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ForeFront

Issue Number  December 05 - February 06

Alive! Alive-O!
What a conference season Unions 21 has just had! We held three meetings in a month with an average turnout of 90 trade union activists and political friends. At the TUC, we debated – in our ‘open space’ – how unions must grow in the relatively promising economic and political environment we nd ourselves in. We talked about mergers, adjusting the union to the potential members’ needs and preferences, and even the personal standards trade union o cials must follow in order to bring credit and reputation to the movement. Our panel was lively and comradely across an ocean of di erent trade union experience. We heard from Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, along with NATFHE national o cial Roger Kline – soon, we hope, to be colleagues in Britain’s uni ed FE/HE union the University and College Union (UCU). They both emphasised how the movement as a whole must listen to the memberships’ demands of us all. Academic and sometime labour correspondent Robert Taylor opened up proceedings with his usual panoramic tour de force of our trade union world. Paddy Lillis, Deputy General Secretary of USDAW demonstrated how their union had grown steadily every year despite wrestling with the need to re-invent itself continuously in a world full of part-time employees. In between the TUC and Labour conferences, we held a oneday event on the Information and Consultation Directive. This was a serious and thoughtful examination of legislation and its impact, with contributions from UK unions, colleagues from Europe, employers and government minister Gerry Sutcli e thrown in for good measure. Some of the contributions to this event are posted on Unions 21 website. On to the Labour Party, where Secretary of State Alan Johnson MP reviewed the relationship

between the unions and the Labour Government. Amicus deputy general secretary, Tony Dubbins, gave a thoughtful and thought provoking response and correctly demonstrated the unions’ contribution to Labour’s electoral success. Adrian Askew, general secretary of Connect, the union for professionals in communications, critically reviewed what has become known as the Warwick process. This meeting, as did both the others, drew many questions, overran its time allocation and provided genuine debate for the delegates present to get their teeth into. All this has driven us on to our planning for next year. We will look at the di erent ‘models’ of social Europe with an eye on UK unions and Europe and examine and review the content of the dozens of union applications to the Union Learning Fund. N ext spring, for the rst time, we are organising a Unions 21 week with events taking place all across Britain, looking at di erent aspects of life at work, before culminating in our traditional Saturday event in London on March 4 2006. Most exciting of all, we are con dent that more unions are about to announce they are joining us, or better still, rejoining us, to share in our energetic debate, free thought and total commitment to make our unions build a greater movement for us all.

The one day event on Information and Consultation was a great success.

ForeFront is published by Unions 21 in association with Unity Trust Bank

www.unity.uk.com

Better Regulation Bill
Sarah Veale, TUC Head of Equality and Employment Rights Department
Regulations exist for important reasons: to provide protection for people, to deliver the legislative objectives of the elected Government and to give service providers, employers, public bodies and of course the public themselves parameters within which to work. It is in the interests of nobody for regulation to be excessive, or not fit for purpose, or difficult to understand or apply. It is a shame that for some, in particular the small firms lobby, complaints about excessive regulation often mask what are really objections to the policy intention. The issue of regulation has become highly politicised over the past few years. The Government has tried to steer a sensible course between over-the-top protestations by the small firms lobby on the one hand and the genuine need to ensure that regulations comply with the sensible objectives of the Better Regulation Task Force. The Task Force says that regulation must be proportionate, transparent, accountable, targeted and consistent. The TUC supports those five objectives – though we are concerned that some aspects of the legislation governing trade unions does not meet some of those objectives. For example, why is it still necessary for unions to conduct re-ballots for their political funds once the initial ballot to establish a fund has been held, and given that union members have an individual opt out that they can use at any time? Interestingly, in a recent survey by the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development, two thirds of employers surveyed believed that existing employment legislation has helped them to earn the trust of their employees and helped them to achieve their business goals. The survey also revealed that many of the “red tape” concerns associated with employment legislation were caused by poor consultation, clumsy drafting of legislation and inadequate guidance. This might well apply beyond employment legislation of course. The Government is currently consulting on a Better Regulation Bill. This would amend the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 (RRA). The RRA contains a wide power to reform primary legislation which is thought by Parliament, following public consultation, to be “burdensome”. Burdensome is defined as “a restriction or condition found in legislation, or a limit on statutory powers. It does not include administrative bother and convenience”. It allows for wide ranging regulatory reforms without the need for the full Parliamentary process, using a process known as Regulatory Reform Orders (RROs). The consultation document concludes that the current RRO powers in the Act should amended as they have proved to be cumbersome and complex to apply and have limited the 

scope of reforms that can be delivered. The Government is now proposing to extend the powers of RROs so that they can focus on the benefits and outcomes rather than on the individual “burden” and can be processed more quickly and efficiently while still guaranteeing extensive and thorough consultation and effective safeguards. In our response, the TUC opens by saying that clear, simple, relevant and effective regulation is in the interests of working people. Nonetheless, we have to remain vigilant to the possibility of simplification meaning reduction in protection. Our chief concern about the proposals is the use of the term “uncontroversial”: the current Government is to undertake not to use RROs for measures that are “large and uncontroversial”, but the term “uncontroversial” is subjective and will necessarily be a matter of judgement at the time. Future Governments may use different standards to judge what is “uncontroversial” and may not be detained for long by safeguards that are tested by matters of judgement. Parliamentary scrutiny of the use of RROs may not always be as “thorough and effective” as the consultation document says. We would also want to see a reference to the social impact of any regulatory reform; this is essential to safeguard vulnerable groups in society and ensure that there are no unintended consequences, for example, in provision of public services. Neither do we believe that all RROs should receive the same level of scrutiny as proposed – size or complexity do not necessarily relate to impact. The TUC made a number of proposals during the Hampton review which concentrated on health and safety regulation. These proposals were recalled in this submission. They included: working in partnership with all stakeholders when reviewing regulation and ensuring that all stakeholders were represented in the governance of regulators, and an acceptance that regulators should operate to the highest ethical standards. On the risk assessment approach to enforcement we argued that it is reasonable to concentrate limited resources where they will do most good but this is a matter of rational use of resources, not principle. We would certainly not accept the elimination of routine inspection of lower risk organisations. Finally, we would not wish to see penalties for breach of health and safety, or employment law, reduced – indeed we are campaigning for penalties that fit the crime, including a corporate killing law with penalties including jail time for the most serious offences.

The ‘Social Europe’ debate – a veil for Europe’s failings?
Adrian Askew, General Secretary of Connect, the union for professionals in communications.
Perhaps it’s because Europe has spent so long in a state of war that the future of the EU is always seen in terms of being a battle between two opposing forces. A war of ideology which is fought, not in the muddy fields of the Somme but in anonymous corridors in Brussels. Twosided, polarised debates almost always dominate in the UK. Should the EU be a Christian club or secular society, do we pin our allegiances to an EU army or NATO and, of course, do we want a social Europe or one built on a neoliberal US economic model? The problem, is that whilst debate in the UK and perhaps some other European countries may be polarised around two diametrically opposing arguments, the debate in the European institutions is often far more complex. One of the great differences between policy-making in the EU and the UK is that in Europe outcomes are almost always achieved through intricate negotiation. For trade unionists, this is familiar territory; our day-to-day work is all about negotiation. However, many British politicians and most of the media reporting EU issues in this country are far more familiar with the Westminster way of life; a way of life in which the government makes a proposal, a noisy polarised debate ensues, followed by the government getting basically what it wanted in the first place. This is one of the reasons why this particular debate is so often positioned as a choice between a European social economic model or one based on US style neo-liberalism. The problem with such a polarised debate is it isn’t always going to be easy to decide the exact ground on which we are debating. We need to start with an understanding of what we mean by the European social model. Despite various pieces of EU legislation, different European countries deal with their citizens’ protection and their workers’ rights in different

ways, so if there isn’t a single methodology, is there at least a single outcome around which EU policy revolves? There are perhaps a few basic principles which can be instructive. In most European countries policy-makers recognise the economic benefits that come from protecting citizens and providing workers with a voice in their workplace. Whilst vested interests may try to denigrate the role that social protection and employee representation plays in a strong economy, the benefits in terms of productivity are significant. There are, of course, other economic benefits which flow from the type of employment legislation we find in European countries. For example, health and safety legislation keeps people economically active, whilst providing employees with a better work-life balance which means that they are able to participate in the economy as consumers as well as workers – increasingly important in today’s consumer-driven economies. So, one element of the European model is that the state recognises that social protection and employee involvement are important parts of economic policy. However, there is a more basic principle involved. It’s not just about economic benefits. Across Europe there is an acceptance by both government and society at large that we have a moral and social responsibility – a responsibility that is shared between the state, citizens and business. It is from these basic principles that the idea of a European model emerges, but like many things that are hard to define, it is easier to see it when contrasted against something very different. Which is where the polarised debate comparing Europe and the USA is particularly instructive. The US model certainly does offer a stark contrast to the European way of dealing with the weakest in society. Take an example. Much has been said of the American response to the impact of Hurricane Katrina, but there is a reason why it has received such great scrutiny. Whilst the extent and scale of the damage was unimaginable (and it is likely that any country would struggle to cope with such an onslaught), it was a real surprise that the world’s richest and most powerful nation could have been so ill-prepared in a region notorious for tropical storms. The problems experienced in New Orleans demonstrate some of the key failings of the US model. To European observers it was incredible that only those able to afford to leave the affected area were evacuated; that the refuge to which people unable to evacuate were sent had no clean water or medical supplies. The US model’s reliance on charity to provide for the least well off meant that when disaster came knocking, the state was unprepared and unable to help. The real reason that the tragedy in New Orleans received so much attention is that what it means to be poor in 21st century America was laid bare for all to see. The European social model is about giving citizens a level of protection that, sadly, millions of Americans are lacking. However, the way in which that protection is provided varies from country to country, which makes
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a definition of any kind, beyond one of simple social responsibility, difficult to attain. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop a myriad of interests from blaming ‘the European model’ for economic failings, determined to water down social protection and force down taxes in the pursuit of greater profits. Opponents of employment rights and state funded social welfare are using the opportunity of an economic downturn to attack Europe’s tradition of putting people first. This is dangerous enough on its own, but it is also of concern to anyone who wants to get to the bottom of the EU’s inability to meet its ambitious Lisbon targets. By focussing attention in the debate on Europe’s social and employment policies, some of the real failings of EU policy are being missed. For example, we are told that Europe’s high employment standards make us uncompetitive in comparison with countries like China, and that these standards must be cut back if we are going to compete. The problem with this argument is that if a government wants to choose labour standards as the ground on which to fight these emerging economies then it has chosen a losing battle. The logic of their argument fails because in the foreseeable future European member states have not the slightest chance of offering labour costs comparable to those available in much of Asia. To do so would be politically impossible – and rightly so.

However, despite this a number of vested interests have been able to put the focus on the ‘European social model’, using it as an excuse for failure in other fields. Recent studies have found that as much as two-thirds of the productivity gap between the EU and US can be linked to the high level of investment in new technologies that has taken place in the US. It is not America’s low taxes and low levels of employment protection that make it economically strong. It is the fact that it is at the cutting edge of IT and continues to invest in research and development – areas in which the EU, despite various action plans, is still lacking. This is not to say that we should stick with existing policies without question. Certainly European countries face a whole range of challenges, be it Italy’s difficulties in meeting the economic requirements of the Euro zone, Germany’s struggle to cope with unification or the development of mature economies in the EU’s newer member states. In dealing with these economic challenges governments are bound to consider how they meet those basic principles that prop-up ‘social Europe’, but that debate about methodology must not become a debate about the principles themselves. Most importantly, we must not allow a simple ‘social Europe’ v neo-liberal America debate to dominate our thinking on Europe’s economic future. A complex debate about how Europe can succeed without losing its enviable employment and social policies might not make good headlines, but then good policy very rarely does.

? 

Social Europe:
Owen Tudor, Head of the TUC International Department
Britain’s unions should start asking what Britain can learn from the experience of our Nordic counterparts. Unions in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have maintained the tripartite social dialogue, and workers’ collective rights. This has resulted in increased productivity, flexibility, low unemployment and high levels of social protection. They top the world rankings for both productivity and social justice. With one exception, they have socialist governments, and without exception, high trade union membership density. There is much for UK unions to learn from their experiences. British unions should also be developing a strategy to hold back the neo-liberal approach which dominates the global debate about politics and economics. Neoliberalism has many proponents in governments across Europe, and particularly in some new accession states in Eastern Europe, Italy and the UK. But we should be arguing that democratically-elected governments should neither roll over in the face of globalisation (not if they want to be re-elected), nor can they completely isolate our continent. We should not accept a vision of the EU as a transmission belt for globalisation: as even Tony Blair has said, the EU’s job is to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs. We need to manage globalisation, so that it acts in the interests of people rather than business. Unions must campaign to drive standards up throughout the European labour market. At present there is a danger of a permanent split between those in secure, skilled jobs with decent rights, and others like temporary agency workers and migrant workers who are increasingly falling through the net. Unregulated labour markets lead to racial tensions, social dislocation, and lower living standards. Unions have to ensure that workplace standards are improved, and migrant workers are treated equally to indigenous workers. Industries hit hardest by global competition need the assistance of EU institutions through active labour market measures to upskill their workforces – like the Global Adjustment Fund that the European Commission is now at last proposing. This will assist both the local economy and the workforce, and avoid workers being thrown on the scrapheap. Government investment in renewing a skilled workforce is a long term benefit to workers, and far more radical than the traditional remedy of bailing out lame ducks.

