On April 29, the AGM of British-Dutch steel group Corus will see the replacement of its chief executive Tony Pedder, by Philippe Varin, a senior executive of the French company Pechiney. Also the Chairman Brian Moffat will step down and will be succeeded by the deputy chairman Jim Leng. The "strategy" for getting Corus out of its multimillion pound debts is, yet again, to slash steel production with the consequent loss of jobs. There is talk of one to three thousand additional jobs being destroyed. This figure comes on top of more than six thousand jobs that have been destroyed in the last two and a half years.
On the announcement of the changes in management (and the job cuts) shares in Corus went up to 12p from a low of 4p a month ago. This level is still well down from a record peak of 190p.
As always "sacrifices" are only demanded on the part of the workforce, thus despite the fact that the workers have seen a wage freeze for the last 12 months, the company's financial director received a 39% wage increase. The salary of the new chief executive will be in the range of £1.7 million.
Faced with this reality, the unions' campaign has been very mild. Two weeks ago they organized a “red card day of action,” which involved no industrial action, just the workers symbolically showing the red card to management. Unfortunately the unions campaign was based on demanding the replacement of Tony Pedder. But in reality the company's troubles cannot be reduced to management personnel and cannot be solved with a management change. In fact the announced plans of the new Chief Executive are also based on job cuts and sacrifices on the part of the workforce.
The union leadership has wrongly taken the view that job losses are acceptable as long as there are no compulsory redundancies. The problem with this approach is that if a good offer is made then many workers might accept voluntary redundancies and the jobs will be gone forever. The union movement should take the view that workers are just occupying a particular job, which in fact belongs to the labour movement as a whole and as such must be defended as part of the future of our communities.
Steel making is a vital sector of industry that has been dying a slow death for some time. The government should intervene with re-nationalisation, particularly since the private sector has proven completely unable to run the industry at all.
Not safe in private hands
By Mike Gaskell, Amicus-AEEU Shop Steward Scottish Power/Power Systems
The privatisation of the electricity supply industry has proven to be the disaster for both the workers in the industry and the country as a whole widely predicted at the time by the trade unions. The industry is regulated by OFGEM. The regulator exists solely in order to introduce competition into as much of the industry as possible and the system means all former nationalised companies have what is called a regulatory review every five years. Regulation has not stopped massive profits being made by all of the former nationalised companies. It has led to many jobs being created for city spivs who buy and sell electricity and their friends who advise other spivs on the buying, asset stripping and subsequent resale of whole companies.
The combination of regulation and this city free-for-all has seen the previously unthinkable happen with electricity companies starting to go bust. TXU Europe went under recently and sent shockwaves through the industry. At the same time nuclear generation experienced commercial difficulties and only survives with the granting of government loans. In other words regulation has achieved its aim of introducing the anarchy and greed of the market system into the electricity supply industry.
On the other hand regulation has seen the slashing of the in-house workforce and the increasing introduction of contractors. That is the removal of secure steady employment with decent basic terms and conditions, a final salary pension scheme, pay when you are sick or injured, reasonable holiday provision and so on. They have been replaced with casual labour hired for the duration of the contract on worse terms and conditions. Privatisation has led to the number of apprentices falling dramatically and will mean an acute shortage of skilled labour in the future if nothing is done quickly to remedy the problem. Of course the workers in the industry have also had to endure every fad and gimmick that is designed to increase productivity or cut costs, flexible working, annualised hours and the like. In other words the price of privatisation is paid for by the workers.
Last October much of the southern half of Britain was hit by a storm and the privatisation chickens came home to roost with many thousands of homes without electricity, some for many days. A more widespread or severe storm could have had much more serious consequences and led to generalised power cuts.
In short Privatisation, Regulation and the market do not work. The nations electricity generation, distribution and supply network and infrastructure is not safe in the hands of profiteers.
What can we do about it? Amicus-AEEU should campaign for minimum standards (not less than the best already achieved) in the industry to apply to all in-house, contract and agency labour for a common rate of pay.
- Continuation of the final salary pension scheme for all workers in the industry and extended to contract labour.
- Decent holiday provision.
- Oppose all redundancies.
- Defend job security by opposing TUPE transfers.
We should insist that massive investment is made in the training of the workforce of the future, apprenticeships, clerical/admin trainees, engineering trainee's etc.
This should be coupled with an energy plan to manage the nation’s energy needs into the future. Planning can end the short termism of privatisation most graphically displayed in the dash for gas generation that has led to the problems now being faced. It goes without saying that you can't plan what you don't own. The campaign to renationalise the entire industry should begin now.
Don’t let bosses get away with murder!
by Phil Willis, Amicus-AEEU Construction section
April 28th is Workers Memorial day, the international day when union members around the world, remember those workers who have lost their lives by simply going to work, the huge number killed in work related incidents and through occupational illnesses.
It's a pity that Tony Blair and his government don't remember the promise they made, when in June 2000 they launched 'Revitalising Health & Safety' to co-incide with revamping the Health and Safety Bill, but as usual nothing has been done.
As a steel erector and shop steward within the construction industry my colleagues and I have at one time or another witnessed a fatality, or life threatening accident during our working lives. Those who have know that the scene replays in your mind time and time again like a reccurring nightmare. The horror that you have witnessed never goes away, it stays with you for the rest of your life. It leaves you with the very bitter taste that in many cases the fatality or accident could have been avoided.
Unions have played a particularly active role in bringing about major improvements to Health and Safety on sites and in workplaces around the country. Shop stewards and safety reps have worked tirelessly to assist in those improvements. Many workers today put their lives at risk on a daily basis simply by going to work. There is patently more emphasis placed on business progression and profit than the value of a man's life. The only way in which we can make all employers sit up and take notice is by the enforcement of the proposed legislation in the Corporate Manslaughter Bill.
The current system of fining an employer is totally ineffective. Statistics show that the paltry sum of £18,200 is the average settlement achieved, a pittance in exchange for a human life, small change to most companies, the cost of two Saville Row suits to most company directors. The current system holds no fear for negligent companies and is absolutely no deterrent against future offences.
Workers in conjunction with their shop stewards and safety reps should be organising and supporting campaigns to bring about legislative change to make Corporate Manslaughter a crime. My union, Amicus, have been running a campaign for several weeks on this subject and at a recent seminar in London the level of empathy and support for the campaign was very prominent. Fed up with the lack of progress on the part of the government, delegates sported slogans such as 'the wait is killing us'.
The mood is changing, workers are no longer willing to accept whatever fate happens along at their workplace. Bad employers should be punished severely with much heavier fines and imprisonment, only then will the killing stop. Tony Blair and his government should realise that we have been waiting for a long time now and that this issue is just not going to go away.
So, not just this year but every year on Workers Memorial Day we should remember the dead, but continue to fight for the living.
See Britain: Amicus left on the march By Kris Lawrie, Amicus member (May 20, 2003)