Unions cancel strikes as a mark of respect to the late Queen

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Postal and rail strikes were canceled in an announcement last Thursday after the death of the Queen.

Planned strikes by Royal Mail workers on Friday were called off following the Queen’s death. Members of the Communication Workers Union were due to continue a 48-hour walkout in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Rail strikes that were being prepared for September have been canceled. Train drivers union Aslef had set a strike date for Thursday, September 15. The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) had planned a walkout on Monday, September 26.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has postponed its annual conference that was due to be held in Brighton from Sunday for four days.

The cancellation of the rail and postal strikes can only be a temporary mark of respect. The issues which underly them remain unresolved. The unions would have faced much criticism if they had continued with their plans. The leaders of the unions involved have made a difficult but likely wise decision. The Morning Star was right to point out, however: 

“Nobody will say that the Queen’s death means company bosses should drop their vicious attacks on workers’ rights as a gesture of respect.

Newspaper pundits won’t ask how the Tories have the effrontery to wage class war at such a time.

That’s never the narrative: it is workers who cause disruption by fighting back when attacked, never bosses who cause it by picking our pockets.

That this is exactly what bosses are doing has been demonstrated in detail in reports like Unite Investigates’ Corporate Profiteering and the Cost-of-Living Crisis.”

Bakers’ union BFAWU general secretary Sarah Woolley said: “The decision to postpone TUC Congress is completely understandable after the news of the Queen dying on Thursday.

“[But] the cost-of-living crisis, though, hasn’t and will not go away — and we have a lot of work to do over the coming months as a movement to support working people through it.

“When the TUC does meet, we will have a clearer idea of the political landscape with [Liz] Truss as Prime Minister and this will inform our strategy.”

Bankers wax fat on our misery

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At a time when workers are being asked for ‘pay restraint’ bonuses to fat-cat city bosses have hit a record high.

In March alone, finance chiefs in London shared £5.9 billion in bonuses as more than 16 million people in Britain face poverty and desperation.

Research by the TUC, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, reveals that over the last year bonuses in the financial and insurance sector rocketed by 27.9 per cent.

Workers’ wages went up by only 4.2 per cent.

The figures put City bonuses at the highest since records began, and higher than the amounts bosses were paying themselves shortly before the global financial crash of 2008.

As bosses pocket their record gains, the Resolution Foundation expects the number of people in poverty in Britain to increase by 1.3 million this year – including 500,000 children – taking the total to 16.5 million, roughly a quarter of the population.

The TUC also reported continuing falls in the value of wages as bonuses soared.

Real wages across the economy are worth £68 less per month than a year ago, while the wages of public-sector workers fell even more – by £121 a month, said the TUC.

The fall in the value of workers’ wages for the whole of 2022 is expected to be at least £500.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There is no justification for such obscene City bonuses at the best of times – let alone during a cost-of-living crisis.

“While City executives rake it in, millions are struggling to keep their heads above water.

“Working people are at breaking point, having been left badly exposed to soaring bills after a decade of standstill wages and universal credit cuts.

“Ministers have no hesitation in calling for public-sector pay restraint but ignore shocking City excess.

“It’s time to hold down bonuses at the top – not wages for everyone else.”

Ms O’Grady called on the government to clamp down on the “greedy bonus culture” by putting workers on company pay boards and introducing maximum pay ratios.

“And it’s time for the government to get wages rising across the economy by boosting the minimum wage immediately, funding decent pay rises for all public-sector workers and introducing fair pay agreements for whole industries,” she said.

The TUC is calling for government action including limits on bonuses as a percentage of total pay, availability of bonuses to all staff – not just fat-cat executives, public-sector pay rises in line with cost-of-living increases, and restoration of earnings lost over the last decade.

Corporate accountancy firm Deloitte has reported that the ratio of bosses’ pay to workers’ pay is now 81 to one. Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity union, commented: “How can a ratio of 81 to 1 be just. It’s both unfair and divisive. It’s obvious that the few are insulated from the cost-of-living crisis whilst the many bear the cost. So when the reactionary media attack the RMT and other unions for asking for pay increases I want you to remember that these same people are partying while ordinary folk have to think about what they can put on the table. We stand with our brothers and sisters – Victory to the RMT and all unions fighting for their members!”

Government is “turning its back” on workers – TUC

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The TUC has accused the government of “turning its back” on working people after ministers failed to include an employment bill in the Queen’s Speech.

The union body said that the government’s broken promise to boost workers’ rights will see “bad bosses celebrating”.

In 2019, the government announced it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work, but despite committing to the bill on at least 20 occasions, ministers have shelved the legislation.

Commenting on the decision to exclude an employment bill from the Queen’s Speech, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  

“The prime minister promised to make Britain the best place in the world to work. But he has turned his back on working people.

“…bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating.

