Category Archives: Worker’s Rights

The productivity crisis and the role of trade unions: partnership, productivity and skills in the UK

Bert Clough CERIC

Bert Clough, Visiting Professor, CERIC

As the Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, has stated “productivity isn’t everything but in the long run it is almost everything”. A nation’s ability to improve its standard of living depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its hourly output per worker. That is why increasing productivity should be as important for trade unions as securing the fairer distribution of economic returns of GDP. But productivity has virtually flatlined since the financial crisis in 2008/9. Even more concerning is that the UK has the widest productivity gap with the G7 countries average since the mid-1990s. The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, has warned that the “productivity headache is a self-inflicted wound” resulting from years of cuts and low public investment. The TUC believes that enhanced productivity can only be achieved in investment and embedded in a culture of positive labour relations; with the workforce and their employers becoming “productivity partners”. This requires unions to adopt strategies based on integrative, not just distributive, bargaining.

Can such rhetoric about such social partnership arrangements over productivity be made reality? In 2000, as part of his Productivity Initiative, Gordon Brown asked the TUC and CBI to join forces to identify key priorities and joint recommendations to the Treasury on how to enhance productivity.  One key driver that was identified was that of skills. In a recent research paper, I have sought to assess the effectiveness of the skills strand of the initiative. As part of the Chancellor’s strategy to close the wide productivity gap with UK major competitors by 2010, the aim was for young people and adults to have knowledge and skills that matched the best in the world.

A fragile social partnership over skills had existed during the era of neo-corporatism in the 1970s. But this was ended by the Thatcher government, which abolished tripartite institutions such as the Manpower Services Commission and most of the industry training boards. New Labour was not however about devolving decisions over skills formation to social partners and restoring neo-corporate institutions. Nor was the “Third Way” about reintroducing training levies or establishing statutory collective bargaining over training. The Productivity Initiative was thus constrained by what has been described as a “social-democratic variant of labour market neo-liberalism”. Another constraint was the divergent approaches of the social partners to workforce development. Whereas the TUC has traditionally had a more expansive, employment-focussed approach that supported state intervention, the CBI has had a restrictive employer-focussed approach that cleaved to voluntarism. As a result, the remit of the skills working group under the Productivity Initiative (which was chaired by the then TUC General Secretary – John Monks) was narrow. The remit confined itself to four priorities which conveniently reflected the Government’s vocational education and training (VET) strategy:

  1. increasing the proportion of the adult workforce qualified to Level 2;
  2. tackling the basic skills problems of individuals;
  3. increasing the take-up of Investors in People by small organisations;
  4. improving VET delivery.

The major deficiencies in the exercise was that it was that it confined itself to the supply side as opposed to the demand side. It did not address the key skills components that help drive productivity – their utilisation and higher levels of training such as management and apprentice training which give high economic returns. These were policy areas that the CBI regarded as being subject to employer prerogative and therefore off a social partnership agenda.

The CBI wanted carrots but no sticks. The TUC wanted sticks but realised that it could only realistically press for individual entitlements to training. The working group did recommend carrots for employers to train. This took the form of employer tax credits to incentivise companies to train up to level 2 and basic skills and for small companies to commit to the Investors in People (IiP) standard. The Treasury however favoured a more targeted approach; introducing state subsidies to employers training workers to recognised qualifications through the Employer Training Pilots (ETP) (later universalised as Train to Gain). Direct subsidies were also given to small companies to prepare for IiP accreditation, through the Small Firms Initiative.

Trade unions (with the enhanced capacity provided by the Union Learning Fund and trained union learning reps) helped ETP to target workers with low or no qualifications. The union view was that helping their members to obtain basic skills and Level 2 qualifications could minimise social exclusion and lead to possible progression to higher levels, with ultimately higher returns.  Although the primary objective of ETP and its successor Train to Gain was to increase employer demand for workforce training, the incidence of deadweight and substitution indicated that such an objective had not been substantially met and provided the Coalition Government with the excuse to end the scheme.

New Labour had adopted a social-democratic variant of a neo-liberalist approach to interventions in the labour market. The weakness of this approach was that it left the vast bulk of skills policy and practice outside the industrial relations system. This approach together with the absence of robust social partnership institutions to oversee VET from the 1980s to the present day has enabled successive governments to adopt a top- down approach. It has resulted in the churning of supply-side policy initiatives, chasing national qualification targets, which have had little effect on stimulating employer demand or engaging with the long tail of SME “productivity laggards”.

A key factor in enhancing productivity is the utilisation of skills, but that was virtually ignored by the Labour Government and subsequent governments.  A recent government Foresight report “The Future of Skills and Lifelong Learning” has found however that the UK is the second lowest nation in the EU in utilising skills. Moving towards the levels of skills utilisation seen in Germany and France could boost productivity by as much as £5.5 bn.

The daunting challenge facing unions is how to build their capacity to engage with employers on measures to increase productivity through high involvement work practices and to reap the ensuing benefits through collective bargaining over skills. The lessons learnt from New Labour’s Productivity Initiative was that peak-level social partnership within a voluntary system is unable to deliver such objectives. This has been further limited by a significant decline in union learning capacity, as a result of government austerity measures and the economic downturn since 2010.

So, what is required are robust social partnership institutions with devolved regulatory powers. Their objective should be to raise productivity through assisting employers to adopt high performance and high involvement work practices. This would include promoting high utilisation of skills and ensuring a more equal distribution of training opportunities throughout the workforce. This fundamental change will not come about through yet another central government “quick-fix” initiative from above. It needs to come from below and be owned by both employers and unions.

Developing such a progressive culture could best begin in unionised workplaces. This, however, requires a step change for unions:  moving from conflict to cooperation as their main new source of influence. It does require, however, a rebalancing of power between unions and employers. Ensuring that union reps are full partners requires two measures. Firstly, collective bargaining over training and work organisation must become an integral part of union recognition.  Secondly, there needs to be capacity -building initiatives (at possibly sector or Local Enterprise Partnership level) to provide unions as well as employers with the tools to drive this productivity partnership agenda forward. The long-term objective would be more high- performance and high -involvement workplaces, with employees as well as employers sharing the benefits from the increased productivity.

But does the present government’s industrial strategy address this fundamental challenge? It certainly sets out new initiatives such as a National Retraining Scheme and government /industry partnerships to increase productivity in key sectors. In his November Budget, the Chancellor even confirmed that the government would enter into a formal skills partnership with the TUC and CBI, to develop the scheme. The aim of the partnership is to help set the strategic priorities for the scheme and oversee its implementation, working with new Skills Advisory Panels to ensure that local economies’ needs are reflected. But it must not be just a top-down approach.

The litmus test will be how effective the partnership is in persuading the long tail of productivity laggards to increase the utilisation of the skills of their workforce. This requires recognition of the potential of trade unions at sectoral and company level to form productivity partnerships with employers.  This is the key to develop high-performance and high-involvement workplaces, where employees are rewarded for their increased productivity. The short-comings of the 2001 Productivity Initiative must be avoided. History must not be allowed to repeat itself.

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Industrial action in the University: the last resort of employment relations

Members of the biggest union in the Higher Education sector, UCU, are about to enter the biggest strike in the history of Higher Education in the UK. The Union called for a 14 days strike in order to fight drasyourpensionaxed1tic changes to the employees’ pensions. The employers’ association UKK wants to cut pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based. The UCU is resisting these cuts, fighting for better pensions. Pensions are earned and deferred wages, so cuts in pension are essentially wage cuts. Academics in the sector have already seen their pay decrease in real terms by 16% over the last five years. The union also sees the employers attempt as a wider attack on the education system becoming increasingly marketised and predicated on overwork by staff and drastic indebtedness amongst students.

Industrial actions are a last resort, when negotiations between employers and employees fail. They are not in the interest of staff who lose out their wages for each and every day they take industrial action. Nevertheless, employees are ready to take up this sacrifice in order to protect their interests and more broadly their beliefs of how employment should be organized, particularly in universities who have purported commitments to equality and inclusion and fair conditions.

In the current case, many employers are being extremely aggressive, threatening to dock between 25% to 100% of staff salaries indefinitely, if individual staff does not make up with the loss of labour due to the strike. In particular, they want employees to reschedule lectures that have been missed due to industrial action, some vice chancellors are even threatening to sue staff if students claim fees back.

As a research centre committed to examining contemporary employment relations, CERIC has received a number of comments from international scholars and trade unionists that show that an industrial action is never alone about a single issue but always also a civic act with broader social impact. Amongst others, these have included support from: The University of Aarhus, Denmark; KU Leuven, Belgium; University of Padova, Italy; and Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico.

Solidarity notes

Before ending this seminar I would like to say that I support your strike and I hope that this can also give greater power to a strike that some colleagues are organizing in Italy. Obviously nothing similar to your radical position, but just a one day strike that in any case has provoked panic in many colleagues. And this is very paradoxical in particular for people that study labour, sociology, employment relations, power and so on. In fact a strike is a very well-known situation even if we are usually studying it rather than doing it.

I think your strike is for the future, because pensions for many of us are the future. A pension is a crucial part of the wage, we call it deferred wage, but it is our wage. It is not a gift from anyone. I think it is a shame that people speculate about pensioners, because older people are in a particular situation: they are becoming weaker, sometimes they have health problems and maybe are not sure about the value of their pension. So in a sociological language we can say that pensioners are becoming precarious, but differently from the young, a pensioner has no longer the power to move in the labour market or to emigrate abroad.

Someone could describe academic lecturers as insiders, and someone could also say that we are privileged in the labour market. We may consider this to be true. But I think that our precarity will not solve the problems of others’. Quite the contrary: the worsening of our working conditions can only deteriorate the condition of precarious colleagues.

So I hope you can win your struggle and hoping that also in Italy this one-day strike can be successful. Remembering that the strike is important not only for the moment at which it happens, but it also has repercussions in the social relations that we are able to build after it. Inside and outside our workplace.

Associate Professor Devi Sachetto, University of Padova

I was a part of the British university system between 2008 and 2014. During this period I saw how working conditions – the conditions for good teaching and research – rapidly deteriorated. Not only due to government defunding, but also due to university managements attempting to transform institutions of learning and critique into corporations, rewarding themselves handsomely in the process.

So I consider it both just and important to resist the attack on pensions. Your students and non-academic colleagues at the university must know that your fight is a part of a broader fight. The pension cuts are a part of the construction of the defunded university, in which a precarious workforce is asked to serve heavily indebted “customers”, in order that the state can save money for noble causes such as bank bail outs and tax cuts for the wealthy.

