TUC conference: Delegates call for co-ordinated industrial action over pay and zero hour contracts
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Sunday 08 September 2013
Pressure is building for co-ordinated industrial action on pay, jobs and conditions as workers are caught in the “eye of a storm”, the TUC conference in Bournemouth was told on Sunday.
Delegates overwhelmingly approved calls for a midweek “day of action” across the country. The TUC general council will consult individual unions about the timing.
The move came as the Communication Workers Union confirmed it will ballot more than 120,000 of its members over issues linked to the Government's plan to privatise the Royal Mail. The company will be given formal notice of the ballot this week, with voting due to start on September 20 and the result expected in early October. Firefighters have already voted for strikes over pensions, while teachers are to take industrial action in the coming weeks in a long-running dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, criticised the growth of zero hours contracts and the Government's pay policy which he said had led to hundreds of thousands of public sector workers missing out on a pay rise for up to six years.
He attacked the Labour leadership for announcing the party would stick to the Coalition’s spending plans for 2015-16 if the party wins the next election, warning: "It is madness, and we want them to look at that issue again. Our members are in the eye of a storm. Over 400,000 jobs have gone and our members are facing wholesale privatisation of the NHS.
"Pressure will build up and we will be working with other unions for an end to this pay cycle. There will be major action around pay and it will be co-ordinated."
Mr Prentis told the conference there was "growing unfairness" in society, with some workers having to take two or three jobs to make ends meet and facing constant attacks on terms and conditions. He described zero hours contracts as "slave labour", with workers not knowing if they had work from one day to the next. A care worker in Unison, who did not wish to disclose her name for fear of reprisals, said being employed on such a contract "devastated" her life because she could not get a mortgage or a loan so had to live "from hand to mouth".
Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, which proposed the co-ordinated action, said: "The surge in planned industrial actions across sectors, including fire, post, transport and education gives us the ideal foundation which to make good the trade union movement's commitment to co-ordinated and generalised strike action."
Mr Crow said things had worsened for workers since last year, when the TUC conference voted to consider the practicalities of a general strike. "Why shouldn't unions take action on the same day? The issue has not gone away," he said. He told delegates the Government was launching a series of attacks on workers, including fees for taking a case to an employment tribunal and cuts in health and safety protection.
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