Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A shocking distortion of the Equal Pay law

The bin strike in Leeds rumbles on, now in its eighth week, even the Prime Minister has called for both sides to find a solution to end the dispute for the people of Leeds whose overflowing bins are bringing both misery and health concerns, amid fears it could continue to Christmas.

But the issue is not simply a pay-cut issue in difficult economic times, although it is reported that the council wish to cut workers' pay by a third in a wage barely over £17000 per year. The council have argued that due to Equal Pay legislation and job evaluation exercises, they have assessed the role as equivalent to that of women doing a less well paid role and rather than raising women's pay, they want to cut the pay of (mainly male) refuse workers instead. This is a gross misapplication of the Equal Pay ethos which is designed to address the endemic failure in society to pay women the same rate as men. Equal Pay provided legal means to ensure that 'women's work' can be raised to its appropriate standing and tackle inequality.

This is then an abuse of the spirit of the law which is intended to protect women, providing a callous pay-cut justification to a council wishing to save money, so hundreds of men will suffer as a result. Not only are their wages being cut but at the same time society is sending them a message about their worth and value at a time when it should be helping those on low pay to remain in their homes and to keep the economy moving.

But of equal concern is how the laws intended to provide equality to women are being subverted. So along with the plight of hundreds of men there is a feminist case to defend in the refuse collector's strike action. We cant allow legislation intended to raise women's pay be used to justify paying both genders the lowest common denominator.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Have We Never Had it So Good?

I cannot have been the only Assistant Principal who wondered a few weeks ago. ‘Will there be a job still for me in the 2 billion pound cuts of the future?’Ed Balls has said that money will be saved by cutting bureaucracy and creating school federations - reducing the number of senior leaders. Jobs, he has said, will be lost through ‘natural wastage’. For the first time the recession that has been so real for architect and banker friends threatens to impact on us in the sheltered public sector. Eek.

As a historian I find it fascinating to think about how the present will be viewed in the future. Will the Naughties be the time ‘we never had it so good’. It is easy to forget the changes we have witnessed. Some are huge whilst others are little ideas that have made a big difference.Going to school in Cardiff, the largest comprehensive in Wales, I remember the building was crumbling - the paint literally peeling off the walls. There were frequent teacher strikes and a boycott of school trips because of pay cuts. Since 1997, 4000 schools have been built, rebuilt or refurbished including four in the local area. It is now standard to have computers and interactive white boards in classrooms, smaller classes supported by teaching assistants and different activities provided in after school clubs. Have we already forgotten the days of buying our own coloured pencils and booking the TV and video for a special showing of History File?

When I started teaching I was inspired by the promise of investment in the profession both in terms of salary and status. I have been lucky enough to benefit from two professional development programmes Fast Track and now Future Leaders. Having the opportunity to visit schools in Boston as part of the programme was incredible and made me realise what was possible.Then there are the little things. Booked Up is a scheme which gives all Year 7 students a free book which they can choose. There is a well established link between poverty and low literacy levels so this scheme is a simple idea that gets children talking about books as well as the joy of owning their own copy.

So will Future Leaders programme survive the cuts? Will there be jobs for us in the senior leadership teams of the future?What is most important is that when decisions are made about how money should be saved, the most important criteria should be - how does this impact on young people? Effective leadership is essential in good schools and though it may be tempting to save cash by cutting expensive senior positions, care needs to be taken that the gains that have been made in the last decade are not squandered because ‘management’ is not a popular way to spend money.

People are the most important resource in our education system. People need to be the spending priority.

But then I would say that.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Gude Cause March in Edinburgh.

On Saturday I joined thousands of people in marching across the Meadows to mark 100years since the suffragettes took to the streets of Edinburgh. Because of course we’re still two decades off marking the centenary of women’s suffrage itself. Not until 1928 did women ‘enjoy’ the same right to vote as men.
- Could your granny vote?

In 2009, twenty general elections later, there are just 126 female MPs. 76% of which are Labour.

Rapid progress in the Blair years seemed to develop a degree of complacency about gender representation.

Just look at the Scottish Parliament results in 2007 where the total number of females slid from 39.5% to 33.3%.

The problem lay with the growing SNP back benches, filled with generic and often indistinguishable men.

In 1999, the SNP returned 43 per cent female MSPs, this dropped to 33 per cent in 2003 and again to just 25.5 per cent in 2007. Interestingly, the Labour group remained 50% men, 50% women. Why? Because women’s liberation and the fight for gender equality are causes written into the Labour movement.

Labour is the only party seriously committed to achieving gender equality amongst its Parliamentarians. Why? Because it uses methods of positive discrimination to make it so. All women shortlists are of course the most controversial of these methods and I’ve long been a defender of this process.

The most common argument I hear men make against the case for All Women Shortlists is that it should be based on merit and merit alone.

“May the best man win.” Aye, that says it all.

Of course, if I was feeling particularly flippant, I’d suggest that if political party’s selection processes were truly based on merit – both our Parliaments would look a little different.

And what say the Tories? For of course there were famously more David’s on their front bench than there were women until Mr Davis resigned.

I recently looked at the 50 most marginal seats in the UK to see what would happen to gender equality in our Parliament in the highly unlikely event of a Tory election victory. My conclusion was zero – there would be absolutely no change to the number of female MPs. Neither a cause of celebration or disdain - but stalemate is the enemy of progress.

And progress is what we need.

The pay gap, poverty, low paid jobs, maternity rights, pension rights, opportunity, education, domestic abuse are all priorities for this Government, powered by female Labour MPs.

The national minimum wage is considered one of the most significant achievements of this Labour Government, but people often forget that this policy delivered the most for women. Work that the campaign for a living wage would build on.

When Nicola Sturgeon and Johann Lamont stood in for their respective leaders at First Ministers' Questions last week, they provided one of the most energetic bouts of the parliamentary session. Yet a well known journalist of this very paper remarked that it was “like ladies day at Ascot without the hats.”

Oh how that enraged the women of Holyrood’s corridors.

The Gude Cause march was an opportunity for everyone to celebrate all that has been done to progress the cause for gender equality and reflect upon all that there is to do ahead. This video attempts to capture some of that feeling: