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.

 

A damning indictment on the dangerous failure of privatisation in the criminal justice system by a former Tory MP

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Jerry Hayes, practising criminal barrister and former Tory MP for Harlow Pic Credit:Goldsmith Chambers

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I am reblogging this from the site of Jerry Hayes, a former Tory MP and practising criminal barrister. He is highlighting the dangers of miscarriages of justice since the Forensic Science Service was privatised by David Cameron because private companies are cutting corners and not doing a proper job. The person here could have been imprisoned for seven years as a result of their negligence.

THE SCANDAL THAT UNDERMINES OUR ONCE GREAT SYSTEM OF JUSTICE

10 May 2017 at 07:09

I never blog on cases, but today I must break my rule. Yesterday I discovered a scandalous state of affairs which could have led to an innocent man going to jail for a substantial period of time. I will not name the defendant nor the court for obvious reasons. In forty years of practice at the bar this shook my faith in what was once the finest and fairest justice system in the world. Read this and weep. And mourn for British justice.

Yesterday I was sent to the Crown Court to offer no evidence in a firearms case. I had been instructed some weeks ago as Prosecution counsel. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch. Last year the police searched a van. In this van was a tool box and in this tool box were founds guns and ammunition. This comprised of an 8mm blank firing pistol converted to be a lethal weapon. An empty magazine belonging to that hand gun. A Glock self loading hand gun. The magazine from this handgun contained two live rounds. And three further live rounds were found in a knotted bag. It goes without saying that the possession of these items is a very serious offence and carries a minimum sentence of five years for the guns and a consecutive sentence for the ammunition. Anyone convicted potentially faces a sentence of imprisonment of seven years upwards.

The guns and ammunition were forensically examined. The laboratory gave the police what is called a Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR). It came to this conclusion, ‘a match exists between the defendant and the sample’. In other words the defendant’s DNA was found on one of the magazines.

This was served on the CPS and duly uploaded onto the digital case system, effectively serving this on the court and the defence. An SFR is precisely that, and both prosecution and defence are entitled to see the full report. But very often it is taken at face value. As there was no other evidence the CPS reviewing lawyer wanted further information. He asked for more information. Was there a mixed profile? How strong was the DNA? He received obfuscation from the lab. ‘The SFR provided indicated that a number of results were subject to progress.’ But the lawyer was dogged in his determination and finally received this bombshell. ‘The lab confirms due to confusion they have never compared mixed profiles against the defendant.’ They also stated that ‘progress means there are no additional findings’. Then came this chilling line. ‘The lab refused to elaborate any further……’

The reviewing lawyer reported the following,‘I am concerned that the language used in the SFR appears to assert positive and ongoing actions when they are clearly negative. I have requested the OIC to obtain an email from the forensic officer confirming the phone communication and what is implied in the SFR…..he confirmed that the report was misleading.’

The CPS, underfunded, overworked and creaking at the seams comes in for a lot of criticism. In this case the reviewing lawyer deserves a herogram.

Yesterday when I offered no evidence I explained to the judge in detail what had happened. I will never forget the look of horror on his face. There will be a thorough judicial investigation.

And yesterday SKY NEWS reported that a private forensic laboratory had ‘manipulated data.’ What the hell is happening? I will tell you. In 2010 the government announced that the national forensic service (the FSS) was to be closed down and forensic analysis would be privatised. Let me be clear that the FSS has had its fair share of cock ups. But the government announcement prompted horror from professionals. The National Audit Office warned, ‘this could spark a crisis within the justice system.’ They were right. Soon the court of appeal will be swamped. Will someone, somewhere listen? I won’t hold my breath.

The arrogance of judge Dame Lowell Goddard

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Justice Lowell Goddard giving evidence to House of Commons home affairs committee a year ago. Pic credit: BBC

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Before we were flooded by news of the sensational  Presidential election victory of Donald Trump, Dame Lowell Goddard. the third chair of the troubled inquiry into child sexual abuse inquiry delivered a stunning blow to Parliament.

She refused point blank to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament and also announced that she would refuse to give any further interviews to the media on why she resigned.

It is no wonder that the new chair of the inquiry, Labour MP  Yvette Cooper issued such a strong statement objecting to her refusal.

Dame Lowell had written :

“As a High Court judge in New Zealand for many years before I resigned to take up the chair, I have a duty to maintain judicial independence,” she wrote.

“That is why I have volunteered detailed written reports (in preference to oral communication) so that no dispute on powers or damage to IICSA’s independence could arise.

“I am not aware of any matter which remains unanswered. Meanwhile I have been the subject of malicious defamatory attacks in some UK media.

“I am disappointed that there has been no government defence of me in England, despite the fact that information refuting some of the more serious allegations has been held by the Home Office and your committee since the time of my initial recruitment.”

She got a stiff reply

” Dame Lowell Goddard’s refusal to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about her resignation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is disgraceful,” Ms Cooper said.