talking points for unions
European Model
It is time to relaunch the “European model” which stands as a beacon to the trade union movement across the rest of the world. It should not be a question of defending or defining the existing model, but asking how Europe can cope with the impact of globalisation. Consider the two issues of demography and environment. Europe is facing a crisis of low and falling birth rates. But in Nordic countries the birth rate has actually increased because of buoyant economies and high quality child care. This allows women to return to work in good jobs. Trade unionists in the Nordic countries know that family friendly policies make good economic sense. And this is no less true in the UK. Unions can play a key part in increasing rates of participation in the economy: stepping up the pressure for equal rights through collective bargaining. With Britain facing a future as a net importer of energy, it is clear that international cooperation is essential. Especially as the UK is likely to be importing gas from highly unstable parts of the world. Unions have a key role to play in promoting energy conservation, making its use more efficient and creating less pollution, while maintaining living standards so that people will actually vote for the measures needed.

Economy
Europe’s unemployment - over 20 million out of work – makes economic growth, increased productivity, research and development fundamental. Unions must put pressure on governments to invest in people and their knowledge. The current economic problems in France and Germany – principally lack of demand, not lack of flexibility - are not something to gloat over. If we can’t trade with them, Britain won’t sustain our own economic performance. Britain’s unions should be making the most of the European Union. We can make more use of measures like the Information and Consultation Directive and Works Councils to rebuild our workplace organisation and membership. We must grasp the organising opportunities that Europe provides. 

Consult, involve and modernise
Robert Stevens (IPA) reports from the Unions 1/Prospect workshop “Information & Consultation: Pathways to Recognition?”
In 2006 and beyond will anybody remember that 2005 was the year that transformed trade union membership, recognition and employee relations in this country? And will they know that it was down to the introduction of the information and consultation regulations which came into force on 6 April this year? Perhaps not, at least not yet but for the trade union activists, academics and officers who gathered at TUC Congress House for the European Social Fund sponsored event, theirs was a fascinating insight into the motivation behind the regulations and some of the good practice trade unions are already involved in. Gerry Sutcliffe, employment relations minister spoke to the delegates of his own personal ambition to see employee involvement break the barriers preventing real engagement on the issues that affect employees. “Information and consultation is an opportunity to significantly improve the way we work; to empower employees to contribute even more to the businesses they work for; and for unions to demonstrate their value to both employees and employers,” Sutcliffe told Unions 21. Paul Noon, general secretary of Prospect, suggested that information and consultation should be regarded Employment relations minister Gerry Sutcliffe revealed one of his personal ambitions. as a key instrument in a union’s approach to membership and recognition. “It is an opportunity for trade unions to facilities and the use of external union officers and other strengthen their role in the workplace, by developing experts. an influential role in the formative stages of the decision Delegates from Amicus, the T&G and ANGU all highlighted making process,” he said. that new agreements needed to be supported by time Noon spoke of four examples in different sectors off for representatives and facilities in order to make where Prospect is addressing employee involvement information and consultation effective. by establishing mechanisms for information and The minister acknowledged the challenge the regulations consultation. Tony Burke, assistant general secretary, posed to union resources and invited the delegates to use Amicus also identified a number of organisations in which the new Union Modernisation Fund as an opportunity Amicus is working with the employer to develop robust to address these issues. “The Fund aims to help unions information and consultation arrangements. to modernise themselves and meet the challenges of In particular he highlighted a new national agreement a modern economy and changing labour markets. The “Partnership at Work” drawn up between Amicus and the Government sees information and consultation as an British Print Industries Federation, which includes the first integral part of this picture,” said Sutcliffe. 

model for a pre-existing information and consultation agreement to be agreed at a sectoral level in the UK. Individual employers will be free to locally negotiate the specific terms of the agreement. Burke claimed that the model resolves some of the important concerns unions have raised about the regulations, including: the definition of information and consultation, subject matter available for discussion, the nomination and election of union and non-union representatives, meeting arrangements, confidentiality,

