Byline Times: EU countries and Switzerland tighten laws to block Brits right to work in Europe in “No Deal” Brexit

EU and UK flag: Pic Credit: European Commission

The Swiss will introduce work quotas, the Danes and Estonians will treat new Brits settling there after Oct 31 under the Alien laws and the Belgians will introduce tough border checks to see whether we have enough money to holiday there.

All this is in new legislation already passed by many of the 31 countries in Europe to counter Boris Johnson’s No deal Brexit on October 31.

Read the full story with all the facts on Byline Times here. Plus you can check the new legislation yourself – most of it in English – by going to an expat blog Dispatches Europe.

Trick or Treat? On Byline Times: Will Halloween be the date for the next General Election

Dominic Cummings: Boris Johnson’s right hand man . Pic credit: Sky News

Halloween or October 31 may be more of a dramatic day this year than just the date set for a ” no deal ” Brexit.

It could also be the day of the next general election – if the ruthless approach by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief executive to get Brexit done is a top priority.

I have no inside information but logic points to this possibility now the political scene in Whitehall has changed beyond all recognition with the election of Boris Johnson as PM and surrounding himself with a Vote Leave government.

With a majority of one it is quite clear that Johnson cannot continue as PM until 2022 and hope to get anything through Parliament. But he needs to choose a general election date with considerable care. Too early and he risks a more resurgent Remain Parliament since the Liberal Democrats ,SNP and Labour will campaign against a “ No deal” and move to revoke Article 50. Too late and he could face a backlash if “Project Fear” turns into “Project Reality” and the experience of Brexit goes sour on the British people.

My full analysis is in Byline Times here.

MPs slam complacent equality watchdog and the government over “rife ” ageist discrimination

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The Equality Act: Government complacency is allowing rife discrimination in the workplace against the over 50s Pic credit: Parliament UK

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A damning report from the  Commons women and equalities committee has attacked the country’s equality watchdog and ministers for their complacent attitude in tackling age discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

The report released by the all party committee of MPs warns that the talents of up to one million women over the age of 50 are being wasted by outdated employment policies. Its strongly worded condemnation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and ministers responsible for equality follows what can only be described as a pretty lack lustre response from both.

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

“Without effective intervention from the Government and EHRC, we cannot see how discriminatory practices against older people in employment, that we know are rife, will be tackled. That’s why I find the responses we have received today disappointing as we had hoped they would have worked together to agree specific enforcement actions across both the public and private sectors.

Our Committee will be taking follow up action to make sure we get the change that is desperately needed.”

The response from MPs highlights what they see as a failure to implement the  2010 Equality Act. They are particularly scathing of the failure by the EHRC which has powers – which appear to be rarely used – to use enforcement procedures  against employers who have ageist recruitment policies.

The lack of the use of its powers is worrying given that campaigners for 50s women who are waiting up to six years to get a pension also want the EHRC to use its powers to remedy what they see as discrimination against this group. This group who are being forced to look for work until they are 65 – are facing a double bind of  finding employers don’t want them while the state won’t give them a pension.

They have even had the facetious suggestion from Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, that they take jobs as apprenticeships at £3.60 an hour while they wait until they get a  pension.

The EHRC today said it would take action – even though this seems to be confined to fine words rather than deeds.

A spokeswoman  said: ““Everyone has the right to work and the right to a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential. We have taken and will continue to take robust enforcement action, using all of our statutory powers, to tackle unlawful discrimination and ensure that no one is excluded from the workplace. This includes enabling Britain’s employers to benefit from the talent and contributions of workers of all ages.

“The right to request flexible working should apply from day one in all jobs and we have stressed the need for employers to make their workplaces accessible for everyone, including older people, parents and carers. We have also sought to tackle bias in recruitment by taking action against discriminatory adverts that request characteristics or terms that are associated with a particular age group.”
MPs are particularly angry that the government will not enact section 14 of the Equality Act – which would allow people to bring multiple ground cases against employers who discriminate against them. Thus an older woman could not bring a case on both age and sex – she has to choose one or the other.

