Wednesday 27 April 2016

Transport unions unite to condemn National Express

Top transport unions condemn National Express over labour violations

Senior representatives of the transport sector in the global trade union movement have condemned National Express over on-going labour rights abuses at its US school bus subsidiary, Durham School Services.
The executive board of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has fully endorsed the invoking of the ITF charter on responding to corporate violations of workers’ rights against National Express by its North American member union the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the Teamsters). The charter triggers action across the ITF’s affiliate base when notification is given by a member union that a multinational company has breached core labour standards and/or is engaging in union busting activities.Affiliates in the UK, where National Express is based, are leading condemnation of the company backed by unions from around the globe. A number of executive board members represent unions organising workers in countries where National Express operates, including in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. The multinational is also seeking to grow its business in the Arab World ­ specifically Morocco and Bahrain ­ a region where the ITF has a strong and active presence.During the executive board meeting ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: “We’ve seen evidence of labour rights violations across the North American school bus operations of National Express and we have serious concerns over the systematic denial to workers of their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. We are bringing affiliates together ­ both in the UK and globally - to develop and execute actions to bring about a real change in the corporation’s behaviour. That’s what needs to happen and we won’t accept anything less.”Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of UK affiliate Unite the Union added: “Multinational companies that think that they can isolate workers and treat them differently depending on where they are in the world and what power they have locally are wrong – we are a global family of trade unionists watching out for union busting activities across the globe. The actions of National Express in this instance are unacceptable and we are building the necessary coalition of trade unions and political leaders to put a stop to them."We’re seeking an urgent meeting with the chair and CEO of National Express to address these issues and hold the company here in its home country to account for the actions of its management teams across the globe, ending what is clearly a deliberate strategy to obstruct union organising efforts of our sister union in the US the Teamsters. Further, the board will be made acutely aware of shareholder concerns over the company’s decision to deny a resolution demanding an investigation into the group’s actions in the US at the forthcoming AGM. Attempting to shut down a legitimate debate among shareholders is undemocratic and an abuse of the board’s power that should raise wider concerns.“Silencing shareholders, like threatening and intimidating workers or denying the basic international right to join a union, is not good business and the company’s reputation will be damaged as a result. We hope our message is clear and that the company will act urgently to change its approach.”

Monday 25 April 2016

Ballax about bankers bonuses

I've been meaning to blog about this for a few weeks, and only now have time. I think the bonus cap is another issue where it is important that we look at what the industry (and other interested parties like rem consultants) told us would happen, and what actually happened.

So, we were told that a bonus cap would lead to banks sharply increasing fixed pay, which in turn would both increase their fixed costs significantly and thus reduce financial stability.

PwC provided a typical claim:
“If they do put caps in, this could have disastrous unintended consequences. It could result in significant increases in fixed pay,” said Jon Terry, global head of human resources consulting at PwC. “It substantially affects the flexibility of the business.”
Here's what actually happened - fixed pay for most bankers didn't increase sharply, there wasn't a significant increase in banks' fixed costs and there wasn't a risk to financial stability. That's the view of the European Banking Association anyway. They did find a large increase in the fixed pay of a small number of UK bankers, but this wasn't widespread enough to affect overall fixed costs or financial stability.

This is another example those who want to reform the financial sector should remember. Finance is important to the UK economy, and it's understandable that some people worry about the impact of reform on that sector, and whether the potential costs outweigh the benefits. Fair enough, but there's also a danger in taking too much of the finance sector's propaganda at face value. The reality of the impact of the bonus cap versus what we were told would happen shows us that baseless claims continue to be made in very strong terms (i.e. potential threat to financial stability). Remember that next time.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Solidarnosc win in Gdansk

Ridiculously pleased about this -

Celebration as Polish dockers’ union wins new deal 

“The ITF family has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they have fought against the belligerent and intimidatory tactics of previous management. We are hopeful that dockers there can have better standards that are consistent with those in neighbouring countries. It is no less than they deserve.”
That from ITF dockers’ section vice-chair Torben Seebold after a collective bargaining agreement was signed between ITF-affiliated Polish dockers’ union Solidarność and Deepwater Container Terminal (DCT) Gdansk. It brings an end to a bitter three-year dispute that has included complaints from the union over victimisation and harassment by the employer and the firing of union leaders. There has been support from the global trade union community with demonstrations at DCT Gdansk and in other European countries targeting the bank that owns the port, Macquarie.The historic agreement, valid until 31 March 2019, covers pay rates, hours of work, holidays and general conditions for 600 workers at the fast-growing new terminal in northern Poland. A second terminal is due to open next year and the workforce will grow to 1500 workers as the port seeks to become the main gateway to Russia and central Europe.Seebold said: “We are sending out an important message to all port owners; we will not let you get away with trying to drive down pay and conditions by building new ports and employing cheap labour.”

Saturday 16 April 2016

Corp gov reform: do something meaningful or don't bother

I blogged previously about Liam Byrne's intervention on company law etc. More recently Liz Kendall has written something for Progress that slightly touches on the same turf. There is one sentence of significance for anyone interested in left-of-centre views on company law, corp gov etc -
We need to change the system so shareholders who hold on to their shares for longer are rewarded with greater rights.
As I wrote previously, while I'm not opposed to look at differential shareholder rights we need to be aware of the downsides. Greater rights for long-term holders strengthens the position of Rupert Murdoch at Sky, Mike Ashley at Sports Direct, and index-trackers. Plus I am realistic - there would be practically zero support for this reform from mainstream investor and corp gov bodies.

Which raises the bigger question - what's the point? If Labour is going to intervene in company law issues, potentially aggravating issuers and/or investors in the process, I see no value in pursuing something so utterly weedy. I really question whether differential rights for shareholders would have any meaningful impact on the short-term pressures on companies (this is leaving aside the deeper issues of whether companies really are too short-termist, and, if they are, whether shareholders are to blame). So really what's the point?

I ended up feeling the same about putting employees on rem comms, which has much more going for it as something for Labour to champion in my view. If we're going to aggravate executives by introducing another voice into corp gov, why not put employees on boards? Just putting on the committees that set exec pay seems like a massive missed opportunity (and just giving employees a role in execs' pay seems even more likely to wind them up while not giving employees an influence over bigger issues).

So, in my view, Labour should either start floating some significant reforms that might change the direction of travel, or stop talking about it. I see no point in talking up short-termism and its effect on corporate priorities as a major public policy issue and then coming out with featherweight responses.

There are things that Labour could move that could be distinctive, change the corp gov settlement in the UK and start tackling market distributions. Reinvigorating collective bargaining, promoting employee ownership and representation on boards, changing directors' duties (something Byrne did touch on), enfranchising asset owners (rather than managers) and stripping out investment costs are some obvious things. But these need to be pushed together as a package of reforms with serious intent.

Picking a couple of individual, inoffensive (and ineffective) policies just to do *something* around company law because some companies moan about short-termism is not worth the effort.