Thursday, 17 July 2014

Holiday Pay Claims Explained

 If you are paid less than your normal pay when you take a holiday then you might have a claim against your employer worth thousands of pounds.

You will have a claim if you normally receive additional payments on top of your basic salary. These might include payments for:

    Regular Bonus;
    Overtime (whether contractual or not);
    Shift allowance;
    Nightshift payments
    On-call allowance;
    Unsociable hours payments; or
    Any other payment linked to carrying out your job.

If your employer stops making these payments during periods of annual leave then you will have a claim. Due to a recent change in the law, it is unlawful for your employer to pay you basic pay when you are on holiday. If your employer has not been paying you in the correct way, you can ask the Employment Tribunal to order your employer to pay you the difference between what you have been paid and what you should have been paid. You may be entitled to claim for any underpayments going back to 1998.

It doesn’t matter what job you do. You might be working in a call centre and receiving commission for any sales you make. You might be working in a care home and receiving an allowance for when you work at night or at weekends. It doesn’t matter who your employer is- do not assume that because you work for a big employer with an HR department that they have been paying you in the right way- the chances are, they have not.   

Useful links

Please note: it is unlikely that you will have a claim if the only additional payment you receive is for expenses

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Mandela Day Book Appeal 2014

To celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and Action for Southern Africa Scotland (ACTSA) are asking people to donate children’s books to be sent to school libraries in Nelson Mandela’s home Province of Eastern Cape, with which Scotland has a particular link.

Trade Unions are opening up their offices across Scotland to the general public on Friday 18th July as collection points for the book appeal.

What are needed are children’s books, in English, to encourage reading for fun. Story books or factual books for all ages from pre-school to teenagers are welcome.

The offices taking part in the appeal are:     


333 Woodlands Road
G3 6NG

35 Young Street North Lane

Kimberley Buildings,

38 Whitehall Street

UNISON Highland Area Resource Centre
53 Shore Street,

A full list of organisations taking part in the appeal is available here:

All donations, big or small, towards the cost of shipping the books are also gratefully received.

Helen Martin

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Why the Commonwealth needs to listen to its LGBTI citizens

Below is a guest blog from the Kaleidoscope Trust. The Kaleidoscope Trust is a UK based charity working to uphold the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people internationally. 

The Commonwealth Games is one of the world’s largest and greatest sporting events, bringing together athletes from every corner of the world. From Africa to Asia, the Paciļ¬c to the Caribbean, the Commonwealth’s 2 billion people make up 30% of the world’s population and are of many faiths, races, languages, cultures and traditions. The Games themselves are an amazing celebration of the diversity of the Commonwealth – an organisation that refers to itself as a family, held together by the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In that light it is shocking that of the 53 member nations of the Commonwealth family, 42 continue to criminalise consensual same-sex activities between adults. More than ninety per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in a country that criminalises homosexuality. Over half the countries in the world that have laws banning homosexuality are in the Commonwealth. Across the Commonwealth lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are denied equal access to rights, education, employment, housing and healthcare.

Sadly, despite the fact that there are LGBTI people and organisations in every Commonwealth country, our existence is often denied, our rights are violated and we are treated as a foreign and alien import. The voices of LGBTI people continue to be ignored in many Commonwealth spaces – political, diplomatic, sporting and otherwise. Commonwealth leaders regularly deny that LGBTI people exist in their countries, or where they do accept our existence they paint us as immoral, disordered.

Countering this myth is what underlies a lot of the work that the Kaleidoscope Trust does.  For true equality to exist across the Commonwealth, attitudes toward LGBTI people need to be changed wherever we face social and legal discrimination. In the battle for public opinion visibility is our most powerful tool. When we are visible it becomes much harder for the opponents of equality to deny our existence. When we are seen as what we are – sons and daughters, siblings and parents, workers and bosses, friends and neighbours – it becomes much harder to paint us as immoral, threatening and foreign.

That’s why we’ve been working with the Equality Network and Pride Glasgow to ensure that when the Commonwealth Games is celebrating its amazing diversity, LGBTI people are not forgotten. We are working with LGBTI people from all over the Commonwealth to make sure our voices are heard – at the LGBTI Human Rights Conference, the Pride House, Glasgow Pride and other events. Through raising our voices together we can counter the narrative that being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual or trans, or intersex is a European or an American peculiarity. Through raising awareness of the amazing work that is going on around the Commonwealth to resist invidious laws and discriminatory attitudes we can truly celebrate the diversity of LGBTI struggle, successes and lives. LGBT people are part of the incredible diversity of the Commonwealth family and we are committed to its values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

That’s also why the Kaleidoscope Trust is delighted to support the STUC’s call for unions, employers and the public sector to show their support for LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth by flying the rainbow flag during the Games. If visibility is our strongest weapon, the more rainbow flags, proudly flown from buildings across Glasgow and Scotland, the more visible we are. The rainbow flag is a vital tool in showing our solidarity with LGBTI communities across the Commonwealth and showing that LGBTI people are a part of the Commonwealth family.

For the time being, the voices of LGBTI people may be ignored by many of the governments and institutions of the Commonwealth, but we are not going away. Governments must heed us, must meet with us and must embrace us as full and equal members of society. Anything less will fatally tarnish the Commonwealth, render the Games’ fine commitment to inclusion for all meaningless, and call into question the apparently shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Alistair Stewart 
Assistant Director
The Kaleidoscope Trust

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Why unions can fly the rainbow flag but Pride House can’t

It might be somewhat geeky but in the course of organising the STUC’s campaign around flying the rainbow flag, (for more info on this read my last blog) I discovered a quirk in the law.

In the run up to the Commonwealth Games the Scottish Government passed some legislation restricting advertising in and around Games venues while the Games are being held. This legislation is for the most part reasonable and designed to prevent advertisers taking advantage of the Games and, in particular, aims to prevent ambush marketing, where companies try to associate themselves with an event and profit from it without going to the expense of actually sponsoring it.

This legislation therefore restricts displays (including flags) in specifically determined Games zones, in an effort to keep any unauthorised profiteering to a minimum.  

Within the legislation, quite rightly, there is a specific exemption for protest which means that the STUC, Trade Unions and others can fly the rainbow flag, even within restricted Games zones, without falling foul of the legislation. We are after all not aiming to profit from the Games, we are simply raising awareness of the fact that a group of people are routinely and systematically denied their Human Rights all across the Commonwealth – with 42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalising homosexuality.  The legislation recognises our right to have a demonstration and to promote a campaign and therefore we can fly the rainbow flag as a symbol of protest and solidarity.  

So far so reasonable but then we get to Pride House.

When organising a rainbow flag flying campaign you very quickly run up against the question: ‘where do I get a six foot rainbow flag from anyway?’  To answer this, I turned to Leap Sport Scotland, the organisers of Pride House, naturally expecting Pride House to be adorned with giant rainbows advertising its existence to all the world. I was surprised to learn, however, that they had received instruction that no rainbow flags were to be flown on the building as it is within a restricted Games area.


Well you see it all comes down to the wording of the exemption around demonstrations. While protest is allowed to publicise a campaign, the exemption does not apply to activity that promotes a good or service.

Pride House is a venue that welcomes LGBT athletes, fans, and their supporters during international sporting events. Akin to the various national houses, it is a welcoming place to enjoy the event, to learn about LGBT sport and homophobia in sport, and to build relations. In this respect Pride House could be described as offering a ‘service’ to LGBT people during the games, and advertising a ‘service’ is not allowed.

So here we are in the strange situation where Trade Unions and others will be flying the flag for LGBT rights during the games but Pride House is prevented from doing the same.

This to me seems odd and out of step with the ultimate desire of the legislation – to restrict companies from profiteering and prevent ambush marketing. Given that Pride House is designed to support LGBT athletes and visitors during the Games, it seems a shame that it cannot identify itself with the internally recognised symbol of LGBT equality (after all I am sure Scotland House will fly the saltire).

The STUC, for one, hopes that this decision will be reconsidered before the start of the Games as making LGBT people visible within sport and within the Commonwealth more generally is a key aim of our campaign and also seems to be a key part of running a Pride House in the first place.

Helen Martin

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fly the Rainbow Flag! Solidarity for LGBT people around the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Games are coming to Glasgow. In just 27 days we will all be sitting down to enjoy the opening ceremony and looking forward to watching what is sure to be another great sporting event.

It's right that everyone in Scotland, and Glasgow in particular, should take pride in our Games and should welcome with enthusiasm the athletes and visitors to our country, but while enjoying the occasion we should also not forget some of the issues that still exist around the Commonwealth and we should aim to project a positive image of Scottish values around the world.    

It is in this spirit that the STUC is planning to fly the rainbow flag on our buildings throughout the Commonwealth Games and we are asking trade unions, employers and individuals to do the same.

