Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Arrogant, unbending and vengeful" - Gaddafi? No, that's a description of the French Foreign Minister!

FRANCE's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said his government would support arming the Libyan rebels against Colonel Gaddafi,lining up with the US perhaps not just on policy but for the race to influence Libya's future. With David Cameron saying Gaddafi has got to go, and unconfirmed reports that British SAS forces are already out there, the pretence about limited aims of a "no fly zone" protecting Libyan civilians seems almost forgotten.

But hearing Alain Juppe's name on the news brought to mind things that should not be forgotten. This is his second time round in the job of Foreign Minister for France. He held the same position from 1993-5. During that time Britain and France had forces under the UN flag in Bosnia, mandated to safeguard humanitarian aid routes to besieged towns and later guard so-called safe havens.

They did not favour relaxing the arms embargo to let arms through to the Bosnians. British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said it would "only create a level killing field". Even a supply of mine detectors was blocked. You could see a lot of Bosnians with legs missing.

It was Alain Juppe who accompanied Douglas Hurd to Belgrade to see Slobodan Milosevic. According to a report in Le Figaro they promised the Serb leader a free hand in eastern Bosnia. I have not seen this confirmed anywhere. But Foca and Gorazde came under siege, and then there was the massacre at Srebrenica, which had been a supposed safe haven.

After his career at the Foreign Office, Douglas -now Lord -Hurd moved into a new direction. He joined Pauline Neville-Jones, who had chaired the joint intelligence committee, at Nat West Markets. Together they went to breakfast in Belgrade and helped broker the deal for privatisation of Serbia's telecomms, for which they were well-rewarded. Dame Pauline has become Baroness Neville-Jones and is Minister for Security and counter-terrorism in David Cameron's government.

M.Juppe has had a more checqered career. From Foreign Minister he became Prime Minister, thanks perhaps to his support for Jacques Chirac in the presidential campaign. He also became leader of the Gaullist RPR. Chirac said Alain Juppé was "the best among us".

However, in November-December 1995, his plans to "reform" France's Welfare State caused the country's biggest wave of social unrest and strikes since May-June 1968, and he was billed the most unpopular Prime minister of the Fifth Republic. In spring 1997,the right-wing government lost the elections, and Juppe was succeeded by the Socialist Party's Lionel Jospin.

Worse was to come. The former RPR president campaigned to unite conservative parties, and became president of the Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire or UMP), and was its first president from 2002 to 2004.

But in 2004, Alain Juppé was tried for the felony of abuse of public funds, when he was head of the RPR and the party illegally used personnel provided by the City of Paris for running its operations. He was convicted and sentenced to an 18-month suspended jail sentence, the deprivation of civic rights for five years, and the deprivation of the right to run for political office for 10 years. He appealed the decision, whereby his disqualification from holding elected office was reduced to one year and the suspended sentence cut to 14 months.

Juppe considered taking an academic post in Canada while he was facing a bar from office. But in October 2006 he was re-elected Mayor of Bordeaux, a post he had held a decade earlier, and in May 2007 he was back in government, though he soon resigned again after running unsuccessfully in the 2007 legislative elections.

Though I've been surprised to hear Juppe's name again, I'm not half as surprised as the Rwandan government were when they heard he had once again become Foreign Minister. Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, has said that the appointment was a “bad surprise” for Rwanda.

The Mucyo Commission which investigated the French government's complicity in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people found that he strongly supported the forces that committed the genocide.

According to the UN, about 800,000 people, mostly members of the Tutsi minority or moderate Hutus who opposed the massacre were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994.

The Rwandan commission accused French military personnel of themselves killing Tutsis, and Hutus accused of sheltering Tutsis, and said they had left the Hutu extremist Interhamwe in charge of roadblocks where they could continue the killings. Its report named thirteen French leaders and officials as incriminated, including then president Mitterand, prime minister Edouard Balladur, and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

France's relations with Rwanda had been improving in the last year, and officials have tried to impress upon the Rwandans that Juppe is a "changed man", and anyway subordinate to Sarkozy. Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwab is not convinced. "On a personal level, his twisted Rwandan journey since 1994 has not deviated; we have been observing him, including his negative reaction to the normalization of relations between France and Rwanda.”

From Reims in France, Alain Gauthier, the president of a Paris-based genocide survivors’ advocacy group (CPCR) said Juppe’s return to a position he held from 1993 to 1995, only evokes bad memories for the victims of the 1994 Genocide.

“The man is one of those who is accused of supporting a genocidal regime, has never felt the slightest remorse or raised questions for his actions and that of the government in which he participated,” reads part of Gauthier’s statement.

“The victims of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 may legitimately fear the return of such a man in power”.

In Kigali,the Rwandan capital, Evode Kalima, a genocide survivor and MP said Juppe’s come back was a cause of concern. “His return to that position causes worry because Alain Juppe is a cunning man, who is arrogant, unbending and vengeful,”


Sounds just the man to be trusted in the leadership of a supposedly humanitarian and liberating mission

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Safety Rep in the Frontline at Fujitsu

ISSUES RESOLVED -SEE BOTTOM STOP PRESS! WORKERS at Fujtsu in Manchester are mobilising support for Phil Tepper, a UNITE member and, they say, well-respected safety representative whom the company has charged with gross misconduct. There will be a rally to back Phil Tepper when the union rep faces a hearing on Friday, which could result in his dismissal.

The Unite members say the charge against this brother entirely arises from his work as a safety rep, investigating complaints of work-related stress raised by members. "This victimisation threatens the ability of any rep to deal with any issue on behalf of any employee" says the Unite Fujitsu website.

Fujitsu is an important focus for today's trade unionism, showing it can organise in the new information-based industries with their young and relatively well-educated workforce. The Japanese owned company, providing IT services and support to industry and government, employs over 12,000 people in the UK, plus a couple of thousand temporary staff and contractors. The engineering and scientific union Amicus, now part of Unite, waged a successful fight for recognition four years ago, and has since sought ways to organise and represent agency staff. Phil Tepper has worked for over 40 years for Fujitsu, and been a highly regarded workplace and safety rep for fellow-workers for over a decade, his union colleagues say. They accuse the company of making groundless allegations against him now, despite knowing that Phil is undergoing cancer treatment. The extra stress could adversely affect his illness. The background to the current row is that two members in a department of about 30 people had complained of work-related stress and suffered long periods of sickness absence. The Health and Safety Executive has “Management Standards for work related stress” and a set of tools for measuring and identifying the root causes of work-related stress. These include an “indicator tool”, which is basically an anonymous survey.

