Advancing Social Security Workshop

Last Saturday, Dundee SSP held a day school workshop – with Colin Turbett, an SSP social security expert with decades of experience in social work.

colin_turbett_augustineOn welcome to the branch, Mr Turbett said: “The limitations of the Scottish Government’s devolved social security reforms were shown earlier this month when the Tories benefit cap came into operation. This discriminates against large families claiming benefit by limiting the total they can claim (including housing benefit for rent) to £20,000 per year.

“In my own area, North Ayrshire, which has the second highest levels of child poverty in Scotland, this will hit 200 families and make life even harder for all the children involved. Consultation submissions on the devolved budgets and how they might be used, are currently being considered by the Scottish Government before firm proposals are drawn up; these however will only affect 15% of benefits spending (out of work benefits, tax credits and pensions remain with Westminster) and all these children in poverty will not be touched because they are not included.

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Close The Obscene Gap: for a £10 minimum and a maximum wage

richieby Richie Venton, SSP national trade union organizer

The gaping chasm between the incomes of millions of workers and handfuls of millionaire company chief executives is opening up ever wider, like the blades of a giant pair of scissors.

The case I expounded in my book, Break the Chains, for an immediate national minimum wage of £10-an-hour for all workers – regardless of age – and a maximum wage initially based on an overly generous 10:1 differential with the minimum (i.e. £100-an-hour maximum) screams out from every page of every recent report on workers’ wages and bosses’ incomes.

The top dogs of the FTSE 100 biggest companies have just had yet another 10% pay rise – and that’s before they rake in untold bonuses, shares portfolios, and bottomless pension pots. Since the 2010 recession, these capitalist overlords have had their salaries increase by a third! They now wallow like pigs in the proverbial, on average incomes of £5.5million!

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The case for free public transport

by Connor Beaton

The Scottish Socialist Party is a proud advocate of a world-class, fare-free public transport system for Scotland.

Transport has undergone enormous changes in recent decades, both in Scotland and across the world. Some have been cyclical: in Scotland’s capital, trams were built, dismantled, and then reintroduced. In other areas, we have seen consistent trends like the steady deregulation and privatisation of services, which has left Edinburgh as the sole city in Scotland with a municipal bus operator.

Rail fares across the UK have soared in comparison to those of our European neighbours, and Scottish transport contracts go out to tender in a farcical franchise system whereby public sector companies in other countries can bid for control while those in Scotland are effectively barred.

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SSP Podcast: Apocryphal Tales – 2

In today’s Socialist Voices, we have SSP co-spokespeople, Sandra Webster and Colin Fox, Sandra on Paisley’s Sma Shot and Colin on the SNP’s strange relationship with the monarchy. We have Don Mackeen on racism in the USA, the Confederate flag and of course the awful terrorist events in Charleston last week.  We have Dr Bruce Scott speaking about Mental distress from a socialist perspective; We have blogger and transgender woman, Amber Daniels on her experiences, Matthew Geraghty on our democratic deficit, Australian Socialist Alliance member Dave Riley on “the Lucky Country,” SNP activist, Debra Torrance with a very emotional plea about the terrible events in the Mediterranean, Calum Martin on the SSP alternative to the Council Tax – the much fairer Scottish Service Tax and Aiden O’Rourke with a suggestion for the SSP…

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Ebook: For A Modern Democratic Republic

SSP PDF download

The Scottish Socialist Party is pleased to bring you our pamphlet “For A Modern Democratic Republic” as a free download.

We welcome all to download, share and discuss the arguments against continuing rule by an unelected monarch, and for establishing our own modern democratic republic.

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Energy companies tax the poor

sandra_850x450by Sandra Webster, SSP national co-spokesperson

A new government, and will anything change? Politicians may eloquently preach about life with fuel poverty meanwhile it was announced that under the coalition 30,000 prepayment meters had been fitted without the consent of the individual.

There are very few people who can gain access to your house without permission. These include police with a warrant and workmen from energy companies who can gain access to one’s home and fit a prepayment meter. The Labour Party’s record is not much better. In 1999 it was reported that again 30,000 people had been forced into a prepayment meter, with 24,000 of these authorised by court action. This is fuel possession.

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SCOTTISH SOCIALISTS BACK CALLS TO REPEAL FOOTBALL OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOUR ACT 

The Scottish Socialist Party is today disappointed and dismayed by the Scottish Government’s commitment to retaining the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.

In the University of Stirling report and statistics into the effect of the Act, it showed that conviction rates since introduction in 2012 are as low as 22% with only 143 convictions from 664 charges in relation to section 1 of the Act.

