Delegates from UK’s biggest public service union back a Bill of Rights to end once and for all discrimination against women

The short snippet above from Unison delegate Lianne Dallimore is the moment the 1.3 million member Unison trade union came out in favour of backing implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women into UK law.

This is a very important move as the union will be the first big organisation to endorse a policy that will require women to get equal pay, equal rights to pensions, rights to child care fast and finally put an end to the painfully slow progress there has been to grant women equal rights to men.

Unison banners; pic credit: unison.org

Unison is one of the largest trade unions in the UK It has a woman general secretary, Christina McAnea and women outnumber men as members by a huge majority. There are over one million women members to 300,000 men. Most of its members are among the lowest paid in the country whether they are teaching assistants,, dinner ladies, low paid NHS staff or local authority workers.

Unison is also an influential union in the Labour movement and in the Labour Party. So its delegates decision to endorse such a policy will now mean the national executive committee will have to decide whether to back it. If it does the Shadow Cabinet will have to sit up and take notice – and it will put pressure on Labour to include a promise to do so in their next party manifesto. Angela Rayner, the deputy party leader, has previously backed implementing Cedaw.

The full motion read;

Conference we call on the National Executive Council to:

1) Work with National Labour Link and the national women’s committee to develop a comprehensive campaign for the implementation of CEDAW into domestic legislation;

2) Work with Learning and Organising Services (LAOS) on developing a training and awareness package on CEDAW for activists and members;

3) Report back to National Delegates Conference 2023 on progress made.

North Cumbria Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Health

It also comes at an opportune moment as Boris Johnson’s government is under fire from the United Nations for taking far too long to implement a convention that Margaret Thatcher signed up to in 1986.

The Labour Party went part of the way introducing the Equality Act, which became law in 2010 – but it is still a half hearted piece of legislation – more bark than bite. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has gone further by including in her last manifesto a promise of legislation implementing it in full.

But she is up against Boris Johnson – who shows not the slightest interest in this issue – and has blocked at the Supreme Court any chance of Scotland introducing a parallel law implementing the UN convention on the rights of the child, which the UK has also ratified but not properly implemented.

The decision by Unison at its delegate conference, which endorses a report prepared by Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of the Cedaw Tribunal, that calls for sweeping reforms to radically change the position of women in society – from immediate equal pay to ending the long running sore that has bedevilled 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who had to wait six years to get their pensions and were never properly informed by the change.

Ground breaking issue

Last year the CEDAW People’s Tribunal was held. his was a ground breaking tribunal backed by Garden Court Chambers where academics, activists and women’s rights experts produced a wide range of evidence-based policies to end women’s discrimination.

The union’s backing is an important development for CEDAWinLAW which I am a patron, to get this issue on the agenda.

Last year some detractors, sadly a number of them professional women, tried to rubbish the CEDAW People’s Tribunal as though the whole hearing was a waste of time and space. They would rather keep women in their place than fight for change.

Another tribunal hearing on the way

Next month CEDAWinLAW will hold another tribunal to specifically look again at the issue of 50s women and their loss of a pension and how it happened.

In the meantime the action by Unison delegates will only spur women who want change now – not dragged out for decades – to continue the fight.

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Finally shopworkers to get more protection: Tougher law for those who attack them

In the dying days of last week’s Parliament the government finally quietly agreed that shopworkers alongside other workers who serve the public should get greater protection from abusive customers.

USDAW campaign poster

Ministers are using the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill to make it an aggravated offence to assault or abuse people who are serving the public. At present it is up to the judges’ discretion whether it is under the present sentencing guidelines.

It follows years of campaigning by USDAW, the retail workers union, to get more protection for shopworkers and growing evidence, sadly, of more violence, abuse and threats, from customers to staff.

The government chose the House of Lords to amend the bill last Wednesday night.

Baroness Williams., minister of state at the Home Office: Official portrait

Baroness Williams of Trafford, a junior home office minister, said: “The amendment places in statute the aggravating factor applied by the courts in cases of assault where an offence is committed against those providing a public service, performing a public duty or providing a service to the public.

…..”This includes assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and threats to kill, as well as an inchoate offence in relation to any of these offences. These are the assault offences most likely to be experienced by front-line workers. Importantly, the provision also allows the court to apply the aggravating factor to any other offence, where the court considers this factor relevant.”

“This amendment will reinforce in statute the seriousness with which the courts should treat these offences. It will send a very strong signal to the public that assaults of this kind are totally unacceptable. The Government want to ensure that all those who serve the public can feel protected from abuse when working.”

Baroness Trafford added: “

“During the pandemic we have all seen some appalling stories of how shop workers have been treated. USDAW has been really good in standing up to that.