In many ways, the British university system serves as a model for university development in Denmark. For this reason, your struggle is our struggle. Never forget that. When you are fighting to stop the downward spiral of British universities, you are helping your colleagues internationally too. And know that you can win: concerted resistance based on solidarity between lecturers and students has managed to stop some of the worst reforms of the Danish University system, including the introduction of student fees. In solidarity and friendship.

Dr Bue Rübner Hansen, University of Aarhus

Having done my PhD in the UK, I follow the debates about higher education there with great interest. I have been distressed to hear about the experiences of my friends and colleagues at UK universities who are facing declining pay and increasing precarity. The marketization and casualization of the university labour force is a trend we are seeing in North America as well, and it is one that we must resist. The proposed changes to the pensions scheme are unacceptable. I strongly support the strike action by UCU and from Ottawa, I teach and write in solidarity with my comrades in the UK.

Dr Megan Rivers-Moore, Carleton University, Canada

I send my full solidarity to the UCU strike, we have the same problem here in Mexico with the AFORE stock market-related privatised pensions introduced here in 2008, which our union opposes.

Dr Patrick Cuninghame, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico City & member of the Sindicato Independiente de los Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM)

The Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with University and College Union members in the United Kingdom on February 20, 2018

Whereas, Members of the largest union of university teaching staff in the UK, the
University and College Union (UCU), are fighting to stop an outrageous attack on retirement benefits;

Whereas, University administrators propose to end the current guaranteed pension plan, replacing it with individual investment accounts, on the pretext of a fictional deficit “crisis;”

Whereas, Workers in the United States, including New Jersey educators, are very familiar with the use of manufactured “crises” to undermine retirement plans, which attack workers’ long-term security by stealing their own deferred wages; Be it resolved that the AAUP-AFT chapters at Rutgers University call on Universities UK to give up their shameful attack on defined-benefit pensions and negotiate with UCU in good faith;

And be it resolved that we stand in solidarity with the members of the UCU, saluting their commitment to security, equity, and dignity in the workplace and in retirement.

Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters, USA

Working conditions and social rights of people are under growing attack all over the world nowadays. This strongly contradicts not only with a rationale of social democracy and social justice but also with the basic principle of decent working life within workplaces and society overall. In solidarity.

Professor Valeria Pulignano, CESO – KU Leuven 

I would like to express my full support for the strike launched by the University and College Union in the UK Higher Education in response to the pension cuts related to the changes in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I consider the lack of proper and good-will based negotiation around this issue with employers associated in the Universities UK unacceptable.

Decent pensions are essential for the quality of working live and retirement. In the context of ongoing, Europe-wide reforms of higher education institutions, the predictable situation of workers after retirement is crucial for their well-being.

Therefore, I would like to share my support and solidarity with striking University employees in the UK and Leeds Business School in particular.

I also support the call for immediate return to negotiations between unions and UUK.

I will share my support and information about the strike in my networks.

In solidarity !

With best wises

Adam Mrozowicki, Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław

 

Dear academic friends in Britain,

I was astounded to hear a few days ago about what is happening in British higher education. The employers association had proposed making pension payouts less generous by an average of ten thousand pounds a year and making them dependent on the stock market. You had voted overwhelmingly to respond with a 14-day national strike, the largest academic strike in UK history. Various universities had responded not only by docking pay for strike days, but also by threatening to reduce pay on non-strike days and taking legal action against strikers if students claim their fees back. Wow.

You need to win this strike, and the employers need to back down. You have already suffered more than enough. The squeeze on pay worsens your standard of living slowly but perceptibly. While attacks on pensions are not new in UK higher education, the current offensive by the employers really is astounding. It fills me personally with pride to see how you’re fighting back.

It is understandable that universities shift financial risk. But this attempt to shift financial risks onto academics has poisoned the workplace atmosphere in which research and teaching take place. Provoking this strike has already undermined the excellence of those institutions that the Vice Chancellors are supposed to be leading.

How do I know attacks on pay and pension are damaging to British universities? Occasionally, PhD students in the US ask me about the job market in Britain, because I worked there for ten years. Ten years ago I would have said that it’s a mixed bag. Pay is lower than the US, but for junior academics job security is higher, making it possible to pursue interesting and risky research agendas. Over the years, the situation has become less rosy. And now this conflict. International academics thinking of moving to Britain should know that it is a place where pay, pensions, and job security are under attack, and colleagues are angry and fearful.  This is not an atmosphere in which the work of academics is apparently valued.

Britain’s universities are still among the best in the world, and Vice-Chancellors should be working to keep it that way. Instead, they have provoked a massive nation-wide strike. The employers need to bargain with the union, find a solution, and end the strike.

In solidarity,

Prof Ian Greer, Cornell University, USA

 

Hi Mark

You have my full support. The actions being taken in the UK by university employers are yet another example of the appalling  corporate management style and values taking over universities. What happens to you will also ultimately affect us.
In solidarity,
Professor Marian Baird, The University of Sydney Business School
Dear Colleagues at CERIC,
I want to express my solidarity with the strike of the University and
College Union in the United Kingdom. I am deeply concerned about the
changes to the pension scheme proposed by Universities UK. We are
observing steps in the direction of increasing precarity of academic
work in many countries – steps which could worsen not only the working
and living conditions of academics, but also the quality of teaching and
research as well as the quality of international research cooperation. I
can only hope that the Universities UK and the universities and
colleges withdraw the proposed changes to the academic pension
system and recognize the importance of good working conditions for the
quality of teaching and research.
Martin Krzywdzinski, Head of the Research Group “Globalization, Work and
Production” at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center

University teachers in UK on strike over pensions

SULF, The Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers, supports our colleagues in the UK in their fight over university pensions. UCU (University and College Union) are taking strike action to defend university teachers right to a fair pension. University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all.

