Regional report from Northern TUC and unionlearn

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Unions show of strength at LibDem Spring Conference

Around 2000 trade unionists, community groups and public services campaigners assembled to protest against the Liberal Democrats at their Spring Conference in Gateshead last weekend. Speakers from trade unions, Keep Our NHS Public, the Lawnmowers Community Group and Remploy were joined by local Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Ian Mearns to condemn the LibDem role in pushing through the deeply unpopular Health and Social Care Bill, attacks on people dependent on welfare benefits, cuts to public services and their failure to support alternatives to austerity.

Speaking at the event, Regional Secretary, Kevin Rowan, said, "This was a fantastic turn out and a real demonstration of the anger and frustration at the role the Liberal Democrats are playing in supporting the most right-wing government agenda that we've seen in recent history. This coalition government are dissembling the very fabric of what makes our society and community function well, the NHS, the welfare state, decent comprehensive education, support for young people and quality jobs with decent employment rights. The general public will not forgive the Liberal Democrats for this collaboration of destruction."

Localisation of Public Sector Pay

In the 2011 Autumn Statement the Chancellor announced a consultation on localising public sector pay, to be conducted by the Office of Manpower Economics. A number of trade unions and the TUC have made submissions to the OME, all opposing the introduction of local or regional variations in public sector pay bargaining. Ahead of that consultation period concluding, however, the Chancellor chose the budget statement last month to announce the Coalition Government's intention to introduce local pay in some parts of the public sector at the end of the current period of freezing public sector pay.

The government's argument is that in areas like the north, where private sector pay is among the lowest in the UK and lower in most cases than public sector pay, that private sector employers are being 'squeezed out' as people choose instead to work in the public sector. This argument fails to stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny, with the north east not just enduring low pay, but also the highest levels of unemployment and public sector jobs declining by around 2000 per month.

The reality of introducing this policy would be that workers in the northern region would continue to endure lower pay than the rest of the UK, far from stimulating either economic or employment growth, further effective reductions in public sector pay would take even more demand out of the economy, the equivalent of £78m for every one per cent wages are reduced. It is also the case that women and BME workers would be most affected by the introduction of further freezes of public sector pay.

Nor is this policy receiving public support: 56 per cent of voters see this as unfair (only 50 per cent of Conservative voters think it is fair); while 45 per cent of the public think further reductions in public sector pay will harm regional economies.

The TUC are currently preparing a briefing for trade union representatives and a campaign leaflet to challenge the introduction of localised public sector pay. Follow the campaign on twitter @payfairnow. There is much political reaction, with a number of Coalition MPs apparently anxious about the implications of such a policy, not surprising when many of these MPs enjoy a majority that is considerably smaller than the number of workers in their Constituency who would be affected by this policy.

Campaign to fight job cuts and fare hikes

The TUC, railway unions and transport campaigners have launched a campaign to fight job cuts, service reductions, ticket office closures and fare hikes in the rail industry.

At a meeting with MPs at the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 March, union leaders and representatives from the Campaign for Better Transport raised their concerns about the government's proposals for the future of rail as outlined in the Rail Command Paper. They were joined by Shadow Transport Minister Maria Eagle.

Concerns raised included:

  • The creation of multiple regional 'Railtracks' and the selling of rail infrastructure through regional concessions, putting maintenance and safety at risk.
  • The closure of more than 650 ticket offices across the country, penalising staff and passengers.
  • Job cuts of up to 20,000 rail staff on stations, trains, ticket offices, signalling and maintenance.
  • Plans to undermine existing union agreements across the industry, with the freezing of above inflation pay rises and revised terms and conditions for new starters.

The event was chaired by TUC Deputy General Secretary, Frances O'Grady and attended by General Secretaries of ASLEF, RMT, TSSA and the National Officer for rail at Unite.

Employment Law Changes start to bite

Good Friday turned out to be a bad day for around 2.7 million workers across the UK. New changes to unfair dismissal rules means they now face an increased risk of losing their jobs due the government's decision to increase the qualifying period for protection from unfair dismissal from one year to two years. Giving employers the right to sack workers for any reason, without recourse (except in discrimination cases) only makes workers face more job insecurity at a time when workers need more confidence.

