Monday, 30 November 2015

Words of War

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A war of words is underway about whether the UK should participate in the bombing campaign against the mad dogs of the Islamic State in their safe havens in Syria.

In Raqqa, for example, where 'Jihadi John' was taken out in a targeted strike from an American drone missile.

Now people like Jeremy Corbyn say that it would have been 'far better' if Mohammed Emwazi (aka Jihadi John) had been captured and put on trial for his cowardly, murderous crimes, but this would have put the lives of UK or Nato troops at risk.

Not only that, of course, because people like Jeremy Corbyn and his friends in the Stop the War (STW) Coalition would then have complained that western troops were acting unlawfully by taking military action in another country (Syria) without the permission of the Syrian Government.

In my view the arguments about extending military action into Syria are finely balanced - there are no guarantees of success of success and there are obvious risks one way or the other.

But the UK is currently the target of terrorist plots and potential attacks by the Islamic State and other groups who are not waiting for and attack on Raqqa to 'justify' their actions - their murderous intent is aimed at western democratic values and our secular 'live and let live' way of life.

So extending military action into Syria does not make any difference because the Islamists will always find an 'excuse' for murdering innocent people in the name of their religion - or kidnapping young girls in Nigeria or forcing Syrian Yazidi women into slavery.

Talking or negotiating with a death cult like the Islamic State would make as much sense as inviting Charles Manson and the Manson Family round to dinner.

Like most people I can see both sides of the argument, but on balance I am in favour of preventing the Islamic State from turning places like Raqqa into a stronghold from which they can continue to plan and launch further terrorist attacks.

The terrorists don't recognise the international border between Iraq and Syria - and nor should we because if we were to do so, we would effectively be abandoning the Syrian Kurds to their fate in towns like Kobane which has only recently been freed from the scourge of IS. 

Terminal Decline

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Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet is a hand-picked team of Labour politicians chosen by the party leader as a government-in-waiting, capable of beating the Conservatives at the next general election in 2020.

But instead of leading a motivated team, Jeremy Corbyn as team captain has lurched from one disaster to another, to the point where the the majority of his shadow cabinet and many of Labour's backbench MPs are in open revolt. 

Not surprising perhaps since Jezza has been a serial Labour rebel throughout his 30 plus years in the House of Commons.

So demands for fellow MPs to deny their political instincts and fall in loyally behind his leadership must have a terribly hollow ring to Labour politicians who have 'mandates' from  voters in their own local constituencies.

Euan McColm in this hard-hitting piece for Scotland on Sunday suggest that under Corbyn's leadership the Labour Party may be in terminal decline.

Euan McColm: Corbyn’s leadership has brought nothing but strife

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Picture: Getty

‘I REMEMBER,” said a Labour activist, “when we used to say things can only get better. Now we say things can’t get any worse. Then they do.”

Falkirk Council Update

I get email enquiries on a daily basis asking for updates on equal pay and my answer is always the same - all the news I have is shared on the blog site and/or Twitter.

Although things are always happening behind the scenes, it's never sensible to speculate on what may happen until events take a decisive turn one way or the other. 

Discussion are taking place in Falkirk, for example, and this may lead to a settlement of all the outstanding equal pay claims, but only time will tell.

If there is not a negotiated settlement, an important tribunal hearing on the horizon which is scheduled to take place on 23 February 2016 - no doubt this will concentrate minds on the Council side. 

Because the tribunal hearing in February will be asked to disclose all kinds of sensitive pay information which the Council has been trying to keep under wraps all this time.

Falkirk Council Update (10/11/15)

A reader from Falkirk has been in touch to provide me with the following link to the web page of the local Unison branch which leads to a report from the Unison branch secretary - none other than Gray Allan.!news-and-reports/c24vq

Now I have to say I am amazed that someone can occupy a senior union position and a senior position in the Labour Party at the same time.

When I worked with NUPE (one of the partners unions that formed Unison) we occasionally had full-time officials who were elected Labour councillors.

But the potential conflict of interest between the two roles was resolved by ensuring that the individuals concerned were not allowed to represent an areas as a union officials, if the person had a role in that same area on behalf of the Labour Party as well.

In other words, a NUPE official would never have been allowed to represent union members in Glasgow City Council, if that person had a senior role in the Glasgow Labour Party or as a local Labour councillor in Glasgow.

Falkirk Council Update (03/11/15)

Here's an article from the BBC dated 24 November 2015 which reports on a decision of the Falkirk Labour Party to appoint a new chairman in the shape of Gray Allan. 

Now Gray has been around for 'donkey's years', as they say, and he was on the scene back in the 1990s when I acted as Unison's chief negotiator and Head of Local Government in Scotland.

