What do you call an employer that circumvents long-established disciplinary procedures and sacks the branch secretary of its recognised trade union on the last day before the seasonal break? There are many unpleasant names that spring to mind, but because it’s Christmas I’ll use this employer’s official title: Halesowen College.
I reproduce below the statement supporting the reinstatement of UCU branch secretary, David Muritu. It is my understanding that this is just the beginning. Entirely coincidentally, of course, three more active members of the union are facing disciplinaries. This comes ahead of strike action planned in the New Year, which was unanimously endorsed by local UCU members. When that’s the case, you know management must be as poor as it is bellicose.
From what I can gather, David is popular among staff and students at the college. Like a number of others, he works ridiculous hours for his students against a pretty shoddy background . I ask you, what other college makes lecturers cover two classes *at the same time*, foists non-specialists to teach certain specialised courses, and fails to provide specialist cover when there are absences?
They’re hardly cash-strapped either. According to their own minutes of June’s corporate meeting, they have an operating *surplus* of over £2.7m. Management’s actions are plain bizarre. You can only agree with the petition statement’s opening, David Muritu’s sacking “is an attack on eduction and trade unionism”.
Make sure you sign the petition. Solidarity messages can be sent via HalesowenUCU_branch_secretary@hotmail.com
Halesowen College: Reinstate David Muritu as a Maths Lecturer at the college
This is an attack on education and trades unionism. On December 20th Dave Muritu, a known local socialist trades union activist, was sacked from his position as Maths lecturer. This followed disregard of the college disciplinary procedure (no evidence was presented 3 days in advance of the hearing), without anything other than deductive reasoning (his sacking was linked to results, with no regard for competency procedure or accurate review of statistical significance (his results are above national average).
Please sign and convey your disappointment in the college failure to prioritise student needs and achievement over politics. The only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the situation is that as no substantial evidence has been produced, Dave has been sacked on grounds of disagreement with the principal on educational theory and politics. The maths department have received considerable lack of support in the face of student needs, including
1) Failure of the principal to agree specialist cover in staff absence, inspite of a substantial surplus which could fund this
2) Students in a functional lesson being encouraged by management to give up the studies their time is allocated for in order to participate in a “focus group” based around leading questions with no rigorous development or consistent recording of data
3) Victimisation of a known trades unionist, along with possible victimisation of other known activists in the maths department, setting a precedent for activists to be targeted with knock-on effects for other trades-unionists nationally.
Please sign and join us in fighting this outrageous decision collectively.
Class is everything in Britain. It dictates how the British live and when they die, which children succeed and which fail. Above all else, class imposes silence. Counterfeit controversies obsess the media and politics. When presented with a genuine scandal that cries out for punishment and reform, the talking heads and the professional contrarians say nothing.
Readers would not guess from the “national conversation” that the construction industry is sitting on a story as grave in its implications as the phone-hacking affair – graver I will argue. You are unlikely to have heard mention of it for a simple and disreputable reason: the victims are working-class men rather than celebrities. The parallels between what happened in the news and building businesses are almost exact. As in the media, there was a corporate conspiracy. Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Amec, Skanska, Taylor Woodrow and 34 other construction companies behaved like a secret police force monitoring a subject population. The files of their “Consulting Association” – and what a soothingly bland name they chose – refer to construction companies by a code name.
Anonymous site managers supplied details, often false, of alleged troublemakers in the building trade. Some human resources departments then checked job applicants against the Consulting Association’s records, paying £2 per check for the service, and never told the men they rejected why they had banned them for work. In its pomp, the CA was a busy place. Records suggest McAlpine alone spent £28,000 on checks. By the time the Information Commissioner’s officials seized its database, 3,400 workers were on the blacklist.
As with News International, there are reasonable grounds for suspecting police collusion. The files contain accounts of building workers attending demonstrations against the BNP, which are highly unlikely to have come from construction industry managers. “They read like police reconnaissance reports,” said one investigator for the Information Commissioner, who is also a former police officer. As with News International, there is now a mass legal action. Daniel Boffey, our dogged policy editor, reports in today’s news pages that the first of what may be many claims by blacklisted workers has begun. Eighty-six men are suing Sir Robert McAlpine for £17m in lost earnings. By a neat serendipity, McAlpine not only funded the Tory party but also built the Olympic stadium, so the action doesn’t lack topical resonance. Its lawyers will claim blacklisters’ files contained details of the builders’ political views, attitudes towards health and safety, relationships and friendships, which would make a News of the World hack gasp with envious admiration.