Fujitsu’s own guidelines on stress refer to the management standards, though Unite says it is not aware of the company carrying out stress risk assessments (as it should under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations) to protect staff, either generally or in this case. Union reps supplemented the survey with four additional questions and agreed that Phil should send it out on behalf of the Safety Reps. Phil sent it out to all the team, including the managers. Neither Phil, Unite or the survey made any accusations against anyone, or ask anyone to do anything other than return the survey and encourage others to do likewise. Phil pointed out that if team members felt there were no problems, the survey would show that.

One of the team members who had raised a complaint about stress and bullying has recently been charged with gross misconduct on unrelated grounds and summarily dismissed. The union believe this decision is grossly unfair and the member is appealing against it with their support.

When the survey went out on Friday 11th March, a number of employees responded to Phil, who replied politely and professionally in each case. Phil then received an email from a senior individual in HR warning of “potential serious adverse consequences for you personally and Unite generally”, but giving no indication of what the company thought Phil had done wrong.

UNITE tried to defuse the situation with a letter on March 16, pointing out that Phil was acting entirely in accordance with his role under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, Regulation 4, “to investigate complaints by any employee he represents relating to that employee’s health, safety and welfare at work”, but nonetheless offering an apology if anyone had taken offence.

On Friday March 25 the company sent Phil, who was on annual leave, an invitation to a disciplinary hearing with a charge of gross misconduct. The central allegation was that Phil issued the survey “with the intention of inciting a campaign of bullying, harassment and victimisation” against one particular manager, though no evidence has been provided of any such campaign or of any such intention.

Unite members point out that normally allegations of "bullying etc" would be investigated first before any charges were made. They are concerned that the decision in these case to proceed against Phil Tepper seems to have been taken at the highest level. The union has asked for discussions with tghe company, and suggested involving the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advice Service, ACAS. But with the disciplinary hearing due on Friday, Unite feels it has no option but to actively defend its member. A petition is going round Fujitsu to defend Phil Tepper, and there's to be a rally at 8am on Friday outside the front of Fujitsu at Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester M40 5BP. If the hearing goes ahead supporters will gather outside at 1.55pm. Unite is asking for people prepared to act as witnesses for Phil Tepper, but it also warns that it is balloting for industrial action if the company victimises him. http://www.ourunion.org.uk/news/top.html

stop press!

Defend Phil Tepper - RESOLVED Following discussions, all issues in relation to both Phil Tepper and the member who had been dismissed have now been resolved. As a result, the protests planned for tomorrow (Friday 1st April) are cancelled and all other activities for the campaign over Phil’s case should cease. Phil would like to express his gratitude for all the kind messages he has received.

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March that says things are moving

SATURDAY'S demonstration in London was really BIG. The organisers, the TUC, had conservatively predicted 100,000. By the evening BBC reporters were saying at least 250,000, and some said it was nearly twice that number. I'm no good at sums, but I know that we moved off from the Embankment before 12 noon, and later, as the Hyde Park rally, addressed by TUC chair Brendan Barber and Labour leader Ed Milliband among others, was drawing to a close, about 4pm, the last contingents were just setting off from the start.

The biggest contingents on the march were Unison members, from hospitals and local services which are in the front line against disruption, privatisation, cuts and downright wrecking from the government. They came not just from London and the big cities but, as we saw from their proud banners, from the Royal Devonshire NHS Trust, and the Isle of Wight, areas where the Tories and Lib Dems could normally count on votes.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union, RMT, was also out in force, with banners ranging from Dover port to the Orkneys (nobody comes from that far for a demonstration without being serious!); and not forgetting the Easington band from Co.Durham. The colliery there was closed, but not the spirit expressed in the band now adopted by the RMT.

There were Fire Brigades Union banners, some warning that cuts cost lives, and large numbers of firefighters were marching in best dress uniform. There was the GMB, and Unite of course, and quite a decent turnout from the builders' union UCATT. There were college lecturers and students, and school teachers - I had not realised the NAS/UWT had so many members, but obviously this battle against the cuts had brought them out.

There were Green Party and assorted Socialist banners and placards of course, but there were also more local Labour Party banners than I have seen out in a long time. Some were old and from places you'd expect like Hackney South and Shoreditch Constituency Labour Party, and Brent Central CLP, others were from less predictable places and freshly painted. I don't know whether this reflects an increase in new and/or returning Labour Party membership which some have claimed, or simply that Labour Party members feel happier coming out and showing themselves now that it's no longer their party doing the dirty work in government. (Not counting the Labour councils making cuts of course).

Whatever the reason, it is part of the change that's taking place, with all sorts of people who had not been on a demonstration before, or not for a long time, as shown by some of the home-made placards, often with quite witty cartoons and original slogans, as well as by the range of organised union and community groups marching. And today those people who came on the march will have a new confidence talking to friends and workmates who could not make it.

I saw two banners from branches of the Prison Officers Association, and a big Unison banner from members working in the Leeds Metropolitan Police Authority. Earlier a friend had wondered whether any police officers would be marching with us - he meant off-duty, and in sympathy, not as infiltrators. "I don't think we've caught up with Wisconsin yet!", I joked.

For large stretches the (uniformed) police seemed sparse and made no attempt to control the crowd surging across Whitehall, nor did they need to do so. Quite a lot of people, including Firefighters, RMT members and me managed to slip in and occupy the Wetherspoon pub for a pint and rest before rejoining the march as it still moved past. (Big improvement on the poll tax demo years ago when landlords -per haps on police behest - shut their doors on us old codgers wanting to use the toilets). Staff seemed cheerful as they coped with this friendly invasion. I know Wetherspoon has not welcomed union organisation, but I reckon after Saturday they owe us a donation.

And so to the sideshows. We knew UK Uncut was planning something separate, in their campaign against rich and corporate tax evasion. In the end they moved on from Top Shop and Vodaphone to occupy Fortnum and Mason. Although it was meant to be a peaceful occupation, it was later alleged they had caused £30, 000's worth of damage. There is some dispute whether this was caused by an accident with the posh shop's tins of pate, or some fool knocking over a jar of olives.

