Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Transport unions unite to condemn National Express

Top transport unions condemn National Express over labour violations

Senior representatives of the transport sector in the global trade union movement have condemned National Express over on-going labour rights abuses at its US school bus subsidiary, Durham School Services.
The executive board of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has fully endorsed the invoking of the ITF charter on responding to corporate violations of workers’ rights against National Express by its North American member union the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the Teamsters). The charter triggers action across the ITF’s affiliate base when notification is given by a member union that a multinational company has breached core labour standards and/or is engaging in union busting activities.Affiliates in the UK, where National Express is based, are leading condemnation of the company backed by unions from around the globe. A number of executive board members represent unions organising workers in countries where National Express operates, including in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. The multinational is also seeking to grow its business in the Arab World ­ specifically Morocco and Bahrain ­ a region where the ITF has a strong and active presence.During the executive board meeting ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: “We’ve seen evidence of labour rights violations across the North American school bus operations of National Express and we have serious concerns over the systematic denial to workers of their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. We are bringing affiliates together ­ both in the UK and globally - to develop and execute actions to bring about a real change in the corporation’s behaviour. That’s what needs to happen and we won’t accept anything less.”Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of UK affiliate Unite the Union added: “Multinational companies that think that they can isolate workers and treat them differently depending on where they are in the world and what power they have locally are wrong – we are a global family of trade unionists watching out for union busting activities across the globe. The actions of National Express in this instance are unacceptable and we are building the necessary coalition of trade unions and political leaders to put a stop to them."We’re seeking an urgent meeting with the chair and CEO of National Express to address these issues and hold the company here in its home country to account for the actions of its management teams across the globe, ending what is clearly a deliberate strategy to obstruct union organising efforts of our sister union in the US the Teamsters. Further, the board will be made acutely aware of shareholder concerns over the company’s decision to deny a resolution demanding an investigation into the group’s actions in the US at the forthcoming AGM. Attempting to shut down a legitimate debate among shareholders is undemocratic and an abuse of the board’s power that should raise wider concerns.“Silencing shareholders, like threatening and intimidating workers or denying the basic international right to join a union, is not good business and the company’s reputation will be damaged as a result. We hope our message is clear and that the company will act urgently to change its approach.”

Monday, 25 April 2016

Ballax about bankers bonuses

I've been meaning to blog about this for a few weeks, and only now have time. I think the bonus cap is another issue where it is important that we look at what the industry (and other interested parties like rem consultants) told us would happen, and what actually happened.

So, we were told that a bonus cap would lead to banks sharply increasing fixed pay, which in turn would both increase their fixed costs significantly and thus reduce financial stability.

PwC provided a typical claim:
“If they do put caps in, this could have disastrous unintended consequences. It could result in significant increases in fixed pay,” said Jon Terry, global head of human resources consulting at PwC. “It substantially affects the flexibility of the business.”
Here's what actually happened - fixed pay for most bankers didn't increase sharply, there wasn't a significant increase in banks' fixed costs and there wasn't a risk to financial stability. That's the view of the European Banking Association anyway. They did find a large increase in the fixed pay of a small number of UK bankers, but this wasn't widespread enough to affect overall fixed costs or financial stability.

This is another example those who want to reform the financial sector should remember. Finance is important to the UK economy, and it's understandable that some people worry about the impact of reform on that sector, and whether the potential costs outweigh the benefits. Fair enough, but there's also a danger in taking too much of the finance sector's propaganda at face value. The reality of the impact of the bonus cap versus what we were told would happen shows us that baseless claims continue to be made in very strong terms (i.e. potential threat to financial stability). Remember that next time.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Solidarnosc win in Gdansk

Ridiculously pleased about this -

Celebration as Polish dockers’ union wins new deal 

“The ITF family has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they have fought against the belligerent and intimidatory tactics of previous management. We are hopeful that dockers there can have better standards that are consistent with those in neighbouring countries. It is no less than they deserve.”
That from ITF dockers’ section vice-chair Torben Seebold after a collective bargaining agreement was signed between ITF-affiliated Polish dockers’ union Solidarność and Deepwater Container Terminal (DCT) Gdansk. It brings an end to a bitter three-year dispute that has included complaints from the union over victimisation and harassment by the employer and the firing of union leaders. There has been support from the global trade union community with demonstrations at DCT Gdansk and in other European countries targeting the bank that owns the port, Macquarie.The historic agreement, valid until 31 March 2019, covers pay rates, hours of work, holidays and general conditions for 600 workers at the fast-growing new terminal in northern Poland. A second terminal is due to open next year and the workforce will grow to 1500 workers as the port seeks to become the main gateway to Russia and central Europe.Seebold said: “We are sending out an important message to all port owners; we will not let you get away with trying to drive down pay and conditions by building new ports and employing cheap labour.”

