Wednesday, 18 January 2017

What does a union for the 21st Century look like?

Dear Colleagues,

Next week my colleague Fenella Porter and I will be speaking at a collaborative event with researchers from the universities of Leeds and Bradford. We have come together around a project that has sought to explore the implications for organised labour of the Trade Union Act, and as an aspect of this, also examined how differing movement organisations have responsed.
The event (poster below) is in Bradford and anyone with an interest in the future of organised labour is welcome to attend. The official invite blurb reads:
As the Trade Union Act passed through parliament in 2016, a research team from Ruskin College, the University of Bradford and the University of Leeds asked union leaders, activists, officials and politicians for their thoughts on what the Act means for the union movement.
There is no doubt the Trade Union Act is an attack on the labour movement – but how should we respond?
What kind of movement do we need to be in a changing world?
 We invite you to a free talk and discussion on this important issue. We will share some of our findings from the research, and then open up for some discussion.
All welcome – refreshments included.
Please email for more information.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Right to Diconnect

Dear Colleagues,

There has been so much to write/post about over the period leading up to the end of 2016, and as we head into the new year.

On the domestic front the good news is around trade union growth, both in the form of density, but also (as my last post revealed) in small unions. Gloom remains however, (in the UK and nationally) around the structural permanence of low/poor pay and precarious work (

From a personal perspective a concern has remained around those social and occupational factors precipitating mental health illness. At Ruskin College this week the College counsellor, Wendy Robertson, delivered a thoughtful session on mental health illness amongst students, and also how teaching staff may also protect their own well-being. It is not alarmist to say that on the domestic front, and globally, mental health illness is of epidemic proportions (

Even Teresa May has been moved to underline this week the government's commitment to improving mental health service ( What I have witnessed in a teaching career principally working with and for public sector trade unions, and in particular since 2010 and the aggressive attack on public sector services under the guise of 'austerity. is the steady rise of mental health illness, that catalyses ill health and thus generates arguable capability/competency questions.

Many public sector workers now find themselves exposed to significant harm as a result of 'workplace restructuring', redundancy, privatisation, out sourcing. The resources developed by unions like UNISON ( and the TUC ( are valuable, but in reality are largely remedial in tackling effect, but not cause. As the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD - the professional body for HR staff) reports, work-related sickness absence remains stubbornly high, as does the issue of 'presenteeism', that is workers who are ill being at work ( I would contend that the growth of presenteeism is a perverse representation of the pressure that unwell workers face.

And so we come to the topic of the post. This is the decision by the French government to allow employees of enterprises with 50+ workers to have the right to 'disconnect' from the workplace once they are outside of working hours. Specifically, this means the right not to be forced to read email, respond to 'phone call, texts etc., when you are not being paid to. (

Invariably the right-wing press has attacked this legislative development, suggesting that it is a mixture of zealous red-tape and a Luddite attempt to hold back the tide of technological change. In defending this development both government, and many employers, have welcomed an attempt to maintain a cultural hold on the quality of family life, as well maintain employee well-being.

It is early days for this new right, and no penalties have been included within the statute for firms that ignore to tackle those workers who continue to email, Skype etc. once they have left work. It represents however, a major development in the responding to the global epidemic of work-related sickness, and in particular mental health illness, and I am sure will be followed closely for its effect and impact over the next 12-24 months.

As we remain unlikely to see such a development from the UK government, regardless of the suggestion by May that the government is reviewing mental health services, we can at least maintain a focus on how tackle this issue. Please follow the link to the TU resources on tackling mental health illness in the workplace, and respond to this post with thoughts/comments on how to keep challenging employers (and other organisations) on this.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Forming New Unions (Tuesday 17 January 2017)


Just a brief post to start the new year (another to follow asap) and which follows nicely on the heels of my last post for 2016 - which announced an increase in TU membership - with a plug for the History Acts series of workshops, and the focus on the formation of new trade unions.

All the details you need are contained in the flyer below, and there is no need to book. Please get along if you can as the discussion/debate following the sessions will. no doubt, be fascinating.

In Solidarity