Joking apart, the police laid siege to the Fortnum's occupiers, then persuaded them to leave peacefully - only to then start seizing people and arresting them, for such "crimes" as "aggravated trespass". Elsewhere, Black Block attacked the Ritz hotel and Santander Bank with sticks, set fire to their trojan horse, and threw firecrackers apparently. Some police were reportedly injured, and their colleagues appear to have taken this out later on people who were "occupying" Trafalgar Square, supposedly in emulation of Tahrir Square in Cairo. There's a call to occupy the square again overnight on April 2, an invitation which I have declined.

If they only wait till New Years Eve it will be the 'done' thing and bigger, and meanwhile there are more relevant places to occupy, such as libraries and clinics that are threatened with closure, even if that does not get you on national television. Mind you I might occupy the pub again in the earlier part of the evening.

Apart from Boris the Berk, Tory mayor of London, who has tried to smear Ed Milliband with responsibility for the anarchists, most people can distinguish between the mass movement against the cuts, at the centre of which is the trade union movement and genuine community organisations, though it is now reaching hitherto untouched parts, and the elements beyond the fringe. That's why the police and to some extent the media, sensing the public mood, had to make that distinction.

At the same time, such is the anger in the country over cuts, and bankers bonuses, wealthy tax dodgers and self-enriching politicians, that while people will be concerned for possibly frightened staff in targeted companies and institutions, there is not a lot of sympathy for the targets as such. Any anger at the anarchists and others is likely to be over them trying to steal the show and so creating diversions. And among active trades unionists, headshaking disapproval tends to be tempered by indulgence of the inexperienced young, as relations with government and privilege get more fraught.

Majority with the marchers

Now here's an item from HR News, spotted by our trades union council secretary:

More than half of the UK supports the TUC's proposals for an alternative to the cuts – calling for a plan B to help get the jobless back to work.

A YouGov poll published on Saturday to coincide with the TUC's March for the Alternative in London asked, 'Generally speaking, do you support or oppose the aim of the march to campaign against public sector spending cuts?'

The majority (52%) said yes, with one in three (31%) disagreeing. One in five Conservative voters backed the aims of the march.

Speaking on Saturday, Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: "No part of our public realm is to be protected.

"And don't believe it when ministers say that the NHS is safe in their hands. With over 50,000 job cuts already in the pipeline - nurses, doctors, physios, midwives - in the name of so-called efficiency savings of £20 billion, the NHS as we know it is already in intensive care.

"With David Cameron talking about selling it off to 'any willing provider' out to make a profit, the NHS is facing the gravest threat in its history.

"Today let us say to him: we will not let you destroy what has taken generations to build.

"Let's be brutally clear about these brutal cuts. They're going to cost jobs on a huge scale, adding to the misery of the 2.5 million people already on the dole.

"They are going to hammer crucial services that bind our communities together. And they're going to hit the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest.

"The Government claims there is no alternative. But there is. Let's keep people in work and get our economy growing. Let's get tax revenues flowing and tackle the tax cheats. And let's have a Robin Hood tax on the banks, so they pay us back for the mess they caused."


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Two Cases for Investigation:

Something Rotten in the State of Hesse

RAISING case in Wiesbaden. Jeremiah Duggan's parents Hugo (4th from the left) and Erica Duggan (6th from left) with friends of Jeremiah and the former member of LaRouche organisation, Yves Messer (far right).

A NORTH London mother is in Germany this weekend and due to lay flowers by a roadside outside Wiesbaden, in memory of her son whose dead body was found there eight years ago on March 27, 2003.
For Erica Duggan it will be not just an act of sad commemoration, but an occasion of bitterness, reminding people of the suspicious circumstances in which her son Jeremiah died, and of what appears like a striking reluctance by the authorities to investigate.

Jeremiah Duggan, aged 22, had been studying at the Sorbonne in Paris when, troubled by the onset of the war on Iraq, he agreed to attend what appeared to be an anti-war conference in Wiesbaden, in the German state of Hesse. What he did not know was that the organisation hosting this gathering, the culturally respectable-sounding Schiller Institute, is part of an organisation led by Lyndon LaRouche, an American one-time leftist who became notorious as a right-wing cult leader. The Institute was founded by LaRouche's German partner Helga Zepp who declared "We need a movement that can finally free Germany from the control of the Versailles and Yalta treaties, thanks to which we have staggered from one catastrophe to another for an entire century."

When Jeremiah, hearing some people at the conference appear to blame the war on Jews, he protested that he was Jewish, and must have sensed some hostility. Nevertheless he agreed to stay on for a LaRouche youth movement cadre school. But then something else must have happened, because he then called his girlfiend, and his mother, in the early hours of the morning, saying he was in 'deep trouble' and sounding terrified, appealing to be rescued.

That same morning his body was found by the road, some distance outside Wiesbaden. The story accepted by the German police was that this young man had run out into the road, and been struck by two vehicles, supposedly as a "suicide".

Erica Duggan was not having it. She found out more about the LaRouche outfit and the way it operates. She hired investigators. They found that neither of the vehicles which had supposedly hit her son bore traces of his skin or clothing. They reported that the injuries sustained by Jeremiah were more like those from a good kicking than a road accident, or deliberate suicide. There was also some sand on his jeans that was not present where he was found. Had he been in a yard or on a building site, and his body then been brought out and dumped?

Why had the police in Hesse been in such a hurry to close the case, without even witness statements, and left it to the family to make this investigation? How come they seem content to accept the word of the LaRouchites, without looking further into this organisation?

For an organisation that pretends some kind of anti-imperialist credentials, and purports to be up against all sorts of conspiracies, the LaRouchites have been strangely reluctant to countenance an investigation into the death of a young man who came to their conference. They have preferred the "suicide" theory, offering in its support allegations about "drugs", family psychological problems, and finally, a supposed conspiracy involving the Duggan family with the British government.

They even came up with the explanation that Tony Blair and others had engineered a plot against them in an attempt to divert attention from the case of scientist Dr.David Kelly. Apart from the bizarre logic - Jeremiah Duggan died three months before Kelly, and why should one have to choose between investigating one death and the other? - it isn't the LaRouchites who have raised the Kelly case. The doctors who have are represented by human rights lawyer Frances Swaine - who is also acting for the Duggans in their case!

