Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Employer-union relationship

Young Fast Optoelectronics

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One of LabourStart’s current campaigns concerns workers at Young Fast Optoelectronics, a Taiwanese manufacturer of touch panel screens whose customers include Samsung, LG, HTC (which supplies phones to Vodafone in the UK) and Google. Following a concerted union organising drive at the factory in the face of poor working conditions, which led to the establishment of the union in December 2009, management at the plant has sacked five union officers and more than ten active union members.

LabourStart is organising an e-mail campaign in support of the union and the sacked workers, and calling for the improvement of working conditions at the plant, which you can join either from the LabourStart homepage, or else directly here.

It’s a telecoms industry plant, and these workers need to know that they’re not alone. Please do what you can to support them.

Written by Calvin

23/04/2010 at 6:00 pm

Future pensions: the view from the NAPF mountain

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A state pension worth around 1/3rd of average earnings to provide a robust floor of benefits, supplemented by a workplace pension built around auto-enrolment and mandatory contributions, the whole supervised by a new regulatory settlement based on a standing Retirement Savings Commission analogous to the existing Low Pay Commission.

That’s the vision of the National Association of Pension Funds, the industry body representing scheme sponsors, in Fit For the Future, a new report on pensions published yesterday (press release; full report). Praised by the TUC as offering ‘serious and constructive proposals for the future of pensions‘ there’s a lot in the report to commend, as well as some items for debate.

It’s hard to disagree with the NAPF’s view of the pensions landscape: workplace saving has fallen dramatically both in terms of numbers and in terms of the value to ordinary workers of the pensions generated there. Rightly, the NAPF doesn’t spend too long analysing how this situation has come to pass, but is oriented more towards what can be done to stop the decline and get the principle of workplace saving back on track.

There are many factors which help to account for why this situation has come to pass, as these pages have already argued; though it would be perhaps rather churlish in this context to remind that decisions to close schemes appear to stem largely from the unsympathetic and ruthless cost-cutting actions of scheme sponsors themselves. The Connect Sector of Prospect has some experience of negotiating alternatives where employers are looking to move away from defined benefit provision; outside this experience, that employers have tended not to stop anywhere in the middle of the pensions continuum but have leapt straight from defined benefit to defined contribution is less of a reflection of the lack of risk-sharing alternatives, as the NAPF directly suggests, than of the realities of employment relations in the 1990s: employers have done so because they can; and because the will to do something more creative (but evidently more costly) has not, except in a few, admirable cases, been found.

Despite the acknowledgement that ‘workplace pensions remain central to providing people with an adequate
retirement income’ and that workplace provision is ‘at the heart of good pension provision’, the central role in the NAPF’s vision is occupied not by workplace saving, but by a beefed-up state pension scheme – perhaps rather surprisingly, for an organisation representing (workplace-based) scheme sponsors, but perhaps a reflection that what has been lost will be hard to replace other than by slow incremental steps, starting from the 2012 reforms. Even within the context of workplace savings, the primary place in the NAPF programme is taken by a suggestion for a maximum of twenty ‘super trusts’ whose role would be to offer members of small schemes the low charges facilitated by the benefits of scale – a worthwhile, and supportable, idea alongside the NEST but whose contribution to revitalising workplace provision might well turn out to be less than dynamic.

Other suggestions from within the workplace savings context include offering ‘core’, unindexed pensions to scheme members only (it seems to me that indexation is an under-appreciated pensions benefit; while a focus on the scheme member only might be supported when retirement is far away, but deeply regretted once into retirement since ensuring loved ones are provided after your own death becomes much more important the closer you get to that point); improved mandatory contributions to the NEST (definitely supportable); better advice to accounting standards bodies on accounting for pensions (likewise); and a new statutory objective for the Pensions Regulator to promote good pensions provision (clearly a good idea).

So, there are some worthwhile things to explore in this document and the NAPF is to be congratulated for putting it out. It would be a shame if its publication at this point in the electoral cycle led to its many good ideas being lost to public debate. Nevertheless, in the meantime, I’m reminded once again that quality pensions expanded and became more beneficial at a time of labour strength; their contraction at a time of labour weakness simply proves that advances in benefits have to be won by collective action and are not given away by employers for free.

