Sunday 27 March 2016

BVCA and the Beecroft Report

I think it's fair to say that the Beecroft report, prepared by Tory donor Adrian Beecroft, was not universally welcomed in the labour movement.

One of the more controversial elements was the introduction of employment tribunal fees. The intention behind this policy was to discourage employees from making claims, because of the presumption that many of them are frivolous and could be initiated at no cost to the employee. Under the new system, employees pay ranging from a couple of hundred quid to £1,200 depending on the complexity of the claim.

Obviously the introduction of fees changes employees' willingness to initiate a case. The question is does it just discourage frivolous cases, or does it also discourage those with genuine claims but who aren't confident of winning? What we know so far is that there has been a sharp drop in claims, with sex discrimination cases falling most. According to this parliamentary briefing they fell by 83% in the year after the fee came in.

To be clear here: either the large majority of claims of sexual discrimination claims were groundless, or the introduction of tribunal fees is contributing to protecting those employers (or those that work for them) that discriminate against women.

As a party that seeks to represent working men and women, Labour has to take these issues seriously. And indeed we committed to abolishing the fees in the manifesto (after what looks to have been a bit of stalling it has to be said). The commitment is on page 23 of the 2015 manifesto here.

Not all organisations were so opposed to either the Beecroft Report overall, or the introduction of tribunal fees in particular. For example, the BVCA, the private equity industry trade body, was an enthusiastic supporter (perhaps not surprising given that Beecroft is a private equity guy). For example, here is what they said in their 2012 Budget submission:
On employment, we fully endorse the Beecroft Report as a step in the right direction. In particular, a “no fault” termination similar to that applied in the USA where notice is given under the employment contract would create a more efficient process as well as encouraging a more flexible and fluid workforce. 
So the BVCA saw the Beecroft reports as a way to make the "workforce" to be more "flexible and fluid". I don't think the objective here was job or employment security somehow.

Luckily, Beecroft didn't get implemented in full, but obviously the introduction of tribunal fees did. And, again, the BVCA was supportive (see top of page 6 here).
As recommended in the Beecroft Report, a fee which employees themselves have to meet should be introduced into the tribunal system. 
To be honest, I wouldn't expect employers, private equity firms or their lobbyists to take a position much different from this. Successful private equity managers are exceptionally well paid, and they have an interest in keeping labour costs low and employment protections weak. They expect their trade body to fight their corner. Beecroft's report was a long howl at how difficult it was to get rid of unwanted employees. And the BVCA fully endorsed it.

That's OK, because in the same way private equity has the BVCA to lobby for its interests, including making it easier to fire workers and harder for workers to take employers to tribunals, we have trade unions, and a Labour Party, to fight the corner for employees in return. They have their views, we have ours. In the case of Beecroft these views were polarised, and on tribunal fees they were diametrically opposed.

Now I'm a moderate lefty. I favour keeping the communication channels open, even where we disagree. The labour movement needs to understand the private equity industry and how it works (including to what extent its success represents value skimming). But I would sup with a long spoon. And I'm really not convinced it's a good idea to take money off them.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

A mini Uber encounter

A couple of weeks back I stumbled across something quite interesting from a company called Westbourne Communications. It was a blog post detailing their advice to Uber in the "battle with Black Cab drivers" (this is their exact phrasing).

I thought this was quite interesting, in the sense of understanding the PR campaigns waged on behalf of corporate interests, so I pinged it round people a few people at work. I also tweeted a link to it here.

I went back to try and find the article today and mysteriously the article has gone, although the cached version is still available here. So presumably Westbourne, or Uber, are no longer happy to have their strategy for undermining cabbies in the public domain.

Interestingly though I just spotted that Zelo Street has also blogged about the doc (it looks the same from the pic). So it may still be circulating out there.


Thursday 10 March 2016

National Express Shareholders Call for Review of Workplace Rights

News of a shareholder resolution filed at National Express calling for a review of workplace rights in its US school bus business Durham. This is the second shareholder resolution backed by unions at a UK PLC this AGM. I don't think there have been two in a single season before. 

Teamsters: National Express Shareholders Call for Review of Workplace Rights

(WASHINGTON) –Today, National Express [LSE: NEX.L] investors are urging the company’s board to back a resolution seeking an independent review of employment practices in its U.S. school bus wholly-owned subsidiary, Durham School Services. Announcement of the resolution comes on the same day National Express is shortlisted at this year’s Business Finance Awards.
The investors – including public sector union UNISON’s staff pension scheme, the SEIU Master Trust, the Teamsters Union and individual shareholders – have filed a shareholder resolution to address longstanding issues concerning Durham School Services’ treatment of employees. Since 2001, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has found merit in more than 65 complaints against the company.
The resolution, drafted by the pension funds, calls on National Express to undertake an independent review of the allegations made about its U.S. bus business. For several years, school bus employees have raised concerns to the board and shareholders that local managers are making it hard for employees to join a union. 
This year’s resolution to the National Express AGM requests that the company obtain an independent assessment of these longstanding investor concerns through the appointment of a suitable person to review the situation. This person would report their findings to the company, unions and shareowners by the end of Q3 2016. 
In 2015, the resolution received support from approximately 25 percent of National Express’ non-insider shareholders. This represents the largest ever vote for a labour rights themed resolution at a U.K.-based company.
“The labor problems facing National Express’ North American school bus operations are long-running and systemic, but are not addressed with the seriousness these issues demand,” said Ken Hall, International Brotherhood of Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer. “While the company is lauded for its reporting, it’s what is not reported that we believe holds unnecessary risks for investors. Unfortunately, for several years now, investors and workers’ concerns have fallen on the deaf ears of senior management and the board of directors.”  
As long-term shareowners the pension funds believe their proposal will minimise the risk of both reputational damage and the impact on shareholder value resulting from the continuing disputes.
“We are backing the resolution because the company continues to rebuff efforts to discuss the way that workers employed on its U.S. school bus contracts are treated. When companies do not take workforce issues seriously, this can be a sign that they are also not taking into consideration the medium-term impact poor industrial relations is having on performance,” said Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON. “Apart from wanting the best return for our current and future pensioners, UNISON is pleased to be part of a trans-Atlantic union coalition that is trying to win a better deal for employees in the U.S.”
Since the 2015 National Express AGM, the company has seen a number of decisions against it.
In October 2015, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled that Durham had violated labour law in various ways, including National Express North American CEO David Duke unreasonably interrogating a driver about her attendance at a previous AGM.
In February 2016, following the decision of a group of administrative staff in California to seek workplace representation in 2015, the NLRB ordered Durham to begin bargaining with the Teamsters after it refused to talk to the union.

Last month, the employer also dropped one of its key objections to the NLRB, which it had used to delay accepting the result of a vote for union representation by Durham drivers in Florida in 2013. 
National Express shareholders will cast their votes at the company’s Annual General Meeting on 11 May 2016. 
UNISON is one of the U.K.’s largest trade unions, serving more than 1.3 million members who provide public services in both the public and private sectors.
Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at