By flying the rainbow flag we are recognising the Human Rights of LGBT people and celebrating the distance that Scotland has come in promoting equality for this group of people. But we are also rejecting the anti-homosexuality laws that still exist in 80% of Commonwealth countries and we are showing solidarity with the fight for Human Rights that is still being fought by LGBT people across the Commonwealth.

Why the Rainbow Flag?

The Commonwealth accounts for 30% of the world’s population. Unfortunately it has shown a stubborn refusal to recognise or protect the Human Rights of its LGBT citizens.

42 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still maintain laws which criminalise consensual and private same-sex activities between adults. The Commonwealth’s Charter may be committed to opposing ‘all forms of discrimination’ including discrimination against LGBT people, but few countries within the Commonwealth recognise this or are working to reduce discrimination against LGBT people, rather many are going in the opposite direction.

Penalties under anti-homosexuality laws across the Commonwealth include: 10 years imprisonment and hard labour in Jamaica; 14 years in Kenya; 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia; and 25 years in Trinidad and Tobago. Bangladesh, Barbados, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Tanzania have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while in the 12 northern states of Nigeria the maximum penalty for male homosexuality is death.

While these laws are not always enforced, they actively create a negative and hostile environment for LGBT people who often feel like second-class citizens. They also contribute to a wider culture of abuse, harassment and degrading treatment that continues unchecked in many countries across the Commonwealth.

In Uganda the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law on 24th February 2014. This Act greatly expands the range of same-sex sexual activities that are punishable by life imprisonment, including “touching with the intention” of committing homosexual acts. It also criminalises ‘promoting homosexuality’, effectively criminalising care and counselling and discouraging assembly and advocacy by Human Rights groups, NGOs and Trade Unions. Any organisation trying to work with LGBT people, will risk losing its license and individuals found guilty of ‘promotion’ face five to seven years in jail.

It is against this back-drop of criminalisation and widespread abuse of LGBT people across the Commonwealth that the STUC is running its campaign. By flying the rainbow flag we are rejecting these laws but we are also offering a symbol of hope and solidarity to LGBT people.

Join us by flying the rainbow flag in your own home or office building. The greater the visibility of the campaign the greater a symbol of hope the Glasgow Games can be.

Helen Martin

Friday, 13 June 2014

Industrial Policy - again...

The First Minister will today set out his plans for reindustrialising Scotland. Reading between the lines of last week's Sunday Herald report and listening to this morning's radio coverage it doesn't appear as if the Scottish Government paper being published today will include a great deal that wasn't already been signalled in the White Paper.

Anyway, I think I've said all I want to say on the subject of industrial policy/manufacturing and constitutional change (see here, here and here).

But I thought it might be helpful to set out the scale of the challenge that awaits. Although we hear lots about the sector's strengthening recovery, manufacturing output remains 5% below pre-recession levels and in Scotland its recovery is being sustained by only two sub-sectors: food and drink (including of course whisky) and transport equipment (just less than 1/4 of the size of food and drink).

All the other sub-sectors remain well below pre-recession output levels and, worryingly, some continue to decline.

Now anyone arguing that this failure to 'reindustrialise' or 'rebalance' is all the fault of the Scottish Government is living in cloud cuckoo land: much more relevant are the UK's longstanding structural problems that work against manufacturing (see above links) and, crucially, weakness in key export markets. But therein lies the rub: unless under any constitutional scenario policy is targeted at these structural problems (it isn't currently) and global demand is strong, domestic policy is unlikely to make much difference. Even if policy does improve, the outcomes will be long-term and highly uncertain.

No reason not to do it and I wait with great anticipation to hear the detail of what is being proposed today. As the STUC has regularly stated it's a very good thing that politicians at all levels are taking an interest in manufacturing again. But placing incredibly speculative figures on the supposed per capita financial benefits really isn't helpful. Nor is the use of those silly tropes ('levers', 'blueprints') so beloved of Government which seek to give a veneer of mechanical certainty to the outcomes of long-term economic development policy.

Stephen Boyd - STUC

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Boosting the National Minimum Wage

It’s hardly surprising that the UK National Minimum Wage (NMW) has become a hot political topic again given the historically unprecedented fall in real wages which followed the 2008/09 recession; a decline that is still ongoing for many if not most workers.

Indeed, as concern grows over falling wage shares and rising inequality, minimum wages are the subject of lively debate in countries across the globe: Germany is on the cusp of introducing a minimum wage, Swiss voters have just rejected a relatively high minimum wage and some fascinating developments are taking place at state and metropolitan level across the US.