At this point, comparison breaks down. Hacking hurt reputations but it did not threaten lives. Blacklisted workers, by contrast, have shared the anger and amazement of the citizens of dictatorships after a revolution. They have gone through files their employers never meant them to see and marvelled at how malicious minds twisted their past to put them on the dole. Like so many other blacklisted men, Dave Smith, a genuine working-class hero and leader of the campaign against the blacklist, wondered why he could never get work. He would turn up to a site with his friends. The foreman would take on his friends but not him. “By 2000, I couldn’t sleep. I was defaulting on the mortgage and the kids were on milk tokens.” On one occasion, Smith protested after an explosion of compressed air in a tunnel blasted a crater in a school playground. If children had been at school, they would have died. But in the files he found that the spy beside him on the job mentioned only his protests, not the threat to lives.
Construction is a trade where men leave for work in the morning and come back in a coffin at night. Even in 2010-2011, in the middle of a recession and with the construction industry on its knees, 50 died in accidents that might have been preventable. There will be many more coffins when and if growth returns. The construction companies could not be clearer that men who try to enforce minimum safety standards are their enemies. The files included formal letters notifying a company that a worker was the official safety rep on a site as evidence against him.
Construction is a casual industry because companies do not want to employ craftsmen full time: 50% are self-employed and most of the rest are agency workers. Even the British law, so negligent about health and welfare of building workers in many respects, recognises the position of safety reps. The files show that the construction industry sees becoming a rep as grounds for banning workers for life. Even those they label as “not a militant” – and there are many – are on the blacklist because at some point they have spoken about dangers at work.
The blacklisting puts conservative protests about “‘elf and safety” and “political correctness gone mad” in their place. The trouble with political correctness in Britain is that it is not nearly mad enough about cowboy multinationals, which regard the lives of casual labourers as dispensable. Steve Murphy, the general secretary of the builders’ union UCATT, says that business’s influence in politics and the media is having an effect. The coalition has commissioned one Ragnar E Löfstedt, an American academic with a laissez-faire bent, to recommend that self-employed building workers, who pose no threat to others, should be exempt from health and safety rules.
The British Labour movement has inspired few novels. One undisputed classic is The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists. Robert Tressell’s despairing leftwing hero tries to persuade builders of Mugsborough, a fictionalised Hastings, to embrace socialism. The builders won’t listen. They respect their employers as their “betters”, listen to the advice of religious hypocrites and refuse to fight for their own interests. Tressell’s picture of builders welcoming exploitation is not true now and I am not sure if it was true of Edwardian Hastings. Building workers want and need men who will stand up to employers and protect their safety. Naturally, they do not wish to die.
For almost a decade, construction conglomerates blacklisted those who tried to speak on their behalf. In that same period, scores died and hundreds were maimed. It says much about Britain that the loud voices that boom across our media cannot talk about a scandal that is in front of their eyes.
I spend a lot of time writing, and reading, about conditions in Victorian England. These days I hardly need to open a history book to do it – a newspaper will do almost as well.
Now, as then, we have a government doing nothing to prevent the disproportionate impact of recession and cutbacks on the working class.
Rising unemployment, even malnourished children, are regularly documented by the press. And Victorian eugenicists would have been delighted with PM’s recent suggestions on cutting benefits to families with over three children. (Stop them breeding! They’re at it like rabbits, you know.)
Even more 19th century are the scandalous conditions and treatment endured by hospital workers in Swindon, as exposed by the Carillion dispute.
In Victorian England workers – especially migrant men and women escaping starvation and oppression in Ireland – had to literally fight for work.
Dockers would line up every day in their thousands to join the desperate scrabble for a day’s hire, calling out beseechingly to the foreman to try to catch his eye.
In the 21st century, supervisors working for Carillion – a private firm subcontracted to run the facilities contract at Great Western Hospital – saw a better way of doing things, by demanding “considerations” in the form of money, goods and even gold in exchange for annual leave, overtime or shift changes.
Some 145 workers, mainly Asian women of Goan heritage, have been subjected to racial abuse and bullying as well as ongoing extortion by the exclusively white management team.
Although the women are on low incomes, the supervisors’ illegal demands have not even been commensurate with this. One supervisor demanded £1,000 from a woman worker. When she protested, the price dropped to £500.
