‘THE UK government crackdown on trade union rights is reminiscent of former Chilean dictator Augustus Pinochet and an attack on democracy itself,’ UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings has said.
‘We have a new global paradox,’ he continued. ‘Across the world, the right to organise, the right to negotiate and the right to strike are being deprived to workers, yet the IMF finds that the fall in unionisation in advanced economies and its impact on workers’ negotiation power is a key contributor to the rise of economic inequality.
‘Studies suggest that about one-fifth of the increase in economic inequality in America, for example, is the result of the decline in unions’ negotiating power. To understand rising inequality, you have to understand the coordinated and resourced campaign against the labour movement, which has left middle class wages stagnating for decades. While the Conservative Party would have you believe that unions hold back economic growth, the reality is precisely the opposite.
‘Working people need money in their pocket to fuel the economy. For the first time in history the majority of people living in poverty in the UK are in work. This is the legacy of the Tories’ previous attacks on trade unions. I hate to think what will happen next. The Trade Union Bill was presented to the House of Commons on Wednesday and represents the worst crackdown on trade union rights in 30 years.
‘The far-reaching reforms will make legal strikes virtually impossible by imposing a minimum 50% turnout – with public sector strikes needing the backing of at least 40% of workers eligible to vote. The laws would also force unions to give employers 14 days of notice of impending industrial action and allow them to bring in agency staff to cover for striking workers.
‘I recently met the Chilean labour minister who told me that, under its own labour reforms, Chile will be removing striker replacement rules from the statute book because they were an “unfortunate legacy” of Pinochet. Why is the Conservative Party intent on following the example of a man like Pinochet?’
‘This is the worst attack on trade unions since the days of a Thatcher government and the UNI Global Union family of 20 million workers stands united with our UK members in opposing these draconian measures.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said that the government’s Trade Union Bill risks creating a new generation of Tolpuddle martyrs. Speaking at the annual festival in Dorset on Sunday O’Grady said: ‘Squire James Frampton would have approved of the government’s new Trades Union Bill. The Squire was a landowner who feared that organised labour threatened the power base of the wealthy classes and called on the full might of the law to quash it.
‘Fast forward 180 years and ministers are looking to do the same. The Bill is a modern day masterclass in punishing people for daring to stand up for their rights. This government is determined to strip workers of power at the negotiating table and give bosses the upper hand during disputes.
‘Even when ballots succeed in meeting the new thresholds, employers will soon be able to bring in agency staff to break strikes. These plans go much further than thresholds. Workplace training, safety and support for millions of workers could be hit by unlimited powers for the government to cap time spent on any union activity.
‘This could even stop a union representative supporting you at a tribunal if you’re the victim of harassment or discrimination. And unions face being hit by heavy fines if they don’t submit their plans for protests during industrial action in advance. The government is even consulting on making striking workers tell authorities what they are planning on Facebook.
‘This latest attack on working people – shop workers, teachers, nurses, postal staff and factory workers, and their unions – is an affront to the British sense of fair play and is a huge threat to civil liberties.
‘This weekend at Tolpuddle, as we celebrate the six courageous workers who stood together against the Squire, we will also be sending a strong message to the government that this generation of working people are just as determined to defend our democratic unions.’
One section of the working class, and centre of the Tory attack on the trade unions, are the railway workers. On Wednesday this week, London Underground threatened to take legal action against ASLEF, after the train drivers’ union gave notice that its members will refuse to bring trains into service that have not been subject to safety checks in line with LU’s own safety standards.
Finn Brennan, ASLEF’s lead negotiator on the Tube, said: ‘Rather than sitting down with us to resolve this industrial dispute, London Underground are threatening to take legal action to stop our members doing their jobs safely by making sure their trains are fully safety checked before entering service.
‘It is now clear that their agenda is not to resolve this dispute but to force through changes, no matter what the impact on staff and the safety of their passengers. Their action today has grievously undermined the trust needed for talks to make progress and so made it much harder to avoid further strikes.’
Also on Wednesday, ACAS Tube talks were halted as RMT railway workers’ union was called in for an emergency meeting with the regulator on safety as the union’s overtime ban hits staffing levels. Talks aimed at settling the dispute over night running on London Underground were halted that morning after the RMT was called in for an emergency meeting with the safety regulator following a series of serious breaches of safety protocols over the past week directly linked to the RMT overtime ban.
The talks were due to recommence at ACAS but have been shelved to allow for RMT senior representatives to attend the urgent meeting at the ORR (Office of Rail and Road). The safety issues were raised by the RMT over last weekend. At both Upminster and Stonebridge Park depots over the weekend, managers without the Safety Critical License that allows them to bring trains into service were prepared to do just that in a blatant and dangerous contravention of the agreed regulations with serious implications for passenger and staff safety, alleges the RMT.
Other related issues are being reported through to the union from local reps. RMT immediately raised the breaches with the safety regulator and an urgent meeting was convened for 9.30am on Wednesday morning. The attempt to ride roughshod over the safety rulebook is directly linked to the shortage of staff due to the current RMT overtime ban across LU.
The union is compiling a full dossier of similar safety breaches. RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘RMT has received a number of reports from local reps of the most flagrant breaches of safety protocols on London Underground over the weekend which are directly related to a management drive to keep services running in light of the overtime ban, regardless of the impact on passenger and staff safety.
‘Those issues have been raised with the safety regulator and as a result ACAS talks on the dispute due this morning have been halted to allow for an urgent meeting to discuss the breaches of agreements, licences and procedures. Instead of riding roughshod over the safety rulebook to try and plug the widening gaps opening up as a result of the overtime ban the Tube management should be spending their time addressing the fundamental issues at the heart of the current disputes.’
Commenting on the RSSB (Rail Safety Standard Board) annual report on Tuesday, Mick Cash said: ‘These are truly shocking figures that are a wake up call for the politicians and train companies pressing ahead with cash-led plans to axe staff from trains and stations. RMT has warned repeatedly that sacking guards and destaffing the platforms would turn our railways into a criminals’ paradise and here is the concrete evidence that shows the consequences of crashing on regardless.
‘RMT will use this latest evidence as we continue to campaign and fight to retain safety critical staff on our transport services.’