The government argues that watering down employment rights will help to boost recruitment and help companies grow, but there is no credible evidence to support this. While the qualifying period for unfair dismissal rights in the UK has fluctuated over time, since 1999 when the qualifying period was last reduced from two years to 12 months, more than 1,750,000 extra jobs have been created in the UK.

This change in the law is also not a top priority for business. The Small Business Barometer commissioned by the Department for Business, published in October 2011, asked 500 small and medium-sized businesses about their main obstacles to success. The biggest problem (cited by 45 per cent) was the state of the economy, while obtaining finance from the banks was the next biggest issue (12 per cent). After this came taxation, cash flow and competition. Just six per cent of small businesses listed regulation, or 'red tape', as their main barrier to growth.

The changes also fall disproportionately. Women working part-time and employees from Black Minority Ethnic communities are particularly at risk, as 1.4 million part-time female employees have been with their current employer for less than two years, and only around a third of all BME employees have had the same employer for less than two years - compared with a quarter of white employees. In addition, the increased qualifying period will have a detrimental impact on younger workers - already facing serious difficulties because of record levels of youth unemployment. Nearly two in three (61 per cent) of employees aged 24 and under have less than two years service with their current employer.

International Women's Day

Around 80 women gathered at Newcastle Civic Centre for International Women's Day, 2012, where the theme of the discussion was the ongoing dramatic impact on women and families of the Coalition Government's continuing severe austerity programme. Chair of the Northern TUC Women's Group, Clare Williams, UNISON, Regional Convenor, opened the event describing International Women's Day an opportunity to reflect on how the UK government's response to the economic global crisis is impacting so heavily on women in terms of cutting jobs, education opportunities, welfare and benefit reforms.

The public sector is being made the scapegoat, even though we did not create the crisis. Two in three jobs in the public sector are done by women; 64% of low paid workers are women; 40% of women in ethnic communities live in poverty; one in five children in the north east lives in poverty.

Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, spoke about the need to celebrate the achievements and progress of women since the 1950s, but that much of this progress was being directly threatened by the Conservative-led government, including universal health care and comprehensive education. There is overwhelming evidence of the Coalition government's relentless attacks on women, women's unemployment was growing at twice the rate of male unemployment. The 'Tory Boy, Eton Cabinet of Millionaires' would be sadly mistaken if they expected women to ignore what they were doing - women would lead the campaign against the attacks on society.

Sally Young, from Newcastle CVS, spoke about how many of the services that women and families were so dependent upon were also under threat from the public spending cuts the government were driving through. Women were more disproportionately dependent upon services provided through the voluntary sector, with over three quarters of voluntary sector bodies reducing staff and anxious about being able to continue this meant that women were likely to receive reduced services and support moving forwards.

Keeping Health and Safety Standards High

Over 70 health and safety reps gathered at the Centre for Life in Newcastle on Monday 12th March to explore some of the consequences of current government policy on the health and safety environment with a particular focus on asbestos in schools. In her opening remarks TUC Regional Chair, Gill Hale, emphasised that the impact of spending cuts on jobs, benefits and public services was very apparent in this region. We were now, also beginning to recognise the impact on health and safety in a range of areas. From reduced inspections by the HSE, a more limited Environmental Health resource in local authorities and employers risking cutting corners to save costs.

Speakers included Ian Lavery MP for Wansbeck and Secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Safety Group which has recently called for urgent action on asbestos in schools. The afternoon session focussed on organising for Workers' Memorial Day, Working with Churches and HSE priorities.

Read the full report at www.tuc.org.uk/northern

Housing Conference

On the 27th March Unison Northern Region with the support of the Northern TUC hosted a Housing Voice event in the region. The aim of the event was to inform and support the national inquiry into affordable homes currently being undertaken by Housing Voice.