The threats attached to the financial demands were explicit – one worker was told: “I can sack you – and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job.”
The workers are the backbone of the NHS, working as cleaners, catering workers and ancillary staff at Swindon and Great Western General Hospital.
All too often such vital work is considered low status, but the women are committed and dedicated, taking personal pride in the cleanliness of their wards. This is, of course, a crucial line of defence between patients and potentially fatal infections.
There is evidence that these abuses were reported to Carillion management in 2009, but no action was taken.
The GMB union believes that a culture of institutionalised racism meant that the staff were not believed.
Only after more than 100 staff submitted a grievance in December 2011 did Carillion conduct a token investigation, quickly concluding there was no case to answer.
Only after workers took strike action did a second, slightly more thorough investigation begin.
Carillion now admits that racism, bullying and what it wonderfully terms “inappropriate gift-giving” did in fact take place, but it has, with extreme reluctance, dismissed only one supervisor.
It admits that allegations had been made against this individual before, but states “no compelling evidence” was found. It accepts no responsibility and claims the problem has not been severe.
Workers have therefore been forced to continue to work under other perpetrators of harassment and racial abuse, which was naturally distressing and intimidating – as it was probably intended to be.
Despite this, workers had the courage to give evidence about the corrupt and racist culture at Carillion at grievance hearings.
The firm’s response? To add insult to injury by disciplining them – for offering bribes.
However, like the London matchwomen and dockers in the 1880s who fought back against appalling exploitation, the Carillion workers have shown themselves a force to be reckoned with.
Like their Victorian counterparts they are supposedly powerless in the labour relationship, but their strength lies in their dignity, solidarity and identity.
Dockers and matchmakers were often from Irish families, giving them strong cultural and political networks to draw on, as well as a history of resistance.
The Goan workers have a similar sense of unity. As one shop steward put it, “I am not just doing this for myself, I am doing this to help my community.”
As is often the case, being forced to strike has in itself increased the confidence and empowerment of the workers – the very opposite of what the employers hoped.
GMB organiser Carole Vallelly says: “During the first protests the women understandably felt a bit awkward holding placards and would almost hide behind them.
“By the time we came to protest outside Southmead Hospital [a new Carillion build], they were singing and chanting through the megaphone.”
Vallelly adds: “As we all know, going on strike isn’t easy and there are still the same supervisors in place that have had bullying complaints against them.
“They are making life particularly hard for our members, denying them overtime etc. We have around 60 tribunal claims in at the moment and more in the pipeline.”
The workers have also linked to the Blacklist Support Group, as Carillion has been a major player in the blacklisting scandal – further evidence of its anti-union ethos.
An illegal blacklist was exposed in 2009, when private company the Consulting Association was raided over breaches of the Data Protection Act.
More than 3,000 people were found to be on the list, which had been used to block them from gaining employment.
In some cases workers had been labelled “troublemakers” on the basis of doing no more than asking for health and safety measures or simply joining a trade union.
King’s College London professor of public law Keith Ewing describes the blacklist as “the worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” in Britain in 50 years.
No surprise that Carillion has been an enthusiastic user of the blacklist.
In one three-month period it was found to have spent several thousands of pounds checking 2,776 names against the list.
Carillion also admitted in court in January 2012 that its managers and managers of Carillion subsidiaries had supplied damaging and false information to the blacklist, which would have prevented workers from gaining employment.
But once again the firm tried to wriggle out of accepting responsibility for its actions.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny says: “Carillon state that the blacklisting practices highlighted occurred many years ago and relate to businesses acquired by Carillon. No doubt they will be as shocked as we were to discover that the Consulting Association was invoicing them directly for searches right up to the date that the Information Commissioners Office raided their offices in 2009.
“These invoices are entirely separate from those provided to companies acquired by Carillon.
“Either Carillon does not have a command of internal finances and pays invoices without understanding who they are paying, which would be astonishing.
“Or they are telling a barefaced lie in order to try and conceal their shameful activities.”
Both the blacklist and the cover-up mentality of Carillion are further evidence of how well organised and co-ordinated those who oppose workers’ rights can be.
This is what we’re up against in the 21st century labour market. And further proof – if it were needed – that the left must be united in standing firm against it.
