Got rights? Thank a union!

Think of all the features of working life we take for granted (or would like to)…

Lunch breaks
Paid annual leave
Maternity leave
Paternity leave
Adoption leave
Sick leave
Redundancy pay
Pay in lieu of notice
Children not sent up chimneys, down mines, dodging shuttles
Welfare benefits
Minimum wage
Living wage!
Protection from discrimination on grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age.
Working hours/time legislation
Paid overtime
Health and Safety protections at work Pension rights
Protection from wrongful/unfair dismissal Protection from unlawful deductions from wages
Protection for whistleblowers
Protection from sexual harassment
Equal pay for work of equal value
Flexible working arrangements

All rights won for you by a union. Who also won you the right to strike.

If you don’t enjoy the protections above, don’t complain. Join a union!

If you take things for granted, what you’ve been granted gets taken.


Itsmotherswork in Wonderland

In the crazy world beyond the looking glass, in which we all now seem to live, Panorama broadcast some extraordinary new allegations about the Murdoch empire last night (26 March 2012).

They are summed up in the Guardian article here:

Only 48 hours before, the Murdoch broadsheet The Sunday Times had produced a terrific scoop, soon followed up by all other news organisations, of wealthy donors to the Tory party being offered access to David Cameron and the ears of other policy-makers in exchange for funds.

Only days before that the budget dropped the 50% tax rate to 45% – against the weight of public opinion, including among Tory voters – and Andrew Lansley’s much-loathed Health & Social Care Bill passed its final weak challenge in the commons and started the process of dismantling our universal healthcare system (the envy of the world) and handing it over piecemeal to overseas ‘healthcare’ business interests and consultancies. It seems reasonable to ask which donors have had access to Cameron’s ears, and how much they may have paid to secure these special favours and concessions that are so much against the interests of those of us who don’t have £250k to spare.

But was the Sunday Times scoop true, or fair, or was it a pissed-off Murdoch getting his revenge on Cameron for failing to protect him over hackgate?

And is the Panorama programme true, or fair, or is the BBC (once a proudly independent broadcaster, now running scared of Govt threats – cheered on by the Murdochs – that it will lose the licence fee) protecting the hapless Government by pushing a story that it hopes will stop #cashforcameron and #camdinewithme from trending.

Or is the Government’s protection found in the ‘leaking’ of the NHS risk register, and the likely subsequent sacrifice of the terminally incompetent and much disliked Andrew Lansley to save his erstwhile chums?

Or is the risk register leak a deliberate fake? Part of a piece of distraction magic designed to steer us all away from Cameron and Murdoch just long enough for our silly little minds to lose interest in Government corruption, media criminality and saving our health service?

Do I believe my Government? No.

Do I believe Rupert Murdoch? No.

Do I believe the BBC? Sadly no.

The police, we are told, are to investigate the allegations of corruption uncovered by the Sunday Times. The police whose ‘friendly’ relationships with the Murdoch press were at the heart of ‘hackgate’. I notice that there’s a police connection at the heart of the Panorama story too, with yet another ex-police officer swapping what ought to be an honest profession for something more lucrative but less legal.

Do I trust the police to investigate the Government? No.

Do I trust them to investigate Murdoch. No.

I can’t believe my Government, the press or the police.

All I know is the Mock Turtle has been here giving us lessons in “Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision”. We’re all living in Wonderland now.

French ATOS Staff Speak Out

This piece has been published by the ATOS Outsourcing staff union on their blog.…

My best translation effort (any mistranslations cock up, not conspiracy):

(Headline) ATOS Healthcare in Britain a is a shameful scandal overlooked in France.

The British Govt, keen to make small savings here and there in the middle of their economic crisis has a range of ways of going about it. One of the most scandalous is probably the one Atos won the contract for from the Department of Work and Pensions. Atos has developed a system to flush out fraudsters and those deemed “fit for work”, basically an electronic form used to evaluate the disabled, terminally ill cancer patients, people injured in the workplace etc. If they do not meet the criteria or if they don’t turn up for he interview: their benefits are stopped.

