Leading on climate change action or delaying action? Labour’s challenge.

The Scottish Labour Party conference this weekend passed a motion from train drivers union ASLEF which strongly opposed the Workplace Parking Levy policy agreed between the SNP government and the Scottish Green Party. Speaking to the motion Kevin Lindsay shouted his way through a speech where outrage at the idea of train drivers starting work at 3.30am having to pay for a parking place competed with outrage against Abellio’s disastrous “running down” of rail services in Scotland to see which was the most outrageous.
In a calmer speech Colin Smyth MSP claimed that the policy was so bad that it made it harder for other climate change proposals to be accepted.

Scottish Labour

All this heat generated before the policy has been legislated for and before any local council has brought forward any proposal, which is what the policy will allow for. A power that councils in England have had since the last Labour Government gave them it.
The sight of a trade union leader of a powerful union like ASLEF proclaiming that he would not be able to negotiate a deal with the employer so they did not pass on any parking levy to his members, who have the ability to bring the country to a standstill, was not remarked upon. It only added to the rather absurd position that was being adopted.
Unions, and indeed the Labour Party itself, have argued for years that councils should have more fund raising powers to strengthen their ability to deliver services that are locally and democratically accountable. These additional powers could be tourist taxes, also now proposed by the Scottish Government, supermarket taxes, land and business taxes and, in my opinion, maybe, possibly, workplace parking levies.
Each specific proposal to use any such fund raising powers by any council would need to be assessed on its merits, its aims and risks and critically what the money raised would be used for.
The world, except Trump, recognises that there is a climate emergency now and that urgent steps are needed. School students in Scotland and across Europe have taken strike action demanding action to protect their future, and plan more.
These urgent steps include getting cars off the road – which would help to address the severe issues of air pollution as well as climate change.
These urgent steps could include a workplace parking levy such as that introduced by Nottingham, using the powers given to them by that Labour Government, where the money raised goes to extend public transport, specifically their tram system. The Nottingham scheme is not without its critics with the Council charging its own staff a percentage of their salary to use workplace car parking spaces.
However the Scottish policy has been criticised by all the other parties in the parliament and by many trade unions that see it simply as a tax on workers going to work. The ASLEF reaction, albeit in an over excited style in order to work the automatically anti-SNP audience, is typical, focussing on the impact on workers without considering the wider picture of local government funding policy and what urgent steps are needed to tackle climate change.
It is true that the Workplace Parking Levy powers as proposed are not perfect and as it stands it would be difficult to see councils deciding to use it. However to oppose out-of-hand the concept is another example of the failure of, in this case, the Labour Party and trade unions refusing to consider seriously the issue of climate change.
The only other motion which related to climate change to be discussed over the weekend of the conference was an emergency motion from GMB and Unite on the situation where the company that now owns Bifab have been priced out of contracts for the next round of major off-shore wind turbines. An example of what happens when the privatised energy sector is unrestrained by the kind of policies that the trade union proponents of a Just Transition are arguing for – public sector investment and control and ultimately nationalisation of the energy sector in order to ensure that there are jobs for current energy sector workers.
Hardly evidence that the party rank-and-file treat climate change seriously.
For a workplace levy policy to be credible councils should get more powers. These should include the power to regulate and fund bus services and ensure that bus and train services are integrated, that services run early in the morning and late at night in outlying and rural areas. They would need funded to invest in safe walking and cycling routes.
Investing in public transport is a fundamental part of a radical and effective response to climate change but unions ought to recognise and act on the fact that many low paid workers cannot afford to run a car and so better public transport services is an issue we should be fighting on to support those low paid workers and indeed this would be a critical part of a Just Transition policy as we move from a high carbon to a low carbon economy.
The struggle to stop climate change and transition from a high carbon to a low carbon economy, as agreed at the Paris talks, will require hard decisions and determined bargaining by trade unions to ensure that the transition is a Just Transition for workers, that politicians and employers make the right decisions in the interests of working people. But within the raft of policies needed there will not only be steps to encourage positive changes in investment, in infra-structure, in alternative transport options, but also disincentives to discourage behaviours that contribute to climate change, including car use. If Labour and trade unions oppose every climate change proposal because it might mean workers being charged or taxed a bit more then they will be seen to be delaying the urgent steps that are needed to tackle climate change – not climate change deniers but climate change delayers.
Labour has on this occasion missed an opportunity to take a lead. Rather than absolutely opposing the workplace parking levy they should have become its critical friend and pushed for the other additional steps that would be needed to make it merely one small item in a wider programme of investments, providing suitable alternative transport options for workers to reduce car use in our towns and cities.
Fortunately later on the same day Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a barnstorming speech to conference laying out, within a vision of the better society we want to create, the call for a Green Industrial Revolution. He committed a future Labour government to investing in renewables and new industries and to target net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