– I want to express my solidarity with our colleagues in the UK. University teachers in general have always accepted pay levels that are lower than other groups with similar levels of education. A decent pension is a small compensation for that. The attractiveness of the academic profession has to increase, not decrease, if we want to build a sustainable high quality higher education and research. Poor working conditions is a serious threat to the attractiveness of the profession all over Europe, and therefore we stand beside our colleagues in this strike.

Professor Mats Ericson, president of SULF

 

To our collegues in Great Britain,

for ver.di department of science and higher education I send you our full support in your struggle against the changes and prospective cuts regarding your pension plans.

We know fully well the gap that lies between the countless political speeches about the importance of higher education and the utter disregard universities show for the employees, who are their backbone. Right now, the student employees here in Berlin are as well forced to take industrial action against their universities, which have not given them a pay raise in 17 years. The way they are treating us echoes your own experiences. But we will not let up and it strenghtens us to know, that you wont either.

Science is international. So is solidarity and our common struggle for fair working conditions. Keep up the fight!

Best,

Matthias Neis, Ver.di Resort Higher Education and Research

 

I want to express my support for the UCU action over proposed pension reforms and solidarity with colleagues who have taken a stand against yet another attack on the academic profession and Higher Education more broadly. Having spent most of my academic career working in a British institution (and dutifully paying into the UCS pension scheme) I maintain a keen eye on developments in UK HE. Working in the Swedish HE sector has given me a new perspective from which to consider the changes I witnessed over the course of my career in the UK: the increases in student numbers; the introduction and hiking up of tuition fees; class sizes increasing and the pressure put on academics to deal with the consequences; the increased demand for research publications, driven by the REF rather than scholarly contribution; VC’s salaries skyrocketing while average academic salaries stagnated. The British university system has maintained its reputation despite all of this because of the quality of academics working within it. The view of the UK higher education from abroad is of a system characterised by students being over-burdened with debt and VCs awarding themselves astronomical salaries. Something is very wrong. Taking a stand over this attack on academic pensions – part of the long-term bargain made with the employer – could not have come at a more important time.

In solidarity from Sweden.

Professor Robert MacKenzie, Karlstad University, Sweden

 

To University and College Union – UCU

Dear Colleagues

We learned that Universities UK wants to cut your pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based.

This is not acceptable and we fully support that those colleagues under threat respond to these plans with industrial action.

We want to express our solidarity with your strike and hope you will be successful.

Best wishes

 Dr. Wolfram Brehmer

Dr. Heiner Dribbusch

Birgit Kraemer M.A.

Prof. Dr. Thorsten Schulten

Dr. habil. Karin Schulze Buschoff 

Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

Hans-Böckler-Stiftung

Düsseldorf

Germany

 

We, members of RENAPEDTS, the National Network of Research and Extension Groups in Labour Law and Social Security (Brazil), give full support to the strike action promoted by University Lecturers’ Union, feeling greatly concerned about how education professionals are treated, at the global level, and in universities in particular.

Adib Salim – Univesidade Federal do Espírito Santo

Aldacy Rachid Coutinho – Universidade Federal do Paraná

Cláudio Janotti da Rocha – Universidade do Distrito Federal

Clovis Renato Costa Farias – Universidade Federal do Ceará

Daniele Gabrich Gueiros – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Elsa C. Bevian – Universidade Regional de Blumenau

Everaldo Gaspar Lopes de Andrade – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Gustavo Seferian Machado – Universidade Federal de Lavras

Hugo Cavalcanti Melo Filho – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Jorge Luiz Souto Maior – Universidade de São Paulo

Juliana Teixeira Esteves – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco

Leonardo Vieira Vandelli – Centro Universitário Autônomo do Brasil

Lorena Vasconelos Porto – Universidade do Distrito Federal

Magda Barros Biavaschi – Universidade de Campinas

Maria Cecíllia Máximo Teodoro – Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais

Maria Rosa Barbato – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Murilo Oliveira – Universidade Federal da Bahia

Pedro Augusto Gravatá Nicoli – Faculdade de Direito de Minas Gerais

Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

 

We, Professors of Labor Law of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, give our support for strike action organized by University Lecturers’ Union, understand that there is a global attack on university professors and on all workers in general, which we are very concerned about. Only the struggle can prevent the destruction of the social achievements of the twentieth century.

Ana Luisa de Souza Correira de Melo Palmisciano, Carolina Pereira Lins Mesquita, Daniele Gabrich Gueiros, Fábio de Souza Silva, Ivan Simões Garcia, Patricia Garcia dos Santos, Rodrigo de Lacerda Carelli, Sayonara Grillo Coutinho Leonardo da Silva

 

In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK

I would like to express my solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. I fully support your demand for a fair pension system. Save your pensions, which would be put on the stock market, is a legitimate struggle to face the attack against university staff but also against public sector workers.

This struggle has to be expanded as this kind of attack against workers is also in the works in several European countries.

Professor Christian Azaïs, Conservatoire national des arts et métiers – Paris

I express my full support for the strike undertaken by UCU members in the United Kingdom. Appropriate salaries and pensions are fundamental to keep a high quality of research and teaching. Our work, carried out with a strong but often invisible commitment, far beyond the expected workload, requires serenity and protection in relation to pensions. I hope that the competent bodies can stop these attacks on the fundamental rights of those workers who invest their lives in improving the life quality of all citizens.

Professor Barbara Peccei Szaniecki, Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

 

I send my solidarity and support the strike action by UCU at UK Universities. To protect pensions is fundamental, and a collective mobilization can produce a better social protection system, more oriented to a Universal Basic Income. I also think that the UCU teachers on strike will stand in solidarity with students about the increase of tuition fees.

Professor Giuseppe Cocco, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

I express my solidarity with academics on strike to protect their pensions. To end guaranteed pension benefits is clearly part of a more general process of commodification in higher education. Moreover, this will have a strong impact on the youngest generation of researchers.

Then I fully support the UCU members and my CERIC colleagues in particular.

In solidarity,

Dr. Barbara Poggio, Vice-Rector for Equality and Diversity Policies at the University of Trento

 

In Solidarity with the UCU, Academic Strike in the UK

We wish to express our solidarity with our colleagues on strike at the University of Leeds – and other universities across the country – in defense of their pension system. We fully support your strike. It is an unprecedented attack not only against university staff but also against public sector workers.

As you may have heard, here in France the Macron government is now trying to destroy the terms and conditions of rail workers in order to hand over the rail system to the private sector.

A major attack against the pension system for all workers in France is also in the works.

In both countries – and all over Europe –  we are faced with the application of the EU diktats imposing privatisation and marketisation of the public sector in the name of free and undistorted competition enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and all the EU institutions.

Dear Colleagues, please do not hesitate to send us a report on your strike. We will translate and circulate it.

Your struggle is ours.
Professor Donna KESSELMAN, Université Paris-Est Créteil

Dr. Corinne NATIVEL, Université Paris-Est Créteil

Professor Patrick Cingolani, directeur du LCSP (Laboratoire de Changement Social et Politique), Université Paris Diderot

Solidarity statement to my striking colleagues at Leeds University Business School

Dear colleagues,

Herewith, I want to declare my solidarity to your strike against the planned pension reform and the financialisation of your pensions. I noticed with great pleasure the wide support of your students and your united fight against the commodification of academic institutions. There is intensive press coverage in German newspapers and the tenor is very positive and supportive regardless of the newspapers’ political orientation.

Together with my colleagues from the Sociology Department at the University of Jena, I ask your University Management to return to the negotiating table.

With my warmest solidarity greetings,

Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena

 

We fully support the strike action organised by University Lecturers’ Union to protect the right to a fair pension. We hope that the UK strike is resulting in some changes and action.

Solidarity from your colleagues in Iceland!

Professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir

Dr. Thamar M. Heijstra

Dr. Gyda Margrét Pétursdóttir

Finnborg Salome Steinþórsdóttir

Thomas Brorsen Smidt

Faculty of Political Science, University of Iceland

 

Education, and mainly higher education, has been under attack for many years around the world, also in Italy. We hope to arrange the same in Italy but it’s difficult to build a sense of community and horizontal solidarity. Your strike is the right thing to do and the only thing I have to say is: Continue and Stay Strong.

Dr. Davide Arcidiacono, Catholic University of Milan

 

Dear colleagues at the University of Leeds, I stand in support of your struggle for fair, stable pensions. Cutting pensions by 40% and making them entirely stock market based may appear to some as a minor issue, unrelated to purely academic issues, but it’s not given the growing precariousness in higher-education employment all over the industrialized world. This precariousness affects scholars’ ability to do long-term, fundamental, fruitful research and it deters promising young scholars from entering an unstable profession. So the defense of fair, stable pensions is really an important part of a broader set of issues that truly impact research in more ways than immediately meet the eye.

Guillaume Marche, Professor of American studies, University of Paris-Est Créteil, France

 

I would like to express my total support to my colleagues at the University of Leeds and all other UK universities, struggling to defend their and our pensions. A pension is meant to (at least partially) secure one own’s future. It’s absolutely absurd to ask anyone to make pensions dependent on the stock market.

Thank you, because your struggle is part of a wider battle that we cannot loose, the one for a university which is public and of quality.

Dr. Roberta Ferrario, CNR (Italian National Research Council)

 

I express my warm solidarity to this – and to any other – struggle through which citizens and workers oppose direct and indirect policies of commodification of education.

Professor Vando Borghi, University of Bologna

 

Dear Annalisa,

we at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice want to express our full support for this strike. The reduction of pension rights is only the last step of a wider process of precarisation of the university which is taking place in UK and in Europe in general and is damaging teachers, researchers and students. We are with you in this struggle!

Sabrina Marchetti, Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, Antonio Montefusco, Daniela Cherubini, Anna Di Bartolomeo, Enrico Gargiulo, Gilda Zazzera, Francesca Coin, Duccio Basosi

 

Dear Colleagues at Leeds, all over the U.K.