The reason this system is scandalous is because people, even those with profound disabilities, can under it be considered fit for work; also mental illnesses are not properly taken into account.

Campaign groups for people with disabilities are outraged to see Atos sponsoring the Paralympic Games and are demanding a boycott.

According to the Daily Mail, there have been 103 suicides related to the new test since its implementation. (1)

Atos Healthcare is a division of Atos Consulting operating in the health sector in the UK where it employs over 3,000 people. Its largest contract is with the DWP under which it conducts assessments of people receiving disability benefits.

The assessment test used is very controversial. It has been criticised in the UK by MPs, the judiciary and disability rights groups including Citizens Advice Bureaux. (2) These groups have found many examples of terminally ill and severely disabled people deemed fit for work and ineligible for benefits as a result of a computer-based evaluation carried out by Atos Healthcare, which is paid £100 million per year by the government to administer the tests. Charities have concluded that the system is not fit for purpose and remain concerned about its reliability, despite the government’s commitment to improve it. (3)

The competence of Atos and its employees has been called into question by health professionals for setting up its automated medical examination system known as “LIMA”. These examinations are widely criticized by those who are subject to the evaluation. (4)
The system is automated with a number of yes / no answers, which don’t allow those administering them to take into account progressive/degenerative diseases, mental illness etc.., But the system also evaluates people’s functional capacity based on unfair criteria.

For example, one question is: do you watch “Eastenders” and “Coronation Street”? (Two very popular television series in Britain). A ‘yes’ answer, as far as the software is concerned means that the person is able to remain seated for 30 minutes, even if the person in question actually watches the programme lying down.

There are multiple errors in the records, some very wide of the mark.

The system refuses to take account of other medical records / documents, including those from specialists.
20 out of 55 Atos examination centres have no disabled access, and some are more than 5 – 15 minutes from the nearest station.

A significant number of disabled or sick people, who were previously receiving welfare benefits, are now considered employable or able to participate in a work related activity programme. What this also means is the end of their entitlement.

If they do not attend a mandatory job/work readiness interview (even if they are disabled and the obstacles to their attendance make this is impossible) their unemployment benefits are stopped. (5)

The qualifications & competence of the assessors are questionable; merely 17 hours of training for nurses, a few days for doctors, and attractive salaries: £ 32,000 for nurses for a job from 9 to 5 hours, no weekend work etc.. (6)

The type of people considered employable under the assessment includes terminally ill cancer patients, people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and chronic and debilitating illnesses for which there is no hope of improvement, but for which there will every year be a further mandatory review. The list is endless.

The Guardian newspaper in an article in March 19 (8) quotes Peter, a computer analyst officially registered blind in 2009 who was denied his entitlement and obliged to look for work. (11)

Atos is expected to make recommendations that are reviewed by a panel that makes the final decision. This panel is made up of ‘JCP decision-makers’, the staff of Job Centre Plus, a glorified ANPE [National Employment Agency]. There do not appear to be any panel members from the medical profession.

99.78% of Atos’s recommendations are accepted by the panel, at the expense of any recommendations of GPs and specialists who have know their patients for years. (10)

There have been many demonstrations by pressure groups and activists since the scandal erupted across the Channel. So much so that we are surprised it is unknown in France. Protesters brandished banners that read “Atos doesn’t give a toss” and “Atos kills”. The latter a reference to the small but growing number of applicants who have died following the cessation of their benefits. ( 12) (13) (14)

If you read this Wikipedia article on Atos,, you will see that the French version is a bowdlerised version of the English version which does make reference to the controversy of the withdrawal of benefits based on reviews conducted by Atos.

The ‘omerta’ of the French press underlines the multinational clout of Atos’s Mr BRETON. This same person who already has a notorious history at France Telecom, the company famous for numerous suicides.

Atos won the contract with the British government in an economic recession and with a cost reduction program in place in the public sector. With the right-wing government of Mr Cameron, a real witch hunt was triggered against welfare recipients. A highly virulent campaign by the British government has portrayed the disabled as parasites who take advantage of the system, although fraud actually represents only 0.5%. In this context, the requirements placed on Atos are clear. The result is a reduction in the number of persons entitled to disability benefits because the criteria have changed.

