Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: “Do you understand pension auto-enrolment?”

Less than a third of the UK workforce are members of an occupational pension scheme but this will begin to change when the last Labour government’s auto-enrolment scheme  starts to be introduced later  this year. The scheme is being phased in and employers with 120,000 employees or more will be required to begin auto-enrolling workers, aged 22 and above and earning at least £8,105 a year, into a qualifying pension scheme from 1 October 2012.  Smaller employers will have to start auto-enrolling workers in stages between then and June 2015, when employers with fewer than 50 workers will finish the process. Contributions to the pension scheme will come from employers, employees and tax relief, and will start at a very low level (one percent for employers and employees). This will increase gradually until October 2018 when contributions from employers, employees and tax relief will reach a minimum of 8% of earnings.

This is a complex scheme with pitfalls as well as advantages and it is vital that union reps understand it. It is also vital that there is hands-on union involvement in deciding arrangements in companies and organisations, and that reps are able to respond quickly to any attempts to worsen existing pension arrangements or to drive down pay to fund the new scheme.

Labour Research Department’s booklet Workplace pension reform – a practical guide to auto-enrolment can help in this respect. It costs £6.30 and can be obtained from LRD, 78 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HF (020 7928 3649) or on-line from www.lrd.org.uk. Get a copy now.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: Employment rights roundup

National Minimum Wage rates are to be increased for adult workers and apprentices from 1 October 2012 but current rates are to remain frozen for young workers. The adult rate will be increased by a miserly 11p to £6.19 an hour and the apprentice rate will be increased by an even more miserly 5p to £2.65 an hour. Rates for young workers will remain unchanged, at £4.98 an hour for 18-20 year olds and £3.68 an hour for 16-17 year olds. This means that all workers on the minimum wage will suffer a pay cut in real terms and it is disappointing that the Low Pay Commission (which has union as well as business representation) should have unanimously recommended the new rates. Still, realising that they will never be required to work for such a pittance, must have made the decision easier for Committee members.

State benefit rate changes from 6 April 2012 include: Jobseekers Allowance – up £2.80 a week to £56.25 for under-25s and up £3.50 a week to £71 for over-25s; Statutory Maternity and Paternity Pay – up £6.72 a week to £135.45; Statutory Sick Pay – Up £4.25 a week to £85.85. However Child Tax Credit, which had been available to parents earning up to £41,000 a year, will now be restricted to parents earning up to £26,000 (one child), £32,000 (two children) and £38,000 (three children). Working Tax Credit is also being restricted and couples with children will now have to work 24, rather than 16 hours a week to qualify.

Unfair dismissal protection could be weakened for up to 2.7 million employees following the decision to double (to two years) the qualifying period for making unfair dismissal claims to Employment Tribunals, from 6 April 2012. Even though workers in employment at that date will still be able to make claims after one year’s service, there will be a disproportionate effect on some groups, according to the TUC. These will include women working part time, employees from black and minority ethnic communities and young workers, whose length of service tends to be shorter than for the majority of employees. The coalition argues that watering down unfair dismissal protection will help boost recruitment but the TUC, rightly in our view, believes it will encourage a ‘hire and fire’ culture which will lead to increasing numbers being shown the door.  However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that short-service workers who are dismissed will sometimes be able to make ET claims on issues such as discrimination. A union member I have been representing was recently dismissed after complaining that the manager was being racist towards her. Unable to claim unfair dismissal because of short service, the member made a claim of race discrimination and victimisation (suffering a detriment as a result of complaining about discrimination). That resulted in a decent out of court settlement, despite the fact that an unfair dismissal claim could not be made.

Moving to part time work after maternity is not a legal right in the UK, although there is a right to request it and employers are supposed to give serious consideration to such requests. It is therefore encouraging to note that HSBC has announced that it will now guarantee a part-time role at current title and salary grade, if requested, to all staff returning from maternity or paternity leave. This is believed to be the first time that such a large company has offered this guarantee and it is hoped that it will increase pressure on others to do likewise. HSBC also offers 14 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay (as opposed to the statutory six weeks at 90% of pay) and up to 12 days leave for fertility treatment a year.

Parental leave rights should have been improved from 8 March 2012 but the coalition has postponed the improvement. The current rule is that employees with at least a year’s service can take up to 13 weeks’ unpaid leave (in one week units)  for each child, provided the child is under age 5, under 18 if disabled or within five years of placement if adopted. There had been EU agreement that this would rise to 18 weeks but this will not now happen until 2013.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Tory Liberal failure on the economy – Double-Dip recession

With the news that we are officially in a double-dip recession period LINK it is becoming clearer that the Tory Liberal economic policies are fundamentally flawed. Yes, they inherited a large deficit, but they also inherited a growing economy.

Cutting too far too fast has recklessly damaged the UK’s good prospects of getting our economy moving again. So far, the Tory Liberals have increased unemployment by

  1. Slashing jobs in the public sector on the unsubstantiated claim and risk that jobs will miraculously appear in the private sector to make up for the rise in unemployment in the public sector
  2. Increasing VAT which has an impact on a business’ take home profits, meaning that they have less profit available to employ people and expand
  3. The VAT rise also impacts on consumer spending and disincentivises businesses
  4. Scrapping the Future Jobs Fund which equips young people to be work ready. Indeed the long term impact of this has also been ignored by the Tory Liberals. Even if there is a lack of employment opportunities in the country, it is important that these schemes are invested in so that people are equipped with the skills they need and are work ready for when the economy does recover and there are jobs for people to go into.

Unemployment should never be a price worth paying. The immediate and long-term impact of worklessness is far worse than pursuing an aim to get rid of the deficit in four years. The Tory Liberal Government have made this their priority and ignored the impact that this damaging course has on ordinary people.

The VAT rise also had a detrimental impact on inflation. Naturally, it costs more to buy products because there is more tax paid on spending money. This leaves less disposable income to the individual and what’s more, wages are not going up with inflation. People are being squeezed with higher costs and lower income.

This brings me to my final point on the deficit, which has increased under this Tory Liberal administration – LINK

Growth is a key component to tackle the deficit. Without economic growth, it becomes difficult to address the deficit. This has been the Tory Liberal Coalition’s main failure. There is the issue of the Eurozone crisis that the right wing Government will point to. However, slashing public sector jobs with a front loaded approach and the VAT rise are policies of the Government’s own making.

The Tories are out of touch with ordinary people and their stance on the 50% tax rate at this very moment in time is testament to that. The Liberals aren’t bothered about issues such as employment, jobs, the economy, crime and the NHS – this is proven with how easily they flipped their position on these what I consider core issues. They are far more concerned with the House of Lords and the electoral system and appear more principled on these issues than ones that have a more profound impact on people.

Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: Paying the price for recession and stagnation

It is now four years since the worst global recession for over 70 years began to impact on UK jobs – and working people are still paying a high price for it and for the stagnation which has followed it. During those four years:

  • Unemployment increased by over a million, from 1.61 million to 2.67 million, and is still increasing.
  • 2.68 million people, 10% of those employed at the start of the recession, were made redundant.
  • Underemployment doubled, with the number of people in part-time jobs because they couldn’t find full-time employment rising from 670,000 to a record 1.34 million.
  • Unemployed people made 14 million claims and repeat claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and received JSA payments which were worth a mere 10% of average full-time earnings.

But it was not just the unemployed and underemployed who lost out, as a recent report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed:

  • Two thirds of those who returned to employment after being made redundant found that their pay, on average, was 28% lower than before, and lower still for those who couldn’t find work on the same hours as before.
  • Those who managed to keep their jobs suffered as well because the recession and unemployment resulted in lower pay increases or none at all, and left the average worker £3,000 a year worse off than if pay had increased at pre-recession levels.
  • The cost to employers of making 2.68 million people redundant varied from sector to sector but is estimated to have cost a total of £28.6 billion.
  • And the cost to the economy, in terms of lost output, is estimated to have been at least £87 billion (6% of GDP) and possibly as high as £135 billion (10% of GDP).

All of this shows that it is not just the unemployed who have been paying a high price for the recession in jobs but people in work, many employers and the economy as well. And unless action is taken to get the economy growing again, something which did not feature in the recent budget, we will continue to pay a high price for probably years to come.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Guest Blogpost: Richard Lynch on Inflation

There was a further fall in inflation in February, the latest month for which figures are available, but prices are still rising faster than wages and than in competitor economies.

The figures for the year to end February 2012 (with end January figures in brackets) are as follows:

Retail Prices Index (RPI)                                                                –                              3.7% (3.9%)

RPI excluding mortgage interest (RPIX)  –                              3.8% (4.0%)

Consumer Prices Index (CPI)                                      –                              3.4% (3.6%)

The main downward pressure on the RPI came from price rises in motoring expenditure and fuel and light, while the main downward pressure on the CPI came from domestic electricity and gas, recreation, transport and electrical goods.

Nonetheless there were still upward pressures on both the main indices. For the RPI these included: alcohol and tobacco (6.1%), beef (11.6%), lamb (13.2%), pork (9.1%), butter (10.3%), coffee and beverages (13.7%), electricity (10.1%), gas (17.5%) and vehicle tax and insurance (10.9%). Upward pressure on the CPI included increased costs of fuels and lubricants (5.3%), education (5.1%), jewellery, clocks and watches (8.6%) and transport insurance (11.6%).

UK inflation, as measured by the CPI, is now only the seventh highest in the EU but is above the EU average of 3% and the Eurozone average of 2.7%. It is equal to the inflation rate in Italy but is higher than in France and Germany (2.5%), Spain (1.9%), Greece (1.7%) and Sweden (1%). The UK rate is also higher than that in China (3.2%), the US (2.9%), Switzerland (-1.2%) and Japan (0.5%).

Predictions are that inflation will fall further over coming months but these are likely to be affected by the current record high prices for oil, anticipated higher prices for food, and the increase in the price of postage stamps (by 14p to 60p for first class and by 14p to 50p for second class).

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Willesden ACF tonight

Tonight I will be chairing the Willesden Area Consultative Forum at the College of North West London.

On the agenda tonight is

  • Olympic Route Network
  • Establishing Ward Working Priorities for 2012-13
  • Proposed re-development of the Willesden High Library Centre
  • Brent celebrates the Diamond Jubilee

The Forum begins at 7PM. I know the weather is grim, but do try your best to attend!

Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: “Mixed picture on pay”

The latest statistics show a mixed picture on pay, with figures from the pay research organisations reporting a continued improvement on last year but Office for National Statistics figures apparently going in the opposite direction.

The pay research organisations’ median settlement figures for the three months to end February 2012 (with end January figures in brackets) show the following:

Income Data Services (IDS)                                          –              3.0% (3.0%)

Labour Research Department (LRD)                        –              3.0% (3.0%)

XpertHR (formerly IRS)                                                  –              2.6% (3.0%)

Office for National Statistics figures had been expected (by this writer, at least) to follow the pattern above but their latest figures, for the three months to end January 2012, were down on the previous month’s figures, as outlined below:

Average total pay (including bonuses)                    –              1.4% (1.9%)

Average regular pay (excluding bonuses)             –              1.7% (1.9%)

According to the ONS figures, average total pay in January was £461 a week (£23,972 a year) and average regular pay was £438 a week (£22,776 a year). According to LRD, average full-time pay is £606.70 a week (£31,548.40 a year).

Both IDS and LRD believe that 3% is likely to become established as the going rate for private sector settlements in 2012. This view is backed up by Towers Watson Data Services, which expect companies in the UK and Europe to raise pay by an average of 3% this year. XpertHR, however, is more pessimistic and expects 2012 settlements to fall to around 2%, with the introduction of pension auto-enrolment in big companies in October likely to depress pay increases.

Of course the figures above relate mainly to the private sector and pay increases in the public sector are still more of an aspiration than an expectation. With most pay freezes in that sector now in their third year, it was something of a surprise for the Office for National Statistics to announce recently that the gap between hourly rates in the public and private sectors was widening, with rates in the former now 8.2% higher than those in the latter. One possible explanation for this is that low-paid jobs (cleaning, catering, waste disposal, caretaking etc) have been increasingly outsourced by the public sector, leaving a larger proportion of higher-grade roles in the public sector than before. The increased proportion of private sector employees having to do part-time work, due to lack of full time roles, is another possible explanation.

And of course there is a lot of almost criminally low pay in retail, hairdressing, security and other parts of the private sector. This will not be helped by this month’s decision to freeze the National Minimum Wage for young workers and to increase it by only 11p an hour for workers aged 21 and above.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Do it for London Ken!

Guest Blogpost from Richard Lynch: Another bad year for jobs?

Unemployment

Unemployment (Photo credit: born1945)

2011 was a bad year for unemployment and underemployment and, if the latest Labour Market Statistics are any guide, 2012 looks like being at least as bad. These statistics, which mainly cover the three months to end January 2012, show that:

Unemployment was 2.67 million, up 28,000 over the quarter and 148,000 over the past year. The unemployment rate was 8.4% of the economically active population, up 0.1% on the quarter and at a level which was last exceeded in October 1995 (when John Major was Prime Minister).

Unemployment amongst JSA claimants was 1.61 million in February, up 7,200 on the previous month and 162,000 on the previous year. This left the claimant rate at 5%, unchanged from January but up 0.5% on the previous year.

Youth unemployment was 1.04 million, up 16,000 over the three months to end January and equivalent to 22.5% of economically active 16-24 year olds. However, separate figures showed that the unemployment rate for black youth has been rising at almost twice that for white youth and that unemployment amongst young black men has risen from 28.8% to 55.9% in the past three years.

Underemployment also increased with the number of people working part-time because they couldn’t find full-time jobs up 110,000 to 1.3 million, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1992.

On the slightly less negative side, there was a fall in long-term unemployment - by 12,000 in the number of those unemployed for over a year and by 25,000 in those unemployed for over two years. However this still left 855,000 in the former category and 405,000 in the latter. There was also a fall in the economically inactive rate for 16-64 year olds not working but not included in the unemployment figures. Numbers in this group fell by 27,000 to 9.3 million, giving an inactivity rate of 23.1%. However, the fall was largely due to the effects of a government campaign which contributed to cutting the number of people in the long-term sick category by 67,000 to 2.09 million. In addition to this, the number of job vacancies increased by 15,000 to 473,000 but this still left an average of 5.6 unemployed people chasing every vacancy.

Unfortunately these crumbs of good news appear unlikely to presage a downturn in unemployment, as the economy is still flat-lining, consumer spending and business investment are at historically low levels, companies are still going bust and the recent budget did little to change the situation. The public sector, which cut 270,000 jobs last year, is also continuing to make cutbacks and recent Office for Budget Responsibility projections indicate that a total of 700,000 jobs will have gone by 2015 and 880,000 by 2017. There is also likely to be a post-Olympics jobs cull in certain sectors, including in Balfour Beatty where an estimated 1,500 jobs are believed to be at risk.

Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.

Dudden Hill Safer Neighbourhood Team down to three

Police numbers in Dudden Hill are simply too low. My ward currently has only one Sergeant, one PC and one PCSO as part of the dedicated Ward Safer Neighbourhood Team at the moment.

Last night, I was on a joint collaborative ward walkabout with Welsh Harp Ward to investigate cross-ward issues in the Neasden area. Residents are also welcome to join me this Sunday with the Dudden Hill Safer Neighbourhood Team for a walkabout in the Neasden Shopping Centre area at 9.30am. The issues that we are trying to solve simply need more resources.

There are currently three different area with differing problems that we are trying to deal with at the moment. In Neasden, we have the street drinking and anti-social behaviour, in the Dollis Hill part of the Ward, I was informed last night that burglary has spiked up again and the Church Road area has one of the largest crime rates in Brent at the sub-ward level.

Given the lack of resources being afforded to our local police, I will ensure that ward working money is given to crime initiatives as I have done in previous years. The doubling of Ward Working funding will go a long way to help me, my remaining co-Councillor and the Dudden Hill Safer Neighbourhood Team address specific crime and anti-social behavioural issues in Dudden Hill.

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