WALTER CRONXITE reports on a flagship employment scheme from Tony Newman’s Labour council which local trades unionists have criticised for failing to recognise … trades unions
All is not well in the local Labour movement, after a senior Croydon trades union official expressed serious concerns about the launch of a Good Employer Charter.
The Charter is the latest council style-over-substance stunt, to be launched on Thursday. Already it has significant businesses such as IKEA and Dotmailer on board, along with more than 20 other local employers.
The Charter will have the council declare as “Good Employers” those organisations who pay the London Living Wage (currently £9.75 per hour); who look at interviewing local people for jobs; who buy locally; and who are committed to “promoting equality and diversity”.
The trouble is that some within Croydon Labour feel that the two councillors leading on the scheme, ambitious Oxford graduate Jamie Audsley and public school-educated Hamida Ali, for all their good intentions, have forgotten that theirs is supposed to be a party of labour and the trade union movement.
The council leader, Tony Newman, likes to boast of his, “Labour Council bringing thousands of new jobs to Croydon”, though it is hard to substantiate such a claim.
It is clear that many jobs already in Croydon are of such a low quality that the council feels it necessary to ask employers to start paying a decent wage in return for the Town Hall saying that they are on its little list of nice people. There will be stickers, and doubtless gold stars and T-shirts, for those employers who are on their best behaviour. Not that the council has enough staff to check or police its own schemes.
It’s all a bit like Newman’s posturing over making Croydon a London Living Wage borough, where the council insists that its contractors and suppliers should pay a decent salary. It sounds great, but the reality is that the pay stipulation only applies to new contracts, and cannot be imposed on existing contractors.
A cannier operator than Newman might have used the leverage of a £3million loan of public cash to Boxpark to insist on higher employment standards among the 40-or-so food and drink outlets taking up residency alongside East Croydon last year. But the council admits that it has no idea whatsoever whether any of the Boozepark businesses pay the Living Wage.
By the start of 2017, two months after the council-funded venue opened, Boxpark itself was still not registered as a London Living Wage employer, and was resorting to wordplay to exploit the law and recruit on pay well below the required level. There has not been a word of condemnation from Newman and his Progress clique.
And now, it seems that several Croydon Labour members, including local union leadership, have also seen through the worthy vacuity of the toothless Good Employer scheme.
The union members have been telling group meetings that a Labour council’s solution to the problem of low-paid jobs should be to demand that employers to commit to allowing trades union recognition and collective bargaining rights.
They also want employers to publish proof that they are providing equal pay for women.
Some are not clear whether the Croydon employers who do not apply to the council to be accredited as “good” will, by definition, be “bad”.
Getting more decent jobs in Croydon might be a good target as well, because based on the statistics that are available, our borough is struggling badly.
The Office for National Statistics figures for jobs in Croydon are only available up to April 2015, just one year into Labour running the council. There have been some encouraging signs. Superdrug are sprucing up a local office building to run their British operation from Croydon. As Inside Croydon has reported, the tax department HMRC is due to move into the Stanhope-built Ruskin Square offices by East Croydon Station.
But the ONS figures show that employment overall in Croydon is well below where it was at the beginning of the century. While Greater London’s employment has ballooned by 21per cent since 2000, in Croydon local jobs were down by 11per cent.
In the 10 years from 1998 to 2008, Croydon lost 10,500 private sector jobs, under Tory and Labour council leaders that included Tony Newman.
In 2000 there were 73 local jobs available for every 100 Croydon local residents. That rate had collapsed to 58 per 100 by 2015, seven years after the global economic crash.
Outsourcing abroad of the kind of back-office jobs that had boosted Croydon’s skyscraper economy from the 1960s has really hurt the local employment market.
Key employers Direct Line, Bank of America and Nestle have all left town. Nestle left in 2012 after the then council chief executive, Jon Rouse, antagonised the multi-national who were seeking better quality offices within the borough. Insufficient investment to replace run-down 1960s office block buildings has also discouraged other employers from staying in Croydon or moving to the borough.
According to ONS figures to April 2015, Croydon-based private sector jobs only went up to 94,315 from a post-financial crisis level of 92,737 jobs at April 2010.
In the 2010 General Election, Tory candidate Gavin Barwell promised to bring government departments and their jobs from Whitehall to Croydon. What has happened has been the opposite: public sector jobs fell precipitately in Croydon over the five years to 2015, from 29,568 to 23,335.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that people are sceptical about politicians and promises on jobs.
Of course, riding to the rescue with the promise of 5,000 jobs is Westfield. But they are still well out of sight over the horizon, the £1.4billion mega-mall not due to open for five years, and still no clarity on quite what calibre of jobs the shopping centre developers and their partners, Hammerson, anticipate providing. The guess is that it will be largely retail and bar work.
In any case, the mega-mall jobs will barely make up for the employment opportunities which have been lost in Croydon since 2010. The local employment market lost nearly 1,000 jobs each year of David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition. Which is perhaps an explanation of why Barwell almost lost his Croydon Central seat.
But locally, Labour has been in control for three years. Croydon Council is the borough’s biggest employer, with a workforce of more than 10,000, including teachers. Newman and his Progress-supporting clique which controls the Labour group has done little since 2014 to reverse the Tory trend of reducing council employee numbers until the staff has been cut to the bone.
Fisher’s Folly, the council offices, does now display some colourful London Living Wage stickers, though. Which is nice. Perhaps Newman can find a few council employees who still have access a desk, a phone and some spare time to conduct some work that goes beyond logos and slogans, and ensure that the thousands of jobs that he says are coming to the borough are not only in zero hours, part-time and low-paid positions with uncertain or no career prospects and few employee rights.
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