The degree of political support now associated with the UK NMW is quite remarkable; not only are the Labour Party and SNP bringing forward proposals to boost the value of the NMW, even George Osborne is talking up significant real terms increases. In such circumstances it’s easy to forget the ferocity of the opposition to its introduction back in 1999.

But what exactly do our political parties propose to do about the minimum wage? Earlier this week the Labour Party published “Low Pay: the Nation’s Challenge”, a report prepared by ex-KPMG honcho Alan Buckle. The report - the recommendations of which are strikingly similar to those in a recent Resolution Foundation report - proposes a number of measures to boost the minimum wage relative to median earnings: 
  • Introducing a five-year target to increase the minimum wage to a more stretching (unspecified) proportion of median earnings. A degree of flexibility is retained in the framework: if due to changing economic circumstances the Low Pay Commission (LPC) believes the target cannot be met, they must write to the Secretary of State setting out their reasons. The burden of proof will fall on the LPC whereas in the current system it lies with the Secretary of State if he/she chooses to contest the LPC’s recommendation;
  • Empowering the LPC to establish taskforces of key stakeholders in low pay sectors that are identified as having the potential to pay higher wages with the potential of setting a higher recommended or statutory rate for the sector;
  • Changing the remit of the LPC to give it a stronger role with a longer-term focus – implicit in the above recommendations;
  • Improving enforcement;
  • Introducing a number of measures to ‘encourage’ employers to pay a Living Wage: procurement, tax incentives etc. 
 As for the SNP, the White Paper gives:

 “…a firm commitment that if we are the government in an independent Scotland, the minimum wage will in future rise at least in line with inflation.

“This Scottish Government's Fair Work Commission [which will replace the LPC in an independent Scotland], with members drawn from business, trade unions and wider society, will advise the government on the minimum wage. The Commission will also provide advice on other factors relating to individual and collective rights which contribute to fairness at work and business competitiveness, recognising that both are integral elements of sustainable economic growth in Scotland. The Commission will work with the larger Convention on Employment and Labour Relations. Together they will help the Scottish Government foster a constructive and collaborative approach to industrial relations policy and formalise the relationship between government, employers, trade unions and employee associations”.

It’s reasonable to expect the relative merits of these proposals to come under some scrutiny in the run up to the referendum. Is the best approach to index the NMW to inflation or median wage?

Maybe neither for since its introduction in 1999 the NMW has comfortably outstripped both wages (average and median) and inflation:

But the real value of the NMW has fallen since the recession (although it has maintained its strength relative to the median gross hourly wage - 54.6% in 2013 - because of the historic decline in median earnings) and it's important that politicians urgently consider ways in which it might be restored. For me it is the Resolution Foundation's approach which is most persuasive; a broader approach to the issue of low pay is essential and overdue.The Government should make an explicit long-term commitment to reducing the incidence of low pay and it should resource the LPC appropriately.

The Buckle Report recognises that the LPC is effective and credible as the Scottish Government tacitly acknowledges in proposing a Scottish version – the Fair Work Commission. Yet the proposals of both would constrain its flexibility.

This is particularly interesting in the case of the Scottish Government since the whole approach to industrial relations and labour market policy set out in the White Paper is based around the concept of social partnership. The LPC is one of the UK’s very few social partnership institutions. If the Scottish Government is genuinely committed to the concept then why not let the social partners get on and do their job?

Of course regulatory responses to a NMW declining in real terms and a falling wage share in general have their limits. Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland don’t have a national minimum wage. But they all have very high rates of trade union density: 

...and collective bargaining coverage (2007):

...and higher wages and total labour costs:

(Source: Eurostat, hourly labour costs (wages and salaries and non-wage costs such as employers’ social contributions) in EU 28, March 2014)

...and lower incidence of low wage work:

It’s no accident that the UK national minimum wage (NMW) was introduced in 1999 following a steep and sustained decline in union membership:

Replicating Nordic rates of TU density and collective bargaining coverage is a long-term and difficult project under any constitutional scenario. Nevertheless, it would be nice if politicians concerned about low pay could strongly and explicitly acknowledge that ‘collective bargaining is a more efficient way of protecting workers than the law’. A genuine commitment to boosting wages at the bottom end of the income distribution needs to be accompanied by a willingness to confront the asymmetries of economic power which run through Scotland's economy. Examining the role Government might reasonably play in boosting union membership and collective bargaining coverage looks like a good place to start.