Since the system was first tested in late 2009 [note: under the previous Govt] about 390,000 people have litigated in the courts of appeal against a decision on suitability for employment. The courts have been forced to open on Saturday and to increase their workforce by 30% since January 2010 to deal with the workflow and the cost of these appeals is expected to reach £50 million per year by the end of this month. (7)

About 38% of all court appeals find in favor of the applicant, and the benefit is subsequently granted. Where an applicant is supported in his appeal by a person from an advocacy group, such as Citizens Advice, the success rate is much higher approximately 68%. (8)

This shameful scandal should not stay in the shadows. Our duty as employees of Atos members and trade unionists, is to inform you about these events that affect disabled workers for whom on this side of the Channel we have a special regard.

Your duty now is to participate in awareness-raising of the scandal by informing your colleagues, friends and families.

Twitter verdict on the Sheriff of Nottingham Budget

‘Robin Hood Budget’ my arse!

Earlier today the 23 millionaires in the cabinet issued a post budget statement reminding people that we are all still in this together. (Twitter: @RenegadeEcon)

Billed as a ‘Robin Hood Budget’ by the Liberal Democrats, apparently, the measures announced today create an average tax cut for the people on the top rate of income tax of £10,000, and increase the minimum wage by just 11p. (Twitter: @PhilWilsonMP)

For someone on the minimum wage to earn an additional £10,000 through the value of the increase alone, they would need to be working 90,909 hours per year, or – at an average working week of 40 hours, somehow cramming 2,272 weeks of work (43 years) into a single year.

What this means in practice is millionaires get an extra £42,000+ more a year. Poorest working families get £33 a year more. (Twitter: @natachakennedy)

Worth saying again. A banker on £5m will be £240,000 a year better off as result of Osborne’s budget. (Twitter: @TheRightArticle)

Meanwhile “If people working for 16 hrs on the minimum wage don’t work more hours they will lose nearly £4,000 in tax credits #budget2012″ (Twitter: @SOASLabour)

Before the budget, the Joseph Rowntree foundation examined likely proposals and their impact on ‘poor places and people’ here:

How do you think today’s announcements fare against their predictions?

According to ITV News “at the heart of the Budget a shocking hit for pensioners”. This ship is now taking on water.” (Twitter: “@oflynnexpress) and the front pages of the Thursday 22 March papers report this as ‘pensioners fund tax cut’ (Guardian) and ‘”Granny tax” hits 5m pensioners’ (Telegraph). It’s quite some achievement to play badly across the political spectrum in that way.

If you don’t know how the budget will affect you, there’s this advice: CALCULATE whether the new #budget2012 is good for you by looking at your watch. If it’s worth more than £5k, you’re ok. (Twitter: @willrolls)

Basically, the very wealthiest will take a hit it seems, but one they won’t feel as their overall wealth insulates them. The real damage will be done to the poorest. “As a % age of income, the group hit hardest by today’s budget after the most well off is the very poorest at minus 1.5% #budget2012” (Twitter: @scott_young)

As for the shoe-dwellers, we’ll be about £475 worse off, which I won’t complain about as we’re better off than many. (But no one here wears a £5k watch.)

Baroness Thornton’s amendment

As an amendment to the motion that the Bill do now pass, to leave out from ‘that’ to the end and insert:

‘this House declines to allow the Bill to pass, because the Bill does not command the support of patients who depend on the National Health Service, the professionals who are expected to make it work, or the public; will not deliver the promised objectives of genuinely empowering clinicians in the commissioning process and putting patients at the heart of the system; will increase bureaucracy and fragment commissioning; will allow foundation trusts to raise up to half their income from private patients; and, despite amendment, still creates an economic regulator and regime which will lead to the fragmentation and marketisation of the National Health Service and threaten its ethos and purpose.”

Sadly this amendment was defeated, by 269 votes to 174.

Dear George, About that 50% Tax Rate

Dear George,

I understand that you plan to cut the top rate of income tax from 50% to a lower figure, and that this is because the total tax collected at the 50% rate is lower than expected and you have been “intellectually persuaded” that a 50% tax rate will put off entrepreneurs and businesses.

