise to introduce fair tips legislation and has equally failed to deliver on its warm words.

Hospitality workers can’t wait for promises on the never, never, they need action on tips now. When legislation is finally introduced it is essential that it is free of loopholes and action is taken to curtail the unethical use of troncs which unscrupulous employers use to divert tips away from waiting staff.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, supported Unite saying: “As someone who benefited from tips when I worked in catering first as an agency waiter when a student and between jobs and second as a Restaurant Manager on the Railways when younger I know how important tips can be. When I give a tip I want to know that the worker who I want to reward for good customer service gets it. I support hospitality and catering workers when they say ‘stop stealing our tips!’.