Yesterday the Prime Minister unveiled a new initiative which addressed the three main demons of the right in one go, ostensibly cracking down on the benefit entitlement of migrants from Europe. As my colleague Richard Exell has rehearsed, the announcement – released without detail so it’s difficult to say anything too authoritative – makes little sense as a practical policy, because European migrants simply don’t claim that much in benefit. And as others have pointed out, it isn’t even very new, with several of the measures announced apparently already on the statute books! So what’s going on, and what can we do about it?
Today, is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (a bit of a mouthful – let’s just call it UNIDEVAW). It’s an important date in the calendar for campaigners for women’s rights and it’s been marked on 25th November since 1981. It was originally organised as commemoration of the assassination of three political activists, the Mirabal sisters, in the Dominican Republic in 1961. As those who campaign for trade union freedoms in Colombia and elsewhere know all too well, violence against women, sexual violence, and political oppression all too often go hand in hand.
The TUC is marking UNIDEVAW this year by launching a petition calling on the government to sign up to an important Council of Europe Convention on violence against women.
We’re also launching a survey on domestic violence and the impact on the working lives of survivors.
Domestic violence may happen behind closed doors but it has far reaching consequences and is known to have an impact on the working lives of those living with an abusive partner.
Last Tuesday, Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) - which runs stores across Great Britain under its own name and as Peacocks – finally signed the union-sponsored Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, becoming the 115th company to do so. It was a big win for months of campaigning by unions and NGOs, including another push planned for this weekend, the first anniversary of the Tazreen Fashions factory fire which killed over a hundred people.
Popular protest persuaded EWM to sign the Accord which binds it legally to the process of independent inspection and improvements which arose out of the Rana Plaza factory collapse this April. That factory collapse marked a turning point in years of campaigning by Bangladeshi unions, their global equivalents IndustriALL and UNIglobal, the Clean Clothes Campaign and others. Finally, companies started doing what they were asked to do, and the Accord now covers over 1600 factories in Bangladesh.
Earlier this week the TUC complained about a press release issued by the HSE saying that the new Approved Code of Practice on Workplace Health Safety and Welfare had been reviewed “to make it easier for employers, building owners, landlords and managing agents to understand and meet their legal obligations and so reduce the risks of over compliance.”
This was a disgrace and was akin to telling employers that they must not go beyond the absolute legal minimum in providing things like office space, toilet facilities and all the other things covered by the Regulations.
The TUC day of action against blacklisting was a fantastic success. Culminating in a rally in Parliament, the day saw action outside several construction sites in London, Glasgow,Hemel Hempstead, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. There were also events at the Welsh Senedd in Cardiff and the Scottish Parliament.
At the Westminster rally TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady condemned the governmnet for their refusal to hold an inquiry into blacklisting while at the same time setting up an inquiry into unions for defending their members. A statement was also read from Ed Miliband demanding that the Government set up an official inquiry, while Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary committed the next Labour Government to holding one.
The HSE has published the new Approved Code of Practice on Workplace Health Safety and Welfare. This covers issues like lighting, temperature, space, toilet facilities etc. Most of it is just an update of the current Code, and, although I am disappointed that there is no maximum temperature despite the overwhelming case for one, most of the Code is good, clear and helpful.
Unfortunately the HSE manages to shoot itself in the foot with the press release which says it has been reviewed “to make it easier for employers, building owners, landlords and managing agents to understand and meet their legal obligations and so reduce the risks of over compliance.”
Usually, questions like that refer to his opinion about a refereeing decision, but this week English football icon and BBC voice of football Gary Lineker has called on twitter for a FIFA enquiry into the way Qatar is holding footballer Zahir Belounis in the country against his will under the infamous kafala labour system that also affects tens of thousands of migrant construction workers, some of them building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
And the answer, as so often, is that Gary Lineker is right. FIFA must hold an enquiry into the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in a country that enslaves footballers and builders alike. A ten-day UN mission to Qatar has recommended the Qataris adopt the right to form and join trade unions, proper grievance procedures, a minimum wage and the abolishment of the kafala system. As the ITUC #rerunthevote campaign demands, unless Qatar abides by ILO labour standards – including outlawing forced labour – it must have the World Cup stripped from it.