At a fringe meeting organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard fully endorsed Corbyn’s commitments.
Would that more Labour, and trade union, leaders, could demonstrate such vision, bravery and determination to tackle climate change and protect the future for workers.

Scottish Labour 2

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A Good Food Nation?

I represented UNISON as part of the Scottish Food Coalition at a meeting with Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, in the Scottish Parliament today. The Scottish Government are planning to publish a Good Food Bill or at least a consultation on what a Good Food Bill should include in the next days or weeks (it has been a long time coming) and the Good Food Coalition, made up of a range of interested organisations including UNISON and Unite, has been preparing the case for a Bill which will make a real difference.

The meeting with Ms Campbell was the last in a series of meetings with different Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers that the Coalition set up to seek to encourage a positive and constructive Bill. It is the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Food, Fergus Ewing, who will bring forward the Bill but such is the cross cutting nature of the issue that a number of Government Departments will have a, or should have, a finger in the environmentally-friendly-ethically-sourced-nutritious pie.

The late great Tommy Cooper once said to an audience, “Do you like food? I love it. I won’t eat anything else! Huh! Huh!”

Continue reading A Good Food Nation?

Still breaking the poor and not the law

I was at a Unison meeting at Unison Head Office yesterday and we discussed a report on our campaign against Council cuts where efforts have been made to target Tory MPs in marginal constituencies to try and influence the budget and the funding for Councils in the coming year. The small majority the Tories have in parliament means that if a small number of Tory MPs, under pressure from their constituents fed up with cuts to services, decided to rebel some success could be achieved. As one wag at the meeting observed Theresa May just announced that austerity was over so additional funding for Councils should easy to agree. It is a good campaign, getting members engaged with lobbying their MP and trying to target resources at the, possibly, most vulnerable MPs.

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The discussion diverted into a reflection on the comments from the Labour MP at the recent Liverpool conference who referred back to the fight of the City Council and invoked the slogan ‘Better to break the law than break the poor.’
This opportunistic comment provoked much comment at conference and today’s discussion reflected that. We had the Socialist Party members wanting the union to emulate this position and fight to get Councils to set no cuts budgets and highlighted the 5000 council houses and the sports centres, the jobs created and the fact that the Labour vote increased each year.
The response was predictable with one colleague responding in a Kinnockesque style with the old chestnut about the chaos of a council issuing redundancy notices to the entire workforce. Partly true although no worker was ever made redundant.
Another colleague asked us to study the history and then recounted some selected aspects of history, the surcharged and dismissed councillors, the auditors sent in, the loss of the Council for Labour for a decade and the introduction of legislation to control and restrict council powers preventing a repetition of the illegal and no cuts budgets ever happening again.
The arguments of all sides were true, mostly, but none dealt with the whole picture.
The achievements of the Liverpool City Council in the eighties were remarkable at a time when Thatcher was at her height, defeating the miners and inflicting havoc across working class communities all over the country. Houses, sports centres and nurseries were built when other councils had stopped doing so. They did get additional money from the Government initially. The tactic of threatening to set an illegal budget and refusing to increase rents and rates worked. It mobilised tens of thousands of workers and raised a beacon for a municipal struggle against the tory cuts.