A British enquiry found that there was no evidence to suggest suicide and deemed that Jeremiah died in a state of terror. The Duggans finally obtained a fresh inquest in London last year, but this appears to have been adjourned indefinitely pending fresh evidence which the Metropolitan Police have yet to gather.

When supporters of the Justice for Jeremiah campaign visited Wiesbaden and held a meeting they found local citizens sympathetic, and anxious to know more about the LaRouche organisation and what it was up to in their area. But LaRouche, though his group in the USA gained a notoriety for violence. and he has served time for fraud, appears to have enjoyed some 'respectable' political connections in the 'States , and his European operations with Helga Zepp seem not short of funds.

On August 5, last year, Erica Duggan took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing the German police of violating Article 2, because they failed to investigate her son's death sufficiently. She pointed out that no witness statements were taken, no medical examination of injuries, no post mortem, destruction of vital evidence, and a disregard for how someone in the LaRouche organisation had Jeremiah's bloodstained passport.

In a statement last week before setting off for Wiesbaden again, Erica Duggan said:
" Germany has consistently refused to properly investigate my son's death. †I have been treated in a most heartless manner. †I have asked for the Prosecutor to see me and so have my lawyers but not only does she refuse this but she has stated that she will not investigate and has never had the time to read the files. The case is still open with suspects named but they refuse to speak and the authorities continue to cover up the facts.”

For more information go to www.justiceforjeremiah.com and www.LaRouche-danger.com
Contact Erica Duggan on justiceforjeremiah@gmail.com.
Lawyers: UK>Frances Swaine Germany Serdar Kaya & Christian Noll ; Mail@kanzlei-kaya.de Mail@christian-noll.de

Also briefings in German and English go to



For transcripts of the Court Hearings in the UK go to http://justiceforjeremiah.yolasite.com/legal-action-in-britain.php

Cameron warned against complicity

Medical professionals campaigning for a full inquest into the death of government weapons inspector Dr David Kelly have appealed to David Cameron to intervene on their behalf.

Dr.Kelly's body was found in woodland near his home at Abingdon, Oxfordshire,on July 18, 2003, - two days after he was questioned by the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee. The scientist had been exposed as the source for BBC reports questioning the Blair government's case for war in Iraq, saying it had "sexed up" intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.

No inquest was ever held into his death. The Blair government appointed a former top civil servant, Lord Hutton to chair an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death, as opposed to a full inquest in a coroner's court. The Hutton report cleared the government of wrongdoing, and also left the intelligence services unscathed, while the BBC was strongly criticised, leading to the resignation of the BBC's chairman and director-general..

The inquiry found that Dr Kelly had committed suicide and took the highly irregular step of ruling that all evidence relating to the death, including post-mortem findings, be suppressed for 70 years. But several medical experts found its "suicide" story unconvincing, even after the post mortem report was released in October last year. They say the supposed method, slashing an ulnar artery after taking pills, would not have been sufficient, and that not enough blood was found at the scene.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve is currently considering a dossier of evidence provided by the doctors, and expected to announce whether he will ask the High Court to order an inquest soon.

In an open letter to David Cameron released at the weekend the doctors warned that they would seek a judicial review if Mr Grieve decides no inquest is needed.Denouncing the Hutton report as a "whitewash" which "failed adequately to address the cause of death itself and the manner of death,"they point out Lord Hutton spent only half a day of his 24-day inquiry considering the cause of Kelly's death."No coroner in the land would have reached a suicide verdict on the evidence which Lord Hutton heard," they claim.

"The coroner is required to hear evidence which constitutes proof beyond reasonable doubt that the deceased killed himself, and that he intended to kill himself, before he may return a verdict of suicide."Lord Hutton did not hear evidence which came near to satisfying that test."

The doctors said Lord Hutton's findings had clearly been "unsafe" and warned the PM that if an inquest is denied "there is a real and grave risk that your government will be seen as continuing and being complicit in an enormous conspiracy to pervert the course of justice."

(See PM's Kelly Conspiracy Warning, by Paddy McGuffin, Morning Star, March 26


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Does the Tory Minister give ATOS?

THE posting from a friend on Facebook caught my attention:

"I've heard it all now. The ATOS doctor telling the DWP that the guy who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers only has minor memory problems and should be able to return to work in a few months. Er no, the guy cant even make a cup of tea. He has been brought back by the police 3 times and doesn't even recognise his wife. Where are they getting these so called medics from!"

To clarify, for those who like me, and unlike my exasperated friend, are not working in health or social services, nor touch wood dependent on them yet,
turn to the Atos website. Wading through the usual corporate bull - "Atos Healthcare is proud to lead improvements in the way care is delivered, giving control to patients and helping them choose how to manage their health", and "Atos Healthcare, the number one occupational health provider in the UK and a business division of Atos Origin,..." - we learn "Atos Healthcare provides independent medical advice to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We conduct disability assessments for people claiming a range of disability benefits including Employment Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit".

Cast your mind back to last year when Cameron and the Bullingham Boys were courageously squaring up to some really tough choices. Anyone could pick on the poor bankers and City speculators, but this government would not settle for the soft option.

"Ministers are to signal a tougher approach to incapacity benefit this week as the next stage of its welfare reforms, by reducing the benefit levels of those tested if they are found capable of doing some work.
Details are expected to be announced by the work minister, Chris Grayling, this week. Early pilots suggest half of those assessed are being taken off the higher rate benefit on the basis that tests reveal they are fit to do some work, government sources say.

"Those deemed capable are likely to be required to do more to make themselves available for work if they are to continue receiving benefit. Ministers have also looked at whether they can speed up the testing, but denied a suggestion that they could treble the number tested.

"The chancellor, George Osborne, signalled tonight that efforts to take more of those on incapacity benefit off welfare will form a significant part of plans to cut the deficit, saying: 'It's a choice we all face. It is not a choice we can duck.'"

"Ministers are looking to see whether existing incapacity benefit claimants can be passed to new private sector welfare-to-work providers.

Osborne, speaking in Toronto at the G20 summit, said: "Some of these benefits individually are very much larger than most government departments. Housing benefit is one of the largest. In its own right, it would be treated as one of the largest government departments.
Welfare crackdown begins with drive to reduce incapacity benefit claims, (Guardian, June 28, 2010)


Well, the drive to get people off welfare and into work could be half successful. With rising unemployment and cuts, including the shutdown of sheltered workshops, the government is not exactly creating jobs (except for consultants and contractors like Atos), but contract staff on payment by results to get claimants off benefit can do that bit. Many even withdraw their claims rather than face the tests and interviews. What does it matter what happens next? It's a result, isn't it?

