First female to head TUC

Labour Party

A significant milestone was reached yesterday in UK trade union affairs – the Trade Union Congress (TUC), elected its first ever female general secretary. 

Frances O’ Grady will replace the current TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, who has held the position for 10 years.

O’Grady is one of few women to reach a senior position, of course Brenda Dean who became the first president of the print Union Sogat is another notable figure. Now a Baroness she was the union’s general secretary between 1985 and 1991.

O’Grady has made trade union history twice, having been elected as the first female deputy general secretary in 2003.

She is known as an effective negotiator and able public speaker and has been an active trade unionist all her working life, joining a trade union while still a schoolgirl doing part-time jobs.

Her dedication and commitment to the movement couldn’t be more apparent than when she vowed to use her position to ensure the TUC continued to “speak up for working people”.

She said in a speech:” Never has a strong, responsible trade union movement been so needed. With austerity policies biting hard and with no evidence that they are working, people at work need the TUC to speak up for them now more than ever.

“We must be the advocates of the growth and jobs alternative, and with the policy prescriptions of the last 30 years increasingly discredited, we have the best opportunity in a generation to help build a fair, productive and green economy that works for ordinary people,” she said.

Trade Union politics is demanding, tough and at times messy, so it’s a tall order for even the most seasoned of unionists. Her experience to date makes her stand head and shoulders above almost all her contemporaries though.

I hope her role will encourage more women to aim for senior positions in trade unions.

Very best wishes to Frances. She will, I know, be a huge success as TUC General Secretary, a tough job in these difficult economic times.

Women bear the brunt of rising unemployment and the Eurozone is not to blame

Labour Party

Women represent 80 per cent of the 710,000 public sector workers due to be made redundant over the next five years. As the Con-Dem cuts begin to bite, figures from the Office for National Statistics show the total unemployment rate rising to 8.4 per cent, the highest level in 16 years, with 2.67 million people out of work. The ONS also tell us that the female jobless rate rose by 33,000 in the three months to the end of December while the number of men out of work went up by 16,000 over the same period.

Such a disproportionate rise in women’s unemployment is a scandal in itself. It’s made even worse by the fact that the public sector is the only broad sector of the economy in which women are over-represented. The one place where women did well is being cut back. That is a separate scandal for which the Government should be held to account.
This evidence only goes to show that David Cameron and his Cabinet of millionaires simply do not care about women. While they may, according to a No 10 document leaked last year and referred to in the Independent this morning, intellectually understand that Cameron’s Government is “seen as having hit women, or their interests, disproportionately”, they clearly do not intend to do anything to rectify this state of affairs.
It’s the same old, same old. Remember, this is the Government that brought you repatriation of EU powers back to the UK and couldn’t deliver, tried to “veto” an EU treaty then gave in, and now is unable (and probably unwilling) to take any measures to improve the position of women.
Moreover, Cameron, Osborne and co are consistently dishonest about why these attacks on women are taking place. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber put it very well in today’s Mirror: “The international economy has had an impact on the UK, but many of our problems are home grown and that’s why our jobs figures have been worse.” So Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, do not continue your cheap attempts to scapegoat the Euro, and please no more blaming the last Labour Government. The dogmatic austerity measures are your very own Conservative policies, and are proving deeply damaging.

As Anna Bird of the Fawcett Society has said in several newspapers this morning, “These new [unemployment] figures must act as a wake-up call to Government. We’re in a time of crisis. Cuts are threatening women’s equality as jobs dry up, benefits are slashed and vital public services disappear.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Once again the headlines were dominated by the News International scandal. First Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and CEO of News International stood down from her post as the chief executive and then earlier today she was arrested, over the phone hacking scandal.

We could be forgiven for believing there was no other news worthy of headlines for the way in which this story has dominated both print and broadcast coverage.

One point worth mentioning is how Ed Miliband seemed to capture the mood of the nation so effectively. During Prime Ministers Questions earlier in the week he used sound bites to great effect, telling the PM ‘he just doesn’t get it’ and calling upon him to apologise for what Miliband labelled ‘a serious error of judgement’. You can watch Michael White’s Guardian podcast here for full analysis.

To confirm this, today’s Sunday Mirror carries a poll by polling firm ComRes which states Miliband has received a ‘big bounce’ following the scandal. You can read the analysis of the ComRes poll here.

