Sunday, 25 October 2015

Investigating Complaints

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I contacted all of the Westminster MPs who are members of the House of Commons Petitions Committee regarding my petition which is aimed at making big union bureaucracies more accountable to ordinary unions members.

If an independent complaints process is good enough for Scotland's teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, the police and property managers - then surely it's time that trade unions were put on a similar footing.

Makes perfect sense, if you ask me. 

Dear Committee Member

Making Unions More Accountable

I have just been advised that my petition on making trade unions more accountable to their members has gone 'live' on the House of Commons web site.

I enclose a copy of the petition, for your information, and would be delighted to provide any further background information you may require regarding the fight for equal pay in Scottish local government.

My interest in these matters stems from my previous trade union career, latterly as Unison's Head of Local Government in Scotland, and from my prior membership of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT), as an appointee of Scottish Ministers to these two regulatory bodies.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

NB I also attach an article I wrote for The Herald newspaper in 2013 which was republished on my blog site at:

Who Gets What and Why? (03/10/13)

As the fight for equal pay continues in South Lanarkshire and elsewhere I think it's important to remember that when the powers that be really want to deliver a result - they can always find the resources.

How else to explain the the fact that the Scottish Government, council employers and the trade unions found the money required to fund a landmark pay deal for Scottish teachersback in the year 2000which cost the public purse £800 million a year.

Far more, of course, than the cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement in the way that was originally intended - by raising the pay levels of many female dominated jobs which had been badly undervalued for years. 

So why did Scottish teachers win out while Scotland's lowest paid council workers lost out? 
Now that's a question for the employers and trade unions, but money wasn't the problem since the budgets of councils in Scotland virtually doubled in the decade up to 2007.

And if the employers and trade unions had done what they said they were going to do, back in 1999, there would be no need for this belated campaign for a Living Wage because the lowest paid council workers would have been earning more than £9.00 an hour for years.

Politics of Equal Pay (2 August 2013)

I am often drawing readers' attention to interesting and/or thought provoking article in the newspapers and here's a real doozy which lays bare the politics of Equal Pay in today's Herald newspaper - from none other than little old me!
So, go out and buy yourself a copy of the Herald, share it with your friends and use the information in the article to good effect - kick up a great fuss, for example, by posing a few awkward questions to your local councillor, MSP or MP.

Because when it comes to equal pay Scotland's politicians, particularly its Labour politicians, have a great deal to answer for, if you ask me.

There are still battles being fought on equal pay.

Earlier this week, I called on Eddie McAvoy, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, to resign after the authority lost a three-year legal battle which has cost the public purse more than £168,000 so far.

The Supreme Court in London ruled that the council wrong to withhold information from me. I wanted to check whether women workers at the authority were being discriminated against. 

The way in which Scottish councils chose to deal with equal pay has important implications for areas of social policy.

The business goes back to 1999 when a new national agreement was struck (the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement between Scotland's council employers and the unions. The stated aim was to sweep away years of historical pay discrimination against many female- dominated jobs which were paid much less, typically £3 an hour less, than traditional male jobs.

The way equal pay was to be achieved was by raising the pay of women workers to the same as the men. The costly price tag was around £500m a year: 90,000 women workers at £3 per hour x 30 hours a week (on average) x 52 weeks = £421m. 

You might well ask how Scotland's councils could afford to spend so much on equal pay. The answer is that the annual budgets of Scotland 32 councils and that of the Scottish Parliament doubled in size during the period between 1997 and 2007. So, money was never the problem – the problem was political will.

Because in the year 2000 Scotland's 32 local councils with the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government, implemented a much more expensive agreement on teachers' pay, the McCrone Agreement, with a far weightier annual price tag of £800m. Now this pay deal gave Scottish teachers an unprecedented 23.5% increase in a single year, whereas other very low- paid council workers were still waiting for the promises of their 1999 Equal Pay Agreement to be honoured.

Nowadays Labour and the unions are demanding a so-called Living Wage, yet I am struck by the thought that a rate of £9 an hour could and should have been achieved years ago. Not only would this have put more money into the pockets and purses of thousands of low-paid women council workers, but equal pay would also have eliminated the need for the crazy and complex system of working tax credits.

Those who failed to keep their promises in 1999 were the Labour councils who dominated the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) at the time and the Labour trade unions who decided not to cut up rough on behalf of their lowest-paid members. Instead this was done by Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES), which arrived on the scene in 2005 and began to explain the big pay differences between male and female council jobs, which led to an explosion of equal pay claims in the Employment Tribunals. 

Aome people criticise A4ES because we charge clients a success fee of 10% (not 25% as some have suggested), but I've always regarded that as great value for money. The same people wrongly claim that the unions represented their members "for nothing", which is nonsense because they were, of course, taking millions of pounds in union contributions from these members –while turning a blind eye what was going on right under their noses.

So the fight for equal pay continues because certain councils decided to preserve the historically higher pay of traditional male workers when introducing job evaluation, which means that women workers have a potential ongoing claim while these pay differences continue. 

Other councils have cynically reduced male workers' pay to avoid the likelihood of claims from women employees, yet this was never the aim of the original Equal Pay Agreement: the problem was never that men were paid too much, but that women were paid too little. 

Mark Irvine was chief union negotiator in the 1999 Scottish agreement which was meant to deliver equal pay for women.