Sunday, 31 May 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

The latest on the GMB is that the union appears to be trying to blame North Lanarkshire Council for the mess that surrounds its members equal pay claims instead of accepting responsibility for limiting these claims to just a 3-year protection period.

As I've explained before, none of the other parties to the equal pay dispute with North Lanarkshire Council went down this path and for reasons known only to itself the GMB stands alone.

My understanding is that the other parties involved (Action 4 Equality Scotland, Fox and Partners Solicitors, Unite and Unison) asked the GMB whether the union wanted to change its position on restricting its members claims to only 3 years, as did the Employment Tribunal.

But the union refused to do so and as a result the GMB and their representatives left the joint negotiations leaving A4ES, FAP and others to reach a settlement. This left the GMB and its members out in the cold, and it was a deliberate and considered decision by the GMB not the Council.

Nor, as far as I know, were union members consulted or informed about the union's decision or the reasons for adopting such an peculiar and potentially damaging stance which was out of step with everyone else, of course. 

The other parties (A4ES, FAP, Unite and Unison) continued their negotiations with North Lanarkshire until a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was finally agreed and ratified by the Council on 19 March 2015.

As the GMB is now realising, the thing about 'burning you boats' is that once you've burned them you can't just jump back in and try to set sail again.

Yet for the past 10 weeks the GMB has been mounting a desperate rearguard action, trying to blame others for the mess the union now finds itself in although one thing's for sure - the members didn't cause this situation.

As far as I can see the members who pay their union dues week in week out are now being given the run around as the GMB says it wants to achieve the same outcome as everyone else.

To be honest, I don't see how this can happen because the union is effectively asking for the Council to pay for the GMB's mistakes, to get the union out of a big hole that the GMB has dug for itself.

And any use of public money for such a purpose (i.e.bailing out the GMB) would almost certainly get the Council's officials and elected members into serious trouble themselves.

The bottom line is that the GMB has never sought to challenge the Council's JES and has left this to Action 4 Equality Scotland and others.

The union has had every opportunity to wise up and change its tune, but didn't listen until it was too late.

So if you ask me, the solution is for the union to step up to the plate and agree that no GMB member will lose out financially over the union's handling of this affair.

Money Down the Drain

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Trade union members in Scotland will be interested to know that while the fight for equal pay has been in full flow, union bosses have been wasting a small fortune in trying to sell Ed Miliband to the nation.  

In the run up to the recent Westminster election Labour's top three donations were:
  • £3.5 million from Unite
  • £697,000 from the GMB 
  • £572,000 from Unison
Members' money down the drain if you ask me.

Inspiring Story

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Justin Webb writing in The Times tells the inspiring story of Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, who has risen to one of the highest offices the American state despite being born at a time when her family was living in segregated conditions similar to those in apartheid South Africa.

But that's what I like about America: its 'can do' attitude, its willingness to confront problems and its ability to change the game. 

Racism and prejudice still exist in America, obviously, but society has reinvented itself compared to how things were only 50 years ago.

Whereas is large parts of the Islamic world, for example, Muslims are still killing each other every day over a long-running, unresolved feud between the Shia and Sunni branches of the same religion.

So if you ask me, warts and all, America is still a great country.      

If you want justice, call for Loretta Lynch

By Justin Webb - The Times

The US attorney general is not just the scourge of Fifa but she shows how to rise above prejudice

There go the Americans again, sticking their noses into other people’s business. Football, a game they have no regard for, only playing it seriously till the age of ten, brought to book by people who won’t even watch it on TV because there aren’t enough advertising breaks; Fifa officials hauled from their beds at a startlingly early hour at the behest of an arrogant superpower.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich put it, the Fifa arrests were “evidently another case of illegal extra-territorial implementation of American law.”

Well, it’s a view.

Others, on Twitter, pleaded with the FBI to investigate further football outrages. Maradona’s “hand of God” for instance. Or Geoff Thomas missing an open goal against France in 1992. America we love you, much of the football world cried out. We didn’t mean it when we said you were ghastly and loud and dim. We really do think you will win the World Cup one day. And if you call it “soccer”, hey, that’s fine too.

The Russians might be unmoved but one woman has done more this week to counter the mutterings of the global coalition of anti-Americans than the entire presidency of Barack Obama. Her name is Loretta Lynch.

Appointed only last month, America’s first black woman attorney-general is now world famous. There could be no finer American export: her story and her role are the stuff of the American dream and the product of American political culture.

First the personal history, which is beyond jaw-dropping when you consider the power she is wielding this week. Her mother Lorine began life picking cotton in the fields of North Carolina and her father Lorenzo was a Baptist preacher who remembers driving across the American South and not being able to use the “whites only” lavatories at roadside caf├ęs. In an interview with TheWashington Post he said of those days: “You were never judged on merit . . .There were no black police, no black judges, no black bankers or even clerks in the stores.”

