Palestinian workers fighting for union recognition, Zarfati Garage, Mishor Adumim

August 30, 2014

Mishor Adumim is an industrial park located in the industrial zone of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, about 7 kilometres from Jerusalem. The town was granted official status as a ‘permanent’ settlement in 1977 after Menachim Begin took office. In the late 1990’s around 1,000 Bedouin were forced to move from land that now forms part of the settlement. In 2012 the population was 39,000.

According to the Jerusalem Post, in 2011 Mishor Adumim hosted 220 businesses, among them textile plants, garages, food manufacturers, aluminium and metal working factories, and printing companies. One of these garages, Zarfati, has 50 Palestinian workers who are involved in a fight for union recognition. They are members of the Israeli Workers Advice Center (WAC) which helped them set up a workers committee and start negotiations with the management for a collective agreement. (Download a PDF here zarfati or continue reading below)

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From one Israeli pogrom to another

August 4, 2014

Download a PDF of this article here israelipogrom

Israel is in trouble. Not because of the threat from Hamas rockets but because its barbaric assault on Gaza is so patently out of all proportion to the threat they face that even their traditional supporters are raising questions about their strategy. IT’s traditional supporters admit as much. Even Tory MPs are criticising the UK government. The Economist has written an editorial entitled “winning the battle, but losing the war” (the war, that is, for world opinion), subtitled “For all its military might, Israel faces a grim future unless it can secure peace”. Yet the Israeli regime does not want a negotiated peace. Indeed Netanyahu has recently said that there is no way that Israel can relinquish security on the West Bank for fear of Islamist attack. The Palestinian people cannot be trusted with self-rule. As the Economist says, that implies an intention to consolidate the occupation. Netanyahu stated that any “peace agreement” would have to include Israeli military control of the West Bank “for a very long time”. At a Hebrew language press conference on July 11th, not widely reported in the English media, he clarified that: “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan”. In other words any ‘sovereign’ Palestinian state would not be allowed sovereignty over its territory. Read the rest of this entry »

Osborne’s Mansion House speech: no market solution to the housing crisis

June 21, 2014

Download a PDF of this article here osbornemansionspeech2014

George Osborne’s recent Mansion House speech had a few rabbits in the hat supposedly designed to address “the challenges of the housing market”. Firstly, he has decided to give the Bank of England new powers over mortgages including the size of mortgage loans as a share of family income or the value of the house. He says

“In other words, if the Bank of England thinks some borrowers are being offered excessive amounts of debt, they can limit the proportion of high loan to income mortgages each bank can lend, or even ban all new lending above a specific loan to income ratio. And if they really think a dangerous house bubble is developing, they will be able to impose similar caps on loan to value ratios as they do in places like Hong Kong. It’s important that decisions to use these powerful tools are made independently of politics by the Bank of England.”

The idea that such decisions are not political is as illusory as the original decision of Gordon Brown to give the Bank the power to set interest rates. The advantage for Osborne is, of course, that any mistakes can be identified as those of the Bank rather than his.

How these powers are applied will be worked out by the Bank and the Treasury though Osborne said that legislation would be introduced before the end of this Parliament. In any case the impact of this policy will not have worked its way through by the time of the General Election. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Zero hours contracts’ – new ONS estimate of 1.4 million plus

May 1, 2014

I wrote recently about ‘zero hours contracts‘. At the time we were awaiting an update by the Office of National Statistics on the estimated number of people working these contracts. Reports in the press expected an estimate of 1 million. In fact the ONS estimate is 1.4 million[1]. However, this was simply the number of people reported to be working during a two week period, at the end of January/beginning of February. This estimate was based on a new ONS survey of 5,000 businesses which was more extensive than the CIPD one which was based on 1,000. The CIPD had estimated around 1 million people worked on zero hours contracts. In addition to the 1.4 million the ONS estimated 1.3 million more people on these contracts who didn’t work during this two week period. Read the rest of this entry »

Zero hours contracts – promoting a climate of fear in the workplace

April 25, 2014

Download a PDF of this article here zero hours

“a  form of working where the worker is not guaranteed any work but has to be available as and when the employer needs them.”