Both former women’s minister Harriet Harman and the Fawcett Society have condemned ministers for not doing this. The government says it won’t do it because it increases burdens on business and promises more research in its response. One has to ask as this legislation was passed by Parliament – there must have been some research already behind it – so this is a pretty lame excuse.

The government uses the same excuse of putting too much a burden on employers to make it mandatory for firms employing over 250 people to publish an age breakdown of staff. Yet Whitehall already does it.

Altogether this is a pretty pathetic response from both the government and the watchdog to a serious issue. But I am very glad that the committee is also very dissatisfied and intends to pursue both organisations to come up with something better. You can get the full report here.

Premier Bin: Is the minimum wage hotel chain run by Whitbread millionaires and promoted by Lenny Henry going to the dump?

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The Premier Inn in Lauriston Place, Edinburgh or should I say Premier Bin

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I have stayed in a number of Premier Inns on holiday and the atmosphere has always been cheap and cheerful with an emphasis on a good night’s sleep and a good value breakfast.

That is until this year when my wife and I stayed at the Lauriston Place hotel in Edinburgh for the festival. Last year we stayed at its more centrally placed York Place hotel and found it efficient with obliging staff.

During the last 12 months what has changed? For a start there were fewer EU staff which suggests that the chain – in common with national figures released by the government – can no longer rely on people from Europe coming to work here.

Brexiteers- including Jacob Rees Mogg and Nigel Farage – say by halting low paid and unskilled immigration from the EU – British workers will benefit from higher wages and better conditions because firms will have to pay them more.

Well so far if the Premier Inn at Lauriston Place is any guide  this ain’t happening. From talking to some of the staff instead Whitbread are using recruitment problems to make staff double up and do the work of two people or give people huge work schedules which they can’t possibly do in time.

And if that fails they are starting to withdraw services to customers. For three out of five nights we were there Premier Inn stopped offering to serve anyone who wanted to dine in their hotel restuarant if you wanted  to walk in. Notices of apology – rather reminiscent of the privatised rail companies explaining poor services- were posted in lifts and at the front desk. One even included a reference to bad weather – it was raining outside.

And if you did dine there – by getting a rare booking – the menu appeared to be a wish list rather than  an accurate description of what you could eat. The restuarant had run out of rib eyed steak and chocolate puddings – rather basic fare that should not be subject to food shortages in Edinburgh.

And the cleaning was also under pressure. On one rainy day the room was not cleaned until after 4.0 pm. I found the cleaner, a middle aged woman in, I guess, her 50s, exhausted pushing a cleaning trolley in the hotel corridor.

She had five floors of bedrooms to clean and her shift which was supposed to end at 1.0 pm had taken three hours longer because of the large number of rooms (well over 100) that had to be cleaned. We took pity on her and decided our room did not need a thorough clean that day.

As for a pay rises they were out of the question. Instead the company seems to be relying on higher turnover of staff as people leave rather than paying higher wages.

And wages are low -basically the  national minimum wage of £7.83 an hour  rather than the national living wage . The figures are here on this website.

Those with higher responsibilities -like being a chief chef – get on average another 82p an hour.

Compare that with the top management of owners Whitbread. The latest remuneration report of the company shows a different picture -rather similar to the widening gap shown between bosses and workers published this month.

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Alison Brittain, millionaire chief executive of Whitbread, owners of Premier Inn. Pic credit Twitter

Alison Brittan, the  53 year old  ex banker chief executive of Whitbread, under an incentive package can get up to £3.4 million a year if she achieves her targets which include opening as many new Premier Inns as possible.

If she is a failure she still walks off with £1m a year – 20 per cent going into a pension so she’ll be able to retire in luxury  at 60 if she wants to not caring a bit that her staff will have to work until they are 67. I suspect if any of her lowly paid staff failed, they are promptly sacked.