But America was changing and Loretta was clever. She did so well on a standardised test in her mostly white elementary school that she was asked to take it again. A white student would have suffered no such indignity. Loretta sat another exam and increased her score. When she left secondary school to go to Harvard the teachers gave the top prize to Loretta and to a white child who had scored less: to have awarded a black child alone would have been too controversial. And this was in 1977.

In short: Loretta Lynch knows injustice when she sees it. And she knows what it takes to overcome it and — let’s guess here — she feels quite strongly about righting wrongs and rewarding good character. She lives this stuff.

It is a quintessentially American story; a journey towards betterment, personal but social as well; a land that wants — aches — to think of itself as just.

But there is another, perhaps less noticed, uniquely American side to the Loretta Lynch story. The role of the district attorney — her job in New York before she became attorney general — is an all-American dramatic construction. Politically appointed or directly elected, local attorneys are not just powerful: they are designed to be invigorating, energetic, aggressive.

In fact much of the style of the Swiss raid was out of the form-book of a previous hard-charging New York district attorney: step forward (as if you could stop him) Rudy Giuliani. The man who rose to become mayor of the city and a serious presidential candidate, is also the man who is credited with inventing the “perp walk” in which suspects are arrested in full view of the previously tipped off media.

Ms Lynch is no political friend of Mr Giuliani — she has been a Democratic appointee all her career. But she is very much in the grand American tradition of the take-no-prisoners attorney. They are a breed and they follow a tradition that marries personal ambition with the deliverance of justice in a manner that can make Europeans feel a little sweaty around the collar.

To put it bluntly, the Fifa raid was a personal opportunity for her. That’s how the American system works. As an aide of a Bush era attorney general put it: “It’s a huge story, and it is a heck of a lot more interesting than the average tax case — and this one is a tax case. This is one where she hits a home run. It helps to define who she is and helps to define her to the American people.”

Hit a home run. He meant “put it in the back of the net”. But who’s complaining?

Saturday, 30 May 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

Lots of GMB members from North Lanarkshire have been in touch to ask if I have heard anything about the union's meeting on Thursday to clarify what happening with their equal pay claims.

The answer is No, I don't, although my understanding is that the union was planning to write to all 500 or so members involved.

What I don't understand is that in the age of the internet why doesn't the union just update the GMB Scotland web site?

North Lanarkshire Update (28/05/15)

The GMB union is apparently meeting today to consider the position of its members who have equal pay claims against North Lanarkshire Council.

So let's hope that the union does the right thing and a good start would be a clear statement to explain exactly what has happened and how the GMB intends to ensure that its members are not punished financially in any way.

North Lanarkshire Update (22/05/15)

Lots of readers from North Lanarkshire have been in touch over the ongoing situation involving equal pay and the GMB union.

The key point is that Action 4 Equality Scotland has been challenging North Lanarkshire's job evaluation scheme (JES) since 2007 when it was first introduced.

Which explains why A4ES clients are receiving settlements that cover the whole period from January 2007 to the end of March 2015.  

For some reason the GMB alone appears to have restricted its claims to the three year protection period referred to in the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement.

So if the GMB now wishes to adopt the same arguments that A4ES has been making all these years, my understanding is that the whole process will have to start all over again.

Add to that the fact that lots of GMB members will almost certainly have left the Council's employment in the past 7 or 8 years which means that these peoples' claims may well be out of time now, if entirely new legal pleadings have to be re-submitted to the Employment Tribunals.

In other words the whole business looks to be a terrible mess which is why I said the other day that the GMB ought to do the right thing by saying that it will compensate any member who stands to lose out financially.

Because there's absolutely no guarantee that the Employment Tribunal would allow the GMB to amend its legal pleadings after all this time, whether or not any new pleadings would be successful and how long this would all take. 

Then There Were None

All four of North Lanarkshire's Westminster MPs were swept away at the Westminster general election and if you ask me, a bit part of the reason was the failure of these elected representatives to stand up for their local constituents over equal pay.

Lots of people in North Lanarkshire still have issues with equal pay and I would expect the new intake of MPs to be rather more supportive than their predecessors.

So I will publish their contact details on the blog site tomorrow, but given that the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections are now less than 12 months away there's every reason to contact your local MSP for support as well.

North Lanarkshire Labour (14/11/14)

Here are the name and email addresses for the Westminster MPs (all Labour Party by the way) who currently represent constituencies covering the North Lanarkshire Council areas.