To be fair, Chris Grayling, the minister responsible, is not quite your ordinary Tory toff, nor even a common Liberal. Schooled not at Eton but at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, before Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, he worked at the BBC before moving into private television companies, and he was a member of the Social Democratic Party before joining the Tories.

As reported a couple of years ago, Grayling, the MP for Epsom and Ewell, lives in a large house in Ashtead, Surrey, claims expenses for a flat in Pimlico, near the House of Commons. "He also owns other buy-to-let flats and now has four properties within the M25". ((Daily Telegraph, May 11 2009)

So he knows about problems like housing, and benefits, that afflict us ordinary folk in London.

"Within weeks of first being elected in 2001, he bought a flat in a six-storey block for £127,000. In 2002, he set up an unusual arrangement with the Parliamentary Fees Office, claiming £625 a month for mortgages on two separate properties, both the main home and the new flat in Pimlico. This is usually against the rules, but Mr Grayling negotiated an agreement because he was unable to obtain a 100% mortgage on the London flat that he had bought.

"This arrangement ended in May 2006. Over the summer of 2005, Mr Grayling undertook a complete refurbishment of the flat. Shortly after the general election in May, Mr Grayling claimed £4,250 for redecorating and £1,561 for a new bathroom.

"The next month, he claimed £1,341 for new kitchen units and in July, he claimed a further £1,527 for plumbing and £1,950 for work that included rewiring the flat throughout. It is thought to have risen substantially in value since then. During the 2005-06 financial year, Mr Grayling claimed close to the maximum allowance for MPs.

"However, in the following financial year he continued to submit receipts for the work that had been carried out the previous year.

"This effectively allowed him to spread the costs over two years – whereas he would have been unable to claim all the costs in the 2005-06 financial year. For example, in June 2006, Mr Grayling submitted an invoice for £3,534 for service and maintenance on his block of flats, which included a service charge of £1,148 and a 'balance brought forward' of £1,956.

"This was paid by the House of Commons authorities in the 2006-07 financial year, although the invoice refers to 'Tax point: 22 Feb 2006' and refers to costs carried out in the 2005-06 financial year. A handwritten note on the invoice informed the fees office to “Please note this has only just been issued, date notwithstanding.”

"In July 2006, Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250. The invoice from the decorator was dated July 2006, and referred to 'remedial and refurbishment works July 2005'. On the claim form, Mr Grayling stated: 'Decorator has been very ill & didn’t invoice me until now.'

"If the various late receipts had been submitted in the 2005-06 financial year, they would have exceeded Mr Grayling’s second home allowance for the 12-month period by over £4,700. However, they were still paid by the Fees Office.

"Mr Grayling has a sizeable property portfolio. The Pimlico flat, which is only a short walk from the Commons is believed to have risen in value despite the recession. A studio flat in the same block is currently on sale for £235,000.

"On the Parliamentary register of interests, Mr Grayling declares that he rents out two further houses that he owns in London. The family home he shares with wife Sue and their two children in Ashtead is inside the M25 and in the heart of Surrey’s commuter belt. The imposing house with its sweeping drive and grounds cost £680,000 in 2000".

"Mr Grayling defended his claims last night and said that using one of his existing properties would not have saved the taxpayer money. 'I needed two loans to buy my London flat in 2001,' he said.

“One was the standard maximum loan available for a second property and the second was to pay for the 20 per cent deposit. In addition to serving my constituents, I have spent several years serving in the shadow cabinet, currently as the shadow home secretary. A second home enables me to meet those commitments. I have always been entirely open to my constituents about this.”

Grayling had been known as the Tories' "attack dog" for pursuing Labour sleaze targets. But now he has got Labour's Frank Field, the pride of Birkenhead, whom Cameron appointed "poverty czar", as colleague.

As for folk having problems with benefits, or housing, or housing benefit which is being capped, Chris Grayling sounds like just the man to ask for advice.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Your safety, your life, their "burden"


PRIME Minister David Cameron claims his war in Libya is aimed at protecting civilians. But who will protect the civilians in this country who are killed or seriously injured by employers cutting corners and ignoring safety in pursuit of profit?

"Let me make it clear", Cameron declared in December 2009, "yes the Conservatives will reduce the burden and impact of health and safety legislation in our country".

Whatever happens to other promises, this is one they intend to keep. It is a promise made to Cameron's own class, the bosses, and when they say "our country" they mean they own it.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is facing a 35 per cent or more cut in its funding. It has been told to stop educational campaigns, and chief executive Geoffrey Podger is reportedly proposing that face-to-face contact by inspectors be replaced by web-based initiatives. Demoralised staff have been leaving rather than wait for redundancies.

Work and Pension minister Chris Grayling, the man responsible for getting more people turned down for incapacity benefit, has also announced this week another review of health and safety laws with the aim of removing yet more protection for workers. Or as his side puts it, scrapping any regulations that put an "unnecessary" burden on business. Ministers said regulation will focus on high hazard sites and tackling rogue employers and consultants, not "tying up" the vast majority of Britain's businesses in red tape. The number of inspections will be cut by over a third.

Grayling told a conference in London on Monday: "Of course it is right to protect employees in the workplace, but Britain's health and safety culture is also stifling business and holding back economic growth". This echoes the complaint of some American employers that regulations they don't like are "job killers".

Some people who have experienced the way employers take care of their workers see things differently. Dorothy Wright. a founder member of Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) says:
“My son Mark, features in the Job Killers poster above, and he was not killed because of too much regulation, too much red tape or over zealous enforcement of health and safety, but because his employers paid very little attention to health and safety, and utterly failed to reduce the risk to which he was exposed. They lacked the common sense to treat aerosols as dangerous, crushed them and blew him up in a fire ball. They did not fear any enforcement action by the HSE, they were not overburdened by paper work. Mark was killed because they did not obey the law and no one made them do it. There are lots of employers like Mark’s. .”

