Fuel poverty action: Guarantee people’s heat and power

NO ONE SHOULD BE LEFT COLD OR IN THE DARK BECAUSE THEY CANNOT AFFORD THEIR BILLS, IN THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS OR ITS AFTERMATH.

Sign here.

It is very good news that the government and energy companies have agreed to support people “most in need” in these difficult times.   However, as things stand there is a real risk that many people will never get the help they are entitled to — and desperately need. 

For people normally out at work who are now home all the time, energy costs will go up.  Meanwhile, they may lose their main income. Already many people ration their gas and electricity tightly.  How can we afford to pay more? Older and disabled people, worst hit by the virus, are even more at risk in cold, damp homes. Already over 9,000 people a year, mostly elderly, die from fuel poverty.

The agreement made by the government and suppliers promises that disconnections will be suspended and that customers struggling to pay can contact their supplier for help. It is encouraging that this agreement has been reached. Gas, power, and heat are essential services, and should no more be cut off than our water supply. 

But the agreement doesn’t make clear if unaffordable payments will be waived, or just postponed. In these exceptionally uncertain times, who can take on more debt?  It is essential to have clarity over what exactly customers can expect. People need to know that they can use the energy they need, without racking up debt for the future. 

Moreover, the government’s agreement with suppliers makes customers responsible for negotiating with their supplier for the help they need.  How will people be able to get the support when they need it at a time when Customer Services could easily be overwhelmed?  Will we be able to cope with this process if we or our family are ill?  Or if we have problems with English or computers? Can we count on a response from suppliers that actually meets our needs?  Will we be asked for evidence of “financial distress” that we cannot provide? And will people even know that this support is available?

We urge the government and suppliers to:

  • Provide free credit to all prepayment meter users, promptly, so that they are not left in the cold while trying to negotiate with suppliers.  It’s great that the agreement mentions sending pre-loaded keys and cards — but payment for these should be reduced to what people can afford.
  • Guarantee that customers in financial distress, including those self-isolating and/or being laid off or losing customers at the present time, will also have bills reduced to what they can afford —  and not just deferred. 
  • Stop forced imposition of prepayment meters, including imposition remotely when people on smart meters fall behind on bills. Imposing prepayment will lead to more “self-disconnections” as people cannot pay.  
  • Announce a moratorium on debt repayments while so many people are in crisis. 
  • Prominently publicise the support on offer, in government bulletins and TV advertisements, making clear that people do not need to go without the heating and electricity they need. 
  • Ensure people can access this help quickly, without showing entitlement to benefits. 
  • Ensure that suppliers allocate sufficient staff, that there are clear, published guidelines, an advertised free helpline and online interaction, and a positive approach to offering support without obstacles, so that promises are borne out in practice.
  • Offer cash grants for off-grid customers who need them.
  • Restore services to anyone who has been disconnected.

People’s Assembly Statement on The Coronavirus Crisis

The people are ahead of the government in making serious moves to combat the spread of the coronavirus. It is clear the government were pushed by organisations already taking action to close down large events, a move we very much welcome. Where government refuses to act civil society institutions, trade unions, and ordinary citizens are taking matters into their own hands. We reject the ‘herd immunity’ theory that coronavirus can simply be left to rip through society until enough people develop immunity. Not only is there no proof this will happen with this virus, it is the most deadly and careless approach the government could take. The government should be acting on World Health Organisation guidance and learning from those countries it commends for swift and decisive action. Older and vulnerable people matter as much as everyone else. We insist the government alter course immediately and implement the following measures:

1. Close all schools, universities and colleges. Government and Local Authorities to work with schools to develop plans to get food to children who would have been entitled to free school meals.

2. Mass testing and tracing, which World Health Organisation experts have suggested is more effective in the early stages.

3. Workers should be allowed to work from home where possible. Introduce a mortgage and rent freeze for the duration of the crisis for those workers denied their full pay.

4. Extend statutory sick pay to all workers. Following successful pressure on the government to give sick pay from day one for those affected by the virus. Statutory sick pay should be uplifted to a living wage.

5. Pensioners on low-incomes, low income workers and disabled people to be eligible for one-off grants to cover food, fuel and travel costs.

6. Scrap the assessment period for Universal Credit and make payments immediately. Sanctions for benefit claimants who don’t attend appointments should be scrapped. Universal Credit payments should be topped up to account for extra costs of preparing for virus and moving to shut down.

7. Price controls to be introduced on essential medical equipment and drugs. There must be no hiking of prices on masks, ventilators, isolation units, beds, basic supplies like soap and hand towels, as well as drugs to combat bacterial complications etc.

8. Private hospitals to be put under the management of the NHS. Essential equipment owned by private companies should be pooled as part of the overall effort; private hospital beds should be treated as public.

9. Cleaners are a vital frontline, as are NHS staff. They should both be given an immediate pay boost to attract more cleaners, nurses, hospital porters and administrators. All workers should have the protective clothing necessary in line with TUC guidelines.

10. No scapegoating of Chinese people, Italians, immigrants or anyone else. An emergency programme of aid and refugee resettlement should be initiated across Europe.

11. The outbreak must not be used as a pretext for clamping down on civil liberties. Frontline public sector workers, especially health workers, should be brought in at the highest level of decision making. The trade unions should be part of the conversation with civil servants and senior NHS staff.

Strong support for Interserve workers as month-long strike continues

The facilities management (FM) workers have been in dispute with their employer since March 2019, which has already involved 18 days of strike action over six periods in 2019. Whilst strike action has won some concessions, Interserve will not move on key issues such as union recognition and a buy-out on contractual pay date changes.  This has led to this latest period of strike action which is due to continue for the whole of February.

Despite the cold weather the striking workers were out in force on the picket line this morning where they welcomed many visitors who came to show their support.

PCS president Fran Heathcote, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and at least 18 other MPs representing constituencies from across England and Scotland attended.  Many London based PCS reps also came along to show their solidarity.

Inspiring

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka accused Interserve of “gerrymandering,” the recognition process which means no agreement can be reached.

He said: “Our members are taking on an aggressive employer that has done everything it can to thwart a just settlement to this dispute.

“Instead of negotiating properly, they have been accused of threatening our reps who have a mandate and are lawfully encouraging people to go on strike.”

He added that the staff were leading an “inspiring campaign” alongside other contracted out workers and urged the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to settle the dispute between the union and Interserve.

“We call upon the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene in this dispute and for the government to put an end to contracting out of services within departments by bringing them back in house,” he said.

How you can help

Tories force through £70 garden waste charge – but please keep signing the petition!

Despite 5,159 people (82%) opposing the Council’s plan to charge £70 a year for collecting garden waste, the Tories forced this through at Environment Committee last night (quelle surprise). But please do keep supporting local residents by getting friends and family to sign our petition. In 72 hours it reached over 2,000 signatures, so we could quite easily get to 7,000 and force a Full Council debate on this to try and stop it.

You can sign or share our petition here: http://chng.it/MXTwnWxfGg

Barnet Tories reject call for care workers to be paid London’s Living Wage

  • Council fails to produce agreed feasibility report on cost of LLW
  • Tory Council Leader describes care workers and trade unionists as “a Labour mob”

Barnet’s Conservative councillors have rejected a Labour Group motion for former Fremantle care workers to be paid at least the London’s Living Wage of £10.75 an hour – the level of pay identified as the minimum needed to cover the cost of essentials when living in London.

Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings, put forward the motion at last night’s Policy & Resources Committee (6 Jan) after the Conservative Council failed to produce a feasibility study setting out the cost of paying the care workers London’s Living Wage. There was cross-party agreement at the last committee (3 Oct) to bring the feasibility study to last night’s meeting.

Care workers attending the Policy & Resources meeting yesterday reacted with dismay to Council claims that they couldn’t produce the report because it was too complicated to calculate the cost in the last 3 months. Conservative Leader of the Council, Dan Thomas responded by branding them “a Labour mob”.

The care workers were transferred to The Barnet Group (TBG) – a wholly owned subsidiary of Barnet Council – under TUPE rules after the Fremantle Trust handed over the running of its three Barnet care homes to TBG in April last year.

Since then, the care workers, their trade union – Barnet Unison – and Labour councillors have been campaigning for them to be paid at least London’s Living Wage, which is the policy of The Barnet Group. All other Barnet Group staff are paid at least London’s Living Wage, including other care workers already employed by them.

Leader of the Barnet Labour Group, Cllr Barry Rawlings said: “It is the moral duty of the Council to ensure that all its staff – including those working in The Barnet Group and in contracted-out services – are paid at least the minimum to be able to cover the basic essentials of living in London.

“It is the Council’s policy to pay directly employed staff at least London’s Living Wage and it is also The Barnet Group’s policy, so they really need to find the funding to do this straight away.

“We cannot condone the Council and The Barnet Group paying poverty wages; and there cannot be a two-tiered workforce where those doing work of equivalent value are on unequal pay.