Stephen Boyd - STUC  

Monday, 19 May 2014

Celebrating Modern Apprenticeship Week with Scottish Union Learning

Jessica Thomson is a UCATT member and a Stone Masonry Modern Apprentice at Historic Scotland in Stirling

During STUC Annual Congress this past April, First Minister Alex Salmond MSP announced that Scotland's Modern Apprenticeship programme will expand to provide work for 30,000 young people a year by 2020.  The annual target for new modern apprenticeships is currently 25,000.

Modern Apprenticeships equip Scotland’s young workers with employment, skills and experience. Though the Modern Apprenticeship programme targets young people, in 2012-2013, 23% of those workers starting a Modern Apprenticeship were over the age of 25. Therefore, the Modern Apprenticeship Programme also provides an important opportunity to support older workers in developing new skills which can assist their career progression and job security.  Unions help to ensure that Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland are high quality and lead to industry-recognised qualifications.

Trade unions play an important role in the development and review of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks.  Unions also encourage employers to engage with Modern Apprenticeships and to offer good terms and conditions, decent pay rates and a safe working environment for apprentices.

The Modern Apprenticeship Toolkit from Scottish Union Learning, supported by Skills Development Scotland, contains practical information and case studies that describe the technical and practical aspects of the Modern Apprenticeship Programme in Scotland. It has a particular focus on occupational segregation and under-representation of Women, BME and Disabled workers.  The Toolkit features useful materials for Modern Apprentices, such as case studies, legal rights, pay levels and health and safety information.

This is the second edition of the Modern Apprenticeship Toolkit. It has been refreshed to reflect important changes in the programme.  There is also a concentrated focus on equalities due to the fact that BME and disabled workers continue to be underrepresented in the Modern Apprenticeship programme. In addition, many programmes suffer from gender stereotyping with consequent implications for the equal pay gap and the role of women at work. This toolkit demonstrates that unions can and do play an important role in tackling these equality issues.  

Unions must continue to fight for equalities with the expansion of the Modern Apprenticeship programme in 2020 and beyond.  Unions ensure that Modern Apprenticeship programmes respect equality and diversity and offer a source of support for apprentices, many of whom are new to the workplace. The Modern Apprenticeship Toolkit provides an overview of Modern Apprenticeships and outlines how unions, employers and individuals can successfully engage with the programme.  

You can download a copy of the Modern Apprenticeship Toolkit by visiting the Scottish Union Learning website at

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2014 takes place from 19 to 23 May. More information can be found by visiting the Skills Development Scotland website at

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Scottish labour market: digging beneath the headlines...

Brian Ashcroft posted an appropriately withering response to the political comment triggered by the latest set of labour market data for Scotland. He explains why enthusiasm over Scotland's 'record level of employment' is, ahem, misplaced and why comparisons between the performance of Scottish and UK labour markets over the course of the recession really should appreciate the starting point i.e. Scotland entering the recession with lower unemployment/higher employment.

Therefore I'll not dwell on the issues covered by Brian except to stress that achieving the 'highest employment level ever' really isn't a historically significant event. By my reckoning this is a claim that could've been made precisely 40 times since the current data series for Scotland started in 1992. As Declan Gaffney explains here, employment tends to rise over time with population. As Brian reminds us, the salient point is that it's taken a full seven years to recover the pre-recession peak.

The concern here is that intemperate political reaction - covered largely uncritically by an under-resourced media - can embed the notion that the labour market is 'back to normal'. There are a number of reasons to doubt this is the case.

Unemployment remains high and the method by which the figures are reported on a rolling 3-monthly basis can be misleading. Here's the unemployment rate and level for the past year:

The level reported yesterday is actually marginally higher than between Sep-Nov last year and the rate is the same (isn't it revealing how politicians switch so easily between rates and levels depending on what story they want to tell?). The rate is still 2.4% above that of summer 2008. This isn't great but it's also worth noting Blanchflower's recent observation that the sample size from which this figure is derived is so small that Scottish unemployment is bound to 'bounce around like a rubber ball'.

A big and as yet largely untold story of the labour market's slow recovery is the increasing number of older workers:

Only the 65+  group that has surpassed its pre-recession peak employment rate and the 50-64 group is at least getting close - the collapse in the youth employment rate in the early stages of recession was hardly unexpected but its failure to recover is quite disturbing:

The better performance of older workers has been particularly pronounced over the past year with older women doing especially well:

Of course this isn't all bad; it's good that older workers can remain in work if they want to. But the downside is undeniable: less jobs for young workers and many people forced to work longer than they would like to due to pension changes etc. Stubbornly high youth unemployment/low employment is the most visible signal that the labour market is in far from rude health. Some research on the reasons why many more older people are choosing/being compelled to work longer is urgently required. A Commission on the Older Workforce anyone?