(quoted in press statement from FACK)

IT was on 12 April 2005, that Dorothy and Douglas Wright received the call every parent dreads. “We received a phone call to come to Chester as Mark had been involved in an explosion and fire at Deeside Metal and there was no hope for his survival,”

“We left our home immediately and drove in silence for five hours going straight to the hospital, arriving after midnight,” Dorothy says. “I sat with my husband, Mark's wife and his son at Mark's bedside, seeing my son burned beyond recognition, until the life support system was switched off.”

The 37-year-old scrapyard worker died on 13 April 2005 as result of 90 per cent burns and scorched lungs from inhaling high temperature gases. He had been told to put 3,500 small air freshener aerosols, sent from Jeyes UK Ltd, into a mechanical crusher at Deeside Metal in Saltney, Flintshire.

The canisters were unmarked, transported without supporting documentation, handled at the scrapyard by untrained staff, and accepted at the scrapyard on the basis of unsubstantiated verbal assurances from the haulier, Ray Morgan. The yard manager at Jeyes had claimed the canisters were empty – in reality, they contained up to 35 litres of highly combustible propellant. When they were put in the crusher, a spark ignited the vapour cloud released as the aerosols were compressed.

Mark, concerned about safety at Deeside Metal, had told family and friends months before he was looking for other work. A week before his death he had narrowly escaped injury when a car destined for the crusher burst into flames. He had suffered several burns and other injuries while at the firm, and had spent eight weeks off work with breathing problems he believed were caused by inhaling of toxic fumes at work.

“I spoke to him on 11 April when he phoned in great spirits,” says Dorothy. “He had found another job and was so pleased and incredibly relieved, he would hand in his notice that week. He never did that. I never spoke to my son again. The death he so accurately predicted was his own.”

Mark’s death haunts Dorothy. “I spent many months of sleepless nights, and nightmares when I did sleep, following this with the vision of my son engulfed in flames, the most terrifying and painful of deaths imaginable. I kept asking, why was this hazardous waste allowed to leave Jeyes’ premises? Why was Mark told to crush aerosols?”

She says Mark’s family received “a few days’ wages from the employer, nothing else, no message of concern or enquiry about the welfare of his widow or children.” Mark’s son, Leigh, was 15 and daughter Megan was just two. “I had to put my grief to one side and track round the various government agencies, carrying my son's temporary death certificate, trying to sort out some kind of financial benefit for Mark's widow and children as she had no money to pay her bills or buy food.”

“In the midst of our own shock and grief we felt helpless and no official help was offered, not by the school or any other body. My grandson was mentally unable to cope with school.”

Fifteen-year old Leigh, who had been studying for exams, just sat in his dad's car, wearing his dad's clothes, playing his dad's DVDs, shutting himself off from the world. His small sister Megan, who for many months “went to bed cuddling Mark's t shirt, still asks questions about why her dad was killed.” The Christmas after Mark’s death, Dorothy asked Megan what she wanted from Father Christmas. “She replied: 'A big long ladder so that daddy can climb down from the sky and be here'.” Moved to tears, Dorothy wrote to Deeside Metal manager Robert Roberts “telling him of the children's agony.”

There was no apology or sympathy. Instead, the family was to receive three visits from uniformed police officers. The first, to the home of Mark’s widow Andrea and his two children, came with a warning that if Dorothy pinned any more flowers or cards on the railings of the industrial estate that housed Deeside Metal, “the employer would ensure that I was charged with criminal harassment.”

At the February 2009 inquest, Roberts accused Mark's family of “hounding” him. “When we became upset by his evidence and had to remove ourselves from court, we were shouted at by Mark's general manager that we 'couldn't take the truth' and having to hear a director, under oath and in public, say they 'didn't bother with written risk assessments' as he 'considered all his employees to be illiterate',” Dorothy says.

The family was devastated by the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) decision that neither Deeside Metal nor boss Robert Roberts should face manslaughter charges. In a series of meetings the family pointed out CPS had “erred in law”, failed to conduct a proper investigation and had not followed ‘Work-related deaths: A protocol for liaison’, the official procedure agreed between safety enforcers, police and the CPS.

It was over four years after Mark’s death when CPS obtained a crucial witness statement and decided Robert Roberts should face manslaughter charges. But this was far too late, a trial judge ruling in February 2010 proceeding would be “an abuse of process.” The family have since received an apology from Stephen O’Doherty of CPS’s Special Crime Division. Roberts, Deeside Metal and Jeyes were all fined in December 2010, after pleading guilty to criminal safety breaches. “The result of this court action will change nothing for us, will bring no closure or easing of our pain or burden,” says Dorothy.


Dorothy has been strongly critical about the way the case was handled and the lengthy delays. She said that the fines were the final act “in a travesty of British justice.” Manslaughter charges against Roberts were thrown out by a judge in February 2010 after a reluctant and botched investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service, for which the family subsequently received an apology.

She said government cuts would make justice even more elusive for grieving families. “This government is hell-bent on removing the already woefully inadequate protection of the Health and Safety Executive by reducing their budget by 35 per cent leaving the safety of workers up to the employer's 'common sense',” she said.

“How can you leave the safety of workers to the 'common sense' of people like this? David Cameron's government intends removing all of the so-called ‘burden’ on employers of safeguarding the health and safety of their employees, but the real emotional and financial burden is borne by the families of up to 1,500 killed every single year by totally preventable incidents at work.”

In February 2011, Deeside Metal, which had pleaded guilty to criminal safety breaches linked to the death of employee Mark Wright, indicated it was going the appeal against the size of the fine.

Families Against Corporate Killing (FACK), which Dorothy Wright and her husband Dougie helped to found, is one of a number of campaigns that have sprung up over the years, as working people find their voice and insist that they and their families are entitled to life, safety, respect and dignity. They include the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, formed by family and friends of a 24-year old student sent to do casual work on Shoreham docks in Sussex, and killed on his first day, his head crushed by a crane grab that should not have been in use on that work but had just had chains attached to save time fetching proper equipment.

These cases, and the issues they raise, are seldom among the "human interest" stories with which the media likes to feature. Instead we get jokes and urban myths about safety requiring children to wear protective gear when playing conkers. Fortunately Hazards magazine, based in Sheffield, has provided a link and some professional publicity help for the various campaigns.

The Construction Safety Campaign(CSC), though rightly concerned with the particularly bad safety conditions in the building trade, and combining mobilisation of trade unionists with sensitively bringing in families, has also been happy to make links with other campaigners, and welcomed them into activities.