Housing Voice is the campaign alliance established to champion the need for more affordable homes to buy or rent. Recent independent polling commissioned by Housing Voice found that affordable housing is in fact a greater concern for families than either education or crime. Their survey also found that 71% think the Coalition Government is either giving 'none' or 'not much' attention to affordable housing, and that the public do not see this issue as a high priority for politicians.

According to Shelter the North east is the UK hotspot for house repossessions with Stockton on Tees, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland, County Durham, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Darlington the worst affected in the region.

The day was open to all representatives of organisations with an interest in housing, tenants, members and activists. The speakers included Jo Boaden, Chief Executive Northern Housing Consortium, John Lee Chief Executive of Your Homes Newcastle and Mike Clark, Manager at Newcastle Tenants Federation and Chair Vela Housing Group.

It was well attended with representatives from a broad range of groups and organisations - direct providers, policy makers, representatives from Women's and Disabled Group's and local councillors, the basis of the event to respond to 10 terms of reference set by Housing Voice created debate and discussion which has been captured and is being reported back to the National Inquiry.

Multi-Cultural music event to take place in Newcastle

The northern region will be hosting a Multi-cultural Music event at The Monument in Newcastle City Centre on Saturday 21st April.

The event coincides with St. George's Day, and will include a large range of acts and speakers with the aim of making the day a positive celebration of north east and British multi-culturalism.

Far-right parties and organisations often use St George's day to mobilise in Newcastle, in an effort to spread their message of hatred and racism. This multi-cultural event will demonstrate that the vast majority of people are proud of our culture and diversity, and send a strong message to the far-right that their racist views are not welcome in our region.

Workers' Memorial Day

This year the TUC is calling on health and safety representatives, trades councils and safety campaigners to make 28th April a day of action to defend health and safety from the attacks on regulation, enforcement, cuts and refusal to tackle the massive toll that health and safety breaches take on workers. Our health and our safety is under attack like never before and we must defend it, for our sake and that of future generations.

There are a number of resources available on the TUC website with a list of events that are taking place up and down the country. Regional activities/events are taking place in Hartlepool, Gateshead, Durham, Newcastle and Berwick. If you have a regional event that is taking place please let Melanie Lowden have details and it will be added to the website. http://tinyurl.com/WMD-TUC

Northern Pride

NPNorthern Pride festival takes place on Saturday 21st July in Leazes Park, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Northern Pride Events Ltd is a community based not-for-profit registered charity located in the North East. Northern Pride organises, manages and hosts a series of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender events in the North East throughout the year.

Northern Pride relies on donations and sponsorship from organisations and individuals in order to run free events within the community. This year, on Northern Pride's 5th Birthday, it is anticipated around 20,000 people will attend the festival.

There are a number of ways organisations can support the festival and events leading up to it. Please contact Pete Wilcox, Chair of the Northern TUC Equalities Sub-Committee for further information peter.wilcox@fbu.org.uk

Stop DVLA closures

The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT) that supports law enforcement by maintaining an up to date register of drivers and vehicles. It employs around 5000 workers in its main sites in Swansea as well as just over 1200 people in 39 local offices and 10 Area Enforcement Centres across the UK.

On 13th December 2011, Mike Penning, the Minister with responsibility for the DVLA, announced in the House of Commons the start of a public consultation on a document entitled Transforming DVLA Services, which proposes to close down the Agency's network of local offices and centralise their work at DVLA headquarters in Swansea. This will result in 1200 jobs being lost.

Please support the campaign by sending an email directly to your local MP asking them to sign EDM 2736 which calls for the government to reconsider the proposed closures. Details on the PCS website http://tinyurl.com/EDM2736

Appeal Success

Trade unions, individuals and campaign groups are celebrating a Supreme Court ruling which upheld a trade union appeal and rejected arguments by insurance companies which would have denied compensation to victims of the terminal disease mesothelioma, contracted through exposure to asbestos.

'This is the best possible outcome for the thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases every year - and their families who have to endure the pain and suffering with them.

Sufferers of mesothelioma and other debilitating asbestos-related diseases should not have had the legitimacy of their very deserved right to compensation questioned in such a callous manner.

