Fairness in the workplace: new policies for the GLA
Under the Tories, industrial relations between the GLA and its hard working staff have reached an all time low. I’ve campaigned for fairness at work since I started my first job. My involvement with the trades union movement is not a hollow claim in speeches or on paper, but one with a proven track record of decades of activism and advocacy.
From my years of active industrial relations experience, I have developed new ideas which I believe a Labour Mayor and GLA should put into practice. I have been a trades union member for 35 years, when I joined the union which is now the GMB. I worked for them as a union official at that time, training shop stewards and other full-time officials in trades union and employment law, health and safety, and negotiating skills. Many of my “students” went on to hold very senior GMB positions. Whilst working for the union, my colleagues elected me their shop steward: my first rather intimidating experience as a very young union rep. was when I negotiated a successful settlement of our pay dispute with none other than the union’s then General Secretary, David Basnett.
When I later decided to qualify as a lawyer, there was only one route for me to follow to enable me to continue to work with trades unions. I became a specialist solicitor with the union law firm Thompsons, representing and advising unions and their members who had suffered injuries at work, lost their jobs unfairly, or were in major disputes with their employers.
Amongst the many causes I fought as a solicitor, I stood up for the print unions over their dispute with Murdoch in the Wapping dispute, spending most Saturday nights down the police station for a whole year, bailing out arrested pickets. I advised in the miners’ strike. I represented ASLEF and the Fire Brigades Union in the 93-day public inquiry into the King’s Cross Fire, securing important recommendations for safety improvements. I defended the FBU (and many other unions) in court, when they were sued under Thatcher’s anti-union laws. I won for the NASUWT in the Court of Appeal, in their landmark dispute over the right to take industrial action over their members’ workload. I defeated then Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard, in a House of Lords appeal on behalf of 12 unions, over his proposals to cut criminal injuries compensation for people injured at work as the result of crime. And I helped many thousands of ordinary union members win justice for injuries at work, loss of their jobs, or against discrimination in the work place.
As an MP for 13 years, I stood up for trades unions, their members and their rights. My first “rebellion” was when I voted against the privatisation of air traffic control. I defended the rights of FBU members in their prolonged national dispute, again voting against the whip; and I argued for improvements to trades unions’ rights to take industrial action. I brought to fruition my 20-year long campaign for the new offence of corporate manslaughter, which I had started as the result of my experiences representing victims of the King’s Cross Fire and the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster. I campaigned and won improvements to the Health and Safety at Work Act, especially for stronger penalties on company directors. I promoted Private Member’s Bills to bring improvements for victims of asbestos, secured through direct negotiations I had with the Prime Minister. And I successfully fought off attempts by Tories to limit rights at work even further and cut the right to compensation for accidents.
I was an active member of the Trades Union Parliamentary group and GMB group. I chaired the FBU group. I supported PCS through my membership of the Work and Pensions Committee. I took up many individual workers’ causes, including redundancies, recognition disputes, and especially health and safety. I worked closely with USDAW over their shopworkers’ rights campaigns.
And as a constituency MP, I backed up local workers in many disputes, like GMB and Unison, frequently battling Barnet Council and its contractors like Freemantle; or the CWU, on local Post Office closures; or the FBU, taking on Brian Coleman.
That is why so far three national union General Secretaries (GMB, USDAW and FBU), who know me and my achievements, have personally endorsed me as the best candidate to take on anti-union Brian Coleman. The London regions of GMB, Unison and FBU have also endorsed me as their favoured candidate.
So what is to be done at the GLA?
Some new and original thoughts.
A sensible industrial relations policy
We need a new approach in the workplace. Thatcher’s anti-union laws (which I campaigned against at the time and also when an MP) are used by the Tory Mayor and GLA member Coleman whenever they can, to break disputes in the short term – but in doing so, they have made the industrial relations climate impossible in the long term. I do not think there has ever been such a difficult relationship between London’s staff and their employers as there is now.
But what is generally not known, is that these industrial relations laws do not comply with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) minimum standards, which I brought to Parliament’s attention when this became apparent at the very end of the Labour Government’s term of office, in a report from the Human Rights Select Committee which I chaired.
So the first thing a Labour City Hall administration should do, is to commit itself not to run off to the courts to undermine unions in dispute, but voluntarily to apply the ILO standards to trades union rights and dispute resolution. I will campaign for such a policy, not just for the GLA itself, but also for GLA contractors and suppliers in regard to their workers.
This will bring sanity back to industrial relations, with a sensible and constructive approach to resolving differences with our workforce and their representatives round the negotiating table and not in the courtroom.
We should also expect GLA contractors to recognise the appropriate trades union for their staff, and I will campaign within the GLA for such a policy, including full support to trades unions who wish to recruit in such companies, again in accord with ILO standards for union recognition.
A living wage
The Tory Mayor is always going on about this, but has done little to implement it. When I started out in industrial relations, we had a system to prevent undercutting and provide pay rates equivalent to those negotiated in a particular industry or public service. Older members may remember Clem Atlee’s Fair Wages Resolution and Harold Wilson’s Schedule 11, both of which stood the test of time till abolished by Thatcher.
So there are old rights on which we could base new arrangements to implement a living wage, rooted in the principles of the former fair wages system: and we should require contractors to do the same, to pay a living wage rate for a fair day’s work, abolishing the pay race to the bottom.
And bosses’ pay? We should demand that those who do business with the GLA publish the ratios of their top bosses’ pay to the average and lowest pay rates in their companies: that will give us the evidence we need to back up our arguments for a living wage and equity in the workplace.
If I am selected as your candidate and elected to the GLA, I will campaign for these common sense ideas to bring fairness to the pay packets of London’s workers.
The threat to come
Tribunal cases are not easy now, but the Conservative led Coalition, backed by the Liberal Democrats, are launching a major assault on workers’ rights to seek justice in the Employment Tribunal, with longer qualifying periods, risks of legal costs orders against workers, imposing court fees and deposits, and reduced rights for those working for smaller employers. In the best workplace, things do go wrong. But when they do, the workers affected should not find it even harder to obtain redress. If elected, I will campaign to make sure the GLA does not rely on technical defences founded on new Tory anti-employee laws.
The Conservatives are also undermining injured workers’ rights to compensation for accidents at work. I am already campaigning against this, as co-coordinator of the Access to Justice Action Group.
I hope you have found this letter of interest, as workplace rights are a cause for which I have a real passion. If we achieve anything in the GLA, it has to be fairness in our relations with our staff. In setting out my background, I hope you can see that I speak with experience and knowledge, which has enabled me to develop new, radical, and I believe common sense, ideas.
So please support me in the ballot for Barnet and Camden’s GLA candidate – on my real and proven record of involvement and understanding of industrial relations, a record that will be of real assistance in the administration of London, helping avoid the damaging disputes that have been provoked and worsened by Mayor Johnson, Brian Coleman and his cohorts in the Conservative Party.