Hazards and the CSC are both working to mark Workers International Memorial Day on April 28, with the slogan: Remember the dead -Fight for the living! that has become its watchword.

In London the day will begin at 9.30 am on Tower Hill, with a gathering by the statue of the Unknown Building Worker, some speeches, and a minutes silence for all those killed due to work activities.

At 10.30 am there will be a march to the Mayor's office across Tower Bridge.

From 12 noon to 2.00 pm the action shifts to the Department of Work and Pensions, Tothill Street, London SW1 9DA. A good chance to show what we think of Chris Grayling and this government, but also to win allies from the civil servants whose jobs, pay and pensions are also under attack.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More about Happiness Island

IN my last posting about Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island project, I referred to the "blood, sweat and tears" of building workers. I wasn't exaggerating of course. Safety, or the lack of it, at work, and especially in the construction industry, is an international issue.

In its report on the conditions of migrant building workers, Human Rights Watch says it was unable to determine how many workers, if any, have died from work-related accidents on Saadiyat Island. "No public figures are available. In response to a written question from Human Rights Watch asking whether it collected or would make public figures on how many workers had died on the island, TDIC (Tourism, Investment and Development Corporation) stated that it required its contractors to "prepare and submit monthly progress reports which includes safety statistics and details of hazardous incidents and activities," but it did not provide us with any figures or state whether it would make such figures available.

The head of the Emergency Department at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi said that from 350 to 400 foreign construction workers presented daily to the hospital or its community-based clinic in Khalifa City (also in Abu Dhabi emirate). (Most construction workers with serious injuries in Abu Dhabi city would likely report to that hospital, he added, because it was the only hospital serviced by public ambulances and capable of doing all types of surgery.) Work-related injuries included "pieces of cement and steel chips in their eyes," "hand injuries from grinders or power tools," and falls. "Most of what we see is avoidable," he said. "Workers need more eye care, and more education." Numbers of heat-related cases presenting at the hospital had declined since 2005, when the UAE imposed a ban on work from 12:30 to 3:00 pm during the months of July and August. Human Rights Watch interviewed the hospital official in the presence of an official from the Abu Dhabi ministry of health.

"The Bangladesh Embassy in Abu Dhabi estimated that it repatriated the bodies of eight to ten construction workers per month; on average, three were work-related deaths; one was a suicide; one a murder; and the rest were car accidents. Officials at the Embassy of Pakistan offered to provide statistics on worker deaths during a meeting with Human Rights Watch but did not respond to further inquiries. The Embassy of India refused to meet with Human Rights Watch, despite repeated requests.

"Volunteers with an NGO that advocates for the rights of construction workers said the NGO received 10 to 15 notifications of "serious" injuries among foreign construction workers per day. Additionally, the NGO confirmed an average of three suicides per week among foreign construction workers in the UAE, because the workers could not pay their debts. The volunteer said that the families of workers who die on the job faced a series of difficulties, including receiving the compensation due to them by law:

Your family gets more compensation money if you die in a road accident than if you die on the job. Usually compensation for workplace death ranges from 18,000 dirhams to a maximum of 35,000, whatever is equivalent to two years' salary. But the problem is that if someone dies, their body is repatriated, and there's no one left here to follow up and get them the compensation. The lawyers here can charge up to 40 or 50 per cent of the settlement once they get the power of attorney from the deceased's family, whom they track down back in India. We need a social security fund here, like there is in Bahrain.

In 2006, Human Rights Watch found that national UAE figures of workplace deaths among migrant construction workers appeared to indicate a severe under-reporting problem. Construction Week reported that over 880 construction workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had died in the UAE that year, with up to 30 percent of the deaths caused by worksite accidents. That year, 292 Indian construction workers died in Dubai and the northern emirates and 168 in Abu Dhabi, according to Construction Week's research. In contrast, the only municipality to report any official figures at all, Dubai, recorded only 34 deaths of construction workers of all nationalities at their workplaces in 2004 and 39 deaths in 2005.

Under UAE law, Ministry of Labor inspectors are to ensure that employers comply with safety and health regulations. However, the Ministry employs only 425 inspectors to oversee, according to its 2007 figures, over 260,000 businesses employing a total of 3,113,000 foreign workers. A Pakistani man, now working for Zueblin on Saadiyat Island, said, "I've been in the UAE for six years and have never seen a government inspection of anything." Four other Zueblin workers, from Rajasthan, India, said they had been working in the UAE for seven years and had never seen a government inspector at work site or camp.

The owner of a construction company in Dubai told Human Rights Watch that in his experience, although the Dubai Municipality appeared to be inspecting labor accommodations regularly, there was inadequate enforcement of legal standards for health and safety.

We're still building our labor accommodations so in the interim we've rented places [for our workers] at someone else's camp. We had looked at the camp; it looked OK. But after renting for a couple months, our [workers] were complaining that the camp was in bad shape, and we realized they weren't staying where the landlord told us they were staying. So we contacted the Dubai Municipality to ask about the site, and we got a letter from them saying, "these are the violations." So we saw the inspections had been fairly regular and had noted violations. We saw that the landlords had been fined, but the problem is that despite the fines, there was nothing to make them improve conditions. The inspection reports I got were a month apart, so there was frequency; and the first time [the landlord] got fined 13,000 dirhams, but when the same violations persisted, they didn't fine them the second time. It seems people will do just barely enough to keep from getting fined without actually solving any problems.

The federal government's failure to hire an adequate number of labour inspectors, to publicly report occupational accidents and injuries, and to enforce relevant laws continue despite promises of reform dating back several years. In November 2005, the under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour admitted to the media that the government had no comprehensive data about numbers, causes of death or injury, or about the identity of those dead or injured.

In 2006, noting that only six of 6,000 companies in Dubai reported accidents to the authorities, Human Rights Watch concluded, "The government is clearly not enforcing the [law]" requiring companies to notify the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the police of cases of death and injury of employees at work sites. On September 8, 2006, the government announced plans to increase the number of inspectors to 1,000 within the next 18 months.

On November 7, 2006, the prime minister issued a decree ordering that 2,000 more government labor inspectors be hired. The labour minister stated on March 24, 2007 that within a "few months, the number of inspectors should reach over 2,000 ... an indication of the seriousness with which the Government is tackling this task."