Tom Clarke (Labour) - Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Gregg McClymont (Labour) - Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

Pamela Nash (Labour) - Airdrie and Shotts

Frank Roy (Labour) - Motherwell and Wishaw

Now I've never heard any of these Labour MPs say anything about equal pay in recent years - I've certainly never heard any one of them speaking up on behalf of their local constituents.

Perhaps they don't want to criticise the behaviour of North Lanarkshire Council because it's a Labour-run council, but how anyone can defend the Council over equal pay is beyond me.

Because NLC and equal pay is a bad joke and the Council's senior officials have been shown to have presided over pay arrangements which discriminated against a largely female workforce.

If this happened in the private sector, I suspect the people responsible would all have been sacked by now.

But, the 'top brass' in North Lanarkshire all stay in post, no one answers for their actions, and in recent years they have even been receiving big bonus payments for good performance supposedly which is a terrible insult to the rest of the Council workforce, if you ask me.

All four Labour MPs are up for re-election in May 2015 and I would be very surprised if North Lanarkshire Council's handling of equal pay doesn't result in a backlash on polling day.   

And if I were an equal pay claimant in North Lanarkshire I would consider dropping these MPs a note and telling them, in no uncertain terms, what I think of the Labour Party's performance.   

NLC Update (18/05/15)

I am getting lots of enquiries from union members who have been left out of the recent equal pay settlement with North Lanarkshire Council (NLC).

Some of the people involved say they had a 1st wave settlement with a trade union, but no 2nd wave claim has been taken forward for reasons which are unexplained, as yet anyway.

Now I find this all very peculiar because trade unions don't behave like this when they are pursuing an annual pay claim, for example, and members don't need to 'opt in' to benefit from any subsequent pay increase that comes along. 

The same is true of a strike ballot or a trade union Political Fund Ballot; everyone is involved and no one gets left behind.

So why should equal pay be treated any differently?

Well the answer is I don't know, but if I were a union member in this position I'd write to the regional secretary in Scotland or the general secretary in London and ask why.  

Because people have been paying their union dues all this time and if you ask me, they deserve a better service than being told effectively to 'go take a hike'. 

Another port of call are the local MSPs and MPs covering the North Lanarkshire area who may well be willing to take the issue up on behalf of their constituents.

In my view, this all bolsters the argument that trade unions should be properly regulated in  the same way other areas of industry are held to account: the energy industry, the press and media, and even property management all have independent watchdogs to whom the public can complain about a poor service.

As are all the major professions in the UK: legal, teaching and nursing to name just a few.

So why should the trade unions be accountable only to themselves?   

The other thing to do is to start a Facebook campaign which will allow people who are in this position to speak to each other, share information and coordinate what they're doing.

I'm happy to lend a hand via the blog site as well.

Cruel Laws

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Charlie Falconer, Lord Chancellor in the last Labour Government, is a well-known supporter of changing the law on assisted dying bill.

In this article for The Guardian Charlie Falconer highlights the case of Jeffrey Spector, the experience of an assisted dying regime in Oregon and the recent decision of the Canadian Supreme Court as evidence of how significantly public opinion on this issue has changed. 

Jeffrey Spector deserved better than our cruel law on assisted dying

By Charles Falconer - The Guardian

To avoid incriminating his family a British father died hundreds of miles from home, months before he was ready. It’s time for legal reform
Jeffrey Spector with his wife and three daughters. 'To control his own death, he had to 'jump the gun' and travel overseas to die while he was still well enough to make the trip.' Photograph: Facebook / Collect

The House of Lords is balloting this evening on private members’ bills for this parliamentary session. I have once again submitted an assisted dying bill to the ballot because we cannot continue to deny terminally ill people the dignity and choice they are entitled to at the end of their life.

Jeffrey Spector’s case is yet another example of the cruelty of the current English law. A loving father and husband had his last supper miles from home, months before he was ready, because he feared he might lose control over his death here in the UK.

The previous law has gone by the board. It has been replaced by the discretion of the director of public prosecutions – discretion that would prosecute a doctor who helped someone take their own life but would sanction amateur assistance in the UK, or accompanying someone to Switzerland.

Jeffrey Spector explained that in order to control his own death, he had to “jump the gun” and travel overseas to die while he was still well enough to make the trip, or else implicate his family in assisting him in this country at a later date. Like many in his situation, he felt exposing his loved ones to this impossible dilemma was simply not an option.

The law now has no ethical basis. It is cruel in its effect and parliament should look at it urgently. It might yet conclude that no change should be made, but surely legislators must examine in detail the suffering our outdated laws are having on people like Mr Spector. Currently one Briton a fortnight travels to Dignitas in Switzerland, while a further 300 terminally ill people are ending their own lives behind closed doors at home.

