Labour MEPs demand EU action over “modern slavery” conditions for agency workers

GMB in brussels

I have been in Brussels for the last couple of days, accompanying a delegation of GMB shop stewards who work in the Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon. Domingos Dias and Rosseby Carvaho are seen above at the meeting chaired by Siôn Simon MEP, where they addressed a senior EU Commission official for Employment, Social Legislation and Social Dialogue leading on Agency worker legislation. Also at the meeting was the West Country MEP Clare Moody, and the leader of the Labour Party Group, Glenis Willmott, and German MEP Jutta Steinruck.

As a result of the meeting, Labour MEPs have called for the EU to take urgent action over the pay and conditions of agency workers, after hearing first hand from workers and trade union representatives of the dreadful conditions hundreds of agency workers have been subjected to.

Our shop stewards gave testimony regarding the Agency Workers Regulation and in particular the so-called ‘Swedish’ derogation, which allows agencies to opt out of equal pay if the individual is permanently employed by the agency. The TUC raised a complaint with the European Commission over a year ago – however the Commission admitted this week they had not yet reached a final decision.

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in Europe, said:

“The Agency Workers Regulation was intended to protect agency workers from exploitation and ensure they are treated the same as permanent workers.

“However, unscrupulous employers are using loopholes in the law to avoid treating agency staff equally.

“I was appalled by what I heard. The workers reported pregnant women turning up for work at 6am and being turned away, while others said they had been subjected to racial abuse and intimidation.”

The agency workers are employed by a recruitment agency called Tempay Ltd, who complete work on behalf of Marks and Spencer. The agency staff are contracted to only a seven hours per week contract, even though they can be expected to complete a 37-hour rota. If they are not available for every day of the rota they can be disciplined for absenteeism.

The agency staff are not entitled to the same pay as their permanent counterparts, who, for example, receive double the hourly rate on a Sunday. It is a common occurrence for employees to be turned away from their work on a regular basis and not provided with travel costs. This means some individuals have ended up out of pocket by the end of the week.

Siôn Simon MEP, European Parliament spokesperson on employment, said:

“Supposed agency workers are having their wages depressed and their rights and dignity abused. Companies such as Marks and Spencer should be ashamed of this use of modern slavery.”

The GMB have accused Tempay Ltd of using the Swedish derogation in the Agency Workers Regulation as a way to pay a huge amount of staff a lower wage than their permanent colleagues. Some of the employees have worked in the same role on the site for eight years and are still not in a position to be able to take out a loan, ask for a mortgage or even book a holiday due to the precarious nature of their work.

Clare Moody MEP, Labour MEP for the South West, said:

“I have been working closely with the GMB on this issue in my constituency and have met with various agency employees from Tempay Ltd. What these workers have been going through is completely unacceptable.

“There is already a complaint regarding the UK not giving employees the rights they should have through European law. The Commission must make sure that UK workers get the same rights that other EU workers get through this legislation.”

Domingos Dias, GMB shop steward, said “I believe that the MEPs and commission officials were shocked by the evidence we gave them of the exploitation of agency workers at our site through use of the so-called Swedish derogation of permanent contracts with the agency. MEPs made clear to the EU Commission officials that they want to work with them to sort out this loophole quickly before the exploitation spreads to other countries”.

Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Organiser, said “we are very pleased that our members were able to give their evidence to the MEPs and EU Officials about the real world of insecurity, poverty and anxiety due to avoidance of equal treatment rights by misuse of the Swedish Derogation.

GMB has offered to provide further written evidence to the EU Commission and European Parliament to assist with the assessment of possible infringement of rights under the agency workers directive by means of this derogation.

American Sniper

imrs.phpThe swamp of moral depravity in which America is sinking is illustrated by a movie glorifying the exploits of a racist killer, American Sniper, receiving six Oscar nominations, while a movie depicting the historic struggle against racism led by Martin Luther King, Selma, has been largely overlooked.