Liverpool 1984However the Council was later defeated and the consequences for the Councillors, Labour Party and the city were serious. That however does not prove that the tactics were wrong. The correct tactics don’t always win when facing a stronger and better equipped opponent. When your star player gets sent off or the referee gives all the dodgy decisions to the other side.
Liverpool City Council were defeated when the Labour Party left them isolated to fight alone. Everyone remembers Kinnock’s speech at party conference signalling that it was ok for the Tories to move in and crush the Militant council. More significant was that the other Councils who had indicated that they would adopt similar defiant tactics, Sheffield, Lambeth, Edinburgh, the GLC and others, backed down and implemented cuts and huge rates rises – breaking the poor instead of the law – leaving Liverpool standing alone and being defeated.
Whether the no cuts, illegal budgets tactics of Liverpool would have defeated the Tories if the other Councils had adopted similar tactics is debateable but history doesn’t tell us what if, only what did.
It is true that one consequence of the struggle was that Councils cannot now adopt these tactics as the legislation exists, in Scotland as well as England, which would see the auditors step in quickly and take over the Council budgets. However the slogan Better to break the law than break the poor still has some relevance.
Councils everywhere are at breaking point as the recent UNISON report highlights. Cuts to school bus escorts for kids with disabilities. The closure of nurseries in deprived areas. Social care provision stripped back. These and thousands more examples demonstrate how the poor are being broken because the finances are not there to provide the services that are needed. As we all know, the law says Councillors have no alternative.
Adding to the problem has been the refusal to even moderately raise Council Tax to offset some of the problems councils face. To the extent that some, Tory, councils are on the verge of bankruptcy.
The current UNISON campaign bears no resemblance to the Liverpool Council struggle in the 1980s but it is dealing with the same problems. We are a long way from having councils prepared to break the law but Council cuts are impacting on the poor and the services they depend on.
It is perhaps time to revisit the slogan and to make sure the electorate, the media and the politicians know that when councils are forced to cut services they are increasingly harming the education of children and their life chances; risking the lives of our older and disabled people; breaking the poor.
Breaking the poor because we have a government that prioritises other things instead of the welfare of the community. Breaking the poor because we have councils that have refused to increase, and sometimes have cut, Council Tax for the benefit of the rich. Breaking the poor because we have prioritised bailing out banks over supporting children.
It is time to stop breaking the poor, challenge austerity as far as we can and change the laws.

https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2018/06/Councils-at-breaking-point.pdf

 

Exiting the EU and Devolution

UNISON conference this week debates many issues. A motion from Scotland on Exiting the EU and Devolution is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday afternoon. This is a contribution to the discussion.

The decision to leave the EU is the most important decision the people of the UK have ever made. Well 51% of the people. And 2 of the nations of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Some would argue, of course, the most important decision the people of Scotland have made was to stay in the UK. Well 55% of us.

In both referenda, on Europe and Independence, the respective electorates were divided. In both cases majority rule and the decision is made.

However the government entrusted with implementing these decisions has to respect the views not just of the majority but take on board the concerns of the substantial minority.

When Scotland voted No to independence it was on the basis of promises – a much trumpeted Vow in fact, signed by the leaders of the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem parties, often referred to as the Unionist parties, that said that the Scottish Parliament could not be weakened, that the devolution settlement was irreversible, that more powers would come to the Scottish Parliament to make it the most powerful devolved legislature in the world.

Scotland was told that we were equal partners in the UK.

After the indy referendum legislation was passed to indeed increase the powers of the Parliament, including greater tax raising powers, powers to create a Scottish social security system, and more. UNISON Scotland argued for more powers but there was a substantial shift.

In spirit and in practise, respecting the promises to the 55% and the 45%.

We were also promised that by voting to remain in the UK was the only way for Scotland to stay in Europe!

However the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU. And this result was based on a number of promises – many of which we know are not going to be delivered.

However one of these was to take power to make decisions back to Parliament.

What this government is doing is in contempt of this promise. Far from powers being restored to Parliament they are being given to the Executive – a power grab from Parliament to the Government.

And a power-grab from the devolved national parliaments to Westminster.

We see this in relation to Northern Ireland and how the small matter of the Good Friday agreement, is treated, well as a small matter. A matter, in truth, that those in support of Brexit never gave a thought to during the referendum campaign.

In Scottish terms, a power-grab that is a complete reversal from the Vow which promised and delivered more powers to Scotland. Instead we see Westminster, and by that I mean the Executive, taking devolved powers away from Scotland, and Wales and Northern Ireland, for up to 7 years.

Suddenly devolution, we are learning, is reversible.

There is a case for ensuring that in the UK, outside of Europe, that we avoid causing barriers within the new single UK market, that different laws passed in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast don’t create the need for border controls within the UK.

Everyone gets that. That was always an issue within the devolved nature of UK governance.

However a fundamental to the ‘equal partnership within the UK’ principle was that CONSENT would be sought and agreed on such issues. That where the House of Commons needed to make decisions that impacted on devolved powers that this was done by consent, that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish bodies would consent to Westminster legislating in these circumstances.

This is not about devolved powers being taken back to London. It is Parliaments agreeing where it was appropriate to allow Westminster to legislate.

Powers that are being repatriated from Europe in areas that are devolved should go to the devolved parliaments and then agreements between parliaments reached to resolve the issues that this may create.

The government of Theresa May has thrown this whole issue of consent, of the relationship between parliaments, and the people they represent, out of the window.

The Scottish Parliament, all the parties represented there with the exception of the Tories, refused to give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was debated for a long time in Scotland.

It was agreed by a large majority that the power-grab that the EU Withdrawal Bill represented was not acceptable and that consent would not be given.

A position supported by UNISON Scotland, the STUC and most people in Scotland, both pro and anti-independence.

The decision of the Tories to not even allow a debate on this in Parliament, 15 minutes was given to this part of the Bill and no Scottish MP was able to speak on it, demonstrated nothing but further contempt for parliamentary democracy, the devolution settlement and the people of Scotland.

David Mundell, the Tory Scottish Secretary, who has no real reason to exist, said this week that Scotland is not a partner of the UK Parliament we are merely a part of the UK. Various commentators have wondered why Scotland thinks it is any different from the likes of Manchester.

Manchester is a great city but it is not a nation and devo-Manc is not a devolved parliament and the most powerful devolved legislature in the world. And if people in power don’t get that then Indy ref 2 will be hastened along sooner than most of us think.

If you are one of the 45% of Scots who voted for independence this just confirms your view that the Westminster parliament is corrupt.

If you are one of the 55% who voted to stay in the UK then this substantially shakes the democratic premise on which you voted to do so.

No matter what you think of the SNP MPs walking out of Parliament, genuine protest at undemocratic actions by government or self-publicity stunt, the actions of the Tories in railroading this issue through parliament are of concern to all those who worry that the Brexit future we are facing is one that is based on a diminishing of devolution, and democracy itself.

We as a union must stand up against this.

Please support the motion.

John Rae- Arctic explorer and Stromness man

On my annual holiday in Orkney and I have just read Fatal Passage by Ken McGoogan, a biography of John Rae. A gift from my good friend Martha McAllister. The book is excellent.

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Rae was born and brought up in Stromness on Orkney and left there in 1833 to sail to Canada to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company and to enter history as one of the greatest Arctic explorers ever. His life reads like an adventure story and his achievements in Arctic exploration are second to none. He conducted 4 major expeditions and charted thousands of miles of the coastline of Canada’s Arctic coast in conditions that were extreme and with far less resources than the government and Admiralty sponsored expeditions that went before and after him. He learned from the Inuit people the best way to live in the environment and praised and promoted their ingenuity as far superior to the British assumptions about how to explore such a vast and hostile world. In relation to the Inuit, and other indigenous people, he exhibited what McGoogan refers to as ‘post-colonial views’ during colonial times that put him at odds with the establishment in London who, at the peak of the British Empire, thought they were superior to all other peoples anywhere in the world.

However more than this adventure story the book details the struggle that Rae had to wage against the establishment for recognition of his achievements following them turing against him when he revealed the unpalatable truth about the fate of one of their own and as he challenged the false claims of achievement for others who had contributed far less than he to the knowledge of the Arctic.

The Fatal Passage referred to in the title of the book is the sea passage that would allow ships to sail from the Atlantic along the north coast of Canada to the Pacific – the North West Passage. If it existed it was hoped that this would open up a trade route to China that the British Empire would have been able to exploit. Hundreds of thousands of pounds, in today’s terms millions, were spent sending Royal Navy ships and personnel to locate this passage. It was Rae who eventually identified the final link that would allow this passage to be completed. Rae never sailed it as he did not have he resources to do so but it was he who discovered the strait that was navigable by 19th century ships. It was down this Rae Strait that Roald Amundsen sailed in 1903 to become the first to actually sail the North West Passage.

