Tuesday, 31 May 2011

ASLEF Drives Forward Modern Apprenticeships

ASLEF has successfully negotiated a new Modern Apprenticeship in
Customer Services for school leavers with First ScotRail. This will be First ScotRail’s first recruitment drive for school leavers since the rail industry was privatised.

This Modern Apprenticeship programme is a partnership between ASLEF, Skills Development Scotland and First ScotRail.
Skills Development Scotland has provided funding towards the training costs of the apprentices.

The recruitment drive will see 12 new Modern Apprenticeship posts created. The young people who undertake this opportunity to earn and learn over an 18-month period will, upon successful completion of their Modern Apprenticeships, gain guaranteed permanent posts with First ScotRail.

In addition to undertaking the SVQ Level 2 Modern Apprenticeship in Customer Services, the apprentices will also embark on a Duke of Edinburgh Award which will provide them with the opportunity to work directly with communities and go on an outward-bound team building course.

ASLEF will also utilise the Rail Union Learning Centre at Stow College to provide the apprentices with career building skills such as CV writing, completing job applications and interview skills. Jim Baxter, ASLEF Project Worker, said, “We see this not only as a benefit to the apprentices and the trade unions within the rail industry, but also to the rail industry itself.”

For information on Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland, contact Tommy Breslin, Development Officer, at tbreslin@stuc.org.uk

Friday, 27 May 2011

The worrying durability of crank ideas

There are some ideas which should put their proponents beyond the bounds of sensible policy debate forevermore. The best example is supply side economics (encapsulated by the Laffer curve and the foundation stone of Reagan’s ‘voodoo economics’): the proposition that in each and every circumstance, tax cuts always pay for themselves and therefore do not need to be offset by spending cuts. There is no evidence in support of this proposition and libraries full of evidence to the contrary.  Anyone subscribing to supply-side economics – step forward the Institute of Directors, Taxpayers Alliance and most of the Tory party! – should be summarily banished from any forum from which they might, just might, influence public policy in Scotland.

Another such idea, one that resurfaced just this week in COSLA’s shameless submission to the McCormac review, that should be labelled ‘CRANK’ and quickly consigned to the policy dustbin is performance related pay for teachers. This exhibits all the characteristics of a classic zombie idea: it is murdered time and time again by the sheer weight of evidence rallied against it but somehow still manages to get stagger back to its feet. How interesting that it is COSLA offering the helping hand.

Just over two years ago, one of Scotland’s most renowned entrepreneurs was to be found on the front page of the Sunday Herald pontificating (through a ‘spokesman’ of course) on the merits of introducing performance related pay into the Scottish education system. What sound evidential basis underpinned this strident call? Er, well…’everywhere else in the world, from commerce to government is subject to incentivisation. Why not teaching?’

Convinced? Me neither. Did the entrepreneur stop to consider where performance related pay actually works and where it fails or was it a case of ‘it exists therefore it must work’? Did he even think about the assumptions underlying his case? Of course, he didn’t – he is extremely wealthy and therefore indulged; even when spouting demonstrable nonsense. We in the trade union movement are however forced by prevailing orthodoxy to be somewhat more rigorous; so let’s provide COSLA and our buccaneering entrepreneur with the benefit of our hard work.

As with most management issues – and this is fundamentally a management issue – it makes sense to turn to the doyens of evidence based management, Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. What they have to say on this might surprise some people:

Merit pay for teachers is an idea that is almost 100 years old and has been subject to much research’. Wow. However, ‘before revealing the results of all that research…we can illustrate how you can figure out if merit pay will or won’t work, and the conditions under which it will or won’t, simply by listing the assumptions inherent in virtually all teacher pay-for–performance plans’. Shockeroonie!  The Profs are asking us to think about a situation logically and suggesting that the process might reveal some important truths! Hard taskmasters these boys.

Anyway, what are the assumptions to which they refer (quoting at length here which  always makes me a bit uncomfortable – buy the profs’ books people! Money well spent I can assure you):

  • Teacher motivation is a, perhaps the, determinant of student learning and achievement. (Because merit pay is focused on teachers and administrators – not, for instance, on parents or even students – the presumption must be that teachers and other school personnel are the primary causal agents in learning);

  • Learning can be measured reliably and accurately by a test given once a year, or less (success, as defined by these plans, is almost always assessed by standardised test scores).

  • Teachers are motivated largely, or at least significantly, by financial incentives; so pay for performance will induce greater and more effective effort.

  • Teaching is a solo activity – there is little interdependence with others in the school. Many plans reward only individual teachers; there is no incentive to cooperate or share with others; and some plans reward teachers for hoarding knowledge in a competition with peers.

See anything wrong with these assumptions? The profs list a few rather obvious problems:

  • Is teaching likely to be a career choice for those motivated primarily by financial reward? Really?
  • How important is teacher motivation to student achievement? Some other factors likely to exert not inconsiderable influence on achievement include: teacher skill (unaffected by merit pay), parental involvement, the child/student’s home environment, the quality of facilities and resources, parental education and income and so on.
  • Is peer support and learning from colleagues important in affecting teacher performance? If so, will incentive structures which necessarily undermine cooperative working harm the quality of teaching? Think about it.
  • What are the consequences of measuring and rewarding student performance on a set of standardised tests?

As the Profs conclude, ‘You don’t have to read the evidence from literally decades of research to spot the problems with merit pay for schoolteachers. That evidence shows that merit pay plans seldom last longer than five years and that merit pay consistently fails to improve student performance. The very logic of merit pay for teachers suggests that it won’t do what it is intended to do, or do it very well. Moreover, the signal that all that matters is student test scores and the provision of rewards for improving those scores provides an incentive for some teachers to game the system’ (i.e. it provides a very strong incentive to cheat. Research into the effectiveness of merit pay systems led directly to the dismissal of several principals and teachers in Chicago).

The profs argue that the use of financial incentives is a subject filled with ideology and belief – and that many of those beliefs have little or no evidence to support them. They note that many of the best performing companies have relatively flat pay distributions – ‘by sending the signal that performance is a collective, not just an individual, endeavour, those companies are more likely to induce thought, creativity and effort on the part of their people’. Merit pay is likely to work only where the tasks are readily learned and have little or no interdependence with other employees, where it is easy to measure and monitor quality and where employee goals are unambiguous and one-dimensional. The classic case of a merit pay system that worked was Ed Lazear’s study of Safelite Glass in Columbus, Ohio – installers of automobile glass. It is difficult to imagine an enterprise further removed from the education of our young people.

Before sounding off about matters on which they are hopelessly ignorant, perhaps COSLA and our entrepreneur friend should have interrogated both the intellectual foundations and real world successes of performance related pay. The story revealed would be somewhat different to the oh-so-predictable conclusion that performance related pay systems should be inflicted on the education system. In most modern workplaces, characterised by complexity and high levels of interdependence, there is no evidence to show that performance related pay achieves anything beyond incentivising bankers to disguise risk as value creation. On the contrary, research on motivation at work emphatically confirms the 50 year old dictum of psychologist Frederick Herzburg: if you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do.

And isn’t it interesting that those who continually preach austerity for the public sector would happily saddle the education system with the enormous transaction costs of designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating a performance related pay system of extremely dubious benefit.

We desperately require a new way of dealing with policy cranks in Scotland. You believe in the Laffer Curve? OK, then go away silly person and never return. You are embarrassingly ignorant -  and we do not allow embarrassingly ignorant people anywhere near public policy. You believe in performance related pay for teachers? Then you have clearly not taken the time to consider even the basic logic of your argument. You are lazy and dangerous. Go away. Read a book. And leave policy development to those with a concentration span of more than 10 seconds.