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq and was credited with 160 confirmed ‘kills’, earning him the dubious honour of being lauded the most lethal sniper in US military history.

Played by Bradley Cooper, in the movie Kyle is an all-American hero, a Texas cowboy who joins the military out of a sense of patriotism and a yearning for purpose and direction in his life. Throughout the uber-tough selection process, Kyle is a monument of stoicism and determination, willing to bear any amount of pain and hardship for the honour of being able to serve his country as a Navy Seal – America’s equivalent of the Samurai.

The personal struggle he endures as a result of what he experiences and does in Iraq is not motivated by any regrets over the people he kills, including women and children, but on his failure to kill more and thereby save the lives of more American soldiers as they go about the business of tearing the country apart, city by city, block by block, and house by house.

If American Sniper wins one Oscar, never mind the six for which its been nominated, when this annual extravaganza of movie pomp and ceremony unfolds in Hollywood on February 22, it will not only represent an endorsement of US exceptionalism, but worse it will stand as a grievous insult to the Iraqi people. In the movie they are depicted as a dehumanised mass of savages – occupying the same role as the Indians in John Wayne Western movies of old – responsible for their own suffering and the devastation of their country, which Americans such as Kyle are in the process of civilizing.

Anything resembling balance and perspective is sacrificed in American Sniper to the more pressing needs of US propaganda, which holds that the guys who served in Iraq were the very best of America, men who went through hell in order to protect the freedoms and way of life of their fellow countrymen at home. It is the cult of the soldier writ large, men who in the words of Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in the movie “just want to get the bad guys.”

The ‘bad guys’ are, as mentioned, the Iraqis. In fact if you had just arrived in the movie theatre from another planet, you would be left in no doubt from the movie’s opening scene that Iraq had invaded and occupied America rather than the other way round.

Unsurprisingly, the real Chris Kyle was not as depicted by Clint Eastwood and played by Bradley Cooper. In his autobiography, upon which the movie is supposedly based, Kyle writes, “I hate the damn savages. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.”

It is clear that the movie’s director, Clint Eastwood, when faced with the choice between depicting the truth and the myth, decided to go with the myth.

But should come as no surprise, given that the peddling of such myths is the very currency of Hollywood. Over many decades the US movie industry has proved itself one of the most potent weapons in the armoury of US imperialism, helping to project a myth of an America defined by lofty attributes of courage, freedom, and democracy.

As the myth has it, these values, and with them America itself, are continually under threat from the forces of evil and darkness that lurk outwith and often times within. The mountain of lies told in service to this myth has only been exceeded by the mountain of dead bodies erected on the basis of it – victims of the carnage and mayhem unleashed around the world by Washington.

Chris Kyle was not the warrior or hero portrayed in American Sniper. He was in fact a racist killer for whom the only good Iraqi was a dead Iraqi. He killed men, women, and children, just as his comrades did during the course of a brutal and barbaric war of aggression waged by the richest country in the world against one of the poorest.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the hands of a movie director with millions of dollars and the backing of a movie studio at its disposal, it is far more dangerous than that. It is a potent weapon deployed against its victims, denying them their right to even be considered victims, exalting in the process, when it comes to Hollywood, those who murder and massacre in the name of ‘Rome’. With this in mind, it is perhaps fitting that Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a former Marine at a shooting range in Texas in 2013.

“Man was born into barbarism,” Martin Luther King said, “when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence.”

Carillion suffers another defeat in court over Swindon hospital dispute


Now that the ET has agreed that these claims are about serious issues of race discrimination we look forward to the opportunity for our members to tell the real story in court says GMB

A decision in favour of 51 GMB members employed by Carillion at the Great Western PFI Hospital in Swindon on claims for race and religious discrimination has now been handed down by Judge Harper of the Bristol Employment Tribunal (ET).

