COVID- 19 in Chile: Free all political prisoners now!

89495436_144777357003257_5729098756360503296_nPlease consider passing a motion at branch meetings, sending an email/letter as below and circulating this further in the union and beyond.

Model letter/email

Chilean Embassy in London: embachile@embachile.co.uk

Consulate:   londres@consulado.gob.cl

Chilean Judiciary: jabbott@minpublico.cl

Address to:

Mr. Sebastián Piñera Echeñique , President of the Republic of Chile

Mr. Jorge Abott Charme National Prosecutor of the Public Ministry

The undersigned members of the (union, party, entity, individual)

__________________________________________

We are aware of the preventive detention of 2,500 political prisoners in Chile.  According to all the reports of the health authorities if overcrowding is not avoided and basic sanitary measures are not strictly followed, we will have to regret many deaths. The report of the Judicial Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Chile states that overcrowding of prisons has become a time bomb.

We ask that you urgently release them all political prisoners who are currently in preventive detention, and instruct that they continue to comply with the Precautionary Measure in their homes with their families, in order to save lives.

Sincerely etc

Name etc.

—————————————————————————————————————-

 Background

Despite the fact that the pandemic slowed the process of the recent street mobilisation in Chile, the political and social contradictions continue to exist. One of the main ones is that of political prisoners who number 2,500 in preventive jail, that is, they have not been convicted of any crime, but the Chilean State has arbitrarily decided to keep them in prison as they consider them “dangerous for society”.

There is a blockade in the mass media. We must counter this blockade. Today, the thousands of families and activists who refuse to accept prison and the danger of contagion are in an isolated battle against the Chilean state as a whole. The left in general have forgotten the thousands of political prisoners.

We must continue to defend the Chilean labour movement. We cannot forget that the imprisonment of more than 2,500 activists is the product of facing one of the most bloodthirsty, repressive apparatuses in Latin America, which have already killed more than 30 comrades and mutilated more than 400 with shots in the eyes.

Although our focus here is a campaign for Chilean prisoners, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is part of a general campaign for the freedom of political prisoners and the cessation of persecution throughout the world.

The coronavirus has already started spread in the prisons. There are several cases in the Puente Alto prison and also in the San Miguel women’s prison. This is very serious because the expansion of the virus in the confinement situation of prisons can be very rapid, and there are no health conditions to face an epidemic of cases. There have been protests by prisoners in some of the cells of the Santiago 1 prison, where they refuse to eat the food from the prison and demand that they let food from their relatives enter and send them home from prison.

The government, together with the majority of the parliament, proposed a law to change those aged over 75 who have not committed “serious” crimes to house arrest. This sparked a debate with the far right sectors of parliament demanding that the measures also be for those convicted of human rights crimes. A process was recently started to free 17 prisoners accused of committing human rights crimes.

The Organisation of Family and Friends of Political Prisoners (OFAPP) have raised the following demands:

  • That the State of Chile, placing above all the protection of human life, change immediately the precautionary measure of Preventive Prison to total House Arrest for all Political Prisoners of the Revolt. The President of the Republic, given the state of emergency entering the country, has the power to manage a bill that allows the change of precautionary measures.
  • We demand that the powers of the State (executive, judicial and legislative) contribute in an effective and timely manner so that the Political Prisoners comply with the investigation period of their judicial processes in their homes, which also contributes to the reduction of overcrowding levels of the penitentiary facilities.
  • We demand that national and international human rights organisations and institutions demonstrate and publicly propose measures that protect the lives of political prisoners regarding the imminent contagion with the Covid-19 virus.
  • In this way, the Association of Relatives and Friends of Political Prisoners (OFAPP), makes the State of Chile directly responsible for the imminent risk to which our family and friends are exposed. We strongly express our just concern for the lives of the Political Prisoners who are in the country’s prisons.

 

 

Reinstate Percy Now!

image-assetPercy is a cleaner at King’s college with 5 years on the job, and a UVW executive committee member, who’s been sacked after a disciplinary hearing he refused to attend due to observing the government’s social distancing guidelines but which King’s College proceeded with anyway in his absence without even letting him know or inviting him to attend via phone.