We, trade unions at Université Paris-Est Créteil- UPEC (Paris University, Créteil Campus) representing the personnel of all categories – CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and also the students – l’UNEF, we send our full and whole-hearted support to the strike of UK Lecturers and instructors called by the UCU (university lecturers’ union) in defense of your retirement system and rights.

The reduction, marketization, individualisation and floating on the stock market of retirement are blows against the public service, yet another stop towards privatisation.

Similar plans are being proposed by the French government, aimed particularly at public workers like ourselves, just as in your case.

The rampant precariousness in academic careers is an attack on our working conditions, on the quality of degrees of higher education and a fact that discourages young potential academics from entering the career.

In the name of “University Autonomy” since the 2007 LRU law, governments one after another have advanced the agenda of privatisation and undermined the national public statuses of the University and its personnel, while this status is indispensable for ensuring academic and research independence against outside pressures from the private sector.

The privatization of Universities is a policy being promoted by governments all around Europe under the aegis of the European Union.

Your struggle is our struggle.

To the UCU: in response to our Leeds Colleagues’ request, please resume negotiations!

In Solidarity,

At UPEC:  CGT, SNASUB-FSU, SNESup-FSU, SNPREES-FO, SupAutonome- FO and l’UNEF
 

 

 

BBC interview with Dr Liz Oliver on Uber driver row

Dr Liz Oliver was invited to BBC Breakfast to talk about Uber’s appeal to the Employment Tribunal decision that a group of current and former Uber drivers should have been classed as workers rather than self-employed contractors.

Liz took part in an interview alongside Mr Farrar who was one of the claimants to the employment tribunal claim. She explained that the key issue was the identification and classification of a contract between Uber and the drivers. She pointed out that three contract forms are important to employment law: a contract DSC_4741of employment where the individual is an employee and has access to the full body of employment protection, a ‘worker’ contract which places the individual within the scope of some but not all employment protection (a kind of “employee-lite”) or self-employment where the service provider is in business on their own and falls outside of the scope of employment protection. At Employment Tribunal the claimants successfully showed that they were workers and that placed them within the scope of The National Minimum Wage provisions and the Working Time Regulations 1998 (which includes limits to working time and access to paid holiday). The key question was whether the way that the working relationship has been characterised by Uber companies within the written terms of their agreements with drivers and with passengers matched up to the ‘true relationship between the parties’. Uber describes the relationships in terms of agency. Rather than contracting with drivers to provide services to passengers, Uber describe their role is as an agent or broker; they simply bring drivers and passengers together. Ultimately the contract to take and provide a ride is between the driver and the passenger. The structure of these contractual relationships is at the heart of the Uber business model and the company has shown keen to defend its position. They were given leave to appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the hearing begins today.

A number of similar claims have been made by people who provide services through platforms so this decision will be watched closely by those who ‘participate in the platform economy’.  In Liz’s view the argument that Uber drivers are workers is a valid and strong one. However a favourable outcome for drivers would by no means end they story. An important question for examples is when drivers be considered to be workers, throughout the whole time that they are logged onto the App and ready to receive rides or only for the duration of the ride itself. Bottoming out questions such as these will test the how the architecture of existing regimes such as the framework of the national minimum wage accommodates the opportunities that platforms provide for flexible ways of working. Another question is how platforms would respond to further pressure to contract with service providers as workers. Would they seek to place more risk onto service providers to emulate self-employment more closely or would they assert more control over service providers in a manner more akin to employment? The growing body of litigation in the area of contract form is clearly playing a catalytic role in finding an appropriate way to combine flexibility and fairness. Here it seems that service providers themselves are pursuing a more ambitious set of outcomes than those proposed in the recent Taylor review of modern working practices.  Nevertheless litigation is a blunt tool when it comes to finding imaginative solutions. Could the key actors in the world of platform service provision find a space outside of this high stakes context to grapple with these issues? Innovation is, after all, at the heart of the development of the platform economy.

You can watch the interview through BBC iplayer although the programme is only available for 24 hours. BBC One (from 1h11m) 27th September – Broadcast

Why so-called ‘Barista Visas’ won’t help UK Hospitality Workers

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Matthew Cole

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has recently introduced the idea of a so-called ‘barista visa’, undoubtedly to militate against the potentially disastrous effects of Brexit for UK businesses. The proposal was suggested by Lord Green, chairman of the right-wing think tank Migration Watch UK, who claimed it would, “kill two birds with one stone” by meeting employer needs while “maintaining links with the EU”. By links, he must have meant links to a highly exploitable workforce with no rights. The ‘barista visa’ would allow young European citizens to migrate to the UK and work in the hospitality industry for up to 2 years; however, it would deny them access to benefits, schooling, housing or any possibility of extending their stay. The proposed visa would be modelled on the Tier 5 (youth mobility scheme) visa, which currently allows 18-to-30-year-olds with at least £1,890 in savings from non-E.U. countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan to work in the U.K. for up to 24 months. Despite the government’s optimism, the ‘barista visa’ would not only fail to offer adequate solutions to Brexit, it would exacerbate issues in the industry for both employer and employees.