What I'd like to know is whether Gray is still involved in Labour/union politics to this day and if so, in what capacity?

Because there are some big issues at stake in relation to equal pay and I would say there's an obvious issue in a Labour-run council if someone occupies both a senior union position and a senior Labour Party at one and the same time.  

Falkirk's Labour Party elects new chairman, following vote-rigging claims

Image caption - Gray Allan was voted chairman at the constituency party's annual general meeting on Sunday afternoon

The Falkirk Labour Party have elected vice chair Gray Allan as their new chairman.

Members voted for the trade unionist to take over from Stevie Deans, who resigned amid allegations of vote-rigging in the selection of a parliamentary candidate.

Mr Allan, a librarian and Unison official, said he hoped his appointment would start to heal the local party.

He has previously called on Labour to publish its report into the matter.

Following his election, Mr Allan said: "On 8 December, in Falkirk, we will select a candidate to fight this seat for the next general election. The priority for us is to work to regain the trust of the people of Falkirk so that we can be confident of a victory in this constituency.

"To win the upcoming election, we need an organised and united party in Falkirk and we elected a team here this afternoon that would hopefully take that task forward.

"We have asked in the past that representatives of the party nationally help us in that work, and come and speak to party members here in Falkirk about what we've experienced.

"We're delighted to be told that the party's Scottish and UK general secretaries are prepared to come and meet with Labour Party members to discuss the situation we're in and find a way forward. We understand that will take place after the selection of the candidate."

The Labour Party launched an investigation after claims that the Unite union had tried to rig the selection process for a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk. The seat was previously held by Labour MP, Eric Joyce, who stood down after being convicted of assault.

Unite was accused of coercing its members to join the Falkirk Labour Party or signing them up without their knowledge, to ensure the union's favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, was selected as a general election candidate.

But an internal Labour Party investigation cleared Unite and its members of any wrongdoing after key witnesses withdrew their allegations. Mr Deans, who had been suspended by Labour, was reinstated.

However, he later stood down after emails published in a newspaper suggested that a letter retracting key evidence in the Labour investigation was not written by the witnesses, but by union officials and approved by Mr Deans.

Falkirk Council Update (01/11/15)

Here's an extract from the 2015 Annual Report to the Falkirk Unison branch (sent to me by a reader) which takes a very laid back approach, if you ask me, to all the outstanding equal pay claims against Falkirk Council.

Because the reference to "Bainbridge claims" suggests that all Unison is concerned about is the protection period covering male workers jobs, rather than the JES scores and grades (which appear to favour traditional male jobs) and the arrangements for assimilating staff to the new pay structures (in 2006) whereby most of the men went to the top of the scale while all the women went to the bottom.

So if I were a union member in Falkirk I'd start asking some searching questions of my union reps PDQ (pretty damn quick), because this looks to me as if the unions have taken their eye off the ball, as the GMB did in North Lanarkshire recently.   

By the way, the key objective of the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement was to deliver a new deal for thousands of low paid, predominantly female workers - carers, cleaners,  clerical and catering workers, classroom assistants etc - whose jobs had been so badly undervalued and underpaid for years.

Its main purpose was not to eliminate the contractual differences between white collar and manual workers, as the Unison annual report suggests which leads me to wonder - who wrote this nonsense?

If anyone knows, drop me a note.

Single Status & Job Evaluation

Single Status was imposed in December 2006 by dismissing and re-engaging those of our members who reused to voluntarily accept the new terms and conditions. The main aim of Single Status has been achieved, which was to eliminate the contractual differences between white collar and manual employees. 2 issues remain – the protection of employees who had 35 hour per week contracts and the lack of a grading appeals procedure. The Branch Committee had expected the 35-hour protection to be removed by now as it could be challenged on equal pay grounds. It is on the list of items the Employer wants us to consider as a terms & conditions saving.The obstacle to an agreement on a grading appeals procedure is the period of pay protection if the outcome of a re-evaluation is a downgrading.

Legal Claims: Equal Pay & Normal pay for Holidays (Lock Claims)

The remaining equal pay claims are still in the Tribunal system. These are all “Bainbridge” claims, which have comparators who were on protection due to previous bonus earnings. These claims are in the hands of Thompsons solicitors and the Scottish Legal Officer. The Branch Committee has no role in this. It is understood that a further attempt was made at settlement over 2 weeks ago. The offer made by the Council was however derisory and was rejected by the solicitors.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

Great news for A4ES clients still fighting for equal pay in North Lanarkshire!

The long-running Glasgow Employment Tribunal has found in favour of Clerical Workers and Sheltered Housing Wardens whose jobs, according to North Lanarkshire Council, could not be readily compared to the job done by a Council refuse collector.

