Saturday, 8 July 2017

Scandals Of Our Time

To the best of my knowledge Kevin McKenna has not written a single word about the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils which has been raging for the past 12 years, but in this comment piece for The Herald Kevin takes the SNP Government to task for failing to give prisoners a vote in the 2014 independence referendum.

I have to admit the priorities of Scotland's 'left-wing', middle class professionals never ceases to amaze.

Kevin McKenna: The treatment of the elderly and infirm shames our nation
By Kevin McKenna - The Herald

Kevin McKenna: The treatment of the elderly and infirm shames our nation

ONE of the many tests by which a country is deemed to be truly progressive and enlightened was failed by the SNP Government during the referendum on Scottish independence. This one concerned our treatment of prisoners, an issue which has long disfigured Scotland’s claims to be a beacon of fairness and equality. The SNP put itself in the territory normally held by the Right’s howling banshee division when it refused prisoners in Scottish jails a vote in the referendum. It was an act of sheer political cowardice that smacked of bowing to the baying mob and went against the party’s own instincts.

Permitting our prison population a vote on Scotland’s future would have been the act of a civilised nation comfortable in its own skin. Our jail population is one of the highest in Europe with high rates of re-offending contributing to this. So what better way of addressing deep-rooted criminal attitudes by attempting to include prisoners in the Great Debate that was held up by the Electoral Reform Society as one of the finest examples of democratic engagement in the world. Instead, ever afraid of its own shadow and petrified by the prospect of authentic radical action, the SNP took the easy option and refused this little act of charity.

It was an illuminating episode that presaged the SNP’s actions in the years that were to come. This is a party which seems to value the retention of power more than the core values it unfailingly espouses at election time. Winston Churchill had this to say as Home Secretary 107 years ago: “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.” In 2014 Scotland and its government failed that test.

Picking Your Targets (05/07/17)

Image result for easy targets + images

Kevin McKenna wrote a piece in The Guardian the other day attacking the SNP Government's alleged 'cosiness' wth the airlines industry in Scotland and new parking charges at Glasgow Airport. 

Now the SNP Government can speak for itself, but what always puzzles me about Kevin and other 'left-leaning' commentators is that they're always happy to let fly, so to speak, at easy targets such as Glasgow airport's chief executive, Amanda McMillan, whose salary in 2014 was £293,000, apparently.

Yet Kevin has nothing to say about the eye-watering £250,000 bonus paid in 2010/11 to a senior official of Glasgow City Council who oversaw the council's handling of equal pay including the controversial decision to cap compensation payments to the council's lowest paid women workers at just £9,000.

The 'cap' was agreed by the local trade unions, of course, but none of this has been reported in the columns of The Guardian by Kevin McKenna or anyone else for that matter.

We’ve got enough fly boys without the SNP cosying up to the airports industry - by Kevin McKenna

The benefits to Scotland of the links between business and the nationalists are as yet unproven


Bosses at Glasgow airport – which has had its problems with customer satisfaction – have imposed a £2 charge for dropping off passengers. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Perhaps Glasgow airport, in accordance with the old Scottish Presbyterian stereotype, believes that too much enjoyment carries a risk of moral decay. Perhaps the prospect of tens of thousands of Scots jetting off for a two-week bacchanal in the sunshine is simply too much to bear. And so airport bosses see it as their moral and Scottish duty to inject a wee bit of misery into the proceedings lest we all become too frisky. “Welcome to the best wee country in the world” was the slogan that once greeted bemused visitors to the airport a few years back. “Life is not a bowl of cherries”: this could be its successor.

A sense of foreboding grips you as you approach Glasgow airport. You know that your primary aim is to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible and avoid, as best you can, the airport’s “fleece and fly” policy which also includes crippling parking charges. This is difficult if you are accompanied by small children, and the check-in and security desks are woefully undermanned. Thus you are impelled to avail yourself of the food and retail units to keep everyone happy, even though you know you will be scalped outrageously for grossly overpriced goods and inordinately bad food.

As of April this year, Glasgow airport bosses heaped further hardship on its customers by imposing a £2 charge at the drop-off area. The airport tried to justify what is effectively a travelling tax by saying that it would ease congestion, though on several visits over the past few weeks I would dispute this.

And so would the 14,000 people who have already signed an online petition opposing the charge.

One outraged parent calculated that the airport earned £220 from a group of school pupils embarking on their annual trip. “You are a monopoly; it’s extortion,” he said in an online message to the airport.

