Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Council Chum Clubs

The Herald reports that Labour in South Lanarkshire is so low on ambition these days that the party is not standing enough candidates in May's local elections to win what was once a key Labour stronghold.

Doesn't surprise me though because in my view Labour turned itself into a 'council chum club' in its former heartland areas with the same old faces dominating the political scene year after year.

In South Lanarkshire, for example, Cllr Eddie McAvoy has been the council leader since 1999 - longer than Russia's Vladimir Putin has been in charge at the Kremlin.

So it's time for a change if you ask me and while I'm on the subject of change the trade unions could do with some fresh blood too because unless things have been shaken up recently the same person has been branch secretary of the local Unison branch for the past 18 years. 

If I remember correctly, Stephen Smellie (pronounced 'Smiley' not 'Smelly') has been the branch secretary since the year 2000 and has featured on the blog site several times, as regular readers know.

Most famously after the local Unison branch actively discouraged its lowest paid members from pursuing equal pay claims against the Labour-run council, which is a very strange way for a trade union to behave if you ask me.

But all these years in the same job - that seems quite incredible to me, especially for a trade union whose members are 70% women. 



SNP: 'Labour not even fielding enough candidates to win key council'

South Lanarkshire Council HQ building, Hamilton. Labour is fielding 32 candidates in the local elections in the area, not enough for an outright majority

By Gerry Braiden - The Herald

LABOUR has given up the ghost of retaining power at one of Scotland's biggest councils and is fielding only enough candidates for a Tory coalition deal, rivals claims.

With the full list of those standing in each local authority now published, Labour is to field 32 candidates in its stronghold of South Lanarkshire, one short of what is required for an outright win.

The SNP is fielding 37 candidates.

Labour said it was basing its strategy on how many it believed it could win under the single transferable vote system, adding that the multi-party council had never had an outright majority in its 20 year history. It is currently run by a Labour minority administration, which is supported by the Tories.

Resign! (26/09/15)

Image result for resign + images

While the top brass at Volkswagen Motors have been forced to resign following a public scandal over emission tests, local union officials in South Lanarkshire Council seem to operate to a different set of standards.

As regular readers know, the unions in South Lanarkshire Council actively discouraged their members from pursuing equal pay claims against the Labour-run Council and the end result is that many of the lowest paid union members have lost out financially by following their unions' advice.

Now you would have thought that the local union officials who presided over this awful mess would have done the decent thing and apologised publicly by now, before falling on their own swords.

But it appears that most of the key players are still in place which is quite remarkable if you  ask me, although how long this can last is another question, especially after the news that the boss of GMB Scotland, Harry Donaldson, is no longer at his desk, so to speak.

SLC and Equal Pay (17/06/14)

Readers in South Lanarkshire are still in touch in a regular basis and tell me that the local trade unions, Unison in particular, are mounting a desperate 'damage limitation' exercise on the question of equal pay.

Apparently, the unions are now inviting their members to raise new equal pay claims against the Council having shown little real interest in the subject, of course, over the past 10 years. 

Now if you ask me, this seems like a pretty cynical business and I'm sure the unions are not explaining to their members that they were effectively on the Council's side for years, happy to pour cold water on the prospects of winning the fight and even going as far as actively discouraging their members from pursuing a claim. 

The problem now is that any further cases raised at this very late stage will be that much harder to win because the Council has made changes to the job evaluation scheme and also to the way in which some of the traditional male jobs are paid.

On top of that any cases that are successful will be worth much less than those taken up much earlier, as far back as 2005/06, by Action 4 Equality Scotland.  

So if I were a union member in South Lanarkshire, I'd be doing my best to get the local union leaders to resign because there is no doubt in my mind that these people have let the workforce down - and maybe the way to start putting things right is to begin with a heartfelt and humble apology. 

Weasel Words (30 June 2012)

The trade unions in South Lanarkshire - especially Unison - continue to get a pasting in the local press for their craven behaviour over equal pay.

Which is richly deserved - in my opinion.

Here's an article from this week's Hamilton Advertiser which a kind reader brought to  my attention - with the wry observation that the union seems to be on the side of the council employer - not the council workers.

But there's little wonder that Unison is on the defensive of course - because the union gave evidence in support of South Lanarkshire Council in the recent employment tribunal case - which concluded that the council's job evaluation scheme (JES) does not comply with equal pay legislation - and is therefore 'not fit to be relied upon'.

Now you would think this would give the unions some pause for thought - time for  reflection even - because they've been cosying up to South Lanarkshire Council for years - instead of doing the right thing by their members. 

Which is why - as in Glasgow City Council - the trade unions in South Lanarkshire have lost all credibility over equal pay - they've acted as little more than cheerleaders for the council and refused to look critically at the reasons for the big pay gap between male and female jobs.

The lack of transparency in South Lanarkshire's JES and its pay systems has been evident for years - but it's Action 4 Equality Scotland which has been challenging the council and asking all the awkward questions - not the trade unions.

Unison and Equal Pay Dispute

by Julie Gilbert (Hamilton Advertiser)

The union representing women fighting for equal pay at South Lanarkshire Council have defended their handling of the issue.

Unison came under criticism last week after the Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled the council’s job evaluation scheme did not comply with the Equal Pay Act.