Leaving aside the question of whether entrepreneurs and businesses genuinely ‘create wealth’ at all (as opposed to acting as syphons of wealth to make themselves rich or richer), why would the 50% rate make a difference to entrepreneurs and businesses? Your own research shows THEY DON’T PAY IT.

Rich people, with their clever accountants find ways not to pay it. Rich people exploit our flabby tax laws and their many loopholes so as not to pay it. Rich people know that the Government will spend more time and energy chasing benefit fraud than tax evasion and hunting down and recovering overpayments of tax credits than identifying and closing down tax avoidance mechanisms.

Rich people pay as much or as little tax as they want to pay. Because they can.

To justify your outrageous pandering to the super-rich (the net tax giveaway the LibDems say is unconscionable, but will stand by, slack-jawed and watch you implement) you will sell the idea that the country will collect more in tax revenue if it charges rich people at a lower rate.

Rich people, you will tell us, avoid and evade tax because THEY DON’T WANT TO PAY SO MUCH. If only we tell them we are charging them less then THEY WILL PAY MORE.

Yes. And there are fairies at the bottom of my garden.

If this is what passes for “intellectual persuasion” at the Treasury or HMRC then we are doomed.

If rich people currently pay their taxes, including income tax at the top rate, in full because they recognise that is just and fair, they will pay less if you lower the top rate.

If rich people currently don’t pay their tax in full because they:

a) just don’t want to, and

b) can get away with it

…then when we lower the rate of tax, we will collect less tax from them. Because they don’t want to pay tax above a certain level that they have decided feels fair to them. So they will pay what they want to, because they can get away with it.

If you have a lower tax rate for rich people, then rich people will pay less tax.

That is all.

Yours sincerely,


The Last Battle?

In the ‘Last Battle’ in the House of Commons 13 March 2012, which Labour MPs did NOT vote against the Health Bill?

Hugh Bayley
Margaret Beckett
Anne Begg (I received information to say that Anne Begg is unwell following a fall. Certainly this is not typical of her previous voting history).
Joe Benton
Liam Byrne (such is my low opinon of Byrne, I had to check he didn’t vote with Govt!)
Ann Coffey
Frank Dobson (Frank in fact voted for one of the amendments and abstained from the another.)
Mike Gapes
Tom Greatrex
Lindsay Hoyle (Is apparently Deputy Speaker, so does not vote)
Glenda Jackson
Ian Lucas
Michael McCann
Dawn Primarolo (another Deputy Speaker, I’m told)
Malcolm Wicks
Sean Woodward (He used to be a Tory MP, you know?)

In most other situations, that would be a pretty good Labour turnout. On this occasion. Not good enough.

That said, even if all those named had voted against the bill, it would still have passed unless there had been a larger LibDem rebellion.

Credit where it’s due…those non-Labour MPs who voted against Govt on Health Bill last night were:

Gregory Campbell (Democratic Unionist)
Nigel Dodds (DU)
Mark Durkan (SDLP)
Andrew George (LD)
Martin Horwood (LD)
Stuart Hosie (SNP)
Julian Huppert (LD)
Eric Joyce (ex-Lab; he’s in all sorts of trouble (and rightly so) but voted to drop bill do gets a thumbs up for that)
John Leech (LD)
Naomi Long (Alliance)
Caroline Lucas (Green)
Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP)
John Pugh (LD)
Angus Robertson (SNP)
Jim Shannon (DU)
Mike Weir (SNP)
Eilidh Whiteford (SNP)
Pete Wishart (SNP)

In a late night hashtag cock-up I labelled some of those above “noshows” when I had intended to tweet them on the hashtag #creditwhereitsdue

The above is the corrected list.

Where I’ve received explanations of why an MP didn’t vote, I’ve shared them here. If you’ve got more insights into a particular MPs behaviour, let me know, and I’ll add it.

Detailed information about MPs votes on this issue will later become available via Public Whip: and They Work For You:

In the meantime, I have compiled this from the Hansard record and the all party list of MPs available at this website: