Equality Commission facing waves of strikes from disgruntled staff

striking Commisison staff in Scotland

Striking Commission staff on Scotland. Pic credit : Commons Space


The long running bitter dispute between the management and the staff of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has spilled over into a wave of strikes which will run until the day after polling day.

Rolling strikes began in Glasgow this week and will continue in London, Cardiff and Manchester following the sacking of many disabled and black and ethnic minority staff – some by email. One of the worst cases involved  57 year old Markus Caruana, a disabled former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards. He was fortunate enough to escape unscathed but later had a  serious disability.  He lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

So ferocious has the sacking policy been  that there are now vacancies at the ECHR even though it has suffered enormous cuts since 2010. But the management have banned any of the sacked staff  from applying for a job.

According to the PCS Union The Commission’s expenditure report for April shows it has spent £90,876 on agency staff in April and £17,900 on recruitment costs. The spending on agency staff is a significant increase on previous months – £44,000 in January, £61,000 in February and £65,000 in March.

A Commission spokesperson, said: “We have greatly reduced our spend on contractors in recent years. Contractors are, however, used when we need certain technical skills and experience that are not available in the Commission. The recent increase has been due to one off costs and no long term rise in spending.”

Of the eight union members issued notices of compulsory redundancy, six are black or minority ethnic, five are disabled and seven are older workers. Four are union reps and one was a lead negotiator opposing the cuts. We are now pursuing legal action against the EHRC for victimisation of trade union representatives.

The management issued a defiant statement  on the existing strike action.


Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uk

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC Chief Executive said: “The changes we are making will allow us to respond to the new challenges we face. I am proud of how well our staff have embraced this new way of working and our ambitious programme of work.

“We have made every attempt to end this dispute with the union and have offered them concessions at every stage of talks. We are now focused on delivering our business plan.  We are unclear as to their rationale for continuing action.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members only take strike action as a last resort but management’s reluctance to adequately address their concerns have given them no choice.

“There are vacancies at the Commission and there is no reason why our members can’t have those jobs.

“The fact that the government has cut the Commission to a quarter of its original size demonstrates the Tories’ lack of commitment to equality and human rights issues.

“Further budget and staff cuts would leave the commission toothless at a time when more needs to be done to tackle hate crime and discrimination.”

What is extraordinary about this whole situation is that  the issues that the ECHR is supposed to represent – employment rights, equal pay, the rights of the disabled and  unfair discrimination against black and ethnic minority and gay workers – are all being undermined by their own attitudes to their staff.

If there are to be tribunal hearings – it will mean the reputation of the organisation will be damaged- and all these causes will suffer. This does not look like going away.



Will the national body that prides itself on conciliation end up in a bitter dispute with itself?


Sir Brendan Barber, chairman of Acas, Pic Credit: Acas


Acas – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service – is a body  that nobody normally can take offence. Like motherhood and apple pie, it is seen as a virtuous organisation that promotes peace,harmony, and fair play in a warring world between workers and bosses over  jobs,pay and  conditions.

So it might seem unlikely that such a body could end up in a bitter dispute with its own staff. But that is exactly what is starting to happen following a decision – completely unprompted by government – to make radical changes to its services to the public.

These include cutting the number of advisory helplines from 11 to 4, closing its office in Liverpool, which employs 50 people, and according to the union, downgrade work so lower paid people provide both advice and  conciliation work.

The helpline is particularly popular with workers and employers alike. According to its annual report 96 per cent of its users would recommend its service to a friend and 94 per cent thought the people on the end of the line were  really knowledgeable about its work.

Acas appears to have decided to streamline its services as part of an efficiency measure anticipating that perhaps Whitehall – which funds 90 per cent of its work – will start cutting its budget.

According to its officials all this is to be achieved without shedding any jobs.

A spokesman said :“Acas has undertaken a thorough review on how to best meet the needs of its customers across the country whilst securing better value for money for the taxpayer.

“Our national Helpline service is being reorganised into four central locations across the country and Acas North West will have a single area office in Manchester in line with our other regions across the country.

“There are no plans to reduce the number of Acas staff due to these changes so our customers will still receive the same high quality service from Acas North West and our national helpline service.”

The unions however don’t believe this. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents along with the FDA, its staff, is talking of going to a tribunal to accuse Acas, of all things, of failing to consult its own staff.

The PCS union say the conciliation service in London is at risk and the future of Acas’s head office functions and the future role of the Certification Officer – the official that policies union disputes  and registers trade unions – is under review.

It also accuses Acas – rather like the Equality and Human Rights Commission -of making black workers take the brunt of the changes – and believes they will.lose their jobs. Acas insists that those working in Liverpool will get jobs in Manchester – and they will pay their fares to their new office.

This potential dispute is all the more interesting because the current chairman, Sir Brendan Barber, who is backing the changes, is the former general secretary of the TUC, the body that champions workers and unions.

So far the TUC is silent about its views on the change. But one of its union members, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS is not.

He says: “With the Tories ploughing on with damaging cuts and trying to undermine trade unions, Acas’s employment services are needed more than ever.”

“It should demonstrate best practice, not behave like a rogue employer by putting jobs at risk and creating uncertainty, stress and anxiety.”


Whitehall’s nasty agenda:Impoverish the low paid, reward their bosses with riches

The Student Loans Co headquarters in Glasgow

The Student Loans Co headquarters in Glasgow

The government has always claimed that the main reason it is holding down pay in Whitehall, schools and the NHS is because the taxpayer can’t afford it and we need to cut the deficit. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for Whitehall’s industrial relations, claims to have safeguarded the very lowest paid and attacked perks given to richer civil servants. The ex banker is on record as saying ” It is absurd to expect that people can be paid the same amount in the public sector as they are paid in the private sector.” This reference is to the higher paid where he is pledged to end perks. It was made in 2011 just at the time when Ed Lester, head of the Student Loans Company, had secured a very lucrative deal where he avoided paying tax or national insurance at source on a £223,000 a year package.
Now in the very same organisation a new drama is being played out which also proves the government is lying about its intentions to protect the lowest paid and curb bonuses for the rich. I have written about it in Tribune.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents Whitehall’s lowest paid, put forward a rather interesting negotiating ploy for 2014. They suggested that his successor, Mike Laverty, forgo a £25,000 a year bonus on top of his £160,000 salary and taxable expenses of £30,000 a year. Instead it suggested that the bonus be redistributed to the staff,benefiting the lowest paid.
The union had calculated that, if all the money available, including a below inflation rise and one off £265 payment (worth £595) for those earning less than £21,000 a year and a one-off £560 payment to those over £21,000, all 2400 staff could get an increase of more than £600 incorporated into their salaries. The few very lowest paid would get a £960 pay rise to take them up to the nationally-recognised living wage. It would benefit people working in Glasgow, Darlington and Colwyn Bay.
But it is understood that the Cabinet Office blocked this move and are insisting the bonus is paid to one person instead.
Now it is not known whether Mike Laverty, the present chief executive of the SLC, would have agreed. But he is unusual in that he returned some £80,000 to the Treasury last year from a previous redundancy deal when he got his new job. This is almost unknown among senior mandarins.
Unfortunately he is so media shy, he seems worried, like his predecessor,to talk to me. I can’t think why.
However what this sorry saga exposes is that the lower paid are not having to take a pay freeze to save taxpayers’ money to help bring down the deficit because such a deal would hardly have cost the taxpayer another penny.
What it does show is that the government WANT to keep the lower paid poor and reward the rich – probably because those at the top in the private sector are seeing their salaries soar during the recession.
The results can already be seen in the prosperous parts of the country with the rich looking for things to spend all their money while the poor economise or go into debt.
I was behind a well paid young couple in Berkhamsted Waitrose at the butchery counter who were ordering fillet steak – not for their own dinner- but to feed their dog. The complacent man boasted that he wouldn’t normally be at Waitrose because he regularly got the fillet steak for the dog at Harrods food hall.
I have no doubt Francis Maude – if it is he who approved this – is happy for the rich to buy fillet steak for their pampered pets this Christmas, while the poor juggle the cost of the fuel bills to cook their Christmas turkey. He has created a system where this happens every day.