The hearing would have had 8 people cramped together in a small room in complete disregard of the government’s instructions about social distancing.

Percy has explained the reaons for not attending and asked for the decision to be overturned and the hearing to be reconvened via phone or in person after Lockdown.

However, King’s have scandalously refused this request and have insisted on upholding his dismissal which now leaves Percy out of work and out of pocket in the middle of a pandemic!

He will formally appeal but it could take months to hear and deliver an outcome. We will also take King’s to tribunal but that could take over a year.

This is utterly shameless conduct by King’s HR team.

They need to be held to account.

Everyone deserves the right to a fair hearing and should not have that right denied them for respecting the government’s public health guidelines about social distancing.

Text from UVW Twitter

Please write to Christopher Wellcome as below at the following address telling him to reinstate Percy and circulate this notice in the union and beyond:

Model email


To: Christopher.welcome@kcl.ac.uk
Subject: Reinstate Percy Now

Dear Mr Wellcome,

I am writing on behalf of [union/branch/organisation] to register our dismay about the dismissal of Percy, a member of the cleaning staff at King’s College London. 

As we understand it, King’s have summarily dismissed Percy following his non-attendance at a disciplinary hearing. Some questions need to be answered with urgency:

1)        Why was King’s attempting to hold a disciplinary meeting in the first place? In the midst of an epidemic, frontline workers like cleaning staff should be offered unconditional support and solidarity, not faced with punitive disciplinary action.

2)        What material conditions have been put in place to ensure the health and wellbeing of the cleaning staff at King’s College London? We note with extreme concern that by the 14th March – when all college buildings were still operational – there were at least five confirmed cases at King’s.

3)        Given the presence of covid-19 among the community at King’s, why didn’t the disciplinary meeting conform to social distancing guidelines? Why weren’t alternatives put in place, for example to hold the meeting via phone?

This failure of communication indicates to us a broader failure of communication around the covid-19 outbreak. We understand that members of staff at Kings– from cleaners to lecturers – have been justifiably alarmed about their working conditions. To hold a meeting in Percy’s absence and to terminate his contract is at the least disrespectful, and in the current climate strikes us as cruel and entirely unnecessary.

We note here that Percy was a prominent campaigner for the movement of the cleaning staff to become in-house employees of King’s. To be rewarded like this for his efforts reflects extremely badly on the University. The trade union movement are publicising Percy’s case and stand in solidarity with him and his colleagues.

We urge you to reinstate Percy with immediate effect.

Sincerely,

On behalf of [union/branch/organisation]

Office Closures impact DWP’s COVID-19 response

A member of PCS Independent Left who is active in DWP writes about the need to use the COVID-19 crisis to challenge cuts and closures.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that there is very little slack in the DWP and its ability to respond to such crises is thrown into sharp relief. This isn’t any wonder when you consider that the department’s budget has been cut from £9.1 billion in 2009-10 to £6.1 billion in 2019-20.

Also the flexible nature of the UK economy, zero hours contracts, millions of workers categorized as self-employed, precarious work etc, has meant employers have dodged their responsibilities to pay their employees sick pay and endangered all of us by forcing people that do not need to go to work, to go, otherwise they may have no money to feed themselves and their families.

Almost an extra 1 million claims to Universal Credit were made in the first two weeks of the crisis. Normally 4,000 claims are made each day. DWP has started to recruit in order to deal with the claims. We are told that staffing will be increased by roughly 10%. East London is one of the areas that has been given permission to go first at it has seen the greatest impact in terms of claims and staff going off.

DWP has recently closed the Balham Processing centre which housed 228 staff.

These staff could have helped process the outstanding claims. Management are pressing ahead with the closure of the Stratford, Hackney and Watford processing centres, meaning there will be no Universal Credit processing centres in London.

Management are proposing to site the new staff in Jobcentres, despite the fact that PCS has raised concerns about overcrowding and social distancing, and they are refusing to post new staff to benefit centres, where there is more space. The reason for this? They are still planning to go ahead with the closures so if they put new staff in the centres and then close them, that is more staff they will have to re-deploy or pay redundancy.