Our work in the region strives to make a difficult situation a little easier; offering help, support and advice for all involved and this ruling will go a long way to making that service even more effective so people can get the help they badly need.

International

Jafra Appeal

The Northern TUC appeal for funds for the Jafra Palestinian Youth Centre in Damascus was launched following the Regional Council meeting in January. The objective of the appeal was to secure funds to enable the Jafra Palestinian Youth Centre, based in Damascus, to provide emergency support to Palestinian Refugees in Syria who are effectively caught in the crossfire of the violence. So far over £4,000 has been raised and electricity generators have been bought and put in place in the refugee camps in Homs and Dera'a as well as providing urgently needed medicines.

Accurate information is difficult to obtain, but we know that there are regular long power cuts across the country affecting the Palestinian refugee camps, we have been told that Jafra received a 'busload' of children from the camp at Homs for whom Jafra had to arrange adoptions and we know that a suicide car bomb has exploded in the Yarmouk camp where Jafra is based. We do not know the facts behind each incident.

The Northern TUC appeal has now been circulated by the Southern and Eastern TUC and we can expect more funds to be received in the near future.

Sincere thanks and appreciation are extended to all branches and committees who have responded to the appeal.

Northern Delegation to Burma

Building on the relationship between trade unions in the Northern TUC and Burmese trade unions will be a key aim of a multi-union delegation heading to Burma later this month to join the Burmese and Karen trade union federations in celebrating May Day.

Delegates from Unison, UCU, NASUWT and FBU will be present to witness the growing confidence of the trade union movement in Burma. Much is changing with Aung San Su Kyi recently elected to Parliament and many political prisoners now released.

There is, however, much progress to make and the TUC has joined the ITUC call for sanctions to remain in place until the Burmese regime is fully compliant with international labour standards.

UNIONLEARN

Northern Region Performance

The team continues to support ULF projects in the region deliver against their objectives. Through participating in 752 workplace visits since April 2011 the regional team have engaged over 1,200 adults in informal adult learning, 1,300 through the union route, 36 UK online centres resulting 99 UK online basics completions. The team have also carried over 1,700 briefings to adults in relation to unionlearn's key strategic themes. Over the past year there has been a significant increase in new employers engaged - 73 to date, higher than in previous years.

Northroots 2012

Over 100 delegates registered for the Northern Region's first ever conference devoted to new media and digital skills in the workplace. The 'Northroots' event engaged a wide range of people who wanted to find out more about the value of using new methods and tools to organise, campaign and engage. Northern TUC Vice Chair Karen Reay, Regional Secretary of Unite, opened and closed the event and highlighted how unions have to use all methods at our disposal to make a difference for members and that 'must always move with the times'.

Participants heard from an array of national and regional speakers who shared their lessons and tips. Workshops examined the advantages and disadvantages of different methods (from YouTube, facebook, twitter and SMS) to how to use them to give working people a stronger voice. National bloggers and strategists provided the 'big picture' on what unions and campaigning organisations can achieve as well as sharing good practice.

The feedback was excellent and thirst for more events like this has prompted Bite Size Briefing events on blogging and new media in the coming weeks and months. To find out more about new media skills and forthcoming events see Bite Size Briefings section of this report.

2012/2013 ULF Performance Key findings

In the first three quarters of 2011/12 Unionlearn has delivered 166,592 total learners via the union route against the DBIS annual target of 220,000

In the latest quarter, ULF projects are performing ahead of target in relation to five of our nine key performance indicators: Apprenticeships (229% variance); Informal Adult and Community Learners (206%); CPD (143%); Further Education (113%); and Higher Education (102%). However projects have performed below profile in relation to four other ULF KPIs: Skills for Life learners (82%); Number of new ULRs completing initial training (76%); Level 2 (73%); and Written Learning Agreements signed with employers (24%).

In relation to total learners, three regions - the South East (22%), the North West (21%) and the Midlands (21%) - account for almost two-thirds of all reported learners. Elsewhere learners are distributed more evenly across the regions with the South West accounting for 13% of the total, followed by Yorkshire and Humber (12%) and Northern (11%).