Two years ago her minimum salary was £775,000 – so she has enjoyed a minimum of £225,000 pay rise while most of Britain’s workers have been lucky to get a one per cent increase.

She claims in an article in the Daily Mail  that she only ever stays in Premier Inns. If she does I bet her room is being cleaned while she has breakfast and if she dines there –  she has a  full choice.

I did put put questions to Premier Inn earlier this week about current wages, turnover of staff, and whether  Brexit was making  the recruitment of staff difficult but they could not be bothered to reply or acknowledge the request.

One thing is certain I won’t be staying in a Premier Inn when I go to the Lake District. Sorry Lenny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How angry 50s women deprived of a pension can boot their MP out of a job

 

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Home secretary Amber Rudd- most high profile Tory who could be unseated by angry people who have lost their pension for up to six years Pic credit: BBC

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Many angry  50s women  frustrated they can’t get a pension for up to six years – have the power at the ballot box to knock out the MPs who voted for the change. Since the next general election will be closely fought and many seats have narrow majorities they are literally – no pun intended -in poll position to effect change.

There isn’t a constituency in the United Kingdom that has less than 3000 of  these pensioners according to a breakdown helpfully provided by the House of Commons library.

And it is the current Theresa May government and her DUP allies  who are vigorously pursuing  higher and higher  retirement ages for future generations of pensioners that are the MPs most at risk. The Conservatives got a high proportion of votes from the over 60s at the last general election so  need these votes to win the next election.

The biggest voter power of this group  is in the Isle of Wight – where there are over 10,000 people affected by the raising of the pension age.The Tory MP, Bob Seely appears to have an impregnable 20,998 majority – but that would be halved if this group of people voted didn’t vote for him.. The main challenger there is Labour who came second and if people switched their vote to Labour it would become a highly marginal seat.

Much more vulnerable is home secretary  and ironically women and equalities minister Amber Rudd, whose Hastings and Rye seat, has 7400 people affected. She has a majority of 366 and Labour is the main challenger. There are 20 times more people hit by the change than her majority.

Another ultra marginal is Calder Valley where the Conservative MP Craig Whittaker,a Treasury whip, has a majority of 609 over Labour. There are 7000 people affected by the change in his constituency.

Similarly Corby where Tom Pursglove has a Conservative majority of 2,690 – it is more than outnumbered by 7,300 people affected. Both Milton Keynes seats (North and South) have small 2000+ Tory majorities but over 14,000 people affected between them.  And Scarborough where Conservative MP Robert Goodwill has a 3435 majority is dwarfed by 7,100 people affected.

The entire London borough of  Barnet  is another  hotspot.  Chipping Barnet, where Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP and ex minister, has a 353 majority has 6,200 people affected. Labour is again the main challenger. Next door Hendon which also has 6.200 people affected. Tory MP Matthew Offord has a majority of 1072 over Labour .In Finchley and Golders Green Tory Mike Freer has a majority of 1657 over Labour and there are 6000 people affected.

There are also a string of  safe Tory seats with between  7,000 and 7,800 pensioners who have lost out where the Tory majority can be severely dented or turned into marginals by switching to the highest challenger. Among these are  Beverley and Holderness ( Graham Stuart majority 14,042); Bridgewater and West Somerset ( Ian Liddell-Grainger majority 15,448); Croydon South ( Chris Philp majority 11,406); South Dorset ( Richard Drax majority 11,695), Wells (James Heappey, majority 7585 over liberal democrat) and Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk ( John Lamont, majority 11,060).

Among Labour seats with over 7,000 pensioners affected  include marginal Colne Valley (Thelma Walker majority 915) and  safe seats Croydon North and Brent North. The most marginal with over 7000  affected people is Rutherglen and Hamilton West held by Gerrard Killen with a majority of 265 over SNP.

