Minimum wage

Bosses bypass law

THE SCOTTISH Low Pay Unit (SLPU) has identified EIGHT ways that bosses are avoiding the minimum wage laws.

  1. Open defiance-45 companies are presently being investigated for underpayment. The SLPU reports a security guard who was paid £2.10 an hour. When he complained, his pay was slashed to £1.80.
  2. Delay-one big firm has told workers their pay will not be adjusted until all contracts with clients have been altered.
  3. "Same work, fewer hours"-for example a group of cleaners have been told that their hours have been cut but they are expected to achieve the same workload.
  4. "Perk snatching"-some firms have removed taxi fares home after a shift or have incorporated allowances into basic pay.
  5. Self employment-because the self employed are exempt from the minimum wage, workers such as canvassers, taxi drivers, hairdressers and childminders have come under pressure from employers to register as self employed.
  6. Trainees and apprenticeships-under the law some people being trained receive a lower rate for the minimum wage. This is being extended and abused by some employers.
  7. Part paid workers-some charities use workers who are partly voluntary and partly paid.
  8. Employing children-because the government has left out young people under 18 from the law, some employers are simply using younger and younger workers.

It's hell on the other end of the telephone

NINE OUT of ten call centre workers at BT are suffering from stress. Over one third of workers have even been forced to seek medical help as a result. Behind the huge stress levels are bullying managers and unbearable workloads, a secret survey of BT call centre workers in Scotland by the Communication Workers Union revealed. One worker told the Daily Record paper, "I believe that if people knew what staff have to go through they would be shocked. The only thing BT cares about is the share price."

Workers said BT set them impossible targets on how long they can talk to customers. Some 64 percent of staff in the survey had been threatened with disciplinary action. Workers are expected to deal with customer service calls within four minutes and 25 seconds, and calls about faults in four minutes and five seconds. Last year BT ordered directory inquiry operators to keep calls to just 25 seconds.

Safety cut

OIL COMPANY Elf Exploration is to sell almost all its British assets, prompting fears of job losses and safety cuts. The Claymore, Saltire and Piper Bravo platforms and the Flotta oil terminal in Orkney are on sale for £98 million.

Jake Molloy of the OILC oil union said, "They are a very, very disgruntled bunch of lads offshore. Any new operator is likely to turn the majority of the workforce into contractors as well as possibly making redundancies. This will mean cutbacks and poorer conditions for staff."

The biggest impact on jobs is likely to be onshore, where Elf employs almost 500 people.

US government backs GM giants


"GM crops are creating classic preconditions for hunger and famine"

THE UNITED States government claims to be fighting the war in Yugoslavia to help the Kosovan refugees. But the US government is using the World Trade Organisation to back up giant multinational food companies whose activities are forcing millions into hunger and suffering.

Giant food companies like Monsanto, Norvatis and Zeneca have a huge monopoly over world food production, and are fighting to keep it. They claim that their production of genetically modified (GM) crops will help end world hunger. But, as a new report from Christian Aid says, "GM crops are creating classic preconditions for hunger and famine. A food supply based on too few varieties of patented crops is the worst option for food security. More dependence and marginalisation loom for the poorest."

Today some 70 percent of GM crops are engineered to make them dependent on the seed companies' own agrochemicals. Monsanto has bought stakes in the major national seed companies of both India and Brazil-two of the biggest crop producers in the world. In Brazil Monsanto has spent more that $1 billion buying seed companies. It plans to build a $550 million factory to produce pesticides compatible with GM soya crops. In India Monsanto has big holdings in the country's largest seed company and has invested over $20 million in India's leading science institution. Monsanto has paid over $1 billion for the international seed operations of Cargill, the world's biggest private grain sales company.

As Andrew Simms, author of the Christian Aid report, says: "The agro-biotech firms argue that we need GM crops to feed a hungry world. Such claims take the debate on hunger and poverty back to the dark ages. We know there is more food than we need to feed the world, yet 800 million go hungry. People go hungry because they are poor and because they have no land to grow food on."

Problem family

WHO PULLED a knife on black motorist Gatri Hussein last year? Clifford Norris was in court on Monday accused of the attack last November in south east London. He is the younger brother of Lawrence murder suspect David Norris. Hassan said in court that he was attacked in a "road rage" assault by a knife wielding man answering the description of Clifford Norris.

However, Clifford Norris's defence was that at the time of the attack his brother David had his car. It was parked outside the house of another Lawrence murder suspect, Gary Dobson. Clifford's lawyers also made much of the fact that he looked like his brother. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the wounding charge. There may have to be a retrial. But the question remains: who attacked Hassan?

Job losses

Danger at work

TARMAC, AMEC and Balfour Beatty are some of the main construction firms bidding to build our hospitals and schools under the government's Private Finance Initiative. But take a look at their health and safety record.

Tarmac heads the list of the ten most dangerous companies to work for in Britain, according to the Channel 4 Dispatches programme. The company has been convicted 75 times in the last ten years for industrial accidents which shockingly killed 13 workers and seriously injured 20 others. But the price of a worker's life comes cheap. Tarmac was fined on average just £11,475 for each worker killed and just over £3,000 for each injury.

Amec has received 39 convictions for industrial accidents over the same period. Are our hospitals and schools really safe in the hands of these firms?

Blow to New Labour's privatisation schemes

TENANTS IN Poplar, east London, delivered a major blow to New Labour's plans to privatise council homes last week. They voted by almost 60 percent against a plan by Tower Hamlets Labour council to hand 1,780 homes over to a private housing company called HARCA. Mark Weeks of the local Stop the HARCA campaign said, "The privateers have now been soundly beaten in all ballots in Tower Hamlets in the last 12 months. We are now calling for the government to drop its plans."

The New Labour government has recently announced plans to hand another 140,000 council homes over to private companies. And in Scotland it is pushing for the transfer of some 500,000 homes. Worried by the growing opposition, the Labour government has now come up with a new scam. It has invited councils to submit Private Finance Initiative schemes for doing up council housing.

Existing privatisation schemes can only go ahead if tenants vote for them in ballots. The PFI schemes would amount to exactly the same kind of privatisation, but would not need a ballot. So much for democracy under New Labour!

No one should be fooled. Sandwell tenants massively rejected "stock transfer" (privatisation) in a ballot last year. The council's housing director, Steve Gregory, now says of the new PFI scheme the authority plans that it is "a stock transfer in all but name. We dusted off the privatisation proposals and put it in as a PFI." The national Defend Council Housing campaign is organising a conference in Manchester next month to build the resistance.



Saturday 15 May

Assemble 1pm, Malet Street, London WC1