Glasgow City Council's "arms length" company attacks unions

Submitted by Matthew on 24 June, 2010 - 12:05 Author: Ann Field

Set up as an “arms length” company by Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council in 2006, City Building (Glasgow) LLP (formerly the council’s Building Services Department) has enjoyed a large amount of salacious press coverage in recent months.

It began with the revelation that since 2006 City Building had awarded £10 millions worth of contracts to City Refrigeration Holdings Ltd whose founder and boss, Willie Haughey, has donated over £1 million to Labour since 2003 — the biggest donor to Labour in Scotland.

In the same period City Refrigeration won just one other public contract — a slightly more modest £15,000 contract with South Lanarkshire Council.

City Building had also awarded contracts of unknown values to AS Scaffolding, whose boss, Andrew Smillie, has donated over £1,000 to Glasgow Central Labour Party. The company donated nearly £3,500 to the campaign by Andy Kerr MSP to become Labour Group leader at Holyrood, and paid around £1,500 for Kerr’s trip to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester.

City Building — which has three Labour councillors on its Board, and the husband of another Labour councillor as its Managing Director — has donated £4,000 to the Labour Party by “buying”tables at Labour Party fund-raising dinners, and had also paid £50,000 for hiring exhibition space at Labour Party conferences.

Then the spotlight turned on City Building’s appointment of Lesley Quinn as Business Development Manager, on a salary of around £50,000 a year. Quinn used to be the Scottish Labour Party’s General Secretary. The post had not been advertised prior to her appointment. She is not known to have any previous experience in the field of business development.

More recently, attention has switched to City Building’s hospitality bill: £50,000 over the past two years, spent mainly to the benefit of senior managers, their spouses, and Labour councillors.

What has been given a lot less attention in the media, however, are the attacks on trade union organisation in the City Building workforce.

In May 2009 City Building signed a union recognition agreement which confirmed five days a week facility time for the Unite and UCATT convenors. But in February 2010, without giving the notice required by the agreement, City Building announced that facility time would be cut to two days a week.

When the Unite convenor refused to accept this, City Building began paying him for just two days a week, on the grounds that he had failed to return to his former job as a plumber for three days, and was therefore “really” only working two days a week.

In April an Employment Tribunal ruled on an outstanding case involving Unite, City Building and Glasgow City Council, dating back to the transfer of staff from the council workforce to City Building. In its judgement the Tribunal stated that it did not believe the evidence put forward by the Unite witnesses, including its City Building convenor.

City Building provided a link on its website to the judgement and issued a letter to its staff claiming that the Tribunal’s judgement showed that City Building could not have any confidence in the integrity of the Unite convenor. The letter appealed to Unite members to vote the sitting convenor out of office.

In response to the refusal of Unite members to allow City Building to dictate who should, or should not, be their convenor, City Building then banned the Unite convenor from its premises, placed him on “gardening leave”, and cut his pay from two days a week to nothing.

Two very basic questions remain unanswered: Why has the Labour-controlled City Council, which still maintains ultimate responsibility for City Building (as an “arms length” company) done nothing to reverse this attack on trade union rights by the Board of City Building?

And why has Unite not only failed to organise a ballot on industrial action in defence of trade unionism in City Building, but has also done nothing to expel Gerry Leonard — the Unite member who, as chair of the City Building Board, presided over this attack on fellow members of his union?

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