Friday, 30 October 2009

The Future for Equality Reps?


I attended a lively, packed event yesterday. As project manager of the GFTU's union modernisation fund (UMF) equality reps project I delivered, with Judith Jackson, GFTU Head of Educational Services) (on left of picture) a project dissemination event in Telford.
Delegates listened to presentations from project partners including the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and GFTU affiliate union CONNECT.
In addition there were two excellent presentations from equality reps trained as part of the project. Paul Greenwood, a UNITE equality rep, thanked the GFTU for the opportunity to become an equality rep, whilst James Stribley (on right of picture top left) a GMB regional convenor for the GMB in Yorkshire, delivered a presentation jointly with Majid Hussain (Inclusion & Diversity Manager - REMPLOY) (left of James in picture) on a joint strategy to embed increased activity around equalities across all activity within the company.
A particularly interesting aspect of the day was a discussion hosted by the conference chair Joe Marino (BFAWU General Secretary and current GFTU President) on the challenges facing equality reps.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of delegates who contributed cited the disappointment of not having statutory rights to paid time off to carry out their role. One delegate went as far to comment that he felt he had to 'lie and cover up' his equality rep role under the guise of his existing shop steward's role by saying that he was undertaking 'union business'.
Whilst this discussion did not in any way undermine the highly positive way in which the conference proceeded and concluded it did leave me, as project manager, wondering what future equality reps would have.
Will reps, without statutory rights, be sustained through the role being 'dropped onto' the back of the steward, ULR, safety rep role - as it clearly the case that equality strands run through these role also, or will interest drop off over time as these reps concentrate on primary aspects of their core role?
As always, comments welcome.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Making History Real


Yesterday I was at the UNISON (West Midland Region) event for Black History Month at Birmingham town hall - a fantastic venue. Working with Gurdeep Singh, the region's leaning organiser, we delivered a workshop Black Workers & The Trade Union

The workshop rested on Gurdeep's original idea of caused and consequences in the way that black workers have self-organised as a way to build trade union organisation and we used the 1976-77 Grunwick dispute as the basis for the workshop.

Just prior to the workshops Roger McKenzie, the region's newly appointed regional secretary (read his blog at: delivered a barnstorming session on his own personal experiences as a young black man growing up in 70's Walsall and how that informed his trade union history. A key message that he delivered, and which wondefully helped the Grunwick workshop, was his insistence that we 'make history real' by identifying its relevance to what we do today and that we rekindle the 'fir and brimstone' that was part and parcel of what inspired disputes led by black workers.

I used the workshop to encourage support for an on-going dispute in Birmingham at the 2 sisters poultry processing plant where 54 workers have been sacked for engaging in industrial action linked to racism in the workplace.

Read more:

A key theme emerging from the workshop, both in a historical and contemporary sense, is how best black workers can gain the support of white workers in support of campaigns with a distinct element of race and/or racism within them.

Although we discussed classic examples of this I'm keen to get your views.



Friday, 16 October 2009

How 'sick' is 'sick'?


The article below has been written for the next edition the Thompsons Weekly Labour & European Law Report (LELR).

To see the back catalogue of Weekly LELR's go to:

What do the new fitness note proposals mean for sick workers?

By Ian Manborde
Thompsons Tutor in Trade Union Studies, Northern College

‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’ - a review by Dame Carol Black of the health and well-being of Britain’s working age population - has resulted in a number of challenging, although not unexpected proposals.

One of the most controversial is that the current sick note issued by a GP to certify sickness absence should be phased out, and replaced by a ‘well note’ indicating what activity the worker could undertake particularly as part of a phased return to work.

In a submission during the consultation period, Thompsons Solicitors expressed its concerns:

“Unless the new rules oblige employers to make changes to the working conditions of employees who were injured or became sick because of their work — such as by altering their duties or making changes to workstations — then people will either be unable to return to work, or will do so only to go off sick again,” said Thompsons’ head of policy, Tom Jones.

In discussing the proposals with shop stewards and safety reps over the past few weeks a constant concern has emerged. When determining the fitness to work or not of a worker a GP may not know enough about their job, workplace, and working conditions to make a statement under one of the three proposed fit note headings: ‘fit for work’, ‘not fit for work’ or ‘maybe fit for some work now’.

Another concern repeatedly voiced is that the Black review seeks to actively promote dialogue between GPs and employers – something reps argue would essentially entail workers who are unfit for work being placed back into the workplace and possibly without a range of appropriate adjustments made.

The critically important feature of the new proposals is that even when a GP objectively identifies a suitable pattern of work for an ill worker to return to the workplace, the onus placed on the employer to abide by these – at this stage of the recommendations at least – are solely voluntary.

You can see the full Black report at:

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

University of the People


Having set out on a personal path of working for some of the UK's most prestigious working class adult education institutions (WEA, Ruskin College, Northern College etc.) I was intrigued with the news of the launch of The University of the People:

In a clip from the web-site the founder is quoted as:

"Education, just like democracy, should be a right, not a privilege,” said Shai Reshef, Founder and President, University of the People. “With a few keystrokes, UoPeople takes the concept of social networking and applies it to academia, providing a global chalkboard for all students.”

In an article earlier this week in The Guardian the University was pitched as the antidote to elite, high-cost higher education provision that is largely out of the reach of potential learners from developing countries. This ethos is also underpinned by the notion of education as a democratising and liberating tool.

The attraction of the University is that all courses are online - supported by social networking platforms and that, for the moment at least, there are no course fees.

As such the University is attracting critical political, pedagogic and educational acclaim:

"The concept is great, and one we'll see more and more," says Peter Scott, director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University, which itself gives free access to course materials through the OpenLearn website. He says so much high-quality material now exists on the web that traditional university models can no longer be seen as the only arbiters of quality.

Daniel Greenwood, professor of law at the Hofstra University school of law, New York, has volunteered a day a week, as well as to serve on the advisory committee. He wanted to help make education more widely available and liked the idea of being in on something new and potentially huge: "the notion that you can create something that can be expanded to serve tens of thousands of students who otherwise wouldn't be able to access education".

All being well the University (or UoPeople as it's referred) isn't just a flash in the pan as it appears, even in its infancy, to combine features of an educational offer that is not combine a political raison d'etre but a practical method of addressing access to HE provision.

A key test however, will be the backlash (or not) from the 'old world' (my term) universities - particularly in the way that they acknowledge (or not) awards given by the UoPeople when their alumni attempt to move on to further study with them.

I'd be very interested in your views of the UoPeople's approach to offering higher education study and am asking that you visit the web-site, review the material and provide some feedback.