I pay tribute to John Hannett, the former general secretary of USDAW, to Paddy Lillis, the present general secretary, to the staff and to the many hundreds of thousands of USDAW members who have not let this issue rest. I also pay tribute to some really good employers, the supermarkets that understand the problems their staff have. The Co-op, Tesco and many others have stood up and backed the union and its members. This amendment has also been led by the work of Daniel Johnson MSP in Scotland. He got his Private Member’s Bill through last year. “

Lord Vernon Coaker, official portrait

The move was welcomed by all peers include Lord Coaker, who as Vernon Coaker was Labour MP for Gedling in Nottinghamshire, and an USDAW member, who proposed a specific offence to protect shopworkers resulting in one year’s imprisonment.

The union itself described it as ” a step in the right direction” after years of campaigning for it.

Former Tory minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: ” That is against a background of 455 security incidents a day, according to the BRC,[British Retail Consortium] and very few prosecutions.

Inadequate police response

“The police response to these incidents has historically been inadequate. We need to ensure that the police have the right resources and can put a higher priority on prosecuting these retail crimes. This is particularly important given the role of retail workers in enforcing Covid restrictions such as masks, but also in addressing knife crime and shoplifting23>

She succeeded, in getting a promise from the minister to review how the new measures were working in a year’s time.

This was backed up by Lord Dholakia, a Liberal democrat peer, who said: “forces such as Thames Valley Police inform local shops that they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. How can this foster trust and build confidence? It cannot; it means that many businesses feel as if they are alone in this fight—a fight that is a risk to their very business.”

Natalie Bennett Green P:arty peer

Green Party peer Baroness Natalie Bennett also pressed the minister whether the change in the law would cover threats over the phone or on line. The minister thought it would.

One extraordinary omission in this debate was any reference to the fact that Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, is about to submit an application from the United Kingdom to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.

This change in the law speaks directly to both the spirit and letter of the new convention and will certainly be used as an example that the UK is complying with it. Yet it seemed to have passed ministers and peers by. Perhaps this government is so disjointed that Therese Coffey has not talked about it with Priti Patel, the home secretary. Given all the furore on everything else perhaps she forgot to tell her.

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Assetco: The negligent privatisation audit that has cost Grant Thornton over £20m in damages

Top accountancy firm loses appeal over failing to spot forged documents in huge London fire brigade privatisation scandal

A London fire engine -once owned by Assetco

The big four accountancy firms make a fat living from auditing the large number of private companies taking over public services.

But a Court of Appeal ruling last month suggests that if they don’t do the job properly they could now face huge damages claims from directors of companies who were duped by their negligent auditing.

The Assetco saga has been extensively covered on this blog. It involved the sale and leasing of the entire fire engine fleet of London and Lincolnshire to a gang of spivs and fraudsters – who were last known to still be evading justice nearly a decade after swindling investors and conning the London Fire Brigade. The Fire Brigades Union also took up the issue on behalf of its members.

ban after causing fraud

A separate investigation by the Financial Reporting Council found Assetco’s chief executive John Shannon ” causing or facilitating fraud. He was banned as practising as a chartered accountant  for 16 years – a new British record – fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in costs.

Raymond “Frank” Flynn (former Chief Financial Officer) for  banned from practising for 14 years and Matthew Boyle (former Financial Controller) for 12 years. Additionally, £150,000 and £100,000 respectively have been imposed and they share paying  part of the £400,000 costs bill.

Grant Thornton, and the accountant who audited the company Robert Napper,  has led to a £3.7m fine for  both of them for professional misconduct. ( Napper was fined £120,000) Neither Grant Thornton nor Mr Napper made any financial gain out of the scandal. The accountant took early retirement and now lives in a bucolic Oxfordshire village developing his hobby as a wine buff.. See here.

Now the Abu Dhabi directors of Assetco who took over in 2011- straight after the London and Lincoln operations collapsed have successfully sued Grant Thornton for £22m and their case has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The first trial lasted 20 days, involving extensive evidence from factual and expert witnesses and consideration of a large volume of documents and of 877 pages of written submissions as well as oral submissions.

Grant Thornton appealed but lost the case. The court was told that if Grant Thornton had audited the accounts properly they would have found evidence of forged documents which inflated the value of the firm.

Fraudster John Shannon when he was boss of Assetco

The court were told Mr Shannon and Mr Flynn told GT that the “unitary payments” due under the London Contract had increased by nearly £47,000 per month (£564,000pa) from April 2009 and produced documents to establish it. The statements were dishonestly made, and the documents were forged. It was only on the basis of these alleged payments that the London Contract appeared to be profitable.

Grant Thornton argued unsuccessfully that they couldn’t be responsible for all the losses. The judges found in the company’s favour.

The Financial Reporting Council did pass its findings to the Serious Fraud Office but so far it appears nothing further has happened. Mr Shannon has thought to have moved to Thailand while Mr Flynn remains in Northern Ireland.