The Northern Region has a working population of 1,180,000 people; of that there are 362,000 union members. Since April through ULF and other regional activity 16,058 workers have engaged in learning through the union route. These figures show a ratio of 1 learner to every 23 trade union members, the best ratio in the country, which confirms the strong culture of trade union learning in the region and we should all be congratulated on that.

Learning at Work Day

Learning at Work day falls on the 17th May 2012 during Adult Learners Week and as in previous years unionlearn is delighted to be able to offer support to unions wishing to celebrate and engage their members in the workplace and communities.

A small amount of funding is available to unions to complement Learning at Work Day activity. Although all informal learning activity will be promoted and celebrated, funding will focus on the following themes:

  • Informal Adult Community Learning (IACL)
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Skills for Life
  • Workplace and Community Learning

In the Northern region we will be looking for union-led learning projects to hold learning events in workplaces. We have to demonstrate that the funding is used as a catalyst for learning and not just for fun, the focus will be on informal learning as set out above.

As resources are limited, and time is of the essence, an application form is available on request from Anne Cairns, acairns@tuc.org.uk, tel: 0191 232 3175.

Key dates to remember:

  • 18th April 2012- Application deadline date
  • 20th April 2012- Confirmation of funding and evidence requirement letters sent
  • 29th June 2012 - All invoices received along with registers and evaluation forms
Bitesize Briefings

Our purpose is to continue to add value to the work of trade unions in relation to learning and skills.

With increased pressure about trade union facility time in parliament from the TaxPayers' Alliance, unionlearn has developed an innovative approach to supporting and developing union reps in the form of 'bite size' half-day briefings.

To date over 700 learners have taken part in the Informal Adult learning Agenda in a variety of these briefings.

The next round of Bite Size Briefings takes place between April to June 2012. Topics covered in this round are:

  • Representing Carers at Work: Thursday 26th April. Places for this particular briefing are limited. Please apply early to avoid disappointment.
  • Introduction to new media - Newcastle: Wednesday 9th May; Carlisle, Tuesday 12th June
  • Mental Health First Aid - Wednesday 16th May
  • Blogging for Beginners - Tuesday 29th May
  • Disability Champions - Friday 22nd June
  • Cumbria Forum on Health & Wellbeing - Thursday 28th June, Rheged, Penrith
  • Full details of what the briefings cover and how to apply is available at www.tuc.org.uk/northern.
East Coast Trains offering first-class learning

The union-led learning initiative at East Coast Trains is proving a huge success as more and more members and employees are signing-up for the courses on offer. Their success comes hot on the heels of their excellent open day back in October of last year, held in Newcastle's Central Station which encouraged all staff and their families to come along and participate in a whole range of fun and innovative activities, all in the name of learning something new.

Tony Paul, ASLEF lead Union Learning Rep, Jon Healy, RMT ULR, Rob McCarthy, TSSA ULR and the rest of the team were determined to build on the interest that they had on that day and keep the learning momentum going. And indeed they have, as currently there is a cohort of almost 30 staff participating in an IT course, run across three classes/times to accommodate people as much as possible. In addition to this 40 have signed up to numeracy courses.

Education, Learning and Skills Forum: Climbing the Ladder - Higher Level Skills

The Stadium of Light played host to the ELSF on the 14th March as we celebrated the success of the innovative regional Higher Level Skills project.

More than 60 delegates attended to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in learning and skills, the regional funding landscape and how the flagship Higher Level Skills project has made an impact to individuals, employers and the regional economy over the last three years - and how it can make a difference going forward.

Gillian Miller of the Skills Funding Agency spoke about skills policy and funding. The next speaker was Dorothy Kelly who treat the audience to an informative and very positive presentation on the Higher Level Skills Project Evaluation, which detailed the origins and background of the project, the challenges it has faced throughout its course and best of all, its efficacy - the impact it has made and the legacy it will leave. It was extremely heartening to hear the two main positives are the Skills to Grow NE web portal and the unionlearn activity which played a key role in delivering outputs for the project.