The Council's case is that these two female dominated jobs are not of equal value to the male job, even though to most people this must seem quite bizarre given the skill levels and obvious responsibilities demanded of the housing wardens and clerical workers.

The tribunal preferred the evidence of the two witnesses called on behalf of the A4ES claimants who did a really great job on behalf of all their work colleagues by knocking the management's case into a cocked-hat

The only downside is that instead of throwing in the towel and conceding defeat North Lanarkshire Council seems intent on pursuing this case to a further tribunal hearing or hearings which would finally decide whether the pay of the women should be on a par with the pay of the men.

A 'no brainer' if you ask me and without talking down the work done by Council refuse collectors, there's no way I can see that a further tribunal will not agree that Clerical Workers and Sheltered Housing Wardens have not been shabbily treated by their employer - a big Labour-run council, of course.

I plan to share this news with local MPs and MSPs in North Lanarkshire who will no doubt be interested to learn of yet another defeat for the Council and its intransigence in pursuing this nonsense to yet another tribunal hearing, at considerable public expense.

No doubt the A4ES claimants are fed up to the back teeth with the Council's behaviour, but the task now is to see this through to the end and the claimants can help by raising these issues with their local MPs and MSPs.

I will publish all the relevant contact details on the blog site in the next days and in the meantime here are some posts from the blog site archive explaining the background to this latest North Lanarkshire equal pay debacle. 

NLC Update (20/11/15)

A number of readers have been in touch about the outstanding Employment Tribunal decision affecting Classroom Assistants, Clerical Assistants and Housing Wardens in North Lanarkshire Council.

The tribunal hearing ended back in September and I reported on the position at the time, but the written decision itself has still not been issued after more than two months.

Apparently some claimants have been in touch with the Glasgow tribunal office and have been told that a decision has been 'reached', yet this information is of no use to the long-suffering claimants, if the details of the decision are not released.

Because until the decision is written up by the Employment Judge, signed off by the other tribunal members and then published - no one knows what the decision says and how the judgment affects the claimants.

Quite why there should be such lengthy delay is not at all clear, so maybe it's time for claimants to start raising their concern directly with the President of the Employment Tribunals in Scotland.

NLC Update (21/09/15)

The Employment Tribunal in Glasgow has been dealing with some outstanding equal pay claims from Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants - cases where North Lanarkshire Council does not accept that these jobs are of equal value to their chosen male comparators, a Refuse Collector and Gardener 2. 

Now I know that readers will be amazed, angry even, to learn that the Council regards these three highly responsible female dominated jobs to be worth so much less than the two traditional, relatively unskilled male jobs - makes no sense whatsoever, if you ask me. 

The tribunal has now finished taking evidence and the hearing finally ended on Friday  18 September; a written decision will be issued in due course, but this could take several weeks. 

NLC Update (20/08/15)

Regular readers will be aware that an Employment Tribunal hearing involving North Lanarkshire Council took place earlier this week on the 17 and 18 of August 2015.

Unfortunately, at the start of proceedings, one of the tribunal members fell ill and although a  replacement member was found a significant amount of time was lost on the first day.

The end result is that the hearing was adjourned until 17 September 2015 for all of the outstanding issues to be brought to a conclusion. 

Daphne Romney QC represented the interests of Action 4 Equality Scotland clients and will be at the reconvened hearing in September which all claimants are entitled to attend, of course.

NLC Update (06/07/15)

I was not able to attend Friday's reconvened Employment Tribunal hearing which considered the outstanding Equal Value claims against North Lanarkshire Council.

Daphne Romney QC, a leading UK barrister represented the A4ES clients involved in this case.

North Lanarkshire is still disputing the male comparators claimed by A4ES clients which are detailed in a previous post to the blog site dated 27 May 2015.

The Council's position is that the work done by the female jobs which cover Sheltered Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants are not of equal value to the jobs done by the male workers grades which are Refuse Collectors and Gardeners.

In the case of Classroom Assistants the difference is only 1 single point with the NLC Gardener grade used as a comparator, yet still the Council refuses to accept that the jobs concerned are of equal value, despite the fact that the NLC job evaluation scheme (JES) has been heavily criticised previously at the ongoing Employment Tribunal.

In fact the all too obvious failings with the JES led forced North Lanarkshire Council to accept that the female dominated jobs of Home Support Workers, Playground Supervisors and School Crossing Patrollers had all been incorrectly graded.

So the upshot is that the Employment Tribunal has been continued to the 17th and 18th of August 2015 where these outstanding issues will considered again in detail by the Employment Tribunal.     

