Thursday, 30 June 2011

Thousands of public sector workers strike over pensions

750,000 teachers and civil servants are staging a 24-hour walk out in protest over the Government’s plans to reform the public sector pensions.

It has been estimated that over half the schools in England and Wales will be affected, with one third completely closed for the day. Picket lines have been set up, and a march and rally will take place in central London.

Members of the teachers’ unions and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) voted to strike as they believe the coalition’s pension reform plans will increase the number of years they must spend working and the amount they will be expected to pay into their pension, but reduce the amount they receive when they finally retire.

However, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said the public sector pension will still be “among the very best pensions available” after the changes have been implemented.

He said that teachers do not have to strike today, as talks between the Government and the union leaders are still ongoing: "People are going to be scratching their heads, wondering why teachers and some civil servants are going on strike while discussions are still going.”

He added that it was “unjustifiable” for teachers to inconvenience parents who are trying to work in order to pay their taxes; taxes which will pay for the public sector’s pensions.

Teachers are not the only ones on strike. Some PCS court workers are on strike too. There is a picket line outside of the Old Bailey and cases with juries have been postponed.

UK Border Agency staff are on strike too, although early reports say that passengers at the UK’s major airports are not experiencing any major delays.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ general secretary, Mary Bousted, told BBC Breakfast: "We don't want to be on strike, and we wouldn't be on strike if the government had been prepared to do what they say they're going to do now, and that's negotiate."

In addition, Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of NUT, said the union “regrets” the disruption caused to parents by the strike action, but that it is the Government’s fault as it “isn’t serious” about finding a solution.

The coalition says the plans are "fair to taxpayers" and that other trade unions are continuing with negotiations. It condemned the strike action.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants the Government to pass legislation to impose a minimum threshold of participation for strike ballots. He has complained about the “very low” turnouts for ballots – about 33% of those members eligible to vote – as it means the minority can disrupt the public and other union members.

However, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, is expected to tell a rally in Exeter: "The brutal truth is simply this: The burden of deficit reduction is being piled unfairly onto millions of low and medium-paid public sector workers who did nothing to cause the crash.

"Their pay has already been frozen for two years, even though inflation is higher than it has been for over a decade."

For legal advice on strike action and other trade union activities, get in touch with Job Justice. We work with local employment solicitors throughout the UK.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Rise in state pension age for women widely criticised

The coalition’s Pension Bill will raise the age of entitlement to the state pension for women from 60 to 65, leaving nearly half a million women with their retirement plans in tatters.

Critics of the Bill say it is unfair to women as it increases their working life by five years and does not give them enough fair warning.

Currently men can receive their state pension at the age of 65. Women, however, can access their state pension at 60. In order to equalise the state pension age, women will now also have to reach 65 before they claim their entitlement. The Bill proposes to implement this change by 2018.

The Bill also proposes to raise the entitlement age of both sexes to 66 by the year 2020. The previous Labour government had agreed to implement equalisation measures by 2020.

Critics of the Bill, who span across all political parties and include charities and over-50 organisations, say it unfairly affects women who are close to retirement age. They will have to rethink their retirement plans and may have to work between 18 months and two years longer than they planned. Critics also say it is unfair because the women will have had as little as five years notice of the changes.

Conservative MP James Gray said the Bill would cause “an injustice to be done to a small number of people.”

Lorely Burt, the chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party, said that many of those affected will “be financially a great deal worse off.”

The shadow equalities minister, Yvette Cooper, said the changes to pensions, along with the Government’s cuts to benefits, were an “assault on women”.

She said: “no men will see their pension age increase by more than a year but half a million women will.”

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said he would stick to the timetable to raise and equalise the state pension entitlement age. A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said that if the Government delayed increasing the retirement age to 66, the taxpayer would have to pay £10bn and the next generation would have to shoulder the burden.

However, ministers have said they are looking at ways of softening the blow for women near retirement age.

The Bill and its affect on women is to be further debated in Parliament today (20 June 2011).

For legal advice on retirement, contact Job Justice today. Job Justice works with employment solicitors throughout the UK and can find the right local solicitor for employers and employees in need of legal advice.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Government’s Work Programme not so ‘revolutionary’, say critics

The Government’s ‘revolutionary’ new plan to get one million people off benefits and back into the workplace has been heavily criticised by experts.

The Work Programme was launched on 10 June 2011 and has been described by Employment Minister Chris Grayling as “probably the biggest payment-by-results scheme in the World”. The scheme matches unemployed candidates with job providers, who are then paid in instalments depending on their success.

The providers have a certain amount of freedom to structure the scheme internally in order to create programmes that will work best both for the applicants and for them.

However, the critics fear that by leaving the details to the providers, the vulnerable candidates, many of whom will not have worked for years, will be left without the necessary supervision and support. There are also fears that they will be pressurised into taking unsuitable jobs to ensure the providers get the results necessary in order to be paid by the Government.

Mr Grayling compared the scheme to a “giant employment dating agency” but critics say it will actually lead to providers ‘cherry picking’ the applicants and areas that are most likely to give them results and ensure a return on their investment.