That Rae never at the time got the credit for this discovery relates to his role in searching for and finally revealing the fate of one of the official expeditions to find the passage, that led by Sir John Franklin. It was Rae who reported that Franklin’s expedition, which had been missing for 4 years, had perished. By this time this was not unexpected. However it was the added information that there was evidence that cannibalism was practised by some of the desperate party before they perished that shocked the London establishment and brought down on Rae a fury and a campaign to discredit him. The fact that he gained this information from Inuit travellers, from whom he purchased relics from the  expedition to prove the story, was used to denigrate his report and him personally for he was taking the word of ‘savages’ who, in Victorian society, were not to be believed. The suggestion that some of the British elite would resort to cannibalism was so unthinkable that anyone who gave credence to such a suggestion from sub-human sources was to be condemned.

The book details the controversy and intrigue that occurred, led by Franklin’s widow, and examines the evidence finally convincing that Rae indeed was a hero and a truthful messenger who the establishment turned against because his truth did not suit their world view and need for superiority, moral as well as material.

The final chapter details the author’s own expedition to find the cairn built by Rae on the shore of Rae Strait where the man from Stromness had discovered the final link in the passage and where he erected a plaque to commemorate the man’s achievement.

When completing the book I paid a visit to Rae’s grave in the grounds of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall and the monument to him inside.

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Pictures from the top

Hall of Clestrain, Rae’s birthplace on Orkney; The view from Clestrain with Hoy on the right and Stromness on the left with the channel between leading to the Atlantic where Rae sailed to Canada: Statue of Rae at Stromness; Plaque at the Hall which is being purchased by The John Rae Society http://www.johnraesociety.com with the aim of restoring it to create a visitor and educational attraction; Rae’s grave at St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall; Monument of Rae inside the Cathedral.

NEC elections – voting for people or slates?

 

The NEC election is almost upon us and members will get a chance to vote for different candidates. Each will have an election statement for members to study to help them decide which candidate to vote for.

 

However there is also the opportunity to vote for a ‘slate.’ No it does not appear on any ballot paper but some people will be promoting the idea that members should ‘vote for the slate’ just as some insisted their branch would only nominate people who were ‘on the slate.’

 

Briefly a ‘slate’ is a list of candidates that are being promoted together as being on the same political wavelength or sharing a common set of proposals. This is not new and not unique. Party politics involve putting forward candidates of similar mind. Within union elections slates tend to reflect political divides or sometimes personality cults.

 

So it is normal to have a ‘left’ slate. I was once part of the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic Union slate. This was supported by the Militant and other left wing people in the union. In recent years we have seen United Left (SWP and others), Left Unity (SWP and others) as well as straight forward party slates of the Socialist Party. The existence of a left slate of course always prompts a ‘right’ slate, which tends to be, as defined by the self-proclaimed ‘left’ the current leadership. Of course the terms left and right in union politics are relative. There are few people in UNISON who would comfortably accept the term which is used to describe everyone in the Tory party as describing themselves.

 

Whether there is a declared or unofficial ‘right’ or ‘moderate’ or ‘anti-left’ slate depends on how much threat the leading figures of the union are feeling. The fact that a leadership slate has emerged at this time does seem to indicate that there is a fear of the ‘left’ gaining ground.

 

Of course slates are fluid. Sometimes one group of ‘lefts’ declare their own slate and stand in competition with the other ’left’ slate In the General Secretary election there was no ‘left’ slate with 3 candidates being promoted as ‘left.’ Their combined vote was around 50% with the winning candidate, Dave Prentis getting just under 50% .

 

When someone stands as part of a slate they are inviting you not only to vote for them, on their personal record and ideas, but for their party, platform or faction and that group’s record and ideas.

 

In the NEC election to come we see there are 2 declared slates. UNISON Action is the first. Made up of supporters of the Socialist Party (who supported Roger Bannister in the General Secretary election), the Socialist Workers Party and various lefty individuals, some in the Labour Party and some not, (who supported John Burgess) and some individuals who supported Heather Wakefield.

 

This slate seems to have united around one particular issue. That issue is Dave Prentis and their view that his continued leadership of the union is holding us back from being a better union. They of course have supported the case taken to the Trade Union Certification Officer claiming foul play by some in the Prentis camp in the General Secretary election and seem to hold out hope that this will result in a re-run of that election.