The hospitality industry (including hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants) makes a significant contribution to the UK economy. The industry added an estimated £57 billion to the economy in 2014, roughly 4% of GDP and it employs around 3 million people in the UK.  Since 2011, it has grown by 13%, more than double the employment growth of the economy overall. Yet in the context of this dramatic growth, working conditions remain poor. Average gross earnings for full-time workers in the hotel industry are the lowest in the UK and the industry has the highest incidence of low-paid workers. Added to this is its dubious status as one of the least unionised sector of the economy.

Today, the hospitality industry is experiencing increasing instability and pressure as a result of Brexit. Britain leaving the EU will no doubt have serious and lasting impacts on the UK labour market and workers rights. According to the ONS, E.U. nationals make up 7% (2.2 million) of Britain’s total labour market of 30.3 million. However, some industries will be more affected than others and the hospitality – with over 60,000 workers per annum working in this sector – is likely to be one of those feeling the impact of the referendum result. A report by KPMG indicates that hospitality is the largest business sector employer of EU nationals as a proportion of total workforce. Hotels and restaurants employ the highest percentage of EU migrants with certain roles such as waiters and waitresses (75.3% EU nationals), housekeeping staff and chefs representing a particularly high portion of migrants. Based on current projections, the absence of an annual inflow of new EU migrants into the hospitality industry each year would generate a significant recruitment gap, which would increase over time.

Despite it’s moniker the ‘barista visa’ scheme would fail from a business standpoint .The two-year limit alone is reason enough to anticipate this, since it forecloses incentives for training and retaining workers in an industry that is experiencing serious problems with skill shortages and turnover. According to People 1st, turnover in the hospitality industry is estimated at 20 per cent, while the KPMG survey of BHA members puts the estimate even higher, at 50.2 per cent. This costs the industry approximately £274 million annually. The Financial Times, reported that the ‘barista visa’ would also be open to other sectors that are heavily reliant on low-wage migrant labour, such as social care, agriculture, and construction. While the numbers of migrants for each industry will be restricted with an overall cap, there is no guarantee that there would be enough EU migrants who meet the proposed criteria and aim to work in hospitality. Last year, The Times reported that only 40,000 people applied on the existing Tier 5 youth mobility scheme for all industries. This is 20,000 less than the number of EU migrants who gained employment in the hospitality industry alone. Given the strict criteria of the ‘barista visa’ and the fact that the hospitality industry is expanding rapidly the number of EU migrants is likely to fall woefully short of the needs of employers. Combine this with low wages and the rising anti-migrant rhetoric of mainstream political parties and the situation looks dire indeed.

To attempt to lessen the impact of Brexit, BHA members have petitioned the government to retain EU workers and openness for tourism. They recognise how important migrant labour is for their businesses even if they have not necessarily recognised the rights and economic rights of migrants as a whole. The BHA’s focus on the business case for hospitality ignores the concerns of most of its labour force. Historically, they have opposed legislation designed to protect workers’ interests such as the minimum wage legislation in 1999 and tips legislation in 2009. They have also avoided addressing criticisms from trade unionists about issues in the industry. Last year, Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull offered a different explanation of why the industry cannot recruit and retain the type of workers it needs. He cited a fundamentally “flawed, low cost and exploitative business model” in an industry where “low pay, insecure working, exploitation and institutionalised bullying are rife”[1]. The ‘barista visa’ will only exacerbate these problems. It would further entrench divisions in the labour market and further undermine the collective rights of workers. The scheme denies migrants a social safety net and offers no chance to progress in a career or build a life in the U.K. long-term.

The ‘barista visa’ also fails from a worker’s perspective. Labour Force data shows EU nationals are already concentrated in low-paid and lower-level occupations, especially in the hospitality industry. As of 2016, less than 1% of EU nationals in the hospitality industry were employed in the ‘higher managerial and professional’ occupation grouping. The current state of UK labour law weaves issues of migrant rights into the employment relationship, leaving open the potential for employers to terminate their contract which could effectively leave them exposed to deportation. The ‘barista visa’ ultimately will keep EU migrants in a legally subordinate position to nationals, exacerbating the ‘migrant division of labour’[2] and further undermining all working conditions. The further precarisation of migrant labourers in the hospitality industry will at best allow business owners to continue exploitative practices and at worst, further divide workers.

[1] Unite, 2016. Unite in direct plea to London mayor to tackle exploitative work practices in London’s hotel industry. Press Release. http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-in-direct-plea-to-london-mayor-to-tackle-exploitative-work-practices-in-londons-hotel-industry/

Brexit and worker’s rights: should workers and trade unions be concerned?

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Dr Liz Oliver

Brexit creates uncertainty for important employment rights. Very many of the employment rights that have come to be expected as part of an employment relationship in the UK derive from EU law. Should the UK no longer be obliged to maintain these as part of its obligations under whatever relationship it has to the EU, then their future becomes much less certain. Could, on the other hand, Brexit create an opportunity for employment rights? An opportunity to re-think the way that employment law and other forms of regulation (such as collective bargaining) work together in a way that suits the economy in UK and responds to the national and global challenges that workers face? The answer to that question very much depends on the opportunity for an open and informed democratic debate. Whilst the Government is making assurances about protecting the workers’ rights, the mechanism by which it is doing this – ‘a Great Repeal Bill’ – potentially contains a back door through which such provisions could be readily amended or repealed without the full scrutiny of Parliament. Unfortunately therefore both workers and trade unions are right to be concerned.

What is at stake?