Neil Lee, a senior economist at The Work Foundation, said the scheme will not benefit the long-term unemployed who are from the most economically deprived areas.

In addition, there is widespread concern that the Government has given the contracts to the ‘same old, same old’ providers.

It has been reported that the top four providers will deal with over half of the applicants, despite 30 organisations submitting 177 bids for the 40 contracts available.

New providers, such as Price Waterhouse Coopers, were reportedly put off by the ‘public-sector bidding process’. Those who do not speak the ‘public-sector language’ did not stand much of a chance of winning a contract, say critics, and this has led to the usual suspects winning the bids.

In addition, several new players pulled out when they realised the scheme was not financially viable.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions defended the Work Programme, saying that the providers will create the best schemes for applicants in their areas and that it will prove to be value for money for the taxpayer.

So, what do you think? Do you think this is a useful initiative by the Government that will give many unemployed people the chance to get back into the workplace? Or do you think it will just be used by the providers as a money-making scheme without the proper support in place for applicants?

Get in touch via Twitter (@JobJustice) and let Job Justice know your thoughts.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Cap discrimination awards at £50k, Government told

The Government has been advised to place a cap on employment tribunal awards for successful discrimination cases by an influential city group led by Sir Michael Snyder.

The group has told the Government that discrimination awards should be capped at £50,000 in order to stop spurious claims being pursued through the system to the detriment of employers.

The news is not welcome for employees, as there is currently no limit on the amount of compensation an employment tribunal can award a successful claimant if they have suffered from discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favourably than another because of their race, gender, sexuality, religion or beliefs, nationality, origin, etc.

Other employment tribunal awards are capped, for example the maximum award for unfair dismissal is £65,300. The city group wants the Government to enforce a limit on discrimination claims.

The group claims that employees without a genuine discrimination claim are trying their luck in an employment tribunal because of the possibility of an uncapped award. What happens in reality is that they are awarded a far smaller award which could have been negotiated by the parties in an out-of-court settlement. The result is that employers’ time and money is wasted in the tribunal process.

The 25-strong group also recommends making employees who lose a discrimination claim responsible for paying a proportion of their employer’s costs. The amount would not be enough to deter anyone with a genuine discrimination claim but enough to make those with a tenuous one think twice about pursuing the claim in a tribunal.

In addition, the group wants other employment tribunal awards, such as those for unfair dismissal, to be capped at £50,000.

A survey by CBI goes some way to back up the group’s position. 44% of the 330 organisations questioned said they would like to see discrimination awards capped.

The CBI survey found that claimants are ‘dazzled’ by media reports of multi-million pound awards for city workers who have been successful in their discrimination claims. The survey recommends capping discrimination awards at £65,300, the maximum award possible for unfair dismissal.

The group of city leaders is a powerful one. They meet four or five times a year and the meetings are attended by ministers, such as Business Secretary Vince Cable. Therefore it is likely their proposals for a cap will be carefully considered, and could be put into practice in the near future.

For more information on discrimination in the workplace or unfair dismissal, contact Job Justice today.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Woman wins landmark ruling for whistleblowers

A woman from Bradford has won an important victory for whistleblowers after a two-year battle with a local government authority.

Naz Shah, 37, took Local Government Yorkshire and Humber to an employment tribunal for detriment damages and unfair dismissal after she blew the whistle in order to protect tax payers’ money. She persevered with her claim, despite her union refusing to back her because of the ‘slim’ chance of success.

The mum of two had worked as a commissioning manager for NHS Bradford and Airdale and was seconded for 23 months to be the director of a national pilot, Get Connected. The programme was being hosted by Local Government Yorkshire and Humber and was intended to encourage more Muslim women to take on leadership roles.

Two weeks into the job, Naz Shah became suspicious. She had concerns over the programme’s funding and the lack of paper trails for invoices, bids and claims.

She eventually resigned from her post and took redundancy from the NHS over the stress caused by whistleblowing.

To ‘blow the whistle’ in employment law terms means to raise concerns about an employer’s wrongdoing to that employer by making a ‘disclosure’. Under employment law, an employee cannot suffer from detriment because they have made a disclosure, or be dismissed. If either of these things happens to the employee, they will have a claim in an employment tribunal.

Whistleblowing also covers situations where an employee makes a disclosure about wrongdoing to an external body, such as the employer's regulatory authority.

Employees who are considering blowing the whistle may want to obtain legal advice before they do so, as certain criteria have to be met for their disclosure to be protected under employment law.

Naz Shah won her claim for detrimental damages at the employment tribunal. This means that she was found to have suffered from detriment because of her disclosure and that she is protected by employment law, even though she was on secondment.

However, her claim for unfair dismissal did not succeed. The employment tribunal found that because she was not employed by Local Government Yorkshire and Humber, they could not have dismissed her. In order to claim for unfair dismissal, a person must be an employee of the defendant.

The employment tribunal said: “The claimant’s original motive and instincts were right: concern for the public purse and the frameworks in place to look after it.

“The Tribunal considered this case, unlike many cases brought under the whistleblowing provisions, to be a paradigm for their need.”

To find out more information about whistleblowing and the protection available under employment law, get in touch with Job Justice.