Amanda McMillan, the managing director of Glasgow airport, is a kenspeckle face on Scotland’s lucrative business guru circuit, one of the country’s fastest growing boutique industries. Every day and night of the week Scotland thrums with hives of business folk attending seminars, breakfasts and “leadership” events organised by a network of private and quasi-governmental outfits for the purpose of, well … making money.

McMillan, a compelling public speaker, is a regular at such symposiums and speaks passionately of the values that underpin her approach to leading her airport team. In an interview in the Herald a few years ago she warmed to this theme. “Everyone I know thinks Glasgow airport is a public service – they see it as being closer to a hospital or a school. The public don’t care if I hit my business plan targets, they want to make sure this place is always open; efficient; friendly and something they can be proud of.”

McMillan doesn’t say if her “business plan targets” include a bonus scheme accompanying a salary that was £293,000 in 2014; in which case the drop-off tax begins to make sense. Since then Glasgow airport has had what might charitably be called a “patchy” period. Earlier this year the influential consumer rights website Resolver published an extensive global airport survey that ranked Glasgow as one of the worst airports in the world for passenger complaints. Glasgow was also the highest ranked UK and European airport for complaints arising mainly from flight delays and cancellations and poor treatment of passengers. It was also revealed last year that 50% of AGS Airports, the firm that owns Glasgow airport, is registered in the offshore jurisdiction of Jersey.

Glasgow airport will point to a clutch of awards that it has picked up in these years including one made by a Scottish newspaper that was sponsored by … Glasgow airport.

What is it about civic Scotland and the business of flying? Last week the Scottish government, as expected, succeeded in getting Holyrood support for its plans to replace air passenger duty (APD) with a new devolved air departure tax (ADT) in Scotland from April next year. The government wants to cut the new tax by 50%, before eventually scrapping it completely.

Heathrow third runway expansion wins backing of Scottish government

Missing the Point (22/12/14)

Kevin McKenna, writing in The Observer, completely misses the point about low pay when he praises the actions of Glasgow City Council in relation to the 'living wage'.

Because the truth is that if Glasgow, along with other Scottish councils, had implemented the landmark 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - an agreement aimed at sweeping away years of blatant pay discrimination against tens of thousands of female dominated jobs - then low paid councils workers in Glasgow, and elsewhere, would have been earning £9.00 and more an hour for the past 10 or even 12 years, i.e. much more than the 'living wage' which is currently £7.85.

Another Scottish journalist (Ruth Wishart) fell into the same trap as Kevin a little while back and I was given the opportunity to respond with a piece in The Herald newspaper which is reproduced below.  

Glasgow’s living-wage policy shames corporate giants

The council’s decision to make contractors commit to paying the city’s living wage shames Celtic FC and the Labour party

By Kevin McKenna - The Observer
After the Commonwealth Games and other successes, Glasgow can celebrate a major victory in the battle to close the gap between rich and poor. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

By any instrument you wish to measure it, 2014 has been an outstanding year for Glasgow. As our biggest city is the boiler house that heats the nation’s economy and culture, that means that this has been a year like no other for the rest of the country too. The Commonwealth Games were successfully delivered with so much style and zip that an event that was in danger of becoming a sporting irrelevance has now been revivified.

Glasgow also hosted the UK and Commonwealth’s main commemorations of the start of the First World War, the MTV Europe Music Awards and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Yet the city’s proudest moment was announced just last week but to curiously little media fanfare. Glasgow has formulated a new policy that represents a major victory in the war to reduce the gap between rich and poor. Companies bidding for contracts from Glasgow city council must now demonstrate their commitment to paying the Glasgow living wage.

If this were to be rolled out across every council in the UK, the lives of multitudes of our fellow citizens would improve dramatically. These are people whose daily struggles to dodge being dragged below the poverty line shame the rest of us in this, one of the most affluent and resource-rich nations on the planet.

We know it won’t, of course, because the interests of corporations that want to grow their brands, as well as their directors’ dividends, for the least possible outlay will always hold sway below Britain’s invisible moral equator. This is the line, probably just below the English Midlands, at which the morally bankrupt values of neoliberalism hold sway.

Thus votes and debates in Westminster can be bought in the ancient cottage industry of giving English Tory MPs shares in interested companies. The Westminster market in the share holdings of private healthcare companies is particularly buoyant.

The Glasgow initiative on the living wage is both visionary and enlightened. Companies seeking to secure council contracts must now be prepared to shed light on their attitudes towards their employees. Do they pay the Glasgow living wage? Can they demonstrate that they do not use exploitative zero-hours contracts? Have they ever engaged in the pernicious practice of blacklisting members of trade unions? The answers to these questions will now carry a greater weight in the tendering process.

Glasgow’s council leader, Gordon Matheson, has laid down a template that every company that aspires to decency and integrity, ought to deploy. “In recent years, we have taken steps to ensure that the city weathered the worst of the economic conditions, and as a result we have emerged with a much healthier and more diverse economy. But not everyone benefits from our improved position and we want to do everything possible to ensure that in future they will,” he said. “The responsibility to tackle the scandal of in-work poverty is something that is shared by the council and all of the contractors and suppliers with whom we do business.”

The city’s initiative shames two institutions close to my heart but whose recent conduct on paying workers a fair day’s wages has been a disgrace: Celtic Football Club and the British Labour party. Last month, Celtic, the richest sporting organisation in Scotland, had to be dragged screaming and protesting by its own fans to a decision to pay the living wage to its full-time employees. The club still refused to budge on a similar rate for its hundreds of part-time workers and was still bleating about remaining competitive and not allowing its wage policy to be influenced by a third party (the Living Wage Foundation). This club was established by poor people for poor people and receives loyal backing still from many poor people. The entire board of directors, a gentrified assortment of CV-embellishers, ought to be made to resign immediately.

And what are we to make of the British Labour party? In the last hours of the Smith commissiondeliberations, their representatives, taking their orders from the new Lab-Con pact, refused point-blank to accommodate the terrifying possibility of devolving the setting of the minimum wage to Holyrood.

Thus the party of The People, for The People, shafted The People one more time. As one official observer of the Smith Delusion memorably told me: “Seeing all welfare powers being taken away at the last minute and seeing Labour argue against the devolution of the minimum wage are things I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

This is how wage poverty works for those of us who are bewildered at the notion of how two salaries in one household with a couple of children can yet be insufficient. Real wages in the last decade have increased by only around 2% while the cost of living has risen by around 12%. The cartelism of our major energy suppliers has seen gas and electricity prices spiral.

New social housing has all but ground to a halt following the big Thatcher home ownership lie and now people have to find massive deposits to secure their first homes.

Corporate giants such as Tesco issue profits warnings, as it did this month, because it only made £1.2bn for the last financial year. Yet when two of its employees, one a checkout assistant and the other a delivery driver, are paid so little that they cannot between them make their salaries last the entire month once two children have been fed and all the bills have been paid, Tesco shrugs its shoulders: “At least we provide lots of jobs.”

This is said in a way that suggests big-business owners are all providing employment out of their innate sense of benevolence and munificence. Bollocks. What they mean is this: “Until such times as we can make our money without them, we will, unfortunately, have to pay people.” And until that time they will seek to pay people as little as they are allowed to get away with. Under the Lab-Con alliance, they are being allowed to get away with a lot.

Politics of Equal Pay (20 August 2013)

I came across this article on equal pay which I missed for some reason - when it was published in The Herald back in January 2013.

Now the writer involved - Ruth Wishart - is an experienced journalist, so I was both surprised and disappointed that the piece contained so many inaccuracies and mistakes.

For a start to use the words 'pay anomalies' to describe what was going in Glasgow  back in 2005 is an abuse of the English language - as if there were just a few wrinkles here and there.

Because what was taking place in Glasgow (and elsewhere) - right under the noses of the trade unions and seasoned journalists like Ruth Wishart - was widespread pay discrimination against thousands of low paid women.

Women in caring, catering, cleaning clerical and classroom assistant jobs - who were routinely being paid thousands of pounds a year less than relatively unskilled male jobs such as refuse workers or gardeners.

When Action 4 Equality Scotland (A4ES) arrived on the scene in 2005, things began to change because we  explained to women workers exactly what was going on - and the fact that council employers and trade unions in Scotland had promised to sweep away this widespread pay discrimination as far back as 1999.

And this was during a 10 year period between 1997 and 2007 - when the budgets of councils in Scotland actually doubled in size, of course. 

But the employers and the unions failed to keep their promises which is why so many of these cases ended up in the Employment Tribunals - as union members voted with their feet and decided to pursue their equal pay claims with A4ES.

So much so that A4ES clients outnumber the trade union backed cases by a ratio of 10 to 1 - not 4 to 1 as Ruth Wishart wrongly suggests - and A4ES charges a its clients a success fee of 10% which Ruth would also know if she had bothered to check her facts.

Another glaring error is Ruth's reference to a Scottish Joint Council Job Evaluation scheme which she says was still under negotiation - but the truth is that a nationally approved Job Evaluation scheme specifically developed for Scottish councils had been available for use since 1999 - and this scheme was supported by the trade unions.