Louise Raw is the author of Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen” (Continuum Press). She is organising a festival to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the matchwomen’s strike at the Bishopsgate Institute on Saturday July 6 2013 (www.matchwomensfestival.com and www.facebook.com/Matchwomen ) Messages of support for the Carillion workers can be sent c/o Carole Vallelly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This latest day of strike action arises because, instead of dealing with the evidence of shakedowns and corruption by Carillion managers that their own second investigation found, the company has chosen instead to take disciplinary action against 10 of the whistleblowers who were the victims of ‘gold for employment rights’ and racism on the contract.
These workers have already taken 20 days of strike action over the persistent failure of the Carillion management to deal with evidence of
bribery and corruption on the contract which has been covered up for some years.
The senior Carillion HR manager at Swindon Liz Keates was involved in the blacklisting by Carillion of 224 workers across the UK. Carillion used the blacklist register nearly 15,000 times over 4 years. A culture of illegal corporate bullying is endemic, systemic and deep rooted in Carillion demonstrating that the way GMB members were being victimized at Swindon was not out of character with the company culture. See Note to Editors 2 for progress on the dispute at Swindon to 10th July. See note 3 on Semperian PFI role across the UK.
Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said “On the eve of their 21st day of strike action, our members at Swindon Hospital will be delighted by this proud action from RMT. Solidarity is better than a bankers bonus.
The dispute at Swindon Hospital is a simple matter of right and wrong. If Semperian don’t already know about the shameless activities and cover up, happening under their roof for years, then they may be in for a shock.
Carillion, Semperian and their mates seem to think they are safe in their ivory towers and that the world outside their corporate bubble doesn’t care about racial abuse, bullying and extortion.- They are wrong and their arrogant indifference may cost them dear in the future.
By putting Semperian on notice RMT has shown how decent people know the difference between right and wrong and that when it comes to where their
pension is invested, or where public money is being spent, there are standards of behaviour that are not acceptable to working people.
Illegal corporate bullying is endemic, systemic and deep-rooted in Carillion and Semperian would do well to rein Carillion in while they are
still able to do so. Alternatively they might want to consider sending for them to be exorcised at the earliest opportunity.”
REPRESENTATIVES OF tube union RMT on the London Transport pension fund have called for disinvestment from Semperian PPP after it emerged that one of their subcontractors on the Great Western Hospital PFI contract in Swindon, Carillion, has been involved in a long-running dispute with sister union GMB over racial abuse, bullying and extortion.
As a result of the issue being raised at the fund’s trustees meeting by RMT Assistant General Secretary Pat Sikorski on Tuesday 10th July, the union has been promised a full investigation into the activities of Semperian and its sub-contractors Carillion at the GWH.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:
“We welcome the development of a full investigation by the London Transport Pension Fund into Semperian and its contractors and the company should be fully aware that if the activities reported to us by the GMB at the Great Western Hospital continue then we will press the case for disinvestment.
“This trade union knows all about the likes of PPP/PFI outfits like Semperian and their sub-contractors Carillion.
“However, when we were approached by our sister union GMB even we were shocked at the catalogue of abusive and bullying behaviour by Carillion that has led to the dispute at the Great Western Hospital involving cleaners, catering workers and other ancillary staff.
“RMT is clear that a company with this kind of track record has no place in the pensions portfolio of our members and that is the point that we have made, and will continue to make, at meetings of the London Transport Pension Fund.”
FURTHER STRIKE AT CARILLION SWINDON HOSPITAL ON JULY 15TH OVER COMPANY VICTIMISING WORKERS WHO IT FOUND SUFFERED RACISM, BULLYING AND SHAKEDOWNS
Carillion have public sector contracts valued at more than £15 billion in the UK but seem to think that it does not need to meet the standards of behaviour that are acceptable to the public to be awarded these contracts
150 GMB members will take part in a further one day stoppage on Sunday 15th July at Carillion at Great Western Hospital in Swindon. This will be the twenty first day of strike action by these workers. This latest day of strike action is because instead of dealing with the evidence of shakedowns and corruption by Carillion managers that their own second investigation found, the company has chosen instead to take disciplinary action against 10 of the whistleblowers who were the victims of ‘gold for employment rights’ and racism on the contract.
These workers have already taken 20 days of strike action over the persistent failure of the Carillion management to deal with evidence of bribery and corruption on the contract which has been covered up for some years.