The courts have asked parliament to look at the law. Last month the largest poll on assisted dying found 82% of the public believe the law should be changed.

During the debates last year, it became clear that a majority of the House of Lords is sympathetic to changing the law, but owing to a lack of time the bill fell. Whether it succeeds this time appears to depend on the random result of a ballot, not on the demands of the British public or the recommendations of the supreme court. Parliament’s standing would be improved by addressing a problem it alone can solve.

We have already seen this change in other parts of the world. Oregon was the first state to allow assisted dying for terminally ill people in America. Since 1997, it has given dying people the power to take control over their deaths, and shown all scaremongering over changing the law to be baseless.

In the 18 years since legalisation there has been no evidence of abuse or vulnerable people being put at risk, while the Oregon Hospice Association stated that assisted dying had not negatively affected palliative care. In all three states where it is legal, countless more people can take comfort from knowing there is an assisted dying law, whether they use it or not.

In February, the Canadian supreme court struck down the federal blanket prohibition of all assistance to die. It rightly declared that this prohibition – well-intentioned as once it might have been – unfairly restricts the rights of people to decide how they want to live and die.

Crucially, it also found no evidence that prohibiting assisted dying was safer than having a law with upfront protections.

With 18 years of evidence demonstrating how a compassionate law can work well, and faced with growing pressure throughout the world for a more humane approach to people’s choices at the end of life, it’s about time we saw a change in how our own law treats people like Jeffrey Spector.

It’s too important an issue to leave to chance. We all will die, and some of us will want the choice to be helped along the way – to die in our homes with our loved ones around us, not in a foreign country, before we are ready.

The government should make time in both houses for the bill to be considered. Legislators cannot continue to duck the issue or leave it in the “too difficult” box.

It’s the least parliament could do for people such as Jeffrey Spector and his family, pushed to extreme measures by a law that no longer commands the support of British society.

Better Late

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Despite having virtually nothing to say about the benefits system during the lifetime of the last Westminster Parliament, the Labour Party seems finally to have woken up to the fact that voters are in favour of change and a progressive system that provides people with a 'hand up' rather than a long-term 'hand out'. 

Better late than never, I suppose, but Labour has a long way to go before the voters will take them seriously because as I recall the party opposed every single reform put forward by the last Coalition Government including the one to remove child support from people earning over £60,000 a year.   

Queen's Speech 2015 live: Labour moves to support Tory cuts to benefit cap

Follow the action live here
By JON STONE - The Independent

Labour has moved to support the Government's plan to reduce the benefit cap to £23,000, according to a statement by interim leader Harriet Harman.

Responding to the Queen's Speech in parliament today Ms Harman said her party was "sympathetic" to cutting the maximum amount a family can be paid in benefits by £3,000 but outlined several caveats.

Welfare Reform (02/04/13)

Here's a thoughtful article on welfare reform by Andrew McKie - which appeared in The Herald newspaper the other day.

I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the central point made in the piece.

Because if you divide the new £26,000 benefit cap by 52 weeks and divide that answer by 35 hours - then the hourly 'benefit' rate of pay is equivalent to £14.29 an hour.

Which is paid tax free of course - since people on benefits don't get clobbered by either tax or national insurance.

Now the vast majority of lower paid workers in Scotland are paid a lot less than £14.29 per hour - and most of these low paid jobs are done by women.

Take local councils in Scotland as an example - carers, cooks, cleaners, catering workers, clerical workers and classroom assistants - are all predominantly female jobs and are paid typically around £7, £8 or £9 an hour.

In other words these female dominated jobs don't earn anywhere near £26,000 a year or £14.29 an hour.

'Well what about levelling people up instead of levelling their pay down?' - I hear  a voice say.

Yes, indeed.

Because I'm all in favour of levelling up and that is precisely what was supposed to happen with the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement - which was intended to sweep away the widespread pay discrimination and low pay affecting so many female jobs.

But the big changes envisaged by Single Status never happened - and that's why so many low paid women workers in Scottish councils are now pursuing equal pay claims - and have been doing so in such large numbers since 2005. 

So when I hear certain politicians and trade unions making a big noise about welfare benefits, the obvious question to ask is - why did they fail to make the same kind of fuss over such low levels of pay for all these female dominated jobs?

Which in 2013 are still stuck firmly at the bottom of the pay ladder - of course. 

To my mind, the answer is that they lacked the political will and chose all the wrong priorities  over the 10 year period from 1997 to 2007 - when council budgets across Scotland doubled in size. 

And, by the way, that was a long time before the UK economy became overwhelmed - by a debt-fuelled, banking-led recession. 

Seems to me that the latest benefits row has more to do with party politicis - than a real determination to tackle low pay and reform the welfare budget - so that, in future, it directs more resources on those who need most help.