“It was shameful that the Conservatives refused to support paying London’s Living Wage to those who do some of the most sensitive work to support our most vulnerable residents.

“The Council have said they will come up with the feasibility figures at some point in the future, but will probably do nothing until July. My concern is that they will wait until the protected TUPE period is over and then seek to outsource the care workers again.

“The Labour Group will oppose any further outsourcing of care workers, and continue to press the case for all directly employed and contracted out staff to be paid at least London’s Living Wage.”

Solidarity with Barnet Care Workers: LIving Wage Now

Over the past decade one thing Barnet UNISON is in agreement with Barnet Council is that the London Living Wage is the lowest rate of pay for its staff and those working on outsourced contracts.

Within the Barnet Group the minimum rate of pay for staff in Barnet Homes, TBG Flex (The Barnet Group Flex) and Your Choice Barnet is the London Living Wage – including posts which become vacant within the ex-Fremantle homes.

After a settling in period for the TUPE Fremantle staff Barnet UNISON raised in discussions with the employer the issue of paying these staff the London Living Wage as the lowest level of pay. We believe these staff should be treated no differently to other staff working for Barnet Council or on its outsourced contracts.

Barnet UNISON notes the decision regarding a discussion about implementing the London Living Wage for Fremantle TUPE transferred staff to Your Choice Barnet at the Policy and Resources Committee 3rd October 2019 is recorded in the draft minutes as:

“Following discussion on the London Living Wage for Fremantle staff who had been TUPE transferred to Your Choice Barnet the Chairman agreed to an item on the feasibility being brought back to the next Committee. This would be included in the Business Planning report”

In response to this request from Councillors the Business Planning Report dedicates a mere 2 paragraphs which is listed under “Risks to the MTFS”

  • Fremantle Care workers (London Living Wage): Former Fremantle staff were TUPE transferred to YCB in July 2018 under the agreement that terms and conditions would be protected for 1 year.  Some former Fremantle care workers that have been transferred to the Barnet Group may be being paid less than the London Living Wage (£10.75 per hour (as at Nov 2019)). The Barnet Group policy is to pay all its workers at least the London Living Wage, subject to affordability, and a HR process is now required to review any changes to terms and conditions which will need to be considered.

Any decision about changes to terms and conditions will need to be considered in the context of the overall pay and reward strategy for the Barnet Group, employment policies and legislation, the wider social care market and the council’s procurement rules.   It is not yet possible to quantify the level of risk associated as it is too early to form a conclusion about the application of the LLW to TUPE staff. However, officers in the Barnet Group supported by council colleagues where necessary will be working on this over the coming months and can provide further update to the committee in the future.

These two paragraphs responding to the Committee’s request in no way reflects the response Barnet UNISON or the care workers were expecting. We had expected a detailed report detailing the cost implications for implementing the London Living Wage. Instead this response kicks the question into the long grass.

This is absurd as all new vacancies in the ex-Fremantle homes are advertised as paying the London Living Wage as a minimum. These posts are open to existing Fremantle staff to apply for those posts. This means that incrementally at least some of these staff working in these homes will be all be employed on the London Living Wage. This fact is not even listed in the 2 paragraphs written by the officers. This means this risk is already a reality and yet it is not mentioned or evaluated. No turnover rates are mentioned. Is it ironic that a credible option for the ex-Fremantle staff to en masse resign from their posts and then to reapply for posts in the new homes which would have to be offered at the London Living Wage?

The report in no way reflects the request made of the Committee to the officers. A “feasibility” was requested not the “risks”. Furthermore the Councillors are asked to believe that the officers are incapable of quantifying the “level of risk” associated with “the application of the LLW to TUPE staff.”

Barnet UNISON can be of assistance to the officers and councillors in understanding some of the implications by revealing the inaccuracy of the sentence: “Some former Fremantle care workers […] may be being paid less than the London Living Wage”. (Our italics)

TUPE information from Fremantle in May/ June 2019 revealed that just under 300 staff were TUPE transferred. Of these, according to the figures given for the job titles and the rates of pay quoted for those job titles, some two thirds were listed as being paid below the London Living Wage. In total these were 222 staff. The largest group are the care workers which total some 143 workers and are nearly half of the ex-Fremantle workforce.

Care work is a physically demanding role as well as an emotionally demanding role. Yet according to the TUPE transfer information 161 members of staff are aged 55 years and over and of these 40 are aged 66 years and over. By contrast the numbers of staff aged under 40 years are 76.