BA and the online newspaper ethos

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One of the more interesting features of the newspaper industry is its long-standing use as a bulletin board: from quirky, ‘disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’-type letters to letters to The Thunderer and to other newspaper editors setting the world to rights or getting something on record, whether from the establishment, interested individuals and opinion formers. Letters usually had the resonance of importance and their publication in print frequently added weight to the arguments expressed, not least to the usual readerships of the newspapers concerned, whose leanings and approaches are well-known. Given this, their role in changing views might have been pretty limited – preaching to the converted is never going to change the world – but at least they had a role in commencing debate at some level. And you could open your favourite newspaper knowing that it wasn’t going to turn you a nasty shade of apopletic red.

Which is why I turned to yesterday’s letter to the Guardian by 95 leading academics criticising the behaviour of British Airways in its dispute with Unite with some interest. At the last count, there were 495 comments on the story and, at the (early) point at which I stopped reading them, a large percentage of people were using the piece to hang anti-Unite, frequently anti-trade union views, regardless of the debate which the academics had sought to start about BA’s actions.

Clearly, not so many typical readers of The Guardian among them. The question is, I guess, why – why would you hang around on a newspaper site, to the leanings of which you are not instinctively sympathetic, just to have a go? Well, because you can, probably: Web 2.0, where your opinions are not only desired but an integral part of the experience, has some things to answer for. Dialling The Times today re-directs you to a page (no doubt in the short-term) inviting you not just to read the thing but to ‘listen to it, watch it, shape it, be part of it‘, as part of its charging-based re-vamp, but the outcome in practice is frequently the facilitation of opportunities for wind-up merchants and trolls of all types.

I really don’t want to open the online version of The Guardian and be assaulted by a range of closed-minded views straight from the pages of the Daily Mail. If I want that, I’ll open the Mail. I’m as happy to engage in debate as the person stood next to me – and I’m not frightened of views opposed to mine. But what I do want is the sensible and rational, not the mindless. And I want it focused, not random. And I want debate, not diatribes. OK, no-one’s forcing me to read this stuff (and indeed I didn’t get very far with it, thus – at some level – wasting the time of all those whose views I didn’t trouble myself with, natch) but Web 2.0 does have the power to extend debate and that power is dissipated when debates are dominated by those whose purpose is not to engage but to flame. And that’s evidently a lost opportunity.

The answer – more active moderation, perhaps. That might be asking a lot for popular newspaper sites but, at the same time, if the benefits of Web 2.0 are to be realised, perhaps that lies in fewer articles and better moderation. A sort of approach based on ‘never mind the width, feel the quality’. It has to be possible. Alternatively, perhaps one of the benefits of charging for online access is not just support for journalistic quality, as these pages have argued before, but also a re-focusing of the debate engendered within such sites by making them less open to passing trolls.

As regards the academics’ letter: they’ve got more than a point about some of the actions of BA in this dispute and, from the perspective of this particular academic manqué, I like the phrasing of their approach around the issue of the ‘representation gap in UK employment relations’. Such a gap clearly does exist in all too many workplaces up and down the country. From the point of view of this debate, Keith Ewing has taken this on in today’s The Guardian in arguing that there is a human right to engage in strike action. The current laws of this country do not provide a right to strike, but industrial action is never undertaken lightly and remains a legitimate weapon to use against an intransigent employer. The increasingly hardline, right-wing approach to the taking of industrial action over the last twenty years is one that continues to divide this country from our European neighbours and the quality of our democracy is all the poorer for it.

Written by Calvin

26/03/2010 at 5:02 pm

Vestas occupation ends

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The occupation of the Vestas factory ended at noon today following the serving of an eviction notice yesterday on the six remaining workers inside the factory.

The campaign to Save Vestas goes on.

Aluta continua. Venceremos!

Written by Calvin

07/08/2009 at 12:57 pm

Information Commission names and shames…

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The Information Commission has published the names of 14 companies against which it will be taking further action in respect of their misuse of personal data obtained on trade union activists from Ian Kerr, on behalf of The Consulting Association (see here for the direct press release; while it also currently available from the front page of the Commission’s website).

The 14 names include that of NG Bailey – a construction company involved in the telecoms industry and for which Connect members may have worked.

The action being taken is via Enforcement Notices. You can read the Enforcement Notice in relation to NG Bailey here; I suspect they all ready pretty much the same although I note that the notice in respect of NG Bailey doesn’t include a reference to the disclosure of information to a third party without informing the individual affected such as, for example, the one in relation to Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering does (though this may well reflect the particular company structure of Balfour Beatty and the widespread use of The Consulting Association’s services by other companies within the Balfour Beatty group).

The Notice commits the companies to ‘refrain from using, disclosing or otherwise processing’ personal data obtained from Ian Kerr; and, secondly, to ensure that, if they obtain information from third parties in the future, they are completely open with job applicants about the process. Failure to abide by the Enforcement Notice would open up the company to prosecution. David Smith, Deputy Commissioner, said that:

We have used the maximum powers available to us and this enforcement action sends a strong signal that organisations must take the Data Protection Act seriously.

The effectiveness of such Notices clearly lies in the context of the ill publicity they gain for those involved, and the perception that other people are carefully watching the future activity of those concerned; the ‘punishment’ they convey is scarcely worthy of the name. But, the Information Commission can’t do much else within the powers open to it. This particular issue – of what should happen to companies using the services of blacklisting organisations – will clearly need to be picked up in the draft regulations now being consulted on by BIS and to which Connect and Prospect will be responding on a joint basis.

According to The Guardian, which has also obtained further information about how The Consulting Association operated, NG Bailey said it would be ‘”strengthening” its procedures to comply with data protection laws’ – though it’s not exactly trumpeting that on its website.

In the context of the need for watchfulness over the issue, Connect has also written direct to BT, which is linking with NG Bailey in a new contract for the Ministry of Defence, requesting that it ‘Carefully re-consider using the services of a company that has been named as having used the services of the Consulting Association’ and seeking assurances that it ‘Support[s] efforts to stamp out illegal employment practice, that [it] will co-operate fully in sharing all relevant information with the ICO and that BT remains committed to the highest standards of policy and practice in managing its external relationships’.

Working together, we can stamp out the practice.

Written by Calvin

05/08/2009 at 2:30 pm

Police break up Thomas Cook sit-in

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LabourStart is reporting this morning that, at 5am, police broke into the Thomas Cook shop in Dublin where 40 workers have been staging a peaceful sit-in following the company’s decision to close its three retail outlets in Dublin (including a Direct Holidays outlet), announced with immediate effect last Friday, with the loss of 77 jobs (you can read the facts behind the evolution of the dispute, and Thomas Cook’s disgraceful, precipitate actions in The Irish Times here). The 28 workers and union officials present in the shop at the time have been forcibly removed in pursuit of a court order obtained yesterday ordering the end of the four-day action by 7pm last night and the appearance of the staff in court at 2pm today.

RTE reports that one of the 28 involved, a woman eight and a half months pregnant, has now gone into labour and has been taken to hospital.

The workers were taking action over the closure of the stores and the redundancy package offered by the company. Thomas Cook branch manager Wendy Alton told a radio station that, ‘As far as we’re concerned, whatever happens in court we’ve won our battle. It was a peaceful protest, they had to physically remove us. We’ve made our stance and the people of Ireland and Dublin are 110 percent behind us.’ The workers engaged in the sit-in had said that they had no desire to engage in confrontation with the law, but felt they had no choice but to continue their peaceful and orderly protest until Thomas Cook agreed to meaningful negotiations.

The Thomas Cook sit-in is a formal union protest being undertaken by the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association. Gerry Doherty, General Secretary of the TSSA, said on Sunday that, unless the company was prepared to come to an agreement with the union, he would ask the Irish TUC to organise a boycott of Thomas Cook holidays by the 800,000 members of its affiliated unions.

We unreservedly condemn the actions of those involved in securing an end to the occupation in this way.

Written by Calvin

04/08/2009 at 9:58 am

Fujitsu workers to take action on pensions?

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Workers at Fujitsu are being consulted over whether or not to take industrial action over a variety of changes to their terms and conditions of employment, chief among which is the closure of the company’s defined benefit pension scheme to future accrual.

From next month, around 4,000 Fujitsu workers (about one-third of the company’s UK workforce) will be re-engaged on new contracts of employment which do not contain membership of the defined benefit scheme. Fujitsu workers have already had a pay freeze this year while contractors have suffered a rate cut despite the company reported increasing profitability.

Unite, which is organising the consultative ballot and which says it has 2,000 members in Fujitsu, has vowed to offer support to members seeking to take action to preserve their pensions provision. Peter Skyte, the union’s national officer, said that the company, while being otherwise prepared constructively to consider alternative pensions options, was taking advantage of the recession to attack pay, pensions and conditions.

Written by Calvin

03/08/2009 at 4:14 pm