HMRC Washington

Congratulations to Lucy Lanaghan and Gillian Hindson, both Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) in Waterview Park, (WvP) Washington, who have achieved the status of NHS Health Champions and were presented with their certificates by the Mayor of Sunderland.

At the event the Chair of Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust mentioned some organisations by name, giving a special mention to HMRC. This gives outside organisations a very positive message about how HMRC is working together with ULRs to engage with staff and help them to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Some of the good work carried out by the WvP ULRs includes arranging a 'World Mental Health Day' event, as part of their Better Health at Work (BHAW) initiative. Two mental health experts from Sunderland Primary Care Trust came along providing advice about mental health and wellbeing. 'Goodie' bags donated by the Mental Health Foundation and NHS were also handed out including relaxation CDs and stress balls.

In addition to the fantastic work being achieved around the health and wellbeing agenda, a certificate presentation day was held on the 19th March to recognise the achievement of 30 members of staff achieving their skills for life qualifications. Certificates were presented by the Director General for Benefits and Credits, Steve Lamey and Beth Farhat, Regional Coordinator unionlearn.

Diary dates

April

11th - Durham PSA, County Hall, Durham, 5.30pm

16th - Gateshead PSA, Civic Centre, Gateshead, 5.30pm

17th - Newcastle PSA, Unison Office, 5.30pm

17th - North Tyneside PSA, Wallsend People's Centre, 5.30pm

18th - Executive Committee, TUC Regional Office, 10am

18th - Sunderland PSA, Civic Centre, Sunderland, 5.30pm

19th - PSA Steering Group, TUC Regional Office, 5pm

19th - South Tyneside PSA, South Shields Town Hall, Committee Room A

24th - Equalities Sub-Committee, TUC Regional Office, 4pm

26th - Bite Size Briefing: Representing Carers at Work, 12.30-14.30, TUC Regional Office

27th - Pensions Advisory Group, TUC Regional Office, 10.30am

28th - Workers' Memorial Day

May

5th - Tyne and Wear May Day

9th - Bite Size Briefing: Introduction to new media, 1pm-4pm, TUC Regional Office

9th - Durham PSA, County Hall, Durham, 5.30pm

12th - 18th : Adult Learners Week (Learning at Work Day 17th)

14th - Gateshead PSA, Civic Centre, Gateshead, 5.30pm

15th - Newcastle PSA, Unison Office, 5.30pm

15th - North Tyneside PSA, Wallsend People's Centre, 5.30pm

16th - Teesside PSA, St Mary's Centre, 5.30pm

16th - Sunderland PSA, Civic Centre, Sunderland, 5.30pm

16th - Bite Size Briefing: Mental Health First Aid, 1pm-4pm, TUC Regional Office

21st - Northumberland PSA, 5.30pm, venue tbc.

26th - Additional Regional Council, Gateshead Civic Centre, 10.30am

29th - PSA Steering Group, TUC Regional Office, 5pm

29th - Bite Size Briefing: Blogging for Beginners, 1pm-4pm, Unison Office, Newcastle

30th - Skills Utilisation Seminar

June

8th/9th - Northumberland Miners Picnic

12th - Executive Committee, TUC Regional Office, 10am

12th - Bite Size Briefing: Introduction to new media, 1pm-4pm, Carlisle College

13th - Durham PSA, County Hall, Durham, 5.30pm

19th - Newcastle PSA, Unison Office, 5.30pm

19th - North Tyneside PSA, Wallsend People's Centre, 5.30pm

20th - Sunderland PSA, Civic Centre, Sunderland, 5.30pm

22nd - Bite Size Briefing: Disabiity Champions, 1pm-4pm, TUC Regional Office

26th - PSA Steering Group, TUC Regional Office, 5pm

27th - Learning and Organising Seminar

28th - Bite Size Briefing: Cumbria Forum on Health and Wellbeing, 12.00pm-4.00pm, Rheged, Cumbria

Contact information

For more information check out the Northern TUC website: www.tuc.org.uk/northern

For information regarding the content of this report please contact Melanie Lowden 0191 2323175 or mlowden@tuc.org.uk

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