The most important development is this judgement could form a major piece of caselaw if any other major accountancy firm does not do its auditing job properly. It is a big shot across the bows of the big four accountancy firms to be more diligent.

Government concede victory to unions over pension discrimination for over 4.1 million public sector workers

Stephen Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Judicial review forces ministers to open negotiations and defer major changes to pension schemes until 2022

Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,chose a heavy news day today to slip out an announcement that the Treasury had finally given way to the courts and dropped pension discrimination against 4.1 million workers in Whitehall, the NHS,teachers, prison officers and firefighters and ambulance staff .

This came after losing legal battles to the FBU firefighters union, the GMB, the PCS Whitehall union and the Prison Officers Association over what was seen as age discrimination over cuts to their workplace pensions.

The announcement means that terms offered to staff will revert back to the original position – and that includes a lower retirement age – until 2022 and everything is up to grabs during fresh consultations.

£2.4 billion in pension surpluses

It could also mean that some £2.4 billion at present held in pension surpluses, particularly in Whitehall, may have to be redistributed back to the workers in reduced pension contributions or better benefits.

The sting in the tail is that the government want the costs of the victory won by the FBU at the Court of Appeal – which scrapped a discriminatory system that put younger people employed at a disadvantage – should be taken out of the pension surpluses.

The story of the FBU victory appeared in an article in December on this blog.

Any such moves are to be fiercely resisted by the unions. As one GMB official put it: ” We are not going to accept we should pay when we won the argument and the government lost.”

“They knew they were wrong”

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary said: 

“It’s welcome that Ministers have in the face of sustained pressure finally U-turned on the pause they imposed on the drawing down of pension benefits. Their indefensible decision has left public sector workers facing financial hardship. 

“GMB has long campaigned for the lifting of the benefits pause the Government unilaterally imposed on our members without consultation. Hard-working public sector workers should now get what they’re owed. 

“The Government has had to make a U-turn because they knew they were in the wrong and were poised to lose the Judicial Review GMB and others had brought against them.  

“Any suggestion that it should now be public sector workers who now bear the costs of Ministers’ discriminatory errors will be fiercely resisted. GMB will not stand by if the Government intends to break its word and force public servants to pick up the bill for its own mistakes. “

The timing of the climb down is interesting as it comes a week before the court of appeal hears the case against raising the pension age from 60 to 66 without proper notice brought by BackTo60 on behalf of 3.8 million women demanding full restitutionb for the loswt money.

The GMB which led the charge over part of the fight is 100 per cent behind the 50swomen and their cause to get their money back.

My piece in Union News: How grass root trade unionists are backing 1950s women to get back their pensions

Earlier Times: Unison delegation with Jackie Jones, BackTo60 campaigner and expert on the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The success of the crowdfunding appeal by BackTo60 campaigning group to run a series of films exposing the plight of 1950s born women yet to get their pension has been partly due to campaigning trade unionists.

As well as getting a large number of small donations from many of the women themselves, two grassroots campaigners from the trade union movement managed to raise an astonishing £3400 towards the campaign.

The full story is in Union – News today.

Mac Hawkins from Unison and Louise Matthews from Unite – both women’s officers at their local branches – and strong supporters of BackTo60.

Mac Hawkins got support from the Wales region of Unison and Louise Matthews got support from Unite’s Equality Team and Unite Companions.

But the key thing is how much money they got from their local branches Mac Hawkins raised some £1400 from her Caerphilly branch while Louise Matthews got support from her Unite branch in Southampton.

Tireless campaigners

Both have been tirelessly campaigning to get money for the films which will form a key part of keeping the issue in the public eye before BackTo60 appeal the judicial review decision on July 21.

The one sad thing in this story is that at national level in both unions there appears to be a cooling off in financing the campaign. Before the general election, Unison and Unite contributed to the campaign, and Unison came alongside BackTo60 to deliver a petition to Downing Street.

This time the national unions are still supportive – but possibly because of the divisions within Waspi on what they want from the government, they may be holding back.

BackTo60 is sticking with full restitution and compensation for all the 3.8 million 50s women – while some other Waspi groups still have to spell out exactly how much compensation they want.

Big pay out for 3.8 million 50swomen will never happen – Tim Loughton MP

Tim Loughton MP

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s State Pension Inequalities is to be revived and will try and persuade the Tory government to make a offer to the 50swomen.

Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham, used his response to the Queen’s Speech, to say both he and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea, East will approach ministers again to try and get some money. Mr Loughton was returned with an increased majority while Carolyn Harris saw her majority severely reduced.

If the deal is anything like the last one it is likely to cost some £2 billion and probably only cover a small portion of the women who may get £73 a week. Before the election Mr Loughton said as a condition BackTo60 would have to drop its legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the Daily Express.