 

Within this grouping are some who most would have considered strange bedfellows not so long ago. Previously denouncing each other, even supporting disciplinary actions against each other, seems no barrier to the ‘anti-Prentis front’ they have formed.

 

The other slate, supporting the current leadership of the union and generally having supported Dave Prentis, proclaim themselves as Stronger UNISON. They have released a charter promising, it seems, to be nice people and support ordinary members. This language suggests that the other lot are not ordinary members and are politically motivated and loyal, not to members, but to some outside political party or project, as if they don’t have a political allegiance of their own that might influence some of their thinking and actions.

 

Hopefully by the tone of this article so far the reader will have realised that I am not on either slate. To be honest I wasn’t asked to be on either one and I am happy not to have been.

 

There are people on both slates that I would consider as friends and some I have known for years and would stand with them in any fight. However the basis for both slates seems to me to be false. What are their record and ideas?

 

The people behind UNISON Action could not work together in the General Secretary election, putting their factional interests ahead of the idea that there had to be a change of General Secretary. On previous experience the likelihood of them being able to work together on other issues is slim. An anti-leadership slate, UNISON Action, needs to be more that an anti-leadership club. It should have a clear alternative set of ideas for how to build the union and defend and support the interests of members. Short of familiar demands to fight austerity and oppose cuts UNISON Action doesn’t have such a set of ideas. Re-hashing rhetoric that has been used repeatedly for years does not fit the bill. They are simply anti-the-current-leadership and could not even agree on who the alternative leader should be resulting in 3 people opposing Prentis.

 

A leadership slate, Stronger UNISON, should also be able to articulate a clear set of ideas rather than just arguing for the same as before. This is particularly the case when, despite some gains and wins, members have taken a  beating over recent years. They might argue that is not the fault of the leadership, including Prentis, but they should at least be able to explain what fresh ideas they are bringing forward. Unfortunately there is not much fresh thinking coming from Stronger UNISON.

 

So neither slate has a record or ideas that justify voting for them, as a slate. Individuals standing as part of the slate may well have a personal record and ideas that are worth supporting but there is nothing that commends the entire slate, unless you define the only issue of note is whether Dave Prentis should be General Secretary.

 

Aspiring leadership factions ought to be able to inspire hope that they would be able to change the current situation and make progress. Neither of the two makes the grade. In my opinion, that is.

 

I am not arguing for a better or a different slate. Frankly it appears to me that slates serve no great useful purpose except to try to raise some people into leadership positions on narrow, and usually negative, political positions. UNISON members can do better than that. Or certainly UNISON activists can.

 

In Scotland the activists participate in activity in their branch, service group and at a Scottish level. They meet other activists and they share information and explore ideas on how to take the union forward. Those activists who put themselves forward for leadership positions in the branch and region are able to do so only with the support of others. They are then exposed to the examination of their peers. Are they a good branch chair/organiser/speaker/delegate? Do they come up with good and practical ideas? Do they deliver on these? Are they leadership material? Would you trust them to go the messages or buy drinks?

 

When one of those puts themselves forward to be elected to the NEC, or other body, the Scottish activists are more than capable of deciding whether they are competent and deserving of their support. They may wish to take on board whether the person supported Prentis/Wakefield/Bannister/Burgess or they may not. They may be influenced by the person’s political outlook or not. Whatever they think is relevant, they are able to assess the merit of each candidate without a ‘slate’ being produced to tell them who the good guy is.

 

So I am not on a slate. I am happy to stand for the NEC and allow my fellow Scottish activists to judge me on my record as their peer and to assess the ideas that I put forward to change the way the union organises and articulates its policies and values.

 

If elected I will work with the other Scottish NEC members to represent Scottish interests and will use the platform to put forward the kind of ideas I have been spouting in UNISON for years. If you don’t know what they are, you probably have not been listening to me, but watch this space as over the next few weeks I will attempt to write here on those ideas.

 

SSSC fees increase – a poll tax on vassals

 

No-one likes to learn that they will need to pay more for something. House insurance, bus fares or kids shoes. We all groan when they cost more. However we accept inflation as part of life. Prices go up but as long as they don’t go up too much and wages keep pace then we just get on with it. There are some things, if the price goes up too much, we can choose to do without. Less trips to the cinema (wait till they come on TV), a little less alcohol (no bad thing), that gym membership (take up jogging instead).