House of Commons Library Standard Note

The definition above identifies the completely one-sided nature of the employment relationship under zero-hours contracts. The worker is literally at the beck and call of the employer, with no guarantee of earnings around which they can plan their finances, no guarantee of any pattern of work. The growth of the use of these contracts is a fact but their extent is a matter of dispute. The original Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimate of 250,000 people on zero hour contracts seemed way too low since one government Minister, Norman Lamb, had announced that there were 370,000 workers on these contracts in the care industry alone. Based on a survey it carried out the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) estimated that the number overall could be around 1 million or higher. The survey showed that nearly one in five employers use zero hours contracts, with the practice more common in the voluntary and public sectors. The average number of hours worked by people on these contracts was estimated by the CIPD to be 19.5 hours a week. Now the ONS has lifted its estimate to 582,935 in 2013. The Sunday Times, on April 20th, meanwhile, revealed that new figures expected shortly from the ONS were likely to show nearly a million workers on zero hours contracts.

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IDS threatens harassment of working poor tenants under Universal credit

March 1, 2014

Listening to Ian Duncan Smith you would imagine that Universal Credit (UC) would soon become the eighth wonder of the world. Reality is somewhat at variance with his steadfast refusal to accept that it is in fact a disaster in the making. The latest news is that working tenants will be targeted under UC. Currently the ‘sanctions’ regime, which has seen a massive increase in the withdrawal of benefits payments to claimants, only applies to out of work benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance. However, the Department of Work and Pensions has confirmed that under UC, where a tenant is working less than 35 hours a week at minimum wage, sanctioning could involve losing their HB on the grounds that they might not be ‘doing enough’ to find more hours of work. This would impact both on tenants and their landlords. It would create rent arrears, which as they mounted, could lead to eviction of the tenant and their family. Read the rest of this entry »

“Car worker wage drop casts doubt on recovery”

February 17, 2014

An article in today’s Financial Times reports that despite production of motor vehicles in the UK having increased by 45% in the past 4 years lower paid workers have seen an erosion of the value of their earnings.

“A sharp rise in agency staff and temporary contracts at the UK’s booming car factories has meant that the average wage for almost a third of the industry’s workforce has fallen in real terms during the last four years, finds an FT investigation. The falling salaries and increased use of flexible hour workers calls into question the true benefits of one of the country’s most lauded post-recession industrial recoveries.”

Average salaries have risen just 2.3% in real terms and the wages of the lowest paid 30% have fallen 7.5% according to ONS data. Meanwhile the average director at the 6 largest UK car makers have seen their wages increase by 19%.

“The news comes as government data suggest real wages in the UK have fallen consistently since 2008, as earnings growth fails to keep up with inflation.”

UK car production topped 1.5 million in 2013, the highest since 2007

Yet only 87,000 people were employed building motor vehicles last year, according to government data, compared with 92,000 in 2007 and 124,000 in 2004.

“Those workers earned a collective £3.6 billion last year, 19% more than in 2009, but a quarter less than 2004’s total pay packet in real terms.”

The FT cites Ellesmere Port where workers have received only one wage rise in 5 years, and are working reduced hours. “Their situation belies the popular image of a resurgent car industry.” These conditions were part of the agreement for the introduction of a new model of the Astra in 2015. There will be hundreds of recruits for this though they will receive only 70% of the standard salary for their first 4 years, while pensions will be less generous.

The FT reports that average salaries at 5 of the UK’s largest carmakers have remained flat in the 3 years to 2013

“The findings question the benefits of a recovery that has been trumpeted by the government as a shining example of its attempts to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing and away from financial services.”

Total annual pay at UK automotive manufacturers was £3.6 billion, more than £1 billion less than its historic high in 2004, in spite of production reaching up to levels in that year, as fewer people operate factory lines.

In 1978 493,000 people worked on vehicles and parts in the UK. Today’s total is roughly a quarter of that, following plant closures and the arrival of robot labour.

In the 3 years to 2013 the average gross salary at JLR, Vauxhall, Nissan, Honda and Toyota, rose by only 0.3% when adjusted for inflation

Excluding JLR where workers enjoyed an average gross salary increase of 14%, staff at the other 4 saw the value of their average annual wage packets fall 3.7% over those three years according to financial statements and company data.

The average employee at Nissan, the UK’s largest carmaker by production, saw their pay fall 7.5% in real terms over 3 years to March 31st 2013 according to company data. Toyota staff experienced similar erosion.


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