The latest UnionDues podcast is understandably dominated by two issues everyone is talking about.
Uber loses in the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court ruling last week that Uber drivers are indeed workers and not self-employed has occupied many actual and virtual column inches. It’s a great victory for the GMB and IWGB/ADCU but in her #Thought4The Week, Mel Simms makes the argument that strong collective bargaining trumps judicial decisions in safeguarding working conditions, and there is a warning from across the Atlantic that Uber is unlikely to reform its operating model willingly or at all.
The best of the many summaries of the case, the context and the implications, is a masterful piece by Calvin Allen, and there’s a UnionDues episode on Uber’s role in California’s Prop 22 (which essentially disenfranchised their drivers from acting collectively).
Two issues that arise from the rulings in the UK and Netherlands are (1) that the UK government has yet to implement recommendations* that would significantly level-up the lop-sided flexibility that currently besets Uber-like ways of working and (2) that the debate on sector-level bargaining is important and ongoing, but unlikely to happen here any time soon.
Working safely with Covid 19
The other issue remains Covid. The PM’s statement yesterday encourages us to look to a brighter future but the reality of trying to work safely in a pandemic is the preoccupation of a new publication from the Labour Research Department. It’s author, Andrea Oates, is our special guest.
She retells the deeply troubling statistics on enforcement – fewer HSE inspectors than MPs nowadays. Despite a joint declaration by the TUC, CBI and HSE at the beginning of the outbreak, Andrea says there is a shocking similarity when we compare the number of workplace closures and mandatory Improvement Notices issued in the latest lockdown – zero. This despite 3000 contacts with HSE in just one week in January.
Enforcement is only one piece of a complex jigsaw, and a great attribute of the LRD booklet is that it comprehensively sets out the landscape from the perspective of workplace reps. Littered with some great case studies, we go from how the virus is transmitted in workplaces, through the various forms of mitigation that are needed when the risk can’t be eliminated entirely – PPE, administrative controls like social distancing and engineering ones such as effective ventilation.
But we can also see that political will is a decisive factor – not just the number of HSE inspectors, but the thresh-hold and level of statutory sick pay, the structure of government enforcement agencies and maintaining a credible, effective pyramid of risk management. (Details of the government’s reform of labour market enforcement is here)
Andrea makes a key point in reminding us that Covid and the effect of Covid will be with us for along time, perhaps permanently – that our understanding of Long Covid is still developing and all those problems that pre-dated the pandemic will still be there after it.
I’m left reflecting that the UK labour movement is rich in many ways – including the breadth and depth of health and safety knowledge and commitment. As well as LRD, there is of course the TUC and Greater Manchester’s Hazards Centre.
Radical Round Up
Left Foot Forward’s Josiah Mortimer’s #RadicalRoundUp draws out the continuing strike in British Gas by GMB members facing a #FireAndRehire attempt, success for Unite in saving jobs at Rolls Royce, FBU views on Labour’s plans, and a row brewing over the head of the OECD.
There’s also a more detailed look at unionisation attempts and agency woes in Amazon, trouble on the busses in London and Manchester, and a complete line-up of school unions and others urging significantly more caution than the Prime Minister’s one-week deadline to phase a return to school by all students.
*Full disclosure – as a member of the Low Pay Commission, I was responsible for drawing up these recommendations.
Featured image credit – Daniel Schludi/Unsplash