Stephen Boyd - STUC

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Truth about Internships

Many politicians from across the political spectrum are starting to highlight internships as a reasonably good solution to the problem of youth unemployment.  After-all they help businesses by giving them an extra pair of hands and they help young people gain some much needed experience and show a ‘can-do’ attitude to other potential employers. So while everyone might prefer full-time, paid, permanent employment, internships are increasingly being seen as a valid starting point in a young person’s career, particularly young graduates.
Behind all of this thinking, there is a general assumption that if you employ someone and call them an ‘intern’ you don’t have to pay them and you can ask them to do pretty much whatever you want. Many interns end up working long hours and taking on a significant amount of responsibility, despite receiving little more than travel expenses and in many cases no remuneration at all.
But this assumption is simply untrue.
There is no reason to believe that minimum wage legislation does not apply to interns. If an intern is carrying out work of value for the employer, the likelihood is they should be being paid. Basically an unpaid internship is legitimate only if it involves shadowing and other such learning activities, the minute it begins to look like a job within the organisation employment rights kick in – even if the intern has signed a contract saying they will accept only expenses.  
Today the National Union of Journalists won a case which illustrates this precise point.   
The NUJ and Thompson’s Lawyers supported the case of Keri Hudson, 21, who had worked as an unpaid intern at the My Village Website in late 2010.
The tribunal heard that she had worked each day from 10am – 6pm and had personally been responsible for, and in charge of, a team of writers, training and delegating tasks, collecting briefs, scheduling articles and even hiring new interns. Despite this the company had told her she was not eligible for any pay because they considered her an intern.
In her evidence Keri Hudson said she had been asked when the site was taken over by TPG Web Publishing Ltd if she would stay on and work for the new company. She was assured her pay would be fixed. After 5 more weeks she was informed she would not now be receiving a payment for the work she carried out – she resigned and took out a grievance.
The tribunal found she was a worker in law even though she didn’t have a written contract and was therefore entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
This case shows that interns have rights and employers should not simply assume that they don’t.
This is not the first case of its kind and unions across the UK have been challenging the use of unpaid interns for a number of years now. Despite this there is a general misunderstanding about the law and how it applies to interns on the part of employers and interns are often unaware of their rights at work.
For more information on the rights of interns see the TUC’s dedicated website www.rightsforinterns.org.uk
Helen Martin- STUC  

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Royal George Hotel and the BNP

On the subject of fair hotels, it has been brought to our attention that the Royal George Hotel in Perth recently allowed the BNP to use their conference facilities to launch their Scottish manifesto.
The STUC will be writing to the Royal George Hotel in order to find out how they came to take a booking from the BNP and whether they are likely to take a booking from this organisation again in the future.  Depending on their response, we will then consider whether it is appropriate to ask our affiliated trade unions and their members to undertake a boycott of this hotel.
From a quick look at the hotel’s website it is apparent that the Royal George is also often used as a conference venue by the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. So we will also consider writing to these political parties to make sure they are aware of the situation and to ask them to consider using an alternative venue in the future.
Helen Martin- STUC.    

Fair hotels

Check out the Irish trade union initiative to drive some fairness and trade union recognition into the hotel sector in Ireland. The ICTU is promoting the use of union organised hotels both for union events and for personal use by union members.

Hotels in Scotland continue to be one of the least unionised sectors with consequential low pay and, often, poor employment practices.  In the worst cases ‘per room’ pay rates are used to effectively circumvent minimum wage legislation and even where experiences are better, the Living Wage of £7.15 per hour is the exception rather than the norm.

STUC will shortly be publishing a checklist for progressive organisations which wish to inquire about the pay and employment practices of hotels before deciding where to site major events and conferences.

Meanwhile the Irish are well ahead of the curve.  Make sure you stay in a fair hotel next time you visit Ireland.

Dave Moxham

Monday, 16 May 2011

Your rights as a Modern Apprentice

Scottish Union Learning has now published a new pamphlet called ‘Your Rights as a Modern Apprentice’.

New employees in any workplace are vulnerable and should be made aware of their rights.  There is a need for Modern Apprentices to be aware of issues pertinent to their new roles as employees, particularly for younger workers who may be experiencing the world of work for the first time.

This important pamphlet provides information on workplace rights to which all Modern Apprentices in Scotland are entitled. The pamphlet may be useful to all those who are undertaking, or considering undertaking, a Modern Apprenticeship. It may also be useful to union reps that have Modern Apprentices within their workplaces.

The pamphlet provides answers to important questions including:
·        What is a Modern Apprenticeship?
·        What do Modern Apprenticeships offer?
·        What are Everyday Skills?
·        What are Modern Apprentices entitled to?
·        How much do you get paid?

There is also information on how to join a union, support for redundancy, and terms and conditions of employment.

‘Your Rights as a Modern Apprentice’ can be downloaded from the Scottish Union Learning website by visiting http://www.scottishunionlearning.com/files/MAP/MAP-Your-Rights-Apr-2011.pdf.

To request paper copies and further information on the Modern Apprenticeship Project, email Tommy Breslin at tbreslin@stuc.org.uk.