The hearing to consider applications to amend various claims in this case took place at the Bristol Employment Tribunal on 16th December 2014. This followed an Order for remission from a successful victory at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in September 2014.

This ET decision means 51 GMB members at the hospital will now be able to pursue their claims before the employment tribunal and hold Carillion to account for race discrimination, bullying and harassment and victimisation.

GMB members involved in this long running dispute work as porters and housekeepers in catering and cleaning and other support roles at the Swindon PFI hospital. GMB members originally voted overwhelmingly in December 2011 for strike action in protest against bullying and discrimination at the hospital. GMB members demanded that Carillion management act to stop the culture of bullying on the contract and for an end to discrimination in the application of pay and conditions on the contract.

GMB members took 21 days of strike action but the company was not prepared to uphold any of the grievances of the staff. As a consequence GMB filed discrimination claims on behalf of the members at the Employment Tribunal (ET). There was a preliminary hearing in ET which was held on during December 2012 and January 2013. GMB appealed against the ET decision on 13 March 2013, The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the issue should go back to the ET in September 2014.

The remitted claims sought amendments relating to allegations of direct and indirect discrimination because of race and/or religious belief and harassment related to race and religious belief which were originally refused by Employment Judge Harper at a Preliminary Hearing in January 2012. Judge Harper was asked to reconsider whether various amendments to the claims should now in fact be allowed.

In the judgment handed down by the Tribunal on 8th January Judge Harper has now allowed more than 170 of the proposed amendments excluding one which related to allegations pre-dating the original claim.

This means 51 members in Swindon Hospital will now pursue their full claims including complaints of direct and indirect discrimination because of race and/or religious belief, harassment related to race and religious belief, breaches of Working Time Regulations, unlawful deductions of wages and detriment on Trade Union grounds, before the Employment Tribunal and hold Carillion to account.

In a separate dispute GMB is taking Carillion to the High Court seeking compensation and is calling for them and others firms to be excluded from tendering for any further public sector contracts until they compensate workers that they blacklisted. The next date for a hearing is Feb 2015. See notes to editors 2 for details of Carillion blacklisting.

Maria Ludkin, GMB National Officer for Legal and Corporate Affairs, said “GMB members have consistently claimed they suffered race discrimination, religious discrimination and other detriments at the hands of Carillion managers at Swindon Hospital. Carillion has consistently fought to have these claims reduced. Now that the ET has agreed that these claims are about serious issues of race discrimination GMB looks forward to the opportunity for our members to tell the real story in court.”

Shazia Khan, Partner at law firm Bindmans LLP, said “This Judgment is a significant victory for our clients who continue their fight for justice. We are now looking ahead to the final hearing, it is clearly in the public interest that allegations of scandalous and prolonged extortion by managers in a multinational company Carillion Services Ltd are examined by the Tribunal in their entirety.”

Charlie Hebdo

One of the sadder consequences of the Charlie Hebdo massacre is the way it has given a platform to a chorus of right wing, reactionary crackpots to spout their bigoted anti Muslim and anti immigrant poison.

Being against extremism, whether committed in the name of Islam or whether it’s carried out in the name of Western democracy, which is increasingly exposed as nothing more than organised hypocrisy, is essential if our aim is to break what has become a perpetual cycle of misery and human despair. The West has been fanning the flames of this barbarism for years in places like Libya, Iraq, and Syria, yet it’s only when it explodes in our midst that we pay attention. When Syrians and Libyans are being massacred and butchered in the name of the same barbarism responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the voices that we are now hearing expressing anger and outrage the loudest are notably silent.

The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism are Muslims. The vast majority of victims of Western extremism are also Muslims. Only when we apologise for decades of imperialism, colonialism, occupation, and brutal military interventions should Muslims have to apologise for the monster it has inevitably created.