London regional officials have raised this matter with the DWP Group office only to be told it has already been raised with the employer. We are not told what the employers’ response is and members have not been informed that this has been raised. This is an issue PCS needs to go on the offensive about. When DWP and the Government tell us we are key workers, they are right. The case for more service centres to cope precisely with this sort of an emergency will be a very easy one to make post-crisis.

PCS pushes HSE over COVID-19 enforcement

A PCS Independent Left activist discusses the work being done to pressure the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.

Should HSE be using the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) to enforce on COVID-19 risks in the workplace?

YES, we believe it should.

In 2003 HSE published guidance on controlling the risks of infection at work, which can be found here.  Specifically, at paragraph 6 the document states:

‘Although your employees may well pick up infections from workmates (just as they might from their friends and family outside work) – these infections are not your responsibility under health and safety law. This is because the infection is just as likely to be caught outside the workplace as in it.’

This guidance was written for circumstances where government had not imposed restrictions on movement.

The current government restrictions on movement of individuals mean that when followed the infection is now less likely to be caught outside the workplace.  That is the whole point of the new restrictions.

HSWA provides for enforcement on the basis of exposure to risk, not on the basis of any actual harm, or any causal link between the risk and the harm.  This is particularly true when pursuing health related risks such as infections, legionella or hand arm vibration.

HSE enforces in cases where a risk is not created by the workplace, but where the nature of the workplace increases the risk of exposure.  For instance, exposure to sunlight for workers in the construction and agricultural sectors where the conduct of the business means workers have to work outside. In this current situation, it is the way that the employer organises the work that creates the risk: lack of provision of hand washing facilities that are adequate for this situation, inadequate cleaning regimes, and poor arrangements for travel to sites, use of changing rooms and mess facilities to allow distancing. Where that risk can be managed, we can have no objection from a HSWA perspective, and whether the undertaking is essential or not is a public health matter.

There has been a lot of external noise on this issue from politicians, journalists and trade unions, including a letter to the HSE from the STUC.

PCS HSE National branch along with Prospect and FDA have tried to discuss this with HSE.  A joint letter sent from all three unions to HSE on 25 March 2020 and a further letter was sent 30 March 2020.

Attending workplaces increases the risk of exposure to COVID-19, especially whilst workers in non-essential industry continue to be forced to use crowded public transport and then work at close proximity on building sites, in factories and in call centres.

That brings the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace legitimately within scope of HSWA and HSE’s enforcement remit and PCS must keep pushing for action.

PCS National Elections – Nominate Independent Left

As we enter PCS’s Annual General Meeting season, we are asking members and supporters to nominate PCS Independent Left candidates at their AGM.

Our candidates are as follows:

President
Bev Laidlaw, DWP

Vice-Presidents
Bryan Carlsen, HSE
Phil Dickens, HMRC
Chris Marks, DWP
Paulette Romain, DfT

NEC
Tom Bishell, DWP; Bryan Carlsen, HSE; Ralph Corrigan, PSg
Phil Dickens, R&C; Chris Hickey, MHCLG; Karen Johnson, MHCLG
Bev Laidlaw, DWP; Charlie McDonald, DWP; Chris Marks, DWP
Paulette Romain, DfT; Gilaine Young, Highways

You can download a leaflet to print and distribute in support of our nominations here.

John Moloney: First 12 Weeks

Having been elected as Assistant General Secretary earlier this year, John Moloney formally took up post on 1 July. In line with his election pledge, he donates most of his salary to the union’s Fighting Fund and only takes a worker’s wage. This report covers some of the work he has been doing whilst in receipt of that wage.

Government Estates Strategy (GES)

The GES is going to have an enormous impact upon our union, whether we like it or not. The government wants to dramatically reduce the size of its estate and co-locate Departments in regional Hubs, which presents a broad set of challenges for PCS.

John has made a number of pushes since taking up office to re-establish regular meetings with the Cabinet Office over the GES, which haven’t happened for more than a year. He has also written to the Government Property Agency, the body which will ultimately control all areas of the Estate, to set out the terms on which PCS expects to engage with them, and used Freedom of Information requests in order to map out what the Estate is likely to look like when the GES comes to fruition.