“Dame Goddard has been paid significant amounts of public money to do an extremely important job which she suddenly resigned from, leaving a series of questions about what has been happening over the last 18 months and why the Inquiry got into difficulties.

“This is an astonishing response from a paid public servant who should know how important transparency is in an inquiry as sensitive and crucial as this one.

“Child abuse survivors have been let down by the extremely rocky start to this inquiry and we do need answers as to why it went wrong in order to be confident it is back on track now.”

I quite agree. She was given a very generous package running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to chair this inquiry . Her annual salary was £360,000. Her accommodation costs amounted to £119,000. Relocation costs were just short of £30,000 as well  some £67,000 spent on travel, including trips for her whole family to and from New Zealand.

Yet she doesn’t have the slightest compunction to refuse to explain what went so horribly wrong. She was offered to give evidence by video link from new Zealand but declined because she said Parliamentary privilege would not cover the video link.

Frankly her refusal is an affront to the survivors, the general public, the taxpayer who met her bills and to Parliamentary sovereignty.

If she had been a British judge living in the UK she could have been ordered to attend. As it is she better not apply for a tourist visa to come here or she might find herself having to attend Parliament. I find her attitude arrogant particularly as she never properly explained her reasons for going.

 

 

Robert Halfon v Jeremy Corbyn: The battle for the working class vote

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Jeremy Corbyn’s success in attracting tens of thousands of new Labour supporters was given a rare  accolade this week at the Conservative Party Conference.

Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow and the skills minister, told a Conservative  Party fringe meeting  organised by Respublica how the Labour leader had attracted these people because they saw him representing  their ” moral and ethical ” values and being fair minded rather than representing ” the privileged few”.

No doubt this would lead to a furious denial  from the Labour right wingers like Ben Bradshaw and Tristram Hunt – who see the whole exercise as a  1980s rerun of ” Reds under the Beds”  and  some predictable squealing from the Tory right who probably believe it should be a criminal offence to join a trade union.

But it was an intelligent assessment if you are a Tory at a time when capitalism is associated with unbelievable greed, inequality, globalisation and you are about to start an experiment  with Brexit that could lead to  uncertainty and an economic downturn.

For if there is another economic crisis the public- and particularly the young  -could easily turn against capitalism if it continues to crush and impoverish the working class at the expense of global multi billionaires. And Jeremy Corbyn will be ready and waiting.

Halfon’s pitch – which was reflected  in Theresa May’s speech – was basically to say unions were a good thing and should be given more power and influence in the board room. The arguments for collective bargaining  were made at this meeting – and the argument that where unions and management collaborated in other countries there was more prosperity and growth for more people.

Halfon is a member of the Prospect union and the union’s moderate general secretary Mike Clancy  was speaking at the same meeting and telling a few home truths to Tories.

Ha, ha , you might say from the party that has just passed the most vicious anti trade union laws in Western  Europe, penalised the poor and disabled ( Halfon is disabled too) and vilified people as scroungers. And it has also seen post Brexit a ferocious attack on immigration and immigrants that has led to the death of a Polish worker in Halfon’s constituency.

But what we are seeing under May and Halfon is a new battle of ideas to woo ordinary workers and families. The Tory Party is once again transforming itself – away from the uber Metro Notting Hill Set of Cameron, Gove and Osborne – to   Essex and Berkshire – combining an appeal to working class  Essex man and  middle class Berkshire woman. It always does this to maintain what it wants – to stay as the party of government.

But there is a very big elephant in the room called Brexit and in my view the conference was in total denial about it. We are going to curb immigration, tell the European Union what we want, build world wide markets for goods and services, and nobody will challenge us. Our newly trained doctors will be barred from emigrating until they have served time in the NHS, while foreign doctors will disappear from hospitals.. Our young people will spend their summers picking strawberries and hops in the UK rather than travelling  – like they used to a century ago – to bar EU workers from doing the same jobs.

And any opposition from people with different.viewpoints will be silenced. No doubt we will send a gunboat to any foreign power that dares challenge us like Palmerston in the nineteenth century.

Really? As the Daily Mail didn’t say this week, the Tories will be living in la la land if they believe this.

 

 

 

 

My blog in 2014 : Over 182,000 hits – now over 500,000 since it was launched

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 180,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks to all who are following  and reading this blog . It both covers and comments on the stories I and others write for Exaro, particularly on child sexual abuse, and my regular pieces for Tribune magazine. I highlight my own investigative stories covering local government, the NHS, privatisation, the media and Whitehall. These focus on injustice, inequalities and a fair share of hypocrisy behind bland press releases and ” cover ups” by the government and private companies. More of these are now coming from people who contact me on the site.

It aims to be hard hitting and you’ll find I don’t hold back .You will also find the occasional travel piece as a bit of light relief – though I can’t resist investigating some of the travel firms.