It's certainly true that many of the trends that have caused most concern over the past few years are now starting to level off. Yet anecdotal feedback from trade union workplace reps suggests that these trends are unlikely to return to pre-recession levels anytime soon. Underemployment for example has started to fall but, at 234,000, remains 40% higher than 2007 (and of course underemployment in Scotland and UK is high by European standards). Male underemployment - both full-time and part-time - continues to rise:

A major component of underemployment is involuntary part-time working which remains 50,000 higher than 2008:

The increase in involuntary part-time employment accounts for the total rise in part-time working since 2008:

The failure of full-time jobs to recover is matched by the fall in employee jobs:

Self-employment is particularly interesting because, given the lag in Scottish statistics, we don't yet know if the massive increase in self-employment at UK level over the very recent period (for the UK as a whole: 183,000 or fully two-thirds of the new jobs reported yesterday were self-employed as were 52% of all new jobs created over the past year) is being replicated in Scotland. Recent trajectories suggest that despite the small fall in self-employment in the year to December 2013 it is entirely possible that Scotland may be on the verge of an increase as the more volatile Scottish series catches up with the UK:

The increase in self-employment is a concern for the post recession cohort of self-employed are working less hours, earning less money, paying less tax and contributing significantly to the rising cost of in-work benefits. Again, it would be good to have some decent research (or at least some up to date figures) at a Scottish level.

And of course all the above tells us very little about the quality of new jobs being created. Extrapolating from the latest ONS UK figures, it's reasonable to estimate that there may be around 120,000 zero hour contract jobs in Scotland. We know from workplace intelligence that other forms of insecure working such as 'pay between assignment' contracts are also on the rise.

The weakness of the labour market is starkly apparent in the unprecedented decline in real wages since 2009. Since no new reliable figures have been published I can do no more than link to the STUC's 2014 Budget Submission which provided some analysis of who's fairing well (top corporate managers and executives) and badly (lowest paid workers in the lowest paid sectors).

In summary, it's good that employment is rising and unemployment falling in Scotland but the labour market is nowhere near a state that would justify the grand political claims of yesterday.

Stephen Boyd

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

In praise of Land Value Tax: the case for change

We're delighted to present this guest blog by April Cumming (Holyrood researcher, Vice-Chair Scottish Fabians, Nordic Horizons, Electoral Reform Society) making the case for a Land Value Tax. While it's important to stress that this is not a statement of STUC policy, we are currently researching alternatives to the Council Tax with options to be presented to STUC Congress 2015. An appraisal of the benefits and disadvantages of LVT and other alternative forms of taxation is central to this process. The STUC also continues to be closely engaged with ongoing debate around taxation and constitutional reform.

It is a rare occurrence to sit in the company of experts who are able to describe what is on the surface a complex tax issue in simple terms.  Dave and Heather Wetzel, and their colleague Fife farmer Duncan Piccard, are three such experts.  As part of their trailblazing tour promoting the introduction of a Land Value Tax they dropped by at the Parliament for a one hour briefing session for policy enthusiasts, where they somehow achieved in a short space of time what the Mirlees report expresses in many long intimidating pages.  Namely a crystallisation of the arguments for why LVT is the natural and logical step to take in the journey towards a more equitable and fair distribution of land and resources in the UK.  It is a lever to fundamentally alter the way we engage with the land, our most valuable and misunderstood commodity. At a time where intermittent and sporadic spurts of growth have become a dominant characteristic of our economy, academics and policymakers have started to look for alternative methods of raising revenue that offer a more sustainable approach.  As a result of this there has been a growing body of opinion arguing for a fundamental shift in the system that favours a reduction of existing taxes to be replaced by an annual Land Value Tax.  The Labour Land Campaign is one of the voices in this argument.

At present we are witnessing what the Coalition government have lauded as the much anticipated green shoots of recovery.  What is disappointing is that, rather than recognising that these shoots are nothing more than perennial weeds the government have celebrated the beginning of what has all the hallmarks of the bad old ‘boom and bust’ of pre-crisis years, and dressing it up like a sturdy evergreen.  Cast your eye a few short administrations into the future and it’s not difficult to imagine the consequences of this return to the old economic orthodoxies of the past. As the OBR have pointed out this is a growth based on speculation in the housing market, on increased consumer spending and the gradually chipping away at savings to float the household budget.  In the long term this may only lead to further crisis.