Without reform, welfare state steals money from neediest

By Andrew McKie

One of the definitions of welfare – indeed, the primary one – is good health, progress and prosperity.

The architects of the welfare state may not, however, have anticipated quite what wonders could be done for the health of some benefit recipients by the simple expedient of checking whether there was actually anything wrong with them.

It emerged yesterday that one-third of those claiming incapacity benefit – an astonishing 878,000 people – have withdrawn their claims rather than face a medical assessment. What's more, 55% of the 1.4 million who have been assessed were ruled perfectly fit to return to work, and almost one-quarter of them found capable of doing some work.

The obvious lesson to be drawn from these figures is that the Conservative Party is a uniquely wicked, malicious and cruel organisation which delights in the suffering of those who are not merely poor but sick as well. Oh, hang on a minute. No it isn't, unless you happen to be an ideologue prejudiced to the point of intellectual impairment. The obvious lesson is that there is something terribly, profoundly wrong with the provision of welfare.

I don't deny there will be some cases where people in genuine need, and whom most of us would think should receive financial assistance, will suffer as a result of these changes. I'm sure, too, there are a few individuals who could make a real case for why the taxpayer should subsidise their spare room. I'm not persuaded by the libertarian argument that all welfare spending is wrong; indeed, caring for the poorest and most vulnerable seems to me to be one of the few worthwhile things the state can actually do, and the hallmark of a civilised society.

But these numbers speak for themselves. No matter how easily one can find particular cases of real need, there is no way the size of our current welfare state can be morally justified, let alone afforded.

The villains of the piece, one need hardly say, are not for the most part those in receipt of benefits, many of whom have effectively been trapped in their current circumstances by state provision. That includes not only the jobless who would be worse off in work, but the large numbers of working people who are paying tax in order to support a bureaucracy which then returns a small proportion of their own money to them in the form of benefits. It is the successive governments of both parties which have allowed a system intended for the needy to expand to the point of lunacy, if not criminality.

Since the modern welfare state began in 1948, there have been only six years in which household income has not risen in real terms. Even in the current financial climate, the citizens of the United Kingdom are staggeringly more prosperous than they were six decades ago – about four times as rich, in fact.

Yet the benefits system has ballooned. This year, Government spending on benefits is up more than 5%, while average household earnings have risen by only 1.5%. The vicious cost-cutting of Iain Duncan Smith's reforms – such as capping the rise of most working-age benefits at 1% – is, you'll notice (the clue is my use of the word "rise"), not actually cutting any costs. The Government's current spending plans mean that in 2016, public spending on welfare will be 10% more than it was last year.

And, despite the rhetoric of those on the right who would like to characterise all of this astounding spending (it will be about £220 billion) as lining the pockets of the workshy, or immigrants, or fraudsters, or Abu Qatada, it is actually a fairly small proportion of the welfare budget – though still, admittedly, too much – which ends up in such quarters.

The underlying problem is that governments of all colours have expanded the reach of the welfare state far beyond those who genuinely need help. Under Gordon Brown's demented ambitions to draw every citizen of these islands into the maw of the state, this resulted in some families with a household income of £60,000 being entitled to benefits.

That meant, as anyone with basic arithmetic could have told you, an insupportable burden on the public purse. But its fundamental wickedness is that it removes money not just from the taxpayer, but from the very poorest and most vulnerable people. It also constructed a trap which made it unprofitable for those who might have been able to work to take on jobs.

One little noticed aspect of the immigration debate is how very few recent immigrants claim unemployment benefit (social housing is the big public cost). But if these arrivals, particularly from eastern Europe, are "taking British people's jobs", as Nigel Farage would have you believe, the obvious question to be asked is why they are able to. And a large component of the answer is that many unemployed Britons do not believe these jobs are worth taking.

That may be a hard-headed and rational response, especially if, for example, you would lose your housing benefit by doing so. Or it may be a justification for indolence or a disinclination to take on menial or unpleasant work. But whichever it is, it is a circumstance which has been created by the very system designed to prevent it. It is difficult to think of anything which is a more damaging and dangerous assault on the poor.

Compare that for wickedness with the ruthless plan of the Work and Pensions Secretary to cap the total amount of benefits received by a household at £26,000. That figure has been selected on the basis that it is the average gross salary. At the risk of stating the stunningly obvious, quite a lot of people earn quite a lot less than the average salary, which is why it's the average. And just as obviously, since that is the average salary before tax, even the people who earn that level have quite a lot less money which they're allowed to spend on themselves.