I imagine that the women workers involved must feel deeply insulted by the Council's behaviour and its stubborn insistence that Sheltered Housing Wardens and Clerical Assistants are not of Equal Value to a Refuse Collector and that a Classroom Assistant's job  is not worth the same as a Council Gardener.

NLC Update (27/05/15)

Equal Value (EV) claimants in North Lanarkshire have been waiting for several years on a fair resolution of their 1st Wave equal play claims which cover the period prior to January 2007, i.e. before the introduction of NLC's new job evaluation scheme (JES).

A giant step forward was taken at a remedies hearing in Glasgow yesterday (26 May) when the Employment Tribunal issued an order requiring North Lanarkshire Council to pay the claimants an award worth over £6 million in total.

One outstanding issue is the male comparators which can been used to determine the level of compensation payable to certain of the female jobs. 

The equal value jobs and male comparators that are in dispute are as follows:

Housing Warden - Refuse Collector
Clerical Assistant - Refuse Collector
Classroom Assistant - Gardener (Grade 2)  

The reason these male comparators have been used during the tribunal proceedings is that they are on the same grades as Housing Warden, Clerical Assistant and Classroom Assistant using the JES introduced by North Lanarkshire Council in 2007.

But while the grades are the same in each case the actual number of points awarded by the JES are very slightly lower, in the case of Housing Wardens by 3 points and Classroom Assistants by only 1 point.

So the Council is arguing that this marginal 'points gap' means that the women's jobs are not of 'equal value' to the male jobs and so they have to rely on a lower paid comparator, thus reducing the value of their compensation in some cases.

In effect, the Council is saying is that the job of a Housing Warden or a Clerical Assistant is not 'worth' as much as a Refuse Collector - and that the job of a Classroom Assistant is not on a par with an unskilled Gardener (2).

Now I have nothing against Refuse Collectors or Road Sweepers, but I would beg to differ on this point.

What this all boils down to is that the claimants will 'bank' what is on offer just now using the lower comparator because this is of real financial significance for the people involved.

But the fight will continue to achieve a better comparator (and better outcome) for the Housing Wardens, Clerical Assistants and Classroom Assistants.

In fact, a further hearing has already been set to debate these issues on 2 July 2015 which will try to resolve the question of whether the higher male comparators can and should be used for each of the three female jobs. If  this doesn't happen there may need to be further to be further proceedings on behalf of these groups.  

Fox and Partners Solicitors will be issuing further advice and detailed information to A4ES clients in due course, both individually and via their web site.

I will update the blog site as soon as there is any further news. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land (07/01/15)

North Lanarkshire Council has managed to upset yet another group of workers, Sheltered Housing Officers, who questioned why their jobs which clearly carry lots of responsibility were not deemed to be of 'equal value' to a Refuse Collector.

Now I've known lots of refuse workers in my time, and they do an essential and tough job, in all weathers, often with a great sense of humour.

But I would never in my life try to argue that the duties and responsibilities of a  Sheltered Housing Officer failed to match up to those of a Refuse Collector - it just doesn't make sense if you thing about it for any length of time.

For example, my mother lived in sheltered housing for a number of years and while she was independent up to a point, the support of the on-site housing officer or 'warden' was crucial to my mum's safety general well being on a day-to-day basis    

Yet under North Lanarkshire Council's controversial job evaluation scheme (JES), Refuse Collectors are awarded more points than Sheltered Housing officers and are, therefore, paid at a higher grade and rate of pay.

Which is a completely barmy state of affairs, in my opinion, and if you look objectively and fairly at the duties and responsibilities of the two jobs, the only reasonable conclusion to draw if you ask me, is that North Lanarkshire Council is living in cloud cuckoo land.

So no wonder the Sheltered Housing Officers, Home Carers, Playground Supervisors,  School Crossing Patrollers, Classroom Assistants and many others beside are angry at the way North Lanarkshire Council has treated their jobs in recent years.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Heart of the Matter

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Robin Lustig averts his gaze from the current meltdown taking place within Labour Party to explain why he supports the proposal to extend the scope of military action against the 'mad dogs' of the Islamic State.

Quite the best thing I've read on the subject - serious, thoughtful, measured - and all the more powerful coming from someone who is neither a politician nor a committed idealogue.

Read Robin's case here:\

Winner of the 2014 Editorial Intelligence Independent Blogger of the Year award

Friday, 27 November 2015

Syria: Why I am a reluctant bomber

In the interests of taste and decency, let us look away from the gruesome spectacle of the civil war that has engulfed the Labour party and concentrate instead on the far more serious conflict in Syria. So here are some questions that you might like to ask yourself (with my answers) before you decide whether you agree with David Cameron that the UK should now join the international military action against IS in Syria.