The Coalition For Economic Justice, formed by a cross-section of think tanks to offer alternatives like LVT, have pointed out the inadequacy in the current system of valuing land and the corrosive effect these structures have on surrounding communities.  “Events are clearly demonstrating that the speculative rise in land prices is a common feature of the repeated economic booms and busts. In order to address this problem we call for a new approach that delivers both economic justice and prosperity for all. This solution must be based upon the annual collection of land value for public purposes".

This was a point echoed repeatedly by Duncan, Heather and Dave. The hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the current system of land ownership in the UK is that land absorbs public funding and yet the profit generated through the use of that land is then returned to the owner rather than those who contribute.  The example used by Dave Wetzel to illustrate this point is the expansion of the Jubilee line in London’s underground.  As a result of greater connectivity to the city the land that lies adjacent to the expansion accumulated in value significantly.  And yet, none of this benefit was returned, despite the use of public funds through infrastructure investment.  Those who benefit from this expansion are those who already own land on the route, the speculators. It cost the taxpayer £3.5bn but resulted in a £10-13bn increase in land values along the route; when one considers this net gain, which was the fruit of public investment, does it not then follow that as land values rise they should in turn be taxed, returning a proportion of the gain to the public purse?  Imagine the difference that this would make to the ability to fund further infrastructure?

Such funding could go to building vital housing, and in the process create employment. Couple land speculation with the fact that there is a dire need for affordable housing in capital cities across the country and it’s not hard to understand the need for a more equitable system.  Land that has been sat on purposefully by UK and foreign speculators as it accumulates in value could be used to generate an income for an entire community, making their homes not only a more pleasant place to be but also making adjacent businesses more prosperous. 

While many may term a shift to a land based tax as being a radical shift this is not new thinking.  The governments of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill made efforts to introduce LVT, both consecutively overruled by the House of Lords at the time. It has also been recognised as a viable alternative to income tax and business rates by the current business secretary, who acknowledged that the ability to shift wealth around the globe to find favourable business environments has lead to a growing imperative to re-assess where and how wealth should be taxed.

 "It will be said that in a world of internationally mobile capital and people it is counterproductive to tax personal income and corporate profit to uncompetitive levels. That is right. But a progressive alternative is to shift the tax base to property, and land, which cannot run away, [and] represents in Britain an extreme concentration of wealth."
-       Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat conference, Liverpool, 22 September 2010

But bringing in an LVT first requires a land register with up to date, transparent information on who owns what and at what cost.  Scotland’s own Land Review Group fell disappointingly short of the mark on progressing the case for an updated register.  However, the recent musings of the Scottish Affairs committee in Westminster have suggested that this is a potential development, as the case for a more transparent system is brought forward.  As their interim report points out, “no government which has any pretentions to land reform can avoid the need for full and clear information on its existing ownership patterns to be widely available”.  This is a starting point but the political will to engage with campaign groups and start to make a pointed shift in how we tax wealth in this country must exist both north and south of the border.  Two thirds of the UK’s 60m acres of land are owned by just 0.36% of the population. An annual Land Value Tax levied land would affect these wealthy landowners rather than ordinary homeowners across the country and create a case for long term sustained capital investment.  Sitting on land would no longer be a viable business choice.

This issue is not the reserve of the land and estates or the highlands.  It takes in the unused land in our cities and towns, where a lack of targeted legislation has allowed the build-up of pockets of wealth that have a direct negative impact on the people who ought to have a direct stake.  The buildings sitting on valuable land are allowed to crumble, as the current system allows it.  This is, at its heart, an issue of power.  Power lies with those who have the ability to control land use, namely the tiny percentage of the population capable of the privilege of ownership.  Any government who makes even a passing reference to their left wing credentials has a duty to engage with the issue of land whole heartedly because in doing so they may facilitate a sea change that not only improves the lot of small businesses but also rebalances the economy in a sustainable, equitable manner. No more boom and bust and speculation, Land Value Tax could be the seed that creates the evergreen recovery we so badly need.

April Cumming
May 2014



Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Congress 2014: Grahame Smith, STUC on A Just Scotland

On the last afternoon of Congress 2014, Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary delivered the following statement to conclude the debate on A Just Scotland:

President, Congress, happy to present the General Council statement on A Just Scotland and urging support for Composite C and amended motion 103 and asking Congress to oppose motion 105.

Congress, opening this debate on behalf of the General Council, Mary Senior persuasively outlined the reasons why we should be proud of the STUC’s A Just Scotland initiative.