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Corp gov reform: do something meaningful or don't bother

I blogged previously about Liam Byrne's intervention on company law etc. More recently Liz Kendall has written something for Progress that slightly touches on the same turf. There is one sentence of significance for anyone interested in left-of-centre views on company law, corp gov etc -
We need to change the system so shareholders who hold on to their shares for longer are rewarded with greater rights.
As I wrote previously, while I'm not opposed to look at differential shareholder rights we need to be aware of the downsides. Greater rights for long-term holders strengthens the position of Rupert Murdoch at Sky, Mike Ashley at Sports Direct, and index-trackers. Plus I am realistic - there would be practically zero support for this reform from mainstream investor and corp gov bodies.

Which raises the bigger question - what's the point? If Labour is going to intervene in company law issues, potentially aggravating issuers and/or investors in the process, I see no value in pursuing something so utterly weedy. I really question whether differential rights for shareholders would have any meaningful impact on the short-term pressures on companies (this is leaving aside the deeper issues of whether companies really are too short-termist, and, if they are, whether shareholders are to blame). So really what's the point?

I ended up feeling the same about putting employees on rem comms, which has much more going for it as something for Labour to champion in my view. If we're going to aggravate executives by introducing another voice into corp gov, why not put employees on boards? Just putting on the committees that set exec pay seems like a massive missed opportunity (and just giving employees a role in execs' pay seems even more likely to wind them up while not giving employees an influence over bigger issues).

So, in my view, Labour should either start floating some significant reforms that might change the direction of travel, or stop talking about it. I see no point in talking up short-termism and its effect on corporate priorities as a major public policy issue and then coming out with featherweight responses.

There are things that Labour could move that could be distinctive, change the corp gov settlement in the UK and start tackling market distributions. Reinvigorating collective bargaining, promoting employee ownership and representation on boards, changing directors' duties (something Byrne did touch on), enfranchising asset owners (rather than managers) and stripping out investment costs are some obvious things. But these need to be pushed together as a package of reforms with serious intent.

Picking a couple of individual, inoffensive (and ineffective) policies just to do *something* around company law because some companies moan about short-termism is not worth the effort.  

Sunday, 27 March 2016

BVCA and the Beecroft Report

I think it's fair to say that the Beecroft report, prepared by Tory donor Adrian Beecroft, was not universally welcomed in the labour movement.

One of the more controversial elements was the introduction of employment tribunal fees. The intention behind this policy was to discourage employees from making claims, because of the presumption that many of them are frivolous and could be initiated at no cost to the employee. Under the new system, employees pay ranging from a couple of hundred quid to £1,200 depending on the complexity of the claim.

Obviously the introduction of fees changes employees' willingness to initiate a case. The question is does it just discourage frivolous cases, or does it also discourage those with genuine claims but who aren't confident of winning? What we know so far is that there has been a sharp drop in claims, with sex discrimination cases falling most. According to this parliamentary briefing they fell by 83% in the year after the fee came in.

To be clear here: either the large majority of claims of sexual discrimination claims were groundless, or the introduction of tribunal fees is contributing to protecting those employers (or those that work for them) that discriminate against women.

As a party that seeks to represent working men and women, Labour has to take these issues seriously. And indeed we committed to abolishing the fees in the manifesto (after what looks to have been a bit of stalling it has to be said). The commitment is on page 23 of the 2015 manifesto here.

Not all organisations were so opposed to either the Beecroft Report overall, or the introduction of tribunal fees in particular. For example, the BVCA, the private equity industry trade body, was an enthusiastic supporter (perhaps not surprising given that Beecroft is a private equity guy). For example, here is what they said in their 2012 Budget submission:
On employment, we fully endorse the Beecroft Report as a step in the right direction. In particular, a “no fault” termination similar to that applied in the USA where notice is given under the employment contract would create a more efficient process as well as encouraging a more flexible and fluid workforce. 
So the BVCA saw the Beecroft reports as a way to make the "workforce" to be more "flexible and fluid". I don't think the objective here was job or employment security somehow.

Luckily, Beecroft didn't get implemented in full, but obviously the introduction of tribunal fees did. And, again, the BVCA was supportive (see top of page 6 here).
As recommended in the Beecroft Report, a fee which employees themselves have to meet should be introduced into the tribunal system. 
To be honest, I wouldn't expect employers, private equity firms or their lobbyists to take a position much different from this. Successful private equity managers are exceptionally well paid, and they have an interest in keeping labour costs low and employment protections weak. They expect their trade body to fight their corner. Beecroft's report was a long howl at how difficult it was to get rid of unwanted employees. And the BVCA fully endorsed it.