 

However, when the price is hiked up and we don’t have a choice but to pay then we kick up hell. Imagine if council tax was increased by 20% or if business rates were doubled. We would have people on the streets and on the front page of newspapers demanding action with threats of non-payment and political repercussions.   

 

So when workers in the social care sector are told that they have to pay a fee to register with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) just so they can work in the sector and then are told that these fees are increasing not by 20% but 66%, not by 100% but 166%, why are do we expect them just to accept it?

 

They are not. They are indeed angry. Some of them are trying to do something about it.

 

Last year the SSSC launched a consultation into whether the fees that ‘registrants’ (ie. people who work in social care, social work and early years) should go up and by how much.  Not surprisingly the vast majority of respondents opposed any increase. UNISON made a submission to the consultation which argued against any increase as it was a disincentive to people joining the workforce, would hit the lowest paid the worst and a workforce generally that had suffered a fall in living standards over the years as pay rises have not kept pace with inflation.  The full response can be seen here

 

Many people thought that a rise was not justified for ‘membership’ of an organisation that did nothing for them except when a complaint was made against them and then they were put through the wringer for months on end waiting for SSSC to act whilst freezing their career and sometimes threatening their livelihood.

 

This perception is a bit unfair. In fact the SSSC do much more than register people to work in social care, a worthwhile and necessary task, and take action against those who may be a risk to the public or are not “fit to practice,” again an essential role to protect the public (although they could improve greatly on their performance in this task and, it must be said, they are taking steps to do so).

 

The SSSC is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the education of social care staff, offering free learning opportunities to care staff and seeking to assist with developing the workforce necessary to deliver social care into the future.

 

Unfortunately for their public profile most people who fork out the registration fee, willingly or otherwise, don’t know much about these other aspects of their work.

 

For most people the registration fee is a poll tax levied on them for working in the care sector. The increases are startling.

 

Job

Current Fee

£

Increased Fee

£

Percentage increase

Social work Student

10

15

50%

Support Worker

15

25

66.6%

Supervisor/ Practitioner

20

35

75%

Residential child care workers

30

35

16.6%

School care accommodation officer

30

35

16.6%

Social worker

30

80

166.6%

Manager

30

80

166.6%

 

                               

 

Social care workers are being treated like vassals by the SSSC board. Not only have they ignored the overwhelming majority of people who opposed any increase but they have imposed it with no room for negotiation. UNISON criticises employers like Scottish Councils, who recently offered a paltry 1% or £250 pay rise, but at least they negotiate with the unions to discuss this and improvements can be made through negotiation. The SSSC simply releases a press release!

 

UNISON promptly retaliated with our own press release where we “slammed” the rises!

 

http://www.unison-scotland.org/2017/02/15/unison-slams-plans-huge-rises-fees-social-care-staff-tax-compassion/

 

This was, for most UNISON members, the first they had heard of the rises and the reaction was pretty unanimous. Outrageous!

 

Social Workers were quick to recognise that a 1% pay rise isn’t the same as a 166.6% rise in fees. They also spotted that their managers, including Directors, would continue paying the same level of fee despite being paid much higher wages.

 

Support workers, many of whom in the voluntary and private sector just recently got their pay increased to the Scottish Living Wage ie the minimum level required to live on, were horrified to learn that their low wages were to be taxed with a 66.6% increase in registration fees.

 

In response to this anger a petition was set up on 38 Degrees titled Stop the Huge Rises in SSSC Fees for Scottish Care Workers https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-huge-rises-in-sssc-fees-for-scottish-care-workers

 

Within 24 hours over 1000 people had signed it with the figure rising to over 4000 a couple of days later.

 

UNISON now have a solid base to take on this issue. We need to build support for the petition which calls on Scottish Minister Mark McDonald to stop the rises and prepare for further action to put pressure on the Government and SSSC to heed the voice of the social care sector.

 

We should press for a formal right to negotiations around fees and the ability to explore options for formal representation of the workforce on the SSSC board so that in future UNISON can ensure that the voice is heard sooner in the process. 

 

Lanarkshire man