The French government has been a major sponsor of the chaos and carnage that has engulfed Libya and Syria in recent years, as has the British government. We are also a close ally of the Saudis. We sell them weapons and train their security services. Members of our so called Royal Family are never done visiting the place. All this despite the fact we are talking about an obscurantist gang of potentates who have been funding and fomenting extremism across the region and beheading more people than ISIS over a number of years now.

Nothing can condone the kind of butchery and cold blooded murder that has just taken place in Paris. But let’s not play holy here. If we are to condemn it when it erupts in Paris, we have to condemn it when it takes places in Libya and Syria, when it is unleashed on the people of Gaza in the name of democracy.

Extremism begets extremism. When will we ever learn?


Marks and Spencer: More like Sharks than angels


EU and MEPs are to be made aware that paying agency workers £2 per hour less for the same work as the direct staff exploits a loophole in European law known as the “Swedish Derogation” and that the loophole must be closed says GMB

Rosseby Carvalho and Domingos Dias, GMB shop stewards from Marks and Spencer distribution depot in Swindon, will visit the European Parliament on 21st January to explain how the “Swedish Derogation” loophole in the EU Agency Directive is abused by companies like Marks and Spencer to underpay staff. UK trade unions, through the TUC, submitted a formal complaint to the EU Commission on this issue in September 2013. The EU Directive is very clear that Member States must ensure measures are taken to stop practices aimed at avoidance of the equal treatment rights under the directive, and GMB believes this derogation is being exploited with the very aim of avoidance.

The Marks and Spencer Distribution Centre is now run for M&S by DHL who took over from Wincanton on 3rd January 2015. The majority of staff are employed through an employment agency called 24-7 Recruitment, but given contracts by another company called Tempay Ltd. Workers employed through Tempay earn the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour compared to the £8.50 per hour paid to workers doing exactly the same job but employed directly through DHL/Wincanton.

GMB has arranged for them to meet a senior EU Commission official for Employment, Social Legislation and Social Dialogue as well as meeting British MEPs, Siôn Simon, and Clare Moody, and the leader of the Labour Party Group, Glenis Willmott. They will also meet the Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog, and the German MEP Jutta Steinruck.

Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Organiser, says “Not only are these M&S distribution staff only paid minimum wage of £6:50 per hour, but they are guaranteed only 7 hours per week. They live in a state of permanent anxiety, not knowing whether they will get enough work in any week to pay their bills and feed their families.

“Marks and Spencer claim to be an ethical employer, but they need to clean up their act in their UK distribution chain, where GMB members suffer from sharp practices and aggressive management, and where unethical legal loopholes are used to deny workers a wage that allows them to live in dignity.

“Although Marks and Spencer chooses to outsource employment in their distribution chain to other companies, these are M&S warehouses, storing M&S goods, transported on M&S lorries to M&S stores, to be sold to M&S customers, making profits for M&S shareholders. The outsourcing, and use of so called “umbrella companies” to cut staffing costs to the bone is itself unethical.

“GMB believes it is extremely useful to be able to facilitate a conversation between exploited low-paid workers and the MEPs who are able to help shape employment law. We also want to let companies like Marks and Spencer know that they cannot behave like sharks, and then pretend to be angels”

GMB shop stewards will make EU and MEPs aware that paying agency workers £2 per hour less for the same work as the direct staff exploits a loophole in European law known as the “Swedish Derogation” and that the loophole must be closed”.

Not a lot of peace. Too much ill-will. A good seasonal read needed.

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas.

Bah! Humbug? Well, not exactly but in a world of not much peace and plenty of ill-will what do you buy for those in your life clinging on to the ideal that the point is to change it? Here’s my top ten, not guaranteed to cheer them up mind.

Inequality and the 1 percentDanny Dorling’s Inequality and the 1% reveals in graphic prose the modern day wealth of the super-rich, the ‘1%’ who shape levels of inequality today straight out of a Dickensian novel of Christmas past.