It might seem just as obvious that if the state has, until now, been paying some people more money than that not to work, it's hardly surprising that they don't. And the most obvious point of all is that we simply cannot afford to do it, and to persist in the attempt is to steal money from the neediest in society. The really ruthless and cruel attacks on the poorest and most vulnerable, who need and deserve help, are not the Government's attempts to reform the welfare system. They are the inevitable result of the welfare system itself.

Welfare Insanity (28/03/14)

Labour has opposed every welfare reform proposed by the Coalition Government at Westminster including changes that now prevent people on much better than average salaries (£60,000 plus) being able to claim child benefit, for example.

The argument from Ed Miliband has been that these changes harm the 'squeezed middle' and so Labour has continued on its ridiculous mission of trying to be all things to all people - as though it really is possible to make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Yet the impossible logic of Labour's position reached its zenith the other day when the party voted tamely to accept the Coalition Government's proposed new cap on welfare spending, having opposed any practical steps to reform the welfare budget every step of the way.      

I think this cartoon from The Independent captures the insanity of the situation rather well.

Green Cheese (17/04/15)

I enjoyed this report from the BBC which reports that the Syriza-led Government in Greece will not be calling further elections anytime soon.

Because what would be the point of an election or a referendum if the question being asked is effectively: 

"Do you want your neighbours to pay off your debts and subsidise public spending because successive governments can't be 'arsed' raising enough in taxes from Greek citizens?"

So it just goes to show that while elections and referendums are part of the democratic process, they don't of themselves solve anything if the 'winners' behave in a completely unreasonable fashion.

Now I live in an apartment building and if one of my neighbours held a vote and decided to exempt themselves from having to pay their communal maintenance charges in the expectation that the rest of us would pick up the slack, then I would definitely have something to say.

And if the Greeks were to vote on the proposition that the moon really is made of 'green cheese', that's up to them, but it doesn't make it true or any of my concern.

Greece not considering snap election, says Tsipras ally

Greece's government has been locked in strained negotiations with creditors since coming to power in January

Greece's state minister has ruled out speculation that the government is considering an early election.

Alekos Flambouraris told Greek TV there was "no point" in calling a poll, saying the country did not need it.

He was responding to reports that the government was considering a snap vote if it failed to find a settlement with its international creditors.

Greece has been locked in strained negotiations since coming to power in January on pledges to end austerity.

On Monday, Germany's Bild reported that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was prepared to call an early election in a bid to show that the Greek population was behind his attempts to renegotiate the terms of the country's €240bn (£176bn; $272bn) international bailout.

It quoted a Greek minister saying: "We have nothing to lose. If the EU remains hard, we must show that we stand firm."

'Specific mandate'

But Mr Flambouraris, a Greek state minister who is said to be close to the prime minister, ruled out the suggestion on Wednesday.

"There is no point in calling elections," he told Greek TV.

"They took place two months ago, we received a specific mandate which we will serve."

European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was quoted by Bild as saying that a new election would act as a referendum on Greece's future in the eurozone.

But Dimitrios Papadimoulis, an MP in the left-wing Syriza party leading the government, said on Twitter on Wednesday that it was only the newspaper that wanted a poll, not Greeks.

Mr Tsipras's government has faced strong opposition from EU partners who are unwilling to offer major concessions in discussions over Greece's bailout.

It is in talks over a three-month extension to its €240bn (£176bn; $272bn) bailout negotiated at the end of February.

Greece is due to pay the International Monetary Fund (IMF) €203m on 1 May and €770m on 12 May.

But reports suggest it is rapidly running out of money. It needs to find €2.4bn to pay civil service salaries and pensions this month.

'Tieless but Clueless'

The Guardian reports on the latest twists and turns of the debt repayment saga in Greece which is becoming more farcical by the day.

In recent weeks Greek citizens have withdrawn some like 30 billion Euros from the country's banks, preferring to keep their money 'under the mattress' so distrustful are they of their own Government's ability to run the country properly.

Yet at the same time the Greek Government is demanding that the EU and IMF ride to their rescue with outside loans.

No wonder the country is is such a terrible mess.   

Greece warns it is set to default on debt repayment loans

Interior minister says Athens simply cannot satisfy IMF deadline next month unless it works out a deal with eurozone creditors

Pensioners chant anti-austerity slogans during a protest in central Athens. Greece has spent the last four months wrangling with Brussels and the IMF following the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in January. Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP

By Phillip Inman - The Guardian

Greece has threatened to default on €1.6bn (£1.14bn) of debt repayment due on international bailout loans next month, claiming it does not have the funds to satisfy creditors at the same time as paying wages and pensions.

The Greek interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, a long-standing ally of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, insisted the country was near to financial collapse. In an interview with Greek television station Mega TV he said Athens needed to strike a deal with its European partners within the next couple of weeks or it would default on repayments to the International Monetary Fund that form part of its €240bn rescue package.