We have shifted the referendum debate firmly onto social justice and onto the real priorities of the working people we represent.

But Congress I’ve heard it argued – at this Congress and elsewhere – that our refusal to tow a Yes or No line demonstrates a lack of leadership.

I refute this absolutley.

In many ways for the STUC choosing one side and blindly pursuing its rigid arguments would have been the easy option.  But it would have also risked the unity of the movement .

Developing and promoting A Just Scotland has been an intense and difficult task.

But we know trade union members and many in wider society have valued our contribution and the difference it has made to the debate.

It is right that people should read and learn from our reports knowing that they’ve been compiled to constructively challenge both sides.

And that is what we have done this week in the two question and answer sessions.

Hard, fair and informed questions to both sides eliciting revealing responses; sometimes welcome, sometimes not.

Both Yes and No positions have profound implications for the future of our nation – defending these positions shouldn’t be an easy ride for anyone.

Whether it be the First Minister on tax and procurement or Johann Lamont on Trident or public spending  it is our responsibility to highlight inconsistencies and weak arguments.

And we will continue to do so.

Congress,  it is of course acceptable and understandable that affiliates will develop their own positions on the referendum. These are reflected in our agenda.

However the terms of motion 105, if adopted would be tantamount to taking a Yes position which would be incompatible with the A Just Scotland approach. It would throw away the outstanding work undertaken over the last two years and marginalise our impact in the remaining months before the referendum.

The General Council is entirely comfortable with affiliates taking their own positions. But it is essential that we leave this Congress with a united STUC position.

One that will give strength to our A Just Scotland approach.

One that will secure our influence in the debate.


But Congress, the increasingly febrile nature of the debate  and  the exaggerated and at times hysterical  claims  of both campaigns is deeply worrying because the tone is being set for the referendum’s aftermath.

Whether it is a yes or no vote the political atmosphere could quickly become poisonous.

This is why it is so important that the Scottish trade union movement continues to play a central role in ensuring the path to Scotland’s constitutional future is as smooth and consensual as it can possibly be.

Whatever the outcome in September our actions as a movement will be driven by our values - our values of unity and solidarity.

Whatever the outcome, Scotland’s trade union movement and civic society must be at the heart of the negotiation process for  independence or enhanced devolution.

And we will not be shy about stating our red line issues:

If it is independence there must be no backtracking on Trident;

and trade union freedom must be at the top of the agenda for the new Scottish Parliament.

If it’s enhanced devolution then tax powers must go further than those proposed by the Labour’s Devolution Commission.

And we need to see a new direction from UK Labour. More austerity is not acceptable.

We will not accept a little bit less of the same.

We want a lot more of something different.

Whatever the outcome in September there will be change - and the trade union movement on this island will not be immune from it.

Whatever the outcome we all need to remember the need for unity amongst workers; within and between unions and between trade union centres.

But if we want to be in a postion to shape that change, to achieve A Just Scotland  - closing our eyes, keeping our fingers crossed and hoping change won’t affect us not an option.

The status quo is not an option.

If we fail to recognise that we fail to recognise the danger of division – division that will damage our class and our movement and will have the bosses rubbing their hands.

Our objective is to move forward together. But if the opportunity to advance is offered should it be rejected because it is denied elsewhere?

If Scotland’s constitutional arrangements, whatever they turn out to be, allow us to advance the cause of social and economic justice, would it not ultimately benefit workers across these islands?

We have the capacity to lead that change but we need the  capacity to  change ourselves.

This is an historic moment for our country and our movement.

It will fall to us to define the road we take, to shape our future, to grasp the opportunity to achieve A Just Scotland.

Our ability to do it lies in every workplace where there is a union member.

In every workplace where good reps do what good reps do –  build the union – and fight for their members.

It lies in our ability to organise;

In our ability to take on the bad bosses;

In our ability to stand up for our values and our beliefs.

This Congress meets on the cusp of a momentous moment in Scotland’s history. The prospect of profound change in our nation’s democracy is very real.

But we should be in no doubt that whatever our constitutional future working people will still have to contend with the Jim Ratcliffes, Michael O’Leary’s and the faceless private equity barons of this world. They’re not going away. 

But Congress neither are we!

The Scottish constitutional debate is a debate about where power should lie and why.  It will be of little real relevance unless government, wherever it sits, has the power and is willing to use it to prevent the destructive actions of private equity or if workers through their union, do not have the power to influence the actions of an employer, and achieve a much more equal share on our national wealth.

I commend the statement and our A Just Scotland approach to Congress.