“No employment bill means vital rights that ministers had promised – like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination – risk being ditched for good.

“And it means no action on the scourge of insecure work and ending exploitative practices like zero-hours contracts and fire and rehire.

“After the P&O scandal, dragging our outdated labour laws into the 21st century has never been more urgent.

“But by shelving the employment bill, ministers have sent a signal that they are happy for rogue employers to ride roughshod over workers’ rights.

“Enough is enough. This is a government that just doesn’t get it – from the cost of living emergency to the insecure work epidemic.

“People can’t wait for greater rights and security at work – they need it now.”

On the seafarer minimum wage enforcement plans, O’Grady added:

“This proposal is feeble and likely unworkable.

“The government has done nothing to tackle the most flagrant labour abuse in years by P&O.

“Only stronger employment legislation that boosts worker protections and stops companies firing on the spot will prevent another P&O-type scandal.”

The TUC says that the following policies were all promised within an employment bill, and now risk being ditched altogether:

  • Ensure that tips go to workers in full.
  • Introduce a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract.
  • Create a new single enforcement body offering greater protections for workers.
  • Extend redundancy protections to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
  • Make flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to.
  • Allow parents to take extended paid leave for neonatal care.
  • Introduce a new legal entitlement to one week’s leave for unpaid carers.
  • In addition, the government consulted on reasonable notice period for shifts allocated and cancelled, and payments for cancelled shifts, which the TUC points out the government has “since gone quiet on.”

The union body also highlights that the government promise to make employers responsible for preventing sexual harassment risks falling by the wayside without the employment bill, as the policy needs primary legislation to carry it forward.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, commented: “The government is sending a clear signal to British workers that they are not a priority. Workers who were promised progress have been badly let down.”

Talks at P&O break down

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Talks between RMT and P&O broke down because the company was “simply unprepared to change course from the illegal dismissal of 800 seafarers,” according to the union.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:

“From the outset the full obnoxiousness and hostility of the company towards their staff and the RMT was on display.

“P&O were not prepared to listen to any scenario or develop any idea that would provide a means to create a solution to the current disastrous situation.

“The meeting broke up inside 20 minutes as P&O were simply unprepared to change their course from the illegal dismissal of 800 seafarers.

“RMT will continue to press the government for an immediate intervention by whatever means necessary to make P&O perform a U-turn and get our members reinstated, as per Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ statement on BBC this morning.

“We also call on the entire labour movement, the public, the freight & logistics sector and the political community to support an immediate and total boycott of all P&O services.

The people of the UK need to pull P&O to account and make sure that the law in the workplace is upheld, that British workers can have job security and decent pay, and that P&O workers get workplace justice.”

RMT has also launched a campaign of action against P&O’s supply chain and will hold a protest at Clyde Maritime Recruitment in Glasgow on Monday.

P&O is encountering resistance as some newly recruited crew members reportedly walked off P&O vessels when they discovered how they were being used as scab labour.

A recruitment agency is offering sacked marine officers £20,000 to take back their old P&O jobs because the company has been unable to fill them.

Coupled with the ferry firm’s need to train its new recruits in vital work including safety and rescue, the shortage of officers threatens to torpedo any hopes P&O had of getting all its ferries back into service in the immediate future.

Seven vessels are reported to be standing idle, costing P&O around £1 million a day, including the Pride of Hull ferry in Rotterdam.

Shameless P&O chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted to a panel of MPs this week that the company knowingly broke the law by sacking the workers — and said he would do it again.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, backed by PM Boris Johnson, said he should quit following his “brazen” comments to the joint business and transport committee.

RMT has also demanded that the Scottish, Welsh and Westminster governments kick the firm’s Dubai-based parent company DP World out of “freeport” tax havens in Britain.

Freeports are protected from taxes and duties which apply in other ports.

DP World is involved in English freeports in the Thames and Solent. In Scotland taxpayers are expected to provide £25 million funding towards establishing a freeport and another is being planned for Wales.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the three governments “must state that they will exclude DP World from the public funding and tax breaks that come with freeport status, unless our members are reinstated by P&O Ferries.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said it was a “watershed moment” for Britain’s shipping industry and workers’ rights.

She said DP World “must be given pariah status and lose all its government shipping and freeport contracts with immediate effect until workers are reinstated.

Don’t go with P&O

The RMT has called for members of the public to show their revulsion at P&O’s behaviour by boycotting the company’s ferries under the slogan “Don’t go with P&O.”

As the CPBML rightly said: “all we can do is fight like our trade union ancestors. This is an attack on whole communities in our coastal towns. This will be a fight led by the trade unions in the shipping industry, but it will be supported by whole communities and the trade union movement.”.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, said: “P&O must be punished for their attack on British workers. We must break them. Those agencies supplying workers to P&O should also think carefully about the possible consequences to them. British workers need to ensure that their power is felt.”

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.