DUP seats with the largest numbers of people affected ( 6500 and 6400 respectively)  are Upper Bann held by David Simpson with a 7,992 majority and Antrim North held by Ian Paisley Jnr with a 11,546 majority.

None of the Welsh Parliamentary seats had more than 7000 pensioners.

In addition there are those with lower numbers of people affected but who could influence the result. One is East Worthing and Shoreham which has 6,100 people affected. The MP is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on State Pension Inequality for Women pensioners group, Tim Loughton. He has a 5106 majority over Labour.

These  results suggest that Waspi  and BackTo60 supporters supporters have more influence than they realise. It is a question of energising it.

Check your own constituency in the table here.  It is an Excel document. Go the page and scroll until the bottom and click on constituency estimates.

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The man who sacked a woman on maternity leave is now head campaigner for women’s equality in Scotland

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John Wilkes, now chief executive of the Scottish Equality and Human Rights Commission Pic credit:Third Force News

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Meet John  Wilkes. He is now chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland. The ECHR’s top campaign at the moment is fighting against  the discrimination  of women who take maternity leave from their jobs.

As the ECHR’s own research says on its latest campaigns website says:

  • Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.”

Great words. But they didn’t seem to reach John Wilkes before he took up his highly paid post at the ECHR in Glasgow.

Then he held the job of chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, a respected body. Now after the findings of a tribunal hearing in Glasgow ot appears to do more for refugees than its own employees.

And one of those was Petra Kasparek,who was employed as a refugee integration adviser, who became pregnant and took maternity leave. When she decided to come back to work she faced a gruelling interview which included responding to some questions she would have been unable to answer properly, and then declared redundant.

The man who stood in for her Stephen McGuire was also sacked.

But a ruling on 6 July by a Glasgow employment tribunal has ruled that both were unfairly dismissed and that Ms Kasparek suffered indirect sexual discrimination under the Equality Act.  Both are to get compensation amounting to thousands of pounds and the tribunal ordered Mr McGuire to be reinstated. The case was championed by their union, Unite, which even proposed ways to solve the dispute without sacking either of them.

But the most severe criticism comes in the tribunal’s view of John Wilkes whose knowledge of the law and procedures as a chief executive seems remarkably lacking for such an experienced official whose Linked In profile portrays him as a top notch executive.

The tribunal said that Mr Wilkes had “a surprisingly poor understanding of the SRC’s ( Scottish Refugee Council’s) policies and procedures.”He  had “a poor grasp of how some of the SRC’s actions were at variance with its formal policies.”

He  and the head of finance there also had”  a striking lack of insight and appreciation of the criticisms levelled at their decisions.”

One of the points raised at the hearing from Mr Wilkes was that Ms Kasparek had not tried hard enough after leaving to get a similarly better paid job so she wasn’t entitled to compensation. In my view the man shows surprisingly little empathy or understanding of women who are looking after a baby.

The damaging point is  he is now in charge of Scotland’s Equality and Human Rights Commission policies including a campaign to help women being unfairly treated at work. One wonders how sympathetic he will be.

I put this to the Scottish EHRC and got a stock reply saying:

“John has brought to the Commission a wealth of experience, knowledge and dedication to our role in creating a fairer society and is making a valuable contribution to our work.”

I did ask whether Mr Wilkes had been sent on a retraining programme since his knowledge of  indirect discrimination under the Equality Act and other laws seemed to be rather minimal. But they told me they had nothing more to say.

Given the recent history of the EHRC in sacking disabled and black staff  I might have been asking the wrong questions. He will probably fit in well with the ethos there.

He is also not the only recent appointment to the EHRC from organisations that had discriminated against women on maternity leave.

 

 

Equal Pay,Unequal Misery: Unison and the Durham Teacher Assistants’ Dispute

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Durham teaching assistants at their protest meeting over the deal this week.

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The issue of equal pay for equal work is one of most enduring work scandals of our time. Women workers in particular lose out to men but it requires a lot of hard bargaining and money to tackle it.