So Glasgow's decision to use a different scheme had nothing to do with choosing a quicker option - quite the opposite in fact.       
I find this all the more amazing because Ruth is (or was until recently ) a member of the Leveson Expert Group - whose advice on how to implement the Leveson Report in Scotland was quickly binned by the Scottish Government.

Yet the original Leveson Report was concerned with journalistic standards in the press and media - such as the importance of behaving with integrity and getting your facts right even when writing an opinion piece.

For example, Ruth's comment that "The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing" is plainly wrong - because the unions charged their low paid women members millions of pounds in contributions (membership fees) over this period - yet let them down miserably when it came to sweeping away years of pay discrimination.   

I was genuinely taken aback to such an ill-informed and unbalanced piece, so I decided to write to Ruth Wishart recently and invite her to meet with Mark Irvine and Carol Fox - to set the record straight.

Sad to say that offer wasn't taken up, but there is still an open invitation for any journalist who - like Ruth - appears to be struggling to grasp the basic rights and wrongs of equal pay.   

No easy answers in the struggle for equal pay

By Ruth Wishart (22 January 2013)

On one level it sounds so simple.

People should get the same pay for work of similar value regardless of gender. The Treaty of Rome said so way back in 1957. The UK law enshrined it when the Equal Pay Act came fully into force in 1975. What could go wrong?

Pretty well every thing as it happens. From dodgy employers in the early days who thought it smart practice to promote every single bloke on the payroll, to mass re-writing of job descriptions, to assembly lines being re-jigged to make them single sex.

And even when the rogues were rounded up, the earnings gap stubbornly persisted. Still does. But now all these years of underpayment have come back to bite cash-strapped local authorities who, not exactly obstructed by male-dominated unions, continued to preside over arrangements which turned out to be institutionally discriminatory.

A landmark judgment at the end of last year found Birmingham City Council on the wrong end of a court case brought by more than 170 women claiming back pay over six years. It is likely to open the floodgates for hundreds, if not thousands more.

Meanwhile, next month sees Glasgow City Council at a second session of an employment tribunal – there's a third scheduled for May – defending the arrangements it has come to after a process which began way back in 2005. A process which has already cost it over £50 million in compensation packages to female employees.

But this is not a straightforward tale of winners and losers, nor for that matter heroes and villains. When Glasgow City Council did its job evaluation exercise seven years ago there was no shortage of pay anomalies tumbling out of the woodwork.

As was the case with other councils, pay rates had grown up which made the casual assumption that outdoor dirty jobs like refuse collection and grave digging were intrinsically worth more than indoor manual work like cooking and cleaning. No prizes for guessing which of these categories employed more men than women and vice versa.

On top of that was an extraordinary bonus culture which widened the pay gap quite dramatically. As one executive explained "it seems that in some areas bonuses were being paid for turning up to work". And a lack of transparency around who got paid what and why meant that many of the disadvantaged women had no notion just how poorly paid they were by comparison with similar or poorer male skill levels.

The workforce pay and benefit review was designed to examine and eradicate these anomalies. Glasgow decided not to use the Scottish Joint Council Scheme still under negotiation, but used the Greater London Provincial Model on the grounds it would be a faster option than re-inventing the wheel. This entailed putting diverse jobs into 13 "job families" depending on the working context and skills.

The exercise meant higher pay for almost 25,000 employees, but loss of earnings for just under 4000. Under the deal anyone losing more than £500 would be offered skills development and there would be pay protection for three years.

The unions had several complaints about this, suggesting – among other complaints – that employees having to sign on the dotted line before being compensated for previous inequities was a form of blackmail.

But their cages were also being rattled by a new breed of specialist lawyers who saw the fight for equal pay as a lucrative niche market.

Their pitch was that on a no-win-no-fee basis they could get the women a better deal than union reps who, they suggested, had been asleep on the job in order to protect the incomes of their male membership.

Since the lawyers' cut of a successful action involved anything from 10% to 25% of the women's compensation packages, it seems somewhat disingenuous to suppose the main motive was a lofty crusade against injustice and discrimination. The unions, however dozy, went into bat for nothing.

In the event, four times as many Glasgow employees plumped for a private law firm than for Unison, though not the least of the ironies in this saga is that many of the lawyers involved had previously worked for Unison.

But, as I said, this is not a simple tale. Righting previous wrongs is important. Equal pay for work of equal value is essential. Yet all of this unfolds against a backdrop of budget cuts inevitably resulting in job losses.

It's not so much being careful what we wish for, more a dispiriting calculation on benefits versus costs.

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 - 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. 

Agenda: Political will, not economics, has stalled equal pay

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.