Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Support campaign to protect and extend FOI rights

Freedom of Information rights need to be defended at UK and Scottish levels, with action vital in the next couple of weeks.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland is urging supporters to tell the Scottish and UK governments how essential FoI is and to back the campaign’s crowdfunding bid.

A shocking attack on FoI by the UK Government is underway, while in Scotland plans to extend legislation to cover some new bodies are feeble in the extreme.

Despite strong support for ensuring all bodies delivering public services are subject to FoI legislation, Scottish ministers are currently consulting only on including private prisons, providers of secure accommodation for children, grant-aided schools and independent special schools.

UNISON supports CFoIS in condemning the decision not to also add others, including housing associations and private contractors providing public services – extensions we have campaigned for over many years.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Trade Union Bill and Scotland

The Trade Union Bill is an unwarranted interference in devolved public services and will wreck the modern approach to industrial relations in Scotland.

Today's STUC conference was a first opportunity for the movement in Scotland to give detailed consideration to the UK government's latest attack on employment rights. The Bill, through minimum ballot thresholds and restrictive procedures, seriously curtails the possibility of legitimate strike action and even protest. It also attacks the ability of unions to represent their members (via facility time) and raise subscriptions (through employer check-off/DOCAS) from members. Unions are also to be burdened with more 'Red Tape' and be charged for it, from a government that claims to want to reduce regulation! There is a useful TUC Briefing and activist pack that sets out the provisions.

The conference started with a session on the Bill's provisions and followed on with sessions on organising approaches, industrial relations and legal issues. I contributed in the panel session and covered Scottish legal issues, our approach to industrial relations and campaigning.

At this early stage of the legislative process (Bill has only had its First Reading) we should start by examining the scope for a different political/legal approach in Scotland. It is difficult to get this legislation into Holyrood because employment law is reserved. There is a specific reservation in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, 'Employment rights and duties and industrial relations'. The Bill largely amends TULRCA 1992 which is included in the list of legislation covered.

Unsurprisingly, the UK Government's delegated powers memorandum says the Bill is reserved and therefore no Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) is required. There is no consideration of the interplay with very different Scots contract and criminal law. In my view that is challengeable and we should seek to persuade the Scottish Government and Parliament to claim that there should be an LCM. This would create an opportunity for different approach in Scotland.

Some aspects of the Bill such as strike ballots, Certification Officer etc are all clearly reserved. However, the provisions on facility time and DOCAS are more about public administration which is devolved. This is reinforced by the policy justification which focuses on public spending and the fact that these provisions only apply to the public sector.

There is also scope for challenges under the Human Rights Act. The ECJ has given member states a wide 'margin of appreciation' given the different industrial relations systems in Europe. However, some of the proposals are so extreme that they may not be regarded as 'proportionate', the key ECHR test. In addition, the Scottish Government and public bodies have human rights obligations which justify them resisting this legislation.

We also need to consider the Bill in the context of Scottish industrial relations. As the recent 'Working Together' review showed, there is a distinctly different industrial relations culture in Scotland and this is being taken forward in the Fair Work Convention. This is particularly the case in the public sector - the target of this UK legislation.

We know from polling that Scottish public opinion is more strongly against many of the Bill's provisions and that is reflected in political positions, with all but one MP in Scotland opposing the Bill. The idea that a UK Government can direct the detail of industrial relations in a Scottish council, health board etc is simply wrong post-devolution.

It's not just trade unions who can see the damage the Bill will do to industrial relations. It could result in more small disputes, wildcat strikes, other forms of protest. As ballots will only have a four month life span, this may result in more intensive disputes that will be all the more difficult to resolve.

The Bill also strengthens the case for devolving employment law. We argued this case before this Bill and we do so because of the different approach in Scotland, not just because don't like the current UK Government.

Finally, we must take our arguments against the Bill to our members and the wider public. The UK Government's case isn't even consistent. For example, DOCAS is used for many purposes, some encouraged by government such a payroll giving, credit unions, sports clubs etc.

We should build support on the threat to wider employment practice as well as the Bill's provisions. This is because the Trade Union Bill is aimed at weakening workers ability to resist bad employers.

The New York Times report on Amazon has sparked a lot of interest on poor employment practice The Herald followed it up with a story of one Fife worker's experience at Amazon. Will Hutton in Sunday's Observer analysed the role of corporations concluding, 'once firms cherished their employees, now they are disposable'. Or as Ian Bell in The Herald put it, 'A vanishingly small minority is waging a war for control over the majority'.

Issues like widening corporate pay, work intensification, insecure work and low pay are increasingly becoming understood by a wide range of employees, not just lowest paid. In many ways the shock over the Amazon story was that it all happened to white collar staff in a HQ setting.

This isn't just bad for workers, it's bad for the economy. The Tory party is in hock to the hedge funds and corporations that promote a failed economic model. As Will Hutton points out, growth, productivity and investment has crashed during the twenty years of this corporate dominance. Professor Keith Ewing today aptly described this as a 'global virus'.

There will be a lot of discussion in the coming months on how the trade union movement should respond to the Bill. A number of campaign events have already been organised. Legal arguments can inform political argument, while recognising it's not the full answer. Imaginative action on a number of levels will be required. A starting point is to examine the legal and political options, emphasise the different Scottish industrial relations culture, and campaign on our arguments including the wider context about world of work.

In simple terms this Bill is about destroying trade unions at the behest of the UK government's corporate funders. The Tories are saying you shouldn't belong to a union and if you do we will make it virtually impossible for you to take collective and political action to defend your job, pay and conditions. The public sector is being targeted because unions campaign against their planned destruction of public services, but they will come for the private and voluntary sector next. It's time for us to mobilise the majority to wrest control back from the minority.

 

 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Care packages with no staff

As Health and Social Care partnerships start their work, the delivery of outsourced social care remains a real problem.

Integration in Scotland started on 1 April 2015, with the new Health and Social Care Partnerships taking on responsibility for planning and delivering joined-up and seamless health and social care provision for adults, and also, in some areas, children’s services. Integration Schemes from each Health Board and Local Authority have been submitted and three Health and Social Care Partnerships in East, North and South Ayrshire were the first to become fully functioning under the new legislation.

One of the big challenges for the new arrangements is ensuring that there is sufficient high quality social care available. Reports from our members in many local authorities indicate that outsourced care providers are struggling to staff the service. Social workers are spending at lot of time ringing around providers to get them to deliver care packages.

Being commercial organisations we don't often hear about the internal problems they are facing. However, we got a glimpse today in a report in The Herald of an Employment Tribunal claim in which a manager was awarded over £60,000 for unfair dismissal and discrimination.

The manager, despite being told her role would be office-based, had to carry out care visits to clients before and after her regular shift because the company Primecare was short-staffed and there was no-one else to do it.

The tribunal heard that bosses told staff that they must accept any new care packages offered by the local authority, East Lothian Council, "whether or not care staff were in place to do the work".

The staffing issue became such a big problem a number of complaints were made about Primecare because carers visited late or not at all, with one client being missed off the rota for two weeks. Hardly surprising if company policy is to take the money for packages knowing that they can't staff them.

The Primecare website says they are, "developing a workforce which provides care and support with skill, compassion and imagination". Commissioners might need to look past the spin!