The most dramatic current case is the long running Durham teacher assistants dispute involving over 2700 teaching assistants in Durham, mainly low paid women.

To implement equal pay Labour controlled Durham Council proposed cuts in  wages of up to £5000 for already low paid teacher assistants earning between £14,000 and £20,000 a year to bring it into line with other low paid workers they employed. The teaching assistants are the backbone of Durham’s schools, helping kids to read and understand basic numbers and when teachers fall sick deputising for them by taking classes.

The council and Unison, the union that is supposed to stand up for low paid workers, evidently were about to agree a deal that would worsen their pay and conditions when they faced a huge grassroots revolt from the teacher assistants themselves.

Feisty women workers called meeting, rallies, marched at the Durham gala and lobbied the sympathetic Labour leadership at last year’s Labour conference securing a meeting with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor. They were even partly responsible for Labour’s poor performance in this May’s local elections which saw Liberal Democrats, Independents and Tories take seats from Labour.

Their strong action led Unison to change its mind and back them and give them some limited say in negotiating a better deal.

Last week in the middle of the Unison annual conference in Brighton the union claimed it had  negotiated a breakthrough.

UNISON Northern regional secretary Clare Williams said: “Several months of tough talking later, a revised and improved offer has been proposed that will benefit the majority of teaching assistants.

“Strikes and relentless campaigning by dedicated teaching assistants, along with the support of the community, have been crucial in moving the council from its original position.

“Dismissing, rehiring and cutting the pay of so many education professionals would have risked many quitting their jobs. That would have had a huge impact in the classroom.

“Both sides have worked hard to reach agreement over the past few months. The union is absolutely committed to continuing to work with the council to secure the best possible outcome for everyone.”

However within days the promised deal which is based on a complicated regrading started to unravel once the 2700 teacher assistants got individual letters with new terms of employment.

This week a big meeting was called in Durham and the grassroots again began to revolt.

Megan Charlton, one of the leaders of the group, wrote in a blog that she will not be accepting the deal – even though she will get a pay rise in two years time.

She said: “472 Teaching Assistants – 22% of the workforce – will still be losing money. Many are losing £1200 a year, some are losing less, some are losing more (several on our facebook group are still facing losses of £4,000 and that’s AFTER they agree to the extra hours).

“We now have a situation where the vast majority of Teaching Assistants are required to teach at least one session a week. Surely teaching should be an ‘enhanced’ requirement, an ‘enhanced’ skill, not one you would expect from the majority of Teaching Assistants who came into the profession to do exactly that: to assist teaching, not to teach.”

She said if it had been just a ” few anomalies ” she might have accepted the deal but clearly it wasn’t. It will now go out to a ballot.

Durham County Council responded to my inquiry:

The council’s corporate director of resources, John Hewitt, said: “Throughout this process the issue for the council has been the risk of equal pay claims caused by the current teaching assistants terms and conditions.

“To mitigate the equal pay risk, and to ensure that assistant’s job descriptions and grades are appropriate for the work they do, we have  worked really hard with trade unions, teaching assistants and head teachers on a fundamental review of TAs responsibilities and roles.”

“The outcome of that work is that, if accepted, the vast majority of teaching assistants will see an improvement in their financial position after the compensation period.”

To its credit Durham County Council has withdrawn its threat to sack and rehire all the teaching assistants on inferior terms. The problem the teacher assistants have is with their union which they believe rushed into the deal to announce it at its annual conference without checking the full terms.

I wanted to put this to Clare Williams, the regional secretary, and a supporter of ” Team Dave” during the last election but she declined to come back to me.

But it seems to me that  Unison has been too ready to accept this deal and has sold out some of its low paid members without pressing for  further improvements. For them it is  a real loss of cash from a low salary . An equal pay deal has resulted in unequal misery for a fifth of the workforce. And it has been negotiated by a well paid official earning at least three times the money of the lowest paid teaching assistant.