RISK

There is a risk in not paying the London Living Wage as this report demonstrates:

https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/documents/State-of-the-adult-social-care-sector/State-of-Report-2019.pdf

In the Care industry there is a national turnover rate of 38% for those working less than one year in the field (p.13). It shows that those who are paid more are less likely to leave their roles.

“Turnover at regulated services that were rated overall as either ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’, turnover was found to be lower (29.5%) than those rated as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ (32.2%). This trend remained consistent across each Key Line of Enquiry (KLOE) with an average difference of 2.7%. The largest difference in turnover was shown for the ‘Safe’ KLOE which had 3.4% lower turnover at providers rated positively.” (p.118)

Continuity is an important factor in delivering quality care and support to our most vulnerable residents. There are associated costs in constantly recruiting and inducting new members of staff. These can result in reputational and safeguarding costs.

Barnet UNISON strives to work with both the Council and quasi outsourced employers, such as the Barnet Group, in continuing to promote harmonious industrial relations and to provide a high level of service for our customers. This may, potentially, be put in jeopardy if the decision is not to value monetarily the important role that care workers perform.

These factors should be of importance to this Committee and to Councillors in general and should be taken more seriously than the response to the request from Council officer’s shows.

RMTs Ticket Office Campaign

RAIL UNION RMT has released a full list of London Overground’s plans to cut hours at 45 stations to the bare minimum and close the ticket offices altogether at Brondesbury, White Hart Lane and West Hampstead.

The revelations of the scale of the planned cutbacks comes on the eve of the union holding a day of action as part of a fresh campaign to fight the closures. Last year, London Overground planned to close 51 ticket offices on the network. However, RMT launched a campaign and thousands of London Overground passengers opposed the closures leading to the Mayor intervening and promising to keep the Ticket offices open.

  • RMTs Ticket Office Campaign – full details HERE  

RMT campaign against cuts to London Overground ticket office hours

The RMT is currently campaigning against planned cuts to ticket office opening hours across the London Overground network.

Last year, the operator of London Overground, Arriva Rail London (owned by the German State Railways) planned to close 51 ticket offices on the network. Because of the level of opposition from passengers (there were around 6000 responses opposing the proposals), the Mayor of London announced in April 2019 he would halt the closures.

However, London Overground is now planning to cut ticket office opening hours across the network to the bare minimum – effectively achieving its original goal by stealth. These plans amount to closures in all but name – many stations are facing cuts of 80% or more compared to their current hours.

If these cuts go ahead, the RMT firmly believes that:

  • Stations will become less safe, secure and accessible
  • Passengers will not be able to access all ticket types and services at machines
  • Many people, including disabled and elderly passengers, would struggle to purchase tickets and get advice and assistance at the station
  • It will be easier for London Overground to close more ticket offices in the future.

The RMT has urged the Mayor to use his powers to intervene and halt these damaging cuts, but to date, this has not happened.

Therefore, the RMT has convened a protest at which we will be calling for the Mayor, TfL and London Overground to halt these proposals.

The Demonstration is taking place at 9am on Wednesday 20th November, outside City Hall, London, SE1 2AA.

The RMT has already held a number of successful action days at London Overground stations, distributing postcards for passengers to send to the Mayor, opposing the cuts.

We are grateful for the support already given to the campaign by a number of Trades Councils and anything further you could do to support the campaign and/or the demonstration would be much appreciated.

If you are able to distribute leaflets and postcards locally, please email Sophie Ward (s.ward@rmt.org.uk) and we will arrange for these to be sent to you.

TUC calls for emergency funding for flood affected areas

Working families must not pay price for climate change, says TUC

Commenting on the ongoing flooding in South Yorkshire, TUC Regional Secretary Bill Adams said:

“The government is treating this flooding as if it is a normal event.

“But try telling that to families who can’t afford home insurance and who will be left destitute.

“Instead of messing around with a mop, the prime minister should be taking this crisis seriously and providing emergency funding for devastated communities.

“We need a government that will put working families first and invest properly in tackling climate change.”

Can you help organise to save Cricklewood Walk-in Centre?

You might have heard that the only walk-in centre in Cricklewood is under threat of closure. 24,000 people use this walk-in centre every year.

It is one of only four walk-in centres in Barnet.

Over 100 walk-in centres have closed since the Tories came into power, making it increasingly difficult for patients to get an appointment and putting huge pressure on A&E units.

Can you help us spread the word?

We will be canvassing the area surrounding the walk-in centre to speak with residents and encourage them to come along to a public meeting to organise and save the walk-in centre.

Thursday 5th and Wednesday 11th of September

Meet at Cricklewood station at 6.30pm.

SCWC FLYER 17TH SEP (1).pdf

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