About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Councillor John Gray

Labour Party

The next featured speaker at my fringe meeting is UNISON activist and London Borough of Newham Councillor John Gray.

John’s Labour Blog was ranked second on the TIGMOO (an organisation which ranks trade union blogs) list, the top slot going to the TUC.

John, along with fellow blogger former PPC Alex Hilton, recently won an important libel case against Tower Hamlets Conservative Johanna Kaschke.     

John has worked as a Housing Estate officer in East London for the past 18 years. He is a UNISON Branch Secretary, Group Convenor, Branch health & safety officer, Labour Link Officer and pension representative.  The positions John holds include London UNISON Regional Finance Convener; Regional Labour Link Vice-Chair and National Health & Safety Committee member. He is, in addition, a UNISON delegate to the South East Region of the TUC.

John is also an elected Labour Party Councillor for West Ham ward in Newham and CLP Agent.

A graduate of Leeds University, John Gray is a Practitioner member of Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH) and a Technical member of Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH)

Brought up in North Wales John lived in Leeds and Edinburgh prior to moving to London.

My fringe meeting – How Social Media Can Drive a Wedge into the Coalition – is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm in Manchester Central, Charter 1.  The other speakers are Tom Harris MP, Jessica Asato and Alex Smith, Editor of LabourList.

About the Speakers at my Fringe Meeting – Tom Harris MP

Labour Party

During the next few days I thought I would give a brief pen-portrait of each of the speakers at my fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference, How Social Media can drive a Wedge into the Coalition.  First off is Tom Harris MP.

With his lively mix of political commentary and personal anecdote, it’s not surprising that Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South, has established himself as a firm favourite in the ever-expanding blogosphere.  His blog, “And another thing…”, has, in recent years, accumulated a whole host of awards, along with more that 50,000 viewings a month.

This popularity is, in part, a reflection of Tom’s writing style; a former journalist, he writes eloquently, enlivening even the duller policy issues. Perhaps more significant, however, is his willingness  to challenge received wisdom and offer a distinctive personal perspective, informed by his Scottish roots and long history of Labour Party involvement. Tom’s nine years in Parliament give him that all-important insider’s insight whilst, having grown up on a Ayrshire council estate and experienced unemployment and deprivation first hand, he is able to offer an outlook that is sometimes missing from mainstream media.

So, if you haven’t already had a look at Tom’s entertaining offerings, read his blog now at: http://www.tomharris.org.uk/

My fringe meeting is on Monday 27 September at 6.00pm in Manchester Central, Charter 1.  The other speakers are Alex Smith, editor of LabourList, Jessica Asato who is running David Miliband’s social media campaign and UNISON activist, Councillor John Gray from the London Borough of Newham.

Meeting with UNISON and other unions representing University Support Staff

Labour Party

There are times in my job as an MEP when I get to do something very different from the normal run of European Parliament Committees, Socialist and Democrat Group meetings and voting in plenary sessions.

Today was one of these times.  I was pleased to attend a joint trade union meeting this afternoon to discuss representation of university support staff.  In most universities there are as many employees who carry administrative duties, work in libraries and as laboratory and other kinds of technicians, provide information and computer support and do all the essential jobs in catering, building management and security and cleaning as there are academic staff.

Unfortunately these support staff do not always get the recognition they deserve.  The joint trade union meeting today, attended by UNISON, the SIPTU from Ireland and the Danish organisation HK/Stat looked at the main issues of concern.

Chaired by Danish socialist MEP Britta Thomsen, the meeting proved wide ranging in both content and geographical scope.  The other two MEPs who attended, in addition to myself, were fellow EPLP member Derek Vaughan from Wales and  Irish Labour Party stalwart Proinsias De Rossa.         

The unions present were:

UNISON, England – Derek Earnshaw, Leeds University and Jon Richards, UNISON

SIPTU, Ireland – Jack McGinley, Trinity College Dublin and Christine Rowland, SIPTU

HK/Stat, Denmark – Aase Pedersen Rakkolainen, University of Aarhus, Joan Lykkeaa, University of Copenhagen and Hans-Henrik Nielsen, HK/Stat

Also from Denmark were representatives from the AC-group, (Academic-group) – John S. Westensee, University of Aarhus, Signe Osbahr, University of Aarhus, Arne Bækdal Hansen, University of Southern Denmark, Harry Havskum, University of Copenhagen, Poul Petersen, University of Copenhagen and Lone Falsig Hansen,  Danish Technical University

One of the unions’ aims is to establish a European network and they are seeking funding for this initiative.  They also want support staff included in bids to the EU Research Framework Programme as well as mobility for support staff in addition to academics and students under the Bologna Process.

It was agreed that the union would contact the two relevant Commissioners-Designate, Marie Geoghegan-Quinn from Ireland who will be responsible for Research and Innovation and Hungarian Lazlo Andor (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), as soon as possible after the confirmation vote on 9 February. 

 It goes without saying that I, and my ME¨P colleagues, will do all we can to be of assistance.

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.”