This is only a snapshot, but there is much more to be done. This will include getting to grips with how our structures adapt to the organisational challenges of multi-occupied sites, as well as organising a broader challenge to the GES itself. However, we believe that positive progress is starting to be made and we now have something to build upon.

Health and Safety

PCS’s national health and safety structures have been moribund for several years. John is aiming to revive them, and a health and safety culture more broadly, and work on this has begun in earnest with endorsement from the NEC. John’s office has set up a PCS Facebook page for Health and Safety reps, or PCS reps interested in Health and Safety issues, to begin to engage with our structures and improve communications. They will also establish a quarterly H&S bulletin with engagement from reps determining and building content over time. There will be a national health and safety inspection week in early 2020 – to be used to coordinate inspections, develop best practice, highlight issues and provide guidance for branches, and a national Health and Safety seminar for 28th March 2020.

The NEC will be re-engaging the Cabinet Office concerning the “Whitehall Studies.” These studies show that there is an inverse relationship between grade and health. In broad terms this means the lower the grade, on average the higher the sick rate and death rate. Thus, seemingly neutral measures such as sick trigger points will disproportionately impact the lower grades. The same is true for pension age changes.

John will seek to ensure that there be a health, safety and welfare work stream as part of the new consultation arrangements concerning the GES. He will consult with groups and safety reps to produce model agreements/common aims on health and safety to take to the employer nationally. He will also explore with the Labour front bench draft agreements on national policies concerning health and safety and workers’ rights.

Facilities Management Workers

A big area of work for the union is outsourced Facilities Management (FM) workers on the Government Estate, such as cleaners, caterers, porters, security and so on. The plight of these workers has been pushed into the spotlight by the excellent work that has led to high-profile disputes at HMRC on Merseyside and BEIS and the FCO in London.

John was keen from the start to not impose a strategy from the top down on this area. As such, the papers that have gone to the NEC have been put together in consultation with the lay activists directly involved in this work, whilst the strategy itself was the result of an open discussion by the NEC rather than a closed debate around a pre-determined approach.

The union is extremely limited in that the full-time resources for this area are, frankly, nil. However, as the work on the ground will ultimately fall to branch activists, this does force the NEC to focus on how they develop and extend that lay resource and infrastructure, which will if done right put PCS in a better position.

Commercial Sector

John also has responsibility for PCS’s Commercial Sector. Broadly speaking, this means the big private companies which provide IT and other support to the Government and its Departments. He has opened up a dialogue with the Commercial Sector about the ways in which they believe that their structure and their relationship to the wider union needs to change, in the hopes that this is something he can ask the NEC to look at.

Working with Mark Serwotka

Since taking up post John has met with Mark, as the incumbent General Secretary, every week. He continues to raise ideas to him and work with him as constructively as possible. This isn’t just because he has known Mark for several decades; it is how he believes the business of the union should be conducted.

During the AGS election campaign, which in some quarters ran the better part of a year, it became apparent that certain parts of the union’s full-time apparatus could not work together. This is, frankly, a nonsense that runs counter to any notion of a rational union. The full-time apparatus exists to serve the lay structures and, primarily, the membership. It cannot do that if it is at war with itself.

John stood for the AGS position as a member of the PCS Independent Left (IL). He remains a member of the IL and as such will be supporting Bev Laidlaw in the General Secretary election. This doesn’t mean that he won’t work with or talk to Mark or, hopefully, vice versa, because that isn’t good for our membership. If asked to choose between a vibrant union democracy where all positions are contested freely and a union where representatives and officials are able to get on and work together, the correct answer is that any rational union is capable of both.

Ways to Improve Our Union

Since taking up office, John hasn’t created an earthquake. However, he has helped to shift the conversation about how our union is run and to improve things where he is able. How we improve our union is a conversation many lay activists are, rightly, engaged in. One of the things that John wants to define his time in post is that he is always open to discussing such ideas, and will do what he can to raise and advance them within the union structure.