Image
Tim Loughton’s appeal before the election

He used his latest speech to attack Labour for offering to spend £58 billion over five years to remedy the situation describing it as having ” disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women. “

This is the full extract of his speech on the issue:

“It is an issue that featured rather disgracefully during the election campaign, and it is that of the so-called WASPI women.

Many on this side and, of course, on the other side have championed the case of the 1950s pension women who were hit disproportionately by those changes in the pension age under previous Governments. Many of us have been lobbying the Government to acknowledge that disproportionate disadvantage and to do something about it.

I will call on the Government again and, working with my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, we will continue to put pressure on the Government to acknowledge that and do something about it.

The Labour Opposition’s uncosted promise of £58 billion, which did not appear in their manifesto, disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women.

That amount was almost half the NHS budget, and it was never going to happen. I do hope that we can come up with a realistic, deliverable, doable offer for those women who have suffered and are suffering disproportionately, because that is the right thing to do. “

His speech cut no ice with BackTo60. They are to continue pressing ahead with their application for an appeal in the New Year to get full restitution for the women with the support of the trade unions.

Unison, the largest public service union, are donating £700 to the cause on top of the £80,000 already raised.

Meanwhile I expect some more lobbying from Connect Public Affairs and Waspi to press for a reduced deal. Below is an example sent to me of an earlier lobbying campaign captured in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.

Firefighters and Judges win £5 billion pensions battle with the government

A victorious Matt Wrack points the way for firefighters to get justice Pic credit : FBU

The new government has suffered two major losses within days of winning the general election over economies made to workplace pensions in the public sector.

First on Monday judges won a victory which will benefit up to 1000 part time judges who lost out on their pensions when they moved from part time to full time work.

They claimed they while they were working part time they were being discriminated against by the government because they were denied pensions. The case had originally been thrown out by a tribunal because it was ruled ” out of time”.

However the Supreme Court, in one of the last judgments presided over by Lady Hale overturned this, and said: ” in the context of judicial pensions, a part-time judge may properly complain: during their period of service that their terms of office do not include proper provision for a future pension; and, at the point of retirement, that there has been a failure to make a proper pension available. “

The ruling could cost the government £1 billion.

Then a few days later after a long campaign by the Fire Brigades Union an Employment Tribunal ruled that following the government’s defeat at the Court of Appeal when current cuts in firefighters pensions were ruled as discriminatory the only remedy was that the pension scheme introduced in 2015 to impose such cuts should be scrapped.

The ruling will not only affect 6000 firefighters who would have had to save an extra £19,000 to offset such cuts but also applies to  schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces and the judiciary. This will leave the new government with a £4 billion bill.

A triumphant Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Last Christmas, we gave firefighters the gift of a victory in the courts. This year, firefighters can celebrate knowing that their union has secured their rightful retirement – a gift borne of solidarity that proves what unions can achieve.

“The law has now changed and our FBU claimants will be entitled to return to their previous pension schemes. Legislation will need to be amended, but there can be no delay in implementing this remedy. Firefighters were robbed, and they must now be repaid.

“To the new Tory government, let me be clear. We fought tooth and nail against your attacks on our pensions and won. If you dare to try to pay for these changes by raiding the pensions of current or future firefighters, we will come for you again – and we will win.”

Ministers had spent nearly £500,000 fighting the case which basically left firefighters on a two tier system – with substantially worse conditions for the latest recruits.

In 2015, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition imposed a series of detrimental changes to firefighter pensions, which included a built-in “transitional protection” which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme, which included a requirement to work until aged 60.

The victory shows once again that the courts can overturn decisions made by governments. Since this applies to workplace pensions rather than the state pension. sadly it is not a parallel case which would bring justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who have had to wait up to six years for their pensions. But it is another reason for them not to give up hope that they can convince the courts of the justice of their cause.

John McDonnell explains the Labour pensions offer to 50swomen over more than tea and sympathy.

John McDonnell with Azhar Ali, Labour candidate for Pendle, explaining the offer to some of the women

For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package

There are a number of new points revealed in this video.

  1. Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
  2. The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
  3. Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
  4. Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
  5. He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
  6. Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
  7. Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
  8. Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
  9. He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
  10. Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.

On Byline Times: BackTo60 group to seek permission to appeal Judicial Review blocking compensation for 50swomen pensions.

Campaigners after the judicial review.

Tonight I have written a story for Byline Times disclosing that lawyers have decided to seek permission to appeal the Judicial review which rejected all the discrimination claims for the 1950s born women who face a six year delay in getting their pension. The story is here.

BackTo60 have also launched a £72,000 crowdfunding site to raise money for this action. The crowdfunder site is here. Already at time of writing it has raised over £10,000.