In addition, only 16 of those resulted in a football banning order, highlighting the highly disproportionate response from Police Scotland in the implementation of this Act to what are often petty and low-grade offences, if an offence has occurred at all.  The threating communications part of the Act has also only seen 36 people charged, with a mere 15 of these, less than half, coming from a football related incident.

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WHAT ARE ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS?

by Stephanie Pride

CARE WORKERS, junior academics, mystery shoppers and agency staff… One thing they have in common is that many, if not most, are on zero hours contracts.

Far from being a new phenomenon, zero hours contracts have been around a long time but are only now receiving the scrutiny they deserve for shackling workers to insecure and low-paid employment with fewer rights than those defined as employees.

It is notoriously difficult to estimate the true number of people on such contracts – the STUC puts it at nearly 120,000 across Scotland, although this is based on an outdated figure from the Office for National Statistics, which now puts the number at 1.4 million across the UK. It is also believed that the number of people hired on contracts which do not guarantee a minimum number of hours has doubled over the past decade.

Few protections

Not included in the statistics is the large number of people on highly dubious ‘self-employed’ contracts – many of them in sales and marketing, catalogue distribution and work-from-home jobs.

The advantage for those who provide such work is that there is no statutory minimum wage, no benefits and very few protections. One large employer, based in Scotland, routinely hands out contracts making workers liable to pay for access to equipment, to supply a ‘substitute’ when sick, take out their own personal indemnity insurance, indemnify the company against any action from HMRC and – much like a super-injunction – ensure the existence of the contract is kept a secret.

Although the zero-hours contract has no legal definition, European legislation broadly divides workers into three categories with different rights and responsibilities: employees, workers and the self-employed.
Most people on zero-hours contracts, like agency workers and the casually employed, fall into the category of ‘worker’. Strictly speaking, they are under no obligation to work for the employer and the employer is not obliged to provide work for them. However, they do have rights relating to pay, hours, health and safety and discrimination.

Sometimes it is hard to determine which category someone falls into, but there are four essential requirements for a worker to be an employee: payment for the work done; the employee does the work personally; control by the employer over what the worker does and when, where and how they do it; and mutual obligation.

Self-employed people only have the rights that are given by a contract, although they are also covered by discrimination law and protected by health and safety legislation.

In practice, the employer holds all the cards and there is often no acknowledgement of legislation like the European working time directive, which lays down rules like ensuring workers have a minimum of 11 hours break between their shifts. More savvy employers will ask staff to sign an opt-out agreement if they want to work at all.

Of course, the defining feature of a zero-hours contract is the worker is not guaranteed any work at all and the much vaunted ‘flexibility’ of the arrangement is all with the employer. Some add exclusivity clauses – requiring the worker not to take on other employment – and shifts can be taken away or added with the minimum of notice.

The precariousness of such employment, where it is all but impossible to prove discrimination when your hours at the boss’s whim, has given rise to the definition of a new category of worker – the Precariat, a term originally used in 1980s France to describe temporary and seasonal workers.

Today these are the workers, many of them women, recent immigrants and the very young, who don’t know what they’ll be earning from one week to the next, cannot make plans for things like childcare and find it all but impossible to access the appropriate level of benefits or tax credits, leaving them open to sanctions and periods without income.

‘Flexibility’ might be touted as a virtue, but these people’s landlords, billers and creditors do not share that attitude, plunging many into a debt spiral. However meagre, there is some predictability on benefits. However, the UK government is now saying jobseekers risk losing their benefits if they turn down certain zero-hours contracts without ‘good reason’.

In response to the consultation, Citizens Advice Scotland has highlighted the widespread misuse of zero hours contracts and the need to strengthen employment laws to give workers more rights including protection from unfair dismissal.

Pressure

Under pressure, universities in Scotland are now starting to review their practices, with the Scottish University and College Union branding the widespread use of zero-hours contracts as “exploitative”. It said universities were “using the fierce competition for permanent jobs to create a no-rights culture for teachers and researchers”.

Unchecked, it is likely that this culture will spread, eroding the hard-won gains of organised labour and distorting the true employment picture.

One solution, put forward by Guy Standing, an academic and former ILO researcher, is to create new organisations rooted outside any single workplace and to adopt a basic citizen’s income, payable to all, which would enhance the bargaining power of people at the low end and actually increase the incentive to work.

The Scottish Socialist Party fights for a guaranteed minimum wage of £10 an hour for all employees and an end to all zero hours contracts. We consider zero hours contracts to be little more than unvarnished exploitation.

In April 2015, the STUC launched a new campaign – Better Than Zero – run by young people for young people, to take on the issue of insecure work, zero hours contracts and poverty pay.

This is a revised piece which was previously published in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

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