150 years of TUC and women workers fight on for equality

We are all Rosa's daughters...

This week we celebrate the 150th birthday of the Trades Union Congress (TUC),the first coming together in 1868 of trade unionists from all over the UK at the Manchester Mechanics Institute to form the annual Congress that we hold to still. At that time women made up around 10% of union membership.

Women have always played a significant role in the workforce though. From agricultural labour to the jute mills of Dundee, factories and works, women have also been natural leaders at work. Women’s war effort on the two world wars is well documented. We know of the women munitions workers, engineers, communications, transport and infrastructural workers and land girls. We were taught that women were expected to give up their skills and shelf their abilities when the men returned from war.

Unionised labour is stereotyped as male blue collar heavy industry workers. How things have changed. Today more people…

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The Offshore Horizon: unions and the future of Oil and Gas

As the debate develops on the future of offshore work, our policy team considers the role for workers, unions, companies, and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the future of oil and gas. It comes as the number of jobs related to the oil and gas industry has fallen by 160,000 between 2014 and 2017. Further losses are predicted in the next ten years.

Companies have also used the downturn to move from a shift rota of two-weeks on, two-weeks off to three-weeks on, three-weeks off. This raises potentially serious health and safety concerns, including fatigue and increased potential of severe accidents.

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The Scottish Affairs Committee is seeking submissions to their inquiry

Our response makes clear that the Offshore Coordinating Group, made up of Unite the Union, RMT, GMB, Nautilus and Balpa, need to be given a central role in outlining workers’ concerns to industry and Government.

Those on the front-line recognise the need for both short-term assistance and long-term strategies. Yet the UK Government has not delivered effective measures to help offshore workers affected, nor has it produced comprehensive strategies for decommissioning and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

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Source: http://gcaptain.com/photos-shipbreaking-in-alang-india/

Standards in the decommissioning sector are deeply concerning. The sector receives significant tax relief from Government, and yet offshore unions have received reports of sub-minimum wage pay rates on specific projects. Rigs are often towed to Bangladesh and Indian beaches where there are serious concerns around environmental and labour regulatory standards. Earlier this year the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) prevented three rigs being towed from Cromarty Firth to South Asia due to environmental concerns. Scotland has a number of perfectly suitable, high-quality decommissioning sites, but unless Government takes steps to improve standards, hedge fund-backed companies will still seek to exploit lower regulatory standards on the other side of the world.

Similarly, to date, renewable energy developments in Scotland have been dominated by the big energy companies, developers and large landowners, and the green jobs boom has not appeared to the extent promised. Where green jobs have been created, they are too often poor quality and non-unionised. Worryingly too are the dramatic falls in the rate of investment in low-carbon energy, as reported by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 15.05.30The announcement by the Scottish Government to create a Just Transition Commission provides an opportunity to rectify this. It must drive forward a proper Industrial Strategy that supports offshore workers and the development of renewables and decommissioning in a way which captures value within the Scottish and UK economy, supports post-industrial communities, and provides good quality, unionised jobs. To do so it must be established with an ambitious remit, a long-term vision and a suitably independent role. It must also have worker engagement at its core.

We would urge the proposed Scottish Government-owned energy company to focus on energy generation, such as offshore wind, rather than simply the retail side of energy supply.

In this transition, lessons must also be learned from North Sea oil, in which the profits were all but captured by private companies. The UK’s experience in this regard is in stark contrast to countries such as Norway, where publicly owned-energy companies have provided returns to Governments’ and taxpayers for decades.

To this end, we would urge the proposed Scottish Government-owned energy company to focus on energy generation, such as offshore wind, rather than simply the retail side of energy supply. Such a model could help companies such as Bifab, who provide the jackets for offshore wind and be an important step towards the extension of public ownership throughout the system.

Alongside municipal energy companies which promote energy efficiency, district heating and low-carbon electricity generation, Scotland could transform its energy system in the coming decades.

However, if it is meet its climate targets and provide good quality unionised jobs, then radically different models to the current privatised system need to be considered as a matter of urgency.

Cuts, jobs losses, money for the bosses.

Since the collapse of Carillion, which saw the loss of directly employed staff as well as job losses elsewhere in the supply chain, there have been numerous other firm closures and resultant jobs lost across the Scottish labour market in the last five months.

Yesterday’s announcement of 287 jobs going at Crummock’s engineering firm in Bonnyrigg is another blow to the construction sector in Scotland. The multidisciplinary construction company went into receivership after last year’s budget noted the absence of contracts from the Scottish Government and shrinking local authority budgets were the biggest risk to the business which had previously been involved in a number of civil engineering projects around Scotland, including the installation of concrete slabs in St Andrews Square for the Edinburgh Trams

Outwith construction, jobs have been lost across Scotland in our primary market: the service industry. The Royal Bank of Scotland’s 62 branch closures in Scotland will result in 179 job losses. The list of retail stores announcing closures and redundancies across Scotland includes Toys ‘R’ Us, Maplin, New Look, Bench, Jaeger, Marks and Spencer’s, and Poundworld. The proposed merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s is likely to see further jobs lost.

Scotland’s recent job losses have been across many fields, from those classed as unskilled to highly skilled roles at Rosyth and BiFab which cut to the heart of the Government’s economic, industrial and energy strategies.

Whilst a new South of Scotland enterprise agency is proposed, Young’s Seafood has just announced the closure of Pinneys fish-processing plant in Dumfries and Galloway. Coupled with the proposed closure of Two Sisters meat processing plant in Annan, this will mean a loss of 900 jobs in the South of Scotland.

In an era where we already have stagnant wage growth, rising housing costs, and increasing mental ill health which is in part caused by economic conditions of precarity and insecurity, further job losses in Scotland are going to have a significant impact on our lives and communities.

There is an urgent need to assess current activities around enterprise, skills and industry in order to identify a strategy regarding areas and sectors to be invested in. This investment must be in workplaces which mean Fair Work jobs. Not only does this drive inclusive growth in the economy, but goes a long way to addressing people’s everyday life issues. Reducing poverty, decreasing addiction levels, reducing the education attainment gap, and increasing money in people’s pockets will not happen if thousands more jobs are lost in Scotland or are moved from secure to precarious positions.

Scotland desperately needs a comprehensive industrial strategy which takes heed of our trade union values. We cannot continue to have an ad hoc response to industrial closures and job losses. Instead, industry sector forums should be established which ensure genuine collective bargaining across sectors which are able to strategically plan for our import and export industries. This is particularly important considering the uncertainty around Scotland’s constitutional future post-Brexit.

Only by ensuring a coherent and planned industrial strategy which is backed up by investment in research, skills and training, as well as by worker involvement in this planning through collective bargaining and alternative forms of ownership, can we begin to tackle the issues at the heart of our economy, tackling inequality and raising living standards. We simply cannot afford, nor can we accept, Scotland’s people facing another generation of penury.