Modernising Company Law:
Meeting the Stakeholders Challenge
The Corporate Responsibility (CORE) Coalition set up in 2001, represents over 130 charities and campaigning organisations such as Amnesty International UK, Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Action Aid. It also includes unions such as AMICUS, GMB, UNISON and TGWU; community organisations such as the National Federation of Women’s Institutes; businesses such as Unity Trust Bank; faith-based groups like Christian Ecology Link; academic institutions like the University of Dundee, and elected representatives. Over the last four years, CORE has attracted the support of over 300 MPs, members of the House of Lords and MEPs. CORE was formed to influence the Government’s proposals for company law reform. It is directed by a Steering Group comprised of Action Aid, Amnesty International UK, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Traidcraft, War on Want, and WWF UK. Over the coming months the Government will be making the biggest changes to UK Company Law in decades, by taking the Company Law Reform Bill through Parliament. This Bill, which was tabled in the House of Lords on 1 November, presents a major opportunity to deliver a framework of company law to meet the needs of the 21st century by ensuring that business is accountable for its wider social and the environmental impacts. In order to deliver that framework, CORE argues that company law, must reflect the interests of affected stakeholders, not just shareholders. CORE has set out three key challenges for the Government, which would ensure that company law meets the needs of stakeholders: Company law should include a requirement for directors to consider, act and mitigate any negative impacts of their business on affected stakeholders, such as employees, consumers, local communities and the environment Affected communities must have access to justice in the UK when the behaviour of UK companies abroad causes harm Companies must be required to report on their social and environmental impacts and performance The Bill as currently drafted fails to deliver that framework. As a result CORE, and all its supporters, will be campaigning over the coming months to amend the Company Law Reform Bill, focusing in particular on strengthening the directors’ duties clauses, as set out in Early Day Motion (EDM) 697. Further information on the Campaign can be found on the CORE website at http://www.corporate-responsibility.org/ , where your support is sought by lobbying your MP to sign EDM 697 – Modernising Company Law and signing up for the Campaign on the website.

Union Ideas Network
Unions 21 is giving its support to a proposed new “Union Ideas Network’ (UIN), to be launched before the end of the year. The central aim of the Union Ideas Network (UIN) is to more closely link the work of the academic and policy making community with the practical work and needs of unions – adding tangible value to links which already exist. It has several clear objectives: • Single gateway to articles and reports of interest to unions; • Searchable database of academic expertise and research interests; • Act as ‘brokerage’ point between unions and academic/ policy making community; • Enable easy and sustainable of ideas, experience and information between unions and academic/policy making community; • Help the academic/policy making community identify issues of interest and concern to unions; and individual union officers; • Enable academic/policy making community to more widely disseminate their work to practitioners; • Provide informed and wide-ranging comment and opinion on ‘contemporary’ issues of interest to unions. The network will be open to: • Bona-fide academics and policy makers; • Union officers, organisers, researchers and lay activists; and • Undergraduate and graduate students The UIN will be based around a web-site hosted by one or more academic partner. To support this ‘virtual’ network, it is proposed to hold 1-2 national seminars per year. 

‘What’s New? What Works?
Modern Trade Unions and Life at Work’
This will be the broad theme for a Unions 21 week of events, from 27 February to 4 March 2006. Unions 21 annual conference is branching out, and will include seminars in three regional venues as well as other events in Congress House and the more traditional Saturday conference in London. Planning for all events is currently underway and further details will be available shortly – keep an eye on Unions 21 website: www.unions21.org. uk. If in the meantime you want to know more, or want to suggest a union “innovation” to be featured at the conference on 4 March, contact Matt Ball, Unions 21 Acting Director, at info@unions21.org.uk.

Union Modernisation Fund
In September, Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, announced the board members that will assess bids for up to £200,000 from the Union Modernisation Fund (UMF). The fund is designed to help trade unions adapt to meet the challenges of the modern workplace. The Board has seven members; Sir Bill Connor, formerly general secretary, USDAW (chair); Adrian Askew, general secretary, Connect; Willy Brown, University of Cambridge; Danny Carrigan, formally assistant general secretary, Amicus; Jeannie Drake, deputy general secretary, CWU; Judith Hackitt, director-general, Chemical Industrial Association; and David Metcalf, London School of Economics and Political Science. Unions 21 will next year provide a forum for unions to share experiences of implementing their UMF projects.

Alan Johnson pictured at the Labour Party Conference with Tony Dubbins (left) and Adrian Askew. Adrian is a member of the Union Modernisation Fund board. 

David Mansell/reportdigital.co.uk

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