That's OK, because in the same way private equity has the BVCA to lobby for its interests, including making it easier to fire workers and harder for workers to take employers to tribunals, we have trade unions, and a Labour Party, to fight the corner for employees in return. They have their views, we have ours. In the case of Beecroft these views were polarised, and on tribunal fees they were diametrically opposed.

Now I'm a moderate lefty. I favour keeping the communication channels open, even where we disagree. The labour movement needs to understand the private equity industry and how it works (including to what extent its success represents value skimming). But I would sup with a long spoon. And I'm really not convinced it's a good idea to take money off them.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A mini Uber encounter

A couple of weeks back I stumbled across something quite interesting from a company called Westbourne Communications. It was a blog post detailing their advice to Uber in the "battle with Black Cab drivers" (this is their exact phrasing).

I thought this was quite interesting, in the sense of understanding the PR campaigns waged on behalf of corporate interests, so I pinged it round people a few people at work. I also tweeted a link to it here.

I went back to try and find the article today and mysteriously the article has gone, although the cached version is still available here. So presumably Westbourne, or Uber, are no longer happy to have their strategy for undermining cabbies in the public domain.

Interestingly though I just spotted that Zelo Street has also blogged about the doc (it looks the same from the pic). So it may still be circulating out there.

Curious.  

Thursday, 10 March 2016

National Express Shareholders Call for Review of Workplace Rights

News of a shareholder resolution filed at National Express calling for a review of workplace rights in its US school bus business Durham. This is the second shareholder resolution backed by unions at a UK PLC this AGM. I don't think there have been two in a single season before.

https://teamster.org/news/2016/03/teamsters-national-express-shareholders-call-review-workplace-rights 

Teamsters: National Express Shareholders Call for Review of Workplace Rights

(WASHINGTON) –Today, National Express [LSE: NEX.L] investors are urging the company’s board to back a resolution seeking an independent review of employment practices in its U.S. school bus wholly-owned subsidiary, Durham School Services. Announcement of the resolution comes on the same day National Express is shortlisted at this year’s Business Finance Awards.
The investors – including public sector union UNISON’s staff pension scheme, the SEIU Master Trust, the Teamsters Union and individual shareholders – have filed a shareholder resolution to address longstanding issues concerning Durham School Services’ treatment of employees. Since 2001, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has found merit in more than 65 complaints against the company.
The resolution, drafted by the pension funds, calls on National Express to undertake an independent review of the allegations made about its U.S. bus business. For several years, school bus employees have raised concerns to the board and shareholders that local managers are making it hard for employees to join a union. 
This year’s resolution to the National Express AGM requests that the company obtain an independent assessment of these longstanding investor concerns through the appointment of a suitable person to review the situation. This person would report their findings to the company, unions and shareowners by the end of Q3 2016. 
In 2015, the resolution received support from approximately 25 percent of National Express’ non-insider shareholders. This represents the largest ever vote for a labour rights themed resolution at a U.K.-based company.
“The labor problems facing National Express’ North American school bus operations are long-running and systemic, but are not addressed with the seriousness these issues demand,” said Ken Hall, International Brotherhood of Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer. “While the company is lauded for its reporting, it’s what is not reported that we believe holds unnecessary risks for investors. Unfortunately, for several years now, investors and workers’ concerns have fallen on the deaf ears of senior management and the board of directors.”  
As long-term shareowners the pension funds believe their proposal will minimise the risk of both reputational damage and the impact on shareholder value resulting from the continuing disputes.
“We are backing the resolution because the company continues to rebuff efforts to discuss the way that workers employed on its U.S. school bus contracts are treated. When companies do not take workforce issues seriously, this can be a sign that they are also not taking into consideration the medium-term impact poor industrial relations is having on performance,” said Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON. “Apart from wanting the best return for our current and future pensioners, UNISON is pleased to be part of a trans-Atlantic union coalition that is trying to win a better deal for employees in the U.S.”
Since the 2015 National Express AGM, the company has seen a number of decisions against it.
In October 2015, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled that Durham had violated labour law in various ways, including National Express North American CEO David Duke unreasonably interrogating a driver about her attendance at a previous AGM.
In February 2016, following the decision of a group of administrative staff in California to seek workplace representation in 2015, the NLRB ordered Durham to begin bargaining with the Teamsters after it refused to talk to the union.

Last month, the employer also dropped one of its key objections to the NLRB, which it had used to delay accepting the result of a vote for union representation by Durham drivers in Florida in 2013. 
National Express shareholders will cast their votes at the company’s Annual General Meeting on 11 May 2016. 
UNISON is one of the U.K.’s largest trade unions, serving more than 1.3 million members who provide public services in both the public and private sectors.
Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.