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workers' rights

Storm in a teacup?

Knowsley Housing Trust recently attempted to withdraw their workers rights to a tea break. Workers were asked to leave the works canteen by the Assistant Depot Manager, when they refused three of the men were made the subject of a disciplinary investigation. As a show of solidarity all the workers even those were out on the job returned to the canteen in an organised mass tea break even though it was made clear by management that anyone taking a break could take disciplinary action. Faced with the united response management were forced to back down and reinstate the workers right for a morning tea break. By the time the official union representatives arrived the workers' imaginative direct action had already won the dispute.

Let us sack you happy

As reported in the last Catalyst, Britain's biggest insurer is axing over 2,000 jobs in one of the worst examples of outsourcing to hit the UK. It is now clear the job losses are to be centred in Norwich, York and Perth. Norwich has already been hit in a drive to outsource 900 jobs to Delhi and Bangalore. Amicus, who called the move 'despicable' and vowed to fight it, has delivered little in terms of saving workers' jobs.

Outsourcing, recently endorsed by Labour Cabinet ministers as good for business ("and therefore good for us"), is projected to strip 200,000 jobs from the UK by 2008. Most of those affected are doing data input or call centre work: sectors already notorious for their high turnover of staff. Hence workers with little legal or union protection are being protected, and while the unions aren't much cop, they are invariably better than nothing.

BACC Actions

Back in May, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) held a ‘National Temporary Workers Week'. In reality, this was a propaganda exercise promoting the casualisation of work. In response, the Bristol Against Casualisation Campaign (BACC) held a series of counterevents under the title ‘Opposing Temporary Work Week'. BACC is a group of workers and trade unionists who have been organising against casualisation for the past three years or so.

Sick harassment

Have you noticed nowadays when you are off sick, you still get phone calls from work? They can be about trivial stuff like someone not being able to find a file, or more important questions that it seems only you know the answer to.

Workers are even asked about who could cover for them, like that's part of your job description. This can come from your boss or supervisor or from fellow workers left in the lurch by the mismanagement above them.

Increasingly, it seems to be alright to harass people at home who are sick. This only increases the anxiety felt by those off sick and sometimes can be used to pressure them to return to work before they should do.

Bullying + Big Business

Bullying can be expressed physically, but more often than not takes the form of psychological aggression, whether aggression, threats, abuse, or ridicule... Whichever form it takes, it is always vindictive, cruel, malicious and humiliating. The result is devastating for the victims, causing serious stress-related heath problems, such as severe fatigue, depression and immune system suppression.

Working For Free!

Workers in this country do an average of seven hours six minutes extra work a week, and should take home an extra £4,800 a year if they were paid the average wage for those unpaid hours.

The response of the TUC since 2005 has been to declare one day in February ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day' and on that day calls on employees to use it to remind bosses of their extra unpaid work by taking a proper lunch break and going home on time for this one day a year. Employers should also use the day to say thank you to staff for their unpaid work, perhaps by buying them lunch or an after-work coffee or cocktail.

Making a killing

Nearly twice as many people die from fatal injuries at work than are victims of homicide, a new report has revealed. At least 1,300 people died as a result of fatal occupational injuries in 2005-06 in England and Wales, compared with 765 homicide deaths. It was also found that non-fatal workplace injuries requiring hospitalisation were far higher than those needing treatment following a violent crime.

Yet at a time when crime, especially violent crime, takes centre stage and any working class youth who likes wearing a hood is stigmatized as a potential mass murderer, the violent crime and murder taking place in the workplace everyday is never reported. Moreover, while Labour responds to every Daily Mail hang-and-flog-them headline by throwing yet more people into already overcrowded jails the perpetrators of crime in the workplace get off virtually scot-free

Service not included

Following our piece on tips in the last issue, The Independent launched a campaign on the same issue. They didn’t credit either us or the trades unions, which have been campaigning on the issue much longer.

This newspaper campaign seems to have had some effect, however. “Government insiders” now claim they will address the issue in the autumn. More significantly, a prominent “Old” Labour figure has admitted delivering restaurant workers into the hands of their exploiters when drafting minimum wage legislation in 1997.

Ian McCartney, ex-trades union official and token ex-prole in the government, admitted that he sold out workers to ensure the agreement of bosses to the minimum wage. While this ex-waiter banned the use of cash tips to top up the minimum wage, he agreed to a legal loophole allowing catering bosses to use “service charges” for the same purpose.

Can I phone a friend?

Pell and Bales is a London call centre that raises funds on behalf of major charities. Since a venture capital company, ICENI, bought shares in P&B, the volume of calls staff must make has increased.

This added pressure led to friction between management and staff, and an increase in petty disciplinary actions and grievances.

Pat Carmody, a caller and CWU rep at Pell & Bales, helped build a fast-growing union that won a pay increase for the first time in 6 years and is capable of winning disciplinaries and grievances. Senior management were none too pleased.

In June, Carmody was suspended for writing an article for Socialist Worker in defence of a suspended colleague. Management claimed the article defamed the company and suspended him.

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