Voutsis said: “This money will not be given and is not there to be given.” His comments came as the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, repeated his warning that the entire euro project would be undermined without a deal that proved acceptable to the Greek people. Varoufakis told the Andrew Marr show that the Syriza-led Greek government has now “made enormous strides at reaching a deal”, and that it is now up to the European Central Bank, IMF and European Union to do their bit and “meet us one-quarter of the way”.

With crucial debt payments looming, combined with the need for Athens to find around €1bn to pay public sector wages and welfare payments in the first week of June, the eurozone appeared to be entering the final chapter in its dispute with Greece. Tsipras wants the EU, ECB and IMF to release a blocked final €7.2bn tranche of the bailout without imposing tough reforms and spending cuts agreed with the previous right-of-centre administration.

Greece has spent the last four months wrangling with Brussels and the IMF following the election of the anti-austerity Syriza party in January. While some senior figures at the EU Commission and IMF have urged greater flexibility from creditors — and Greek ministers have appeared to drop demands for a higher minimum wage — both sides have so far failed to find a compromise deal.

Tsipras has attempted to persuade Angela Merkel to strike a broader deal that includes the refinancing of the entire bailout package in return for commitments to tackle tax avoidance and a re-making of the Greek welfare system, without success.

Syriza’s domestic position was bolstered on Sunday by a poll that showed cash-strapped Greeks remain supportive of the government’s tough negotiating stance, though they rejected a return to the drachma, saying that any deal with creditors must retain the euro as the Greek currency. The poll conducted in May by Public Issue, for the pro-government newspaper Avgi, showed 54% backing the government’s handling of the negotiations despite concerns that the country has been taken to the brink of financial collapse.

A total of 59% believe Athens must resist demands by creditors for further austerity measures, with 89% against pension cuts and 81% against mass lay-offs. Aware that broad electoral support for his government could collapse without a deal that retains the euro, Tsipras warned his far-left supporters, many of them newly elected MPs with little experience of EU negotiations, that they must compromise in talks with creditors.

In a speech to his party’s central committee on Saturday, reported in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Tsipras said Greece is in the final stretch of negotiations and is ready to accept a “viable agreement” with its creditors but not on “humiliating terms.” He ruled out submitting to what he described as irrational demands to apply a 23% VAT rate across the board and further labour reform. Echoing Varoufakis, he called on lenders to make “necessary concessions”. He said: “We have made concessions but we also have red lines.”

In a barely veiled reference to Berlin, Tsipras told the committee that many European governments would happily see Greece fail in its talks and be forced to leave the euro. He is under pressure to agree a deal that excludes fresh austerity measures from members of the hardline “left platform” within the party, led by the energy minister, Panayiotis Lafazanis, who have refused to approve any deal that departs from pre-election promises.

Lafazanis, according to reports, has been working on a proposals to find alternative sources of funding that would allow Greece to walk away from a deal. But his search, which has included seeking cash from Russia, have drawn a blank.   

Friday, 29 May 2015

All Applicants Welcome?

Image result for employment applicants + UK images

I came across this job advert on the GMB Scotland web site which for some strange reason doesn't mention a salary for the post although I would guess this must be upwards of £35,000 a year.

Even more intriguingly, from my point of view at least, are the references to advancing the polices and promoting the interests of the Labour Party whichs seem at odds with the views of most trade union members in Scotland, given the emphatic result of the recent general election.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that unless potential candidates for these jobs are Labour Party supporters, they'll never get past first base and if so, how does this square with the GMB's claim to be an EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES EMPLOYER? 

Now I don't have any problem with trade unions having political aims and objects, but you would think that in this day and age the workforce of trade unions (including those at senior level) would broadly reflect the views and values of the members they claim to represent. 



GMB Scotland Region has vacancies for two Organisers and we are seeking applications from individuals with a desire to help us develop the membership of the union. 

As an Organiser, the successful applicant would join the Region’s drive to recruit and organise new members, this role will also have an emphasis on servicing membership and will carry a worksheet.
The exact location of these posts within Scotland has yet to be decided.  Before applying candidates need to be aware that they may be based at any of our offices within the Region.  A copy of a job description for an Organiser is attached.

Applicants must have a proven record of the following:

• Servicing, organising and recruitment
• A broad understanding of trade union objectives, and a strong personal commitment to these objectives
• Applicants must be prepared to work as a team, and the successful candidate would display strong interpersonal skills and an ability to communicate effectively in challenging environments
• On a personal basis, the applicant would need to display energy, enthusiasm, resilience, commitment, and an ability to use individual initiative.

Since the backgrounds of suitable candidates can vary enormously, we are requesting that interested applicants should not only send a CV, but also a special report (up to 500 words), which should describe what you believe is involved in the role, and why you believe you would be successful.

Training will be provided to the successful candidate, who will receive an excellent package of benefits and Terms and Conditions.  This includes a car so the applicants are required to be in possession of a full current driving licence.  It should be carefully noted that the hours of work are ‘unspecified’ and will necessarily entail an element of unsocial hours, which will include weekend work.  Periods of working away from home will also be required.  It should also be noted that Officers of the GMB can be relocated at the discretion of the Regional Secretary to meet the needs of the Region.

If you are interested in being considered for this vacancy, application forms are available by contacting the regional office on 0141 332 8641, or emailing or
Please note the deadline for applications is first post on Friday 29 May 2015, after which a short-list will be drawn up.  For those who are short-listed an Assessment Day will take place on either Thursday 11 or Friday 12 June 2015 at GMB, Fountain House, 1/3 Woodside Crescent, Glasgow G3 7UJ.  Successful candidates from the Assessment Day will go forward for a formal interview which will be held on Friday, 19 June 2015 at GMB, Fountain House, 1/3 Woodside Crescent, Glasgow G3 7UJ.
Would all applicants therefore, please ensure they are available on these dates.

Job Title:   Organiser
Accountable to:  Through Senior Organiser to Regional Secretary
Main Purpose of Role:
• To organise high quality representation of members, principally at local and Regional level, but on occasions at National level.
• Under the authority of the Regional Secretary and through the supervision of the Senior Organiser, build and maintain Union membership by implementing agreed strategies.

1) Recruitment and Organisation
• Identify unorganised employees as targets for recruitment, prepare campaigns appropriate to each recruitment situation, including the personal recruitment of individuals and groups, and organisation of recruitment teams and recruitment networks.
• Establish procedures to consolidate and retain membership.
• Motivate Activists, Representatives and Branches to recruit and organise members, monitoring this organisational work, as necessary.
• Establish recognition, and maintain workplace and Branch organisation, encouraging the highest level of self-sufficiency consistent with high quality representation.
• Assist Branches to develop their Recruitment Plans.

2) Representation and Negotiation
• Handle individual and collective grievances and disciplinary issues.
• Prepare and present claims for improvements in Pay and Conditions, within a variety of different bargaining arrangements, avoiding deadlocks and using ACAS and other agencies to resolve difficulties, as appropriate.
• Analyse the outcome of negotiations.
• Represent members before Employment Tribunals, Medical Appeal Tribunals and Social Security Appeal Tribunals on straightforward cases, seeking advice and assistance on more complex cases, as necessary.
• Responsible for implementing Union's policy on Equal Opportunities.

3) Health, Safety and the Environment
• Provide support to Union Representatives on Health, Safety and Environmental issues, encouraging a preventative approach to hazards, and a high standard of health and environmental protection, with the support of specialist help, where required.
4) Pensions
• Negotiate the establishment of and/or the improvements in Pensions Schemes, applying the principles of equality, with the support of specialist help, where required.

5) Work Organisation and Productivity
• Negotiate the introduction of, or improvements in, productivity schemes of various types.
• Devise strategies for changing work organisation to increase job satisfaction, and to create career pathways.
• Assess company strengths and weaknesses using information from company accounts and from other published sources with the support of specialist help, where required.

6) Political
• To encourage organisational work at CLP, District and Regional level to advance the policies of the GMB in the Labour Party.
• Take part in election campaigns in support of Labour Candidates.
• To encourage recruitment initiatives to increase the membership of the Labour Party.

7) Training of GMB Representatives
• Provide initial support training for newly elected GMB Representatives, and ensure that GMB Representatives receive subsequent training in line with GMB policy.
• Prepare and conduct specific training courses using participative techniques.

8) Administration
• Organise own work load with the minimum of supervision to make effective use of time.
• Work effectively with secretarial and clerical support staff.
• Store and retrieve information, both on paper and using information technology, understanding the GMB computer system, including the nature and accuracy of stored data.

The post requires:
• A good knowledge of industrial relations, practices and procedures.
• A knowledge of Employment Law sufficient to ensure that employers honour their legal obligations and members secure their legal rights, potting members and the GMB against legal action.
• Effective communication skills, including report writing and public speaking.
• An understanding of the GMB Rules and structure.
• An understanding of the policies of the GMB, the TUC and the Labour Party.

• Undertake other duties at the discretion of the Regional Secretary.

• Organisers will be required to undertake training to improve their knowledge and skills to maintain a high standard of performance. They will also be encouraged to identify their own training needs so that these can be taken into account in their training programmes alongside the training requirements which are designed to meet the needs of the GMB