When these GMB members took the 20th day of strike action on June 11th they visited the GMB Congress in Brighton to hear that the senior Carillion HR manager at Swindon Liz Keates had been involved in the blacklisting by Carillion of 224 workers across the UK. They learned that Carillion had used the blacklist register nearly 15,000 times over 4 years. This showed that the culture of illegal corporate bullying is endemic, systemic and deep rooted in Carillion demonstrating that the way they were being victimized at Swindon was not out of character with the company culture.
GMB has organised a public meeting in the House of Commons today 10th July 2012 at 6 p.m. with MPs and other invited guests to assess how best to deal with the Carillion culture of corporate bullying and racism.
Paul Maloney GMB Regional Secretary said, “Carillion’s own investigation, forced on it by GMB members taking strike action, found that there was evidence of shakedowns and corruptions by their managers demanding ‘gold for employment rights’.
This same investigation failed to conclude that this corruption had been covered up for years although there are buckets of evidence to that it has been. Instead Carillion intends to discipline the victims of corruption in the company. This will not be tolerated by GMB and that is why this further day of strike action is taking place.
This is the same Carillion who used their blacklist nearly 15,000 times to deny workers employment. GMB has identified 224 workers whom Carillion blacklisted. They have failed to apologise or to compensate any of them.
This is the same Carillion that have public sector contracts valued at more than £15 billion in the UK but seem to think that it does not need to meet the standards of behaviour that are acceptable to the public to be awarded these contracts.
At the public meeting in the House of Commons this evening GMB will call on MPs to support the demand that until blacklisting companies like Carillion apologise and compensate victims who have fallen foul of their illegal activities and of racist behaviour Carillion should be boycotted from future contracts. Public sector bodies should not do business with companies that fail to deal with illegal corporate bullying and racism.
GMB will be campaigning for this in councils up and down the land wherever Carillion is seeking to win taxpayer funded contracts, some in cities like Liverpool where it has victimised dozens of local people searching for a job.”
Chuka Umanna MP – Shadow Business Secretary
Kate Green MP – Shadow Women and Equalities
Iain Wright MP, Shadow Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
Ian Murray MP, Shadow BIS Employwent Affairs
Dave Smith, construction worker blacklisted by Carillion
GMB campaigners from Swindon, in dispute with Carillion at the Great Western Hospital
A Summary of the dispute so far:
150 workers, (mainly Asian women of Goan heritage); have been subjected to racial abuse, bullying, and extortion by their employer Carillion.
They are employed as cleaners, catering workers and ancillary staff at The Great Western Hospital (GWH), Swindon and have already taken 20 days of strike action for dignity and respect.
These workers are the back bone of the NHS – keeping wards clean, delivering meals – dedicated to their jobs which they take great personal pride in.
Carillion managers at GWH and their Employee Committee are predominantly white.
In summer 2011, the workers joined GMB making the Union aware of racial abuse, intimidation and harassment, as well as supervisors demanding money, gold and goods to secure employment, gain access to extended leave and overtime. (Extended leave is significant for workers who have family in other parts of the world.)
Some examples from the signed statements of Carillion Workers:
The Senior Housekeeping Supervisor “asked her for £1000. The member told X that was too much and so X said she would accept £500.”
Carillion Supervisor said – “Well, I am the manager and I can sack you and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job.”
Sequence of events
Following a collective grievance, Carillion reluctantly conducted a first investigation and concluded that there was no case to answer on any point of any grievance.
A second investigation took place, only after strike action by the workers. In the outcome Carillion accepted that extortion had taken place. Carillion told GMB they had “reluctantly accepted the resignation” of the Senior Supervisor at the centre of the shakedowns and extortion. However other perpetrators of racial abuse and extortion are still employed. Despite the allegations, evidence and investigation findings, nobody has ever been suspended and their presence continues to intimidate the workers.
Carillion are now disciplining 10 of the whistle-blowers who bravely came forward to give evidence against supervisors, who had abused employees, extorted money and practiced racism.
Confidence in Carillion management has broken down.
The Information Commissioner has confirmed that 224 construction workers from around the UK were victims of blacklisting by Carillion and that the company has failed to apologise and compensate for this illegal activity.
Racial harassment and bullying
Extortion and corruption
GMB has in place a legal, industrial and political strategy to ensure our members get justice. NB – Carillion are sub contractors to Semperian PPP, who owns the PFI contract at GWH. Carillion are taking over £15 billion of public money on public contracts like GWH.