The Best of Benn is the perfect book to end the year in which we lost one of the towering political figures of the last three decades, Tony Benn. Along with his foe, Thatcher, Benn acquired an ‘ism’ and this posthumous collection brilliantly shows just why he was of such enduring significance, held in great affection by many while being hated and pilloried by the establishment including the leadership of his own party, Labour.

The most inspirational popular movement of 2014? In my book (sic) Scotland’s Yes Campaign, and more particularly the Radical Independence Campaign. The politics of hope and vision versus Project Fear and Unionist Labour defending the status quo. Alasdair Gray’s poetic Independence is a splendid short book to set out the case for an argument that doesn’t show one bit of going away. The SNP’s membership quadrupled since the Referendum, The Radical Independence Campaign born again with 3,000 in attendance at their recent conference, and this is what being on the losing side is supposed to look like?

REVOLUTIONThe worst-written reviews I’ve read all year have been those the ‘quality press’ commissioned of Russell Brand’s mostly excellent Revolution. Almost without exception the reviewers were long-standing and middle-aged members of the commentariat, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Craig Brown and the rest. All proved themselves entirely incapable of recognising that the world of politics they feast on, the Westminster bubble, has become entirely disconnected from ,and unrepresentative of, the generation Russell addresses and engages with. No he doesn’t get everything right but he writes and acts in a way these commentators and their cosy world of self-satisfaction could do with learning a lesson or two from. Except, as their reviews proved, they can’t see through their own fog of smug.

Russell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn’t be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection . More of that please in 2015.

How to Think about ExerciseRegular readers of my reviews round-ups won’t be surprised that I’ve included a sports, cookery and children’s’ title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the ‘political’ too often threatens to become. How To Think About Exercise by Damon Young sets out a philosophy of sport which is centred on active participation and physical pleasure rather than the passive-consumerism of fandom. Crucially Damon links the rewards provided to the mental not just the physical, a fresh and vibrant way of rethinking the meaning of sport. Food as an activity, eating and cooking, if the Christmastime best-seller lists are anything to go by, provides more pleasure today than just about any other aspect of popular culture. David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Green Kitchen Travels is a book rich in deliciousness before you even get round to trying out the recipes. It is wrapped in an internationalism and environmentalism that hardly needs to speak its name because both are such a natural part of David and Luise’s project. Pushkin Press publish wonderful children’s books, great pan-European writing and beautifully packaged. Their ‘Save the Story’ series gets contemporary writers to reinterpret classic tales. My favourite from their latest batch of titles in this series is Umberto Eco’s version of The Betrothed, an ancient Italian story for children retold by one of the most imaginative of Italy’s modern writers.

For a decent novel for the grown-ups I recommend James Ellroy’s latest. His chronicles of JFK-era America are an absolute pleasure to read. Hugely informative yet compulsively thrilling. This is a politicised fiction at its best and of a sort, with the exception of the equally splendid Christopher Brookmyre, GB is largely yet to produce. Perfida is Ellroy’s 2014 blockbuster, taking in 1941, the USA on the brink of entering World War Two, race hate aimed at Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour and as always with Ellroy, deep-seated political intrigue and insight.

101 DamnationsAnd my personal choice of a number one Christmas read? Ned Boulting is a rare kind of sports commentator, his reports from Le Tour are funny and self-knowing yet provide context too, historical and cultural, to the greatest race on Earth. And what makes Ned even more unusual is he writes every bit as well as he presents in front of a camera. His book on the 2014 Tour de France 101 Damnations of course begins in Yorkshire and those two unforgettable days when a world class sporting event travelled from Leeds via Harrogate and York to Sheffield via every village and town along the way. Local yet global, free to watch, no expensive infrastructure built unlikely to be ever used afterwards, a street festival with bikes, hundreds of thousands cycling to their vantage point. Ned catches all of this superbly and thats just the first couple of days. A joy to read both for the memories and a vision of what sport could be minus the commercial overdrive and corrupt governance. Happy reading!

No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from the tax-dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football