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The News Line: Feature PCS ‘serious concerns’ over privatisation of government helpline – and RMT prepares for action over Scottish Ferries
PCS banners on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration on March 26 last year in London against the Coalition’s cuts
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has written to home secretary Theresa May to highlight serious concerns over the privatisation of a government helpline and to advise her of a forthcoming legal challenge.

The letter concerns the transfer of helpline staff from Equality and Human Rights Commission offices in Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow to a new call centre in Stratford upon Avon run by private company Sitel.

Sitel has stated that it does not recognise trade unions for collective bargaining at any of its sites in the UK, but the union has pointed out it will be in breach of the law if it enforces this for EHRC staff who are due to be transferred to the company on 1st October.

The company is also planning to dismiss more experienced advisors when it takes on the contract.

The union says the Home Office – responsible for the Government Equalities Office, which signed the contract with Sitel – has failed to properly consult staff about the move, and failed to follow both the legal regulations on transfers and an agreement on avoiding redundancies.

The letter, which also raises concerns about the EHRC’s international status recognised by the United Nations, states: ‘It is a matter of serious concern that the EHRC is shortly to transfer this country’s official national advice service on issues of equality and human rights to a company, Sitel, that through its policy of non recognition of trade unions denies its own staff a fundamental human right.’

The letter says the union’s lawyers will also be writing to the home secretary, adding that ‘we hope you will wish to re-examine the long-term effects of outsourcing the UK’s national equality and human rights helpline to such a provider, in such a fashion, and with such disregard for the dedicated public servants who currently provide the service’.

• The PCS helped to launch the ‘68 is too late’ campaign to fight UK government plans to increase the state pension age to 68 – and to make public sector workers retire at the same age.

People who have signed up as supporters on the website at 68istoolate.org.uk were asked why they backed the campaign.

A female civil servant from Scotland said: ‘I’m 54 and will now have to work till 66. Despite this, after a recent unsuccessful application for a promotion I was told in a feedback session not to bother about career development as I was too old.’

A 47-year-old male prison officer from the Midlands in England said: ‘I face confrontation every day with prisoners that have robbed, assaulted people, burgled, raped and murdered.

‘I face the ultimate sacrifice of death on a day-to-day basis. To expect me to have to face violent confrontations until I am 68 is outrageous. Would you want to do it?’

A bus driver from Wakefield said: ‘Colleagues at my depot who are over 65 work part-time. I don’t think it will be safe to force people to keep driving buses full time until they are 68.’

A 42-year-old teacher and mother-of-three from Shropshire said: ‘Family is an important infrastructure for society and I always envisaged being able to help my kids with child care. I resent the lack of choice for both me and my family.’

A top philosopher says Britain is going back to a Dickensian world where only the rich have any security.

John Gray, formerly professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, said the uncertainty over pensions and retirement was leading to ‘chronic uncertainty’ among ordinary people.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘A Point of View’ the philosopher said the government expected people to plan for the future when interest payments are so low that savings lose money.

He stressed the importance of pensions commenting: ‘If you can’t look forward to a time when you can enjoy the fruits of a lifetime’s labour, what you have in front of you is a lifetime of chronic uncertainty.’

Professor Gray went on: ‘By shifting all the risks of saving for the future onto the shoulders of ordinary people governments are forcing them to accept a level of risk that only the very rich can afford.’

He compared the UK to a Charles Dickens novel – where everyone but the wealthy is in fear of destitution.

The professor said: ‘We seem to be reverting to an older past in which a mega-rich minority pre-empts much of the profit of any growth in the economy while the rest of the population has to scramble for whatever they can get.’

The rail and transport union, the RMT, is also struggling against privatisation.
The RMT confirmed it is to meet Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown on the 6th September in crucial talks aimed at solving a deepening crisis over proposals to set up key Scottish ferries routes for privatisation.

The confirmation of top level talks comes just a week after RMT announced that it is to begin the balloting process for strike action on Caledonian MacBrayne Scottish Ferries after the total failure to give assurances to staff in advance of the planned sell-off of key routes.

Transport Scotland have identified four CalMac routes for privatisation:

• Ardrossan – Brodick

• Wemyss Bay – Rothesay

• Oban – Craignure

• Largs – Cumbrae

The RMT has set out clear and reasonable demands to Caledonian MacBrayne over the past two months:

• That members’existing pension provisions will be protected and will continue unaffected.

• That the current practice of one joint bargaining machinery will continue, regardless of whether the contract is unbundled or not.

Those assurances have still not been received by the union.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘RMT welcomes the fact that the Minister has agreed to an early meeting with the union straight after the summer break aimed at resolving a deepening crisis on these key Scottish ferries routes. Our team will be aiming to make real progress with Keith Brown.

‘The assurances we are seeking on pensions and bargaining machinery are simple and straightforward and no different to similar assurances we have negotiated on SERCO’s Northern Isles routes.

‘Preparations for the ballot of CalMac staff continue and we are sure now that no one is in any doubt that RMT will take whatever action is necessary to protect our members’ jobs, pensions, working conditions and negotiating rights on the Scottish ferries routes whatever threats are thrown at us.’
 
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