The impact of EU law on employment in the UK reaches far and wide, encompassing equality legislation; pregnancy; maternity and parental leave; paid holiday; employee rights in the context of insolvency; collective consultation in the context of redundancy to name but a few areas. Others have mapped this in great detail.

The impact of Brexit on this body of workers’ rights depends on two main contingencies;

  • the nature of the future relationship with the EU and
  • the political climate with regard to employment regulation at national level

It seems unlikely that the UK’s future relationship with the EU will entail obligations in the area of employment and other social law but much remains to be seen. As details of the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy emerge in particular the intention to leave the single market and customs union and not to contemplate existing models such as ‘the Norway option’ which would entail continued membership of the European Economic Area. It becomes clearer that the overriding goal is for the UK’s future relationship with the EU to entail minimal to non-existent obligations. Nevertheless much remains to be seen. The Prime Minister’s speech and the subsequent white paper set out her unilateral intentions ahead of the negotiation with the other Member States of the EU. As such, it is aspirational and projects an intention for Theresa May to have her cake and eat it too. Any concessions around key objectives such as the “greatest possible access” to the single market and “tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible” will come with considerable strings attached.

In terms of the political climate with regard to employment regulation, the picture here is mixed. The current Government has not taken the overtly deregulatory stance of the Coalition Government or previous Conservative Government and the Prime Minister and her government have made assurances about protecting workers rights. Nevertheless concrete legal steps to ensure that current standards are maintained are lacking. Of particular significance is the distribution of power between the Executive (Government) and Parliament in decision making in the area of employment law. This important matter will shape extent to which matters of employment law will be opened up to democratic debate.

To what extent will worker’s rights be protected and maintained through the Brexit process and beyond?

The EU law that is relevant to employment takes different forms and takes effect at national level in different ways. Whilst some employment law derived from the EU can be found in Acts of Parliament (primary law) other provisions have been transposed using secondary legislation based on the European Communities Act 1972 and others still take effect automatically because they are directly applicable (The European Communities Act 1972 allows such provisions to have effect without further enactment).

Brexit poses two types of issues 1) technical issues about the form and function of different provisions and 2) issues of substance about what role employment law should take within the UK.  As the discussion below will show. The two issues interrelate.

Following the referendum result some called for a repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 (in order to ‘undo’ EU law), but it was clear that that position would be unworkable. The Prime Minister has instead announced a bridging mechanism in the form of a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and transpose existing EU law into national law. The Government’s white paper on the UK’s exit from the EU contains assurances about worker’s rights:

“The Great Repeal Bill will maintain the protections and standards that benefit workers. Moreover, this Government has committed not only to safeguard the rights of workers set out in European legislation, but to enhance them”

On the one hand this looks like a sensible idea. It maintains legal certainly and potentially opens up a space to review what provisions to keep and whether or how to change or remove them. But an important question is who gets to make these decisions. Will it be Parliament or will it be the Government?

Constitutional lawyers have identified the proposed use of enabling provisions within Great Repeal Bill as a stumbling block to achieving enhanced Parliamentary sovereignty. The Department for Exiting the European Union’s announcement states “The Repeal Bill will include powers for ministers to make some changes by secondary legislation, giving the Government the flexibility to take account of the negotiations with the EU as they proceed.” Such enabling provisions may give ministers the power to amend or repeal former EU law based on the Great Repeal Act using ‘light touch’ secondary legislation. Of particular concern are so called ‘Henry VIII’ clauses which would allow for the repeal of primary law without further Parliamentary scrutiny, these could open up employment law that is already enacted by Acts of Parliament to amendment or repeal. It raises concerns that the ‘back door’ is left open for the Government to make significant changes to employment law without full debate or scrutiny. The scope and exercise of such powers will delineate the potential for Parliamentary (democratic) debate about what employment standards are expected by workers and employers within the UK.

The size and shape of the ‘back door’ is yet to be seen but talking about assurances that the Government has given on worker’s rights one legal expert notes

“There’s a definite “fox in charge of the henhouse” vibe here – quite literally so, if we remind ourselves of cabinet minister Liam Fox’s attitude to EU employment regulation”.

Workers and trade unions are right to be concerned and to seek legal mechanisms to guarantee employment rights.

Attempts to assure worker’s rights

Labour MP Melanie Onn introduced a private members Bill ‘The Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill’ as an attempt to ensure that the current legal regime remains in place, however this was ‘talked out’ of Parliament on Friday (13th January).

Several amendments to the ‘Article 50 Bill’ (European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17) seeking to protect employment law were tabled. These took different forms, some sought to ensure  that the Prime Minister have regard to the public interest in existing social rights and others sought to ensure that current provisions are maintained and that Parliament has full scrutiny of any proposed changes to primary and secondary law. None of these amendments have held.

My view

Whilst some have argued that the removal of key employment protections that derive from EU law would be ‘politically unthinkable’ others argue that it would be ‘naïve’ to assume that any of the rights derived from EU law would be immune from repeal. It is my view is that a government with a deregulatory agenda can make important changes to employment law that are far reaching yet subtle, even where whole-sale deregulation would be politically unworkable (see previous blog post). The use of Henry VIII clauses within the proposed ‘Great Repeal Act’ could facilitate far-reaching changes without commensurate democratic debate. Employment law is complicated stuff, nothing short of a full and open democratic debate can support its appropriate reform. The Brexit domain is a million miles from this.