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STUC 2013 Perth

Unions only hope for workers as government tears up employment rights - Speech by Mike Kirby to STUC 16 April 2013

The Tory led Coalition's ideologically-driven ambition to shrink the state to break the social consensus which has existed across generations since the 1940s and which built the welfare state, the breaking of that social contract between the state and the people, is leading to increased outsourcing in the public sector, which - alongside new government policy on employment rights - is dismantling the employment rights of workers across the UK.

Despite talk of it being watered down following a universally negative reaction to the Beecroft 'fire at will' proposals, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, in the game of Ping Pong at Westminster

The House of Lords have returned the Bill to the House of Commons with amendments. The amendments will be considered on the floor of the House on 16 April 2013.

The Bill contains important changes which will undermine worker protections and rights.
These include the use of so called settlement agreements rather than employment tribunals to resolve disputes, the introduction of a rapid resolution scheme for some workplace disputes, a reduction in workplace inspectionsand enabling powers to enable the repeal of regulations.

Already people have to wait two years before getting protection against unfair dismissal.

The opponents of workplace rights like Adrian Beecroft are using the economic crisis as an excuse to hack up workers rights.

Half a million jobs have been lost in the public services. 30,000 in Scotland according to our estimates. 51,700 by government’s own figures since the economic crisis began
And another 250,000 more will go across Scotland as we’re only quarter way through government’s measures.

To make it cheaper for the government to dismiss so many workers, it has instituted new laws.

The 2010 Superannuation Act reduced redundancy benefits (such as compensation) for civil servants; while new collective redundancy consultation laws mean employers need only engage with trade unions and workers for 45 days rather than 90, increasing the likelihood of further jobs lost and more people becoming unemployed.

What's more, elsewhere in the UK the privatisation of parts of the public sector has led profit to be prioritised over service. For this reason, many public sector workers face redundancy when their departments are sold-off to private interests.

In Scotland, local authorities proudly announce that they have avoided compulsory redundancies when in truth they have merely outsourced them.

The council reduces the value of service provision contracts to third sector bodies – and they make their staff redundant. The impact this has on the services received, by often very vulnerable people, is not difficult to imagine.

While the SNP Government certainly lack the zeal for privatisation of their ConDem equivalents, they also lack the will to challenge the cash cuts imposed by Westminster.

The Coalition's proposed changes to TUPE regulations could make it more difficult for employees to remain on a fair wage when they are transferred to a new employer.

The Institute of Employment Rights (IER) and UNISON have both submitted strong evidence to the government to prove the unsuitability of its plans which seek to undermine several key areas of the TUPE regulations.

The Coalition reasons that the Acquired Rights Directive, on which the regulations are based, has been "gold-plated" in current regulation, and seeks to simply "copy-out" the wording of the Directive in several areas.

The purpose of the Directive is to protect employees during the transfer of their terms and conditions to another employer, but it is clear the government sees its role as helping businesses to avoid this responsibility.

UNISON highlighted in its response that the repeal of Special Provision Changes will in fact increase the number of employment tribunals necessary to achieve justice, and increase the cost of transfers to the state.

After a lengthy pay freeze, public sector workers are now being 'treated' to a 1% pay rise until at least 2016 - so far below inflation it is effectively a pay cut.

When services are outsourced, public sector workers often find their pay being cut even further, as fair wages are seen by many private sector companies as a threat to their profit margins.

We are witnessing the growth of Zero-hour contracts. Employers hiring staff on zero-hour contracts have no obligation to provide work.

In return, employees have no obligation to agree to work when they are called in, but the reality of most workers' situations means they are forced by financial restraints and fears over their job security to go to work when called - often on short notice.

Many employees on such contracts simply wait by the phone - unpaid - until they receive such a call. Because work is so unpredictable, they find it difficult to take on other employment opportunities to provide some stability.

They also miss out on training and do not have the regular practice in their jobs
Tory Chancellor George Osborne's proposal that workers exchange their rights of unfair dismissal and redundancy for tax free company shares marks a new low in the debasement of employment rights in the UK.

But it is likely to be an attractive option for many private sector employers keen to establish a 'flexible' and subordinate workforce.

The government's new shares-for-rights scheme will also come in with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill allowing employers to provide work only on the agreement of their staff that they will give up their right to redundancy pay, to claim unfair dismissal, and to request the right to training and flexible working.

In return, workers will receive shares in the company, which are often of negligible value.
This proposal for a modern form of indentured servitude should be roundly condemned and resisted by the labour movement.

And as organised workers seek collective action to protect themselves.....

Trade union exclusion.

Some of the private outsourcing services, third sector agencies public sector workers are being moved to do not recognise trade unions, reducing the ability of these more-vulnerable-than-ever-before employees of being able to organise to stand up for their rights.

The one place of hope for working people is trade unions.

Banding together as we’ve done for generations

To fight for the Better Way.

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