Perhaps now Murdoch’s media empire has been shaken we can once again have a proper debate about media plurality. Indeed the Independent raised such a point in its leading article: ‘Our democracy is stronger for the dropping of BSkyB bid: We now know that the integrity of our public institutions is not for sale to the highest bidder’. You can read the article in full here.

Media plurality and the demise of the Murdoch empire will, I’m sure be a big moment in British history, but there was other news. Greece is dangerously close to defaulting on its debts and if it does so the consequences threaten to spread far across Europe and will be a complete disaster for the euro.

An article in last week’s Guardian claims that the euro is run according to Germany’s monetary interests and in order for the euro to survive Germany must reconsider its position. If European monetary policy is run according to German interests, the article states, then huge structural imbalances will accumulate. It goes on to argue that Germany will then either have to pay to correct those imbalances, or agree that the euro should not be run primarily according to German interests. If they are unwilling to do either of those things, the euro can’t survive. You can read the full article here.

I was also saddened to learn that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of older workers who are staying in employment simply because they can’t afford to retire.

The report by the TUC shows a significant increase in the number of over-50s and people over the retirement age in work over the past two decades.

Brendan Barber the TUC general secretary was right when he said ‘the increasing number of over 65s in work shows that older workers are highly valued and that the government is absolutely right to scrap the default retirement age.

‘But there is a darker side to people to working beyond their retirement. Low wages and poor pension provision, particularly in the private sector, mean that many people simply cannot afford to retire at 65.’ You can read the article in full here.

Better Protection for Temporary Workers

Labour Party

Regulations for temporary and agency workers emanating from the European Union were laid before the British Parliament last week.

This is an important piece of legislation which protects some of the most vulnerable members of our workforce.

Because of this, I am setting out the provisions in some detail:

Tackling abuse

The anti-abuse measure addresses concerns over agency workers being rotated between different roles, either as far as one hirer is concerned or between associated hirers.  Such rotation of role may deprive workers of their employments rights.

There is specific provision in the legislation to deal with structure of assignments designed to circumvent current legislation  backed up with punitive award of up to £5,000 if the provision found to be breached plus a general minimum award of two weeks pay for all successful claims.

Definition of pay

The definition of pay has been broadened to include all bonuses and incentive payments that are directly related to agency worker’s contribution, including those

based on performance appraisal.  The legislation also brings into scope payments by way of vouchers for things like food, child care and transport which may be

important part of their pay for some low paid agency workers.

The disclosure of information for purposes of collective bargaining is an additional requirement for information about agency workers to be disclosed to recognised trade unions in collective bargaining situations.

Protection of qualifying period

The legislation introduces additional reasons why absence means no break in continuity of a qualifying period.  These reasons include school holidays, plant shutdowns and industrial action. There are also stronger provisions on continuity in the event of pregnancy-related absences (providing for 26 weeks protected period as TUC proposed) and movement between different jobs for a pregnancy related reason (continuity will not be broken)

Access to facilities

What had been an exhaustive list of facilities has been changed to a non-exhaustive list and removed the “package approach” (where a ency worker might be denied access if had better conditions on another facility)

Workplace agreements

The regulations exclude the possibility of workplace agreements (and collective agreements) which could derogate from principle of equal treatment.

 Equal treatment

Comparison is now allowed with “worker” when assessing equal access to vacancies and collective facilities.

 Pay between assignments

There is now to be up front information in the contract so that the agency worker is aware that they do not have equal treatment rights on pay.

 The TUC welcomed step towards a fair deal for agency staff.  Commenting on the new rights for agency workers as laid before Parliament , TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

 ‘This is good news for Britain’s agency workers……(It is) a significant step towards securing a fair deal for agency staff and stamping out some of the worst abuses.

 ‘While we are disappointed that the protection will not start earlier, union campaigning – both here and across Europe – has secured another advance for people at work today.’

 UNISON, the UK’s leading public service trade union, also welcomed the

extra protection for temporary workers, outlined in the agency worker


 The union has been instrumental in winning equal treatment for agency

workers after twelve weeks of employment, despite resistance from

employers organisations, that wanted to water down protection for agency


 UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said:

 “It is only right that we legislate to protect this vulnerable group of employees. Unscrupulous bosses cannot be allowed to use temporary employment as a way to pay staff low wages and treat them badly.”