Thousands of female council workers who claim they are being paid less than men for doing equal amounts of work will now be able to have their cases assessed by the tribunal and could potentially recieve six years of back pay.

Solicitor Carol Fox, who is representing 2400 of the women with equal pay disputes at the tribunal, said that Unison owed their members an apology for initially telling women they had no case against the council.

Fox Cross Solicitors, together with Action4Equality, have been fighting the council since 2005 but Unison did not join the battle until just over a year ago.

However, Unison’s Lanarkshire Branch Secretary Stephen Smillie said that when the council’s job evaluation scheme was first set up the union believed it did comply with the Equal Pay Act.

They did not want to go to tribunal at that point. They said a fair and compliant job evaluation would be a defence against any equal pay claim.

However, as issues arose regarding the scheme’s transparency, the union made the decision to join the tribunal and they insist they have always had their members’ interests at heart.

Mr Smillie said: “The job evaluation scheme was first introduced in the late 1990s. There’s been a whole number of developments and different cases since then.

“We felt after these cases were held that clarity was needed on the point of transparency and that’s when we joined the tribunal case which was being led by Fox Cross.

"There was no evidence that the scheme was discriminatory – if it was we wouldn’t have been involved in it.

“It’s on the point of transparency that it fails.”

The transparency argument centres on the point that every worker has the right to look at the salary scale and understand how they are paid and why, and that every worker has the right to know how comparable workers are paid and why.

If those being represented by Unison win an equal pay claim, then they will only get pay backdated to when Unison joined the tribunal, whereas those being represented by other solicitors will get back pay to when they joined the tribunal, in some cases as long as six years ago.

However, Mr Smillie points out that unlike a no win, no fee lawyer, Unison will not be deducting a fee from any settlement employees win.

He is also keen to point out that no-one with an equal pay dispute is guaranteed money at this stage.

He said: “It’s been described as a victory. No-one has got their money yet, no-one is going to get any money at this stage, and no-one has won an equal pay case.

“One of the concerns I have is publishing how much money will be paid out and saying people are going to get it before Christmas.

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Foot And Mouth (1 July 2012)

A number of readers from South Lanarkshire have been in touch to voice their outrage at the  comments made to the Hamilton Advertiser - by the local unison branch secretary, Stephen Smellie.

See yesterday's post dated 30 June 2012 - 'Weasel Words' - in which the following quote is attributed to the local union rep:

“Not every one of these cases is going to win and I don’t want people to buy a new three-piece suite thinking they are going to be getting a big pay-out. Nobody actually knows whether a case will win or not.”

Now I can see what the readers are driving at - because Stephen has form in this area and has commented previously on people's shopping habits and how women should spend their money - on shoes and sofas it would seem.

Witness the following quote from the Hamilton Advertiser in May 2012 in which Unison is giving further helpful advice - in relation to the so-called 'living wage':

"Stephen Smellie, secretary of Unison’s South Lanarkshire Branch said the MSP was failing to note the hugely positive impact which the Living Wage had on the families who will gain from its introduction.

He explained: “It is primarily low-paid women who have benefited from the Living Wage. They will now be better able to buy a spare pair of shoes or a winter coat for their kids.

Now the sums of money involved in the council's 'living wage' policy are peanuts - compared to what's at stake over equal pay.

So I can identify with the readers who have contacted me to say that they find these Unison comments offensive and patronising - in the extreme.

Shoes and Feet (11 March 2012)

A number of readers have been in touch about the post from yesterday - 'Living Wage' - which featured the comments of a union spokesperson in South Lanarkshire.

'Do I know the identity of the person concerned?', these readers asked - as well as expressing their surprise that a union rep could make such a comment.

Well, yes I do as a matter of fact - and here's a slightly longer quote from the original article which appeared in the local newspaper - the Hamilton Advertiser:

"Stephen Smellie, secretary of Unison’s South Lanarkshire Branch said the MSP was failing to note the hugely positive impact which the Living Wage had on the families who will gain from its introduction.

He explained: “It is primarily low-paid women who have benefited from the Living Wage. They will now be better able to buy a spare pair of shoes or a winter coat for their kids.

Studies have shown that introducing the Living Wage leads to a better motivated staff and an improvement in service delivery.

This is why it is supported by, amongst many others, Tory Boris Johnson, Mayor of London."

Stephen Smellie (which is pronounced 'Smiley' not 'Smelly' by the way) has been the Unison branch secretary in South Lanarkshire for several years - maybe even ten or more.

Stephen gave evidence in a recent equal pay hearing involving South Lanarkshire Council - as a council side witness it has to be said - not on behalf of the women claimants.

I first met Stephen many years ago and as I recall he was a supporter of Militant - the 'entryist' organisation which operated inside the Labour party in the 1980s - until it was tackled and effectively driven out under Neil Kinnock's leadership.

In Scotland Militant went on to become the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) - which eventually self-destructed under Tommy Sheridan's leadership.

Some of the SSP members have since joined the Labour party - whether Stephen is now in the Labour party - or any political party - I don't know for sure.

But it certainly wouldn't surprise me.

Because the great majority of union reps in Scotland are still card carrying members of the Labour party these days - despite the much more mixed political views of ordinary trade union members.