However, the government has failed woefully to even come close to meeting its own target. The US State Department report on human rights practices in the UAE stated that at the end of 2008, the number of health and safety inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labour stood at only 48.

There was a time when, reading about problems in less "developed" countries we might have said they were where we were in the past, and catching up. But with the British government ready to cut back already inadequate HSE inspections, as well as undermining the NHS, perhaps we can offer the workers in Abu Dhabi solidarity, but little in the way of advice.

Add the struggle to defend trade union rights and the right to strike, and what happens to workplace safety when workers are intimidated from raising issues and victimised from becoming safety reps, and the best thing we can do is recognise that we are all in the same boat.

Except, while we complain that a worker who is dead or injured at work can be "just a statistic", ignored by the media, it seems that migrant workers in some places are not even that.

It will be Workers Memorial Day on April 28, and if I have sometimes reported events marking it as though it was only happening in London, here's a notice for the day in Wolverhampton, from the website of the Wolverhampton and Bilston trades union council:

Thursday 28th April 2011

we will hold the 20th annual commemoration at 12.30pm at the Cenotaph in front of the Civic Centre and St Peters' church. WV1 1TS

Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living

More news as it comes.

It is really International Workers Memorial Day, and first started in Canada. So when we honour our comrades here let's also remember those who've died around the world, including those building palaces for the rich on Abu Dhabi's Island of Happiness.

See: Gulf labour and Guggenheim:



Response from Abu Dhabi's TIDC to Human Rights Watch report:


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Monday, March 21, 2011

Artists for rights of Workers on the Island of Happiness


GUGGENHEIM ABU DHABI as it's meant to look. Maybe
Wonders of the Ancient World were built by slaves,
can we accept 21st Century versions of slavery?

“Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.”
-Walid Raad, Lebanese-born New York artist, one of leaders of Guggenheim boycott.

'The British Museum did not respond to our letter expressing in detail our concerns about the exploitation of construction workers in the UAE, which we sent in response to reports that the museum would establish a presence in Abu Dhabi.'
- Human Rights Watch 2009 report on workers in Abu Dhabi

SOME of the world's biggest, most costly and prestigious buildings go up cemented with the blood, sweat and tears of poor, exploited and ill-treated workers, often forced to live in awful conditions. Some people admire these wonders of the modern world, whether or not they can step into the luxury,in these millionaires' playgrounds, without worrying where the wealth they embody comes from, or how it is obtained, and from whom.

But now more than 130 artists, many of them well-known figures in Middle East art, say they will have nothing to do with an $800 million Guggenheim museum being built in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, unless the contracts respect workers' rights, and improve conditions.

The new Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, is to be the centerpiece of a development called Saadiyat Island that includes a half-billion-dollar branch of the Louvre Museum designed by Jean Nouvel, a national museum designed by Norman Foster, luxury resorts, golf clubs, marinas and acres of private villas.

The way migrant workers are exploited and ill-treated are far from unique to the Emirates, though they stand out against such opulence, and because of the numbers involved. Some of the worst rip-off starts before the workers leave their own country. Many of the workers in the Emirates are from poor countries like Bangla Desh, attracted by the Gulf's oil wealth, and desperately hoping to work their way out from poverty and debt. It can be a trap in which they end up worse off. They have to pay huge fees upfront to the labour agencies, if they live in remote villages they may have to pay middlemen to even reach the agencies, and have to borrow from family members, sell any land they have, or borrow from money-lenders charging exorbitent interest. When they arrive in Abu Dhabi they can find that the good jobs and attractive wages they were promised by the agencies are a fiction, and so they are trapped, working twelve hours a day in the desert sun, and struggling to pay their debts.

The emirate of Abu Dhabi covers 70 per cent of the UAE land area and controls 94 per cent of the country's oil reserves; the UAE, in turn, has eight per cent of the world's proven crude oil reserves and five per cent of its natural gas. In 2006, the Ministry of Economy placed Abu Dhabi's population at 33 per cent of the UAE total, a figure of up to 1.85 million people in 2007. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is also the president of the UAE; he succeeded his father, Sheikh Zayed, to both positions in 2004.

The emirates vary in their conditions. Abu Dhabi, for instance, requires construction companies to provide health insurance to all employees, whereas Dubai mandated specialized bodies to protect workers' rights. It is not clear how many foreign workers live in the UAE or in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The UAE Ministry of Labor states that there were 3.1 million foreign workers in the country in 2007. However, the figure may be higher: as interviews with foreign embassy officials suggests that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone account for up to 2.95 million UAE residents. Construction workers also come from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, and elsewhere, and the large population of foreign domestic workers in the UAE comes from the Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia, and other countries.

Extrapolating from official figures, a minimum of roughly 900,000 migrant construction workers live in the UAE, although actual numbers may be higher. By law, construction workers are not allowed to bring their families to the UAE. All residents of labor camps in the UAE are male. The average "cycle" of a foreign construction worker in the UAE is "four to five years," according to a senior advisor to the Ministry of Labor.

The government of Abu Dhabi is developing Saadiyat Island as part of an overall attempt to diversify the economy from oil and gas. The desert kingdom has imported sand to raise the island above sea level. Saadiyat Island is wholly administered by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). In 2005, Sheikh Khalifa established the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), to manage the development of the ADTA's assets. Saadiyat will have hotels, marinas, two golf courses, museums, a university campus, a performing arts centre., and private villas.

Its name in Arabic means "happiness". How happy will it be for the workers?

When Human Rights Watch looked into this a couple of year ago it found:

  • "Foreign construction workers in the UAE are subject to a sponsorship (or kafala) system that places them in a highly dependent relationship to their employers. In conjunction with prohibitions (de facto or de jure) against unions, collective bargaining and striking, the sponsorship system grants employers an extraordinary degree of control over foreign workers, placing the workers at severe risk of exploitation".
  • "A foreign worker's legal ability to enter, live and work in the UAE depends on a single employer. UAE laws make it extremely difficult for workers to escape from this dependency after entering the UAE or beginning employment. If a foreign construction worker in the UAE quits, his employer will request the Ministry of Labor to cancel his labor card; a foreign worker who remains in the UAE more than two months after his labour card is cancelled will be fined. The employer will then take the worker's passport to the Ministry of Interior, which upon being shown the cancelled labor card will cancel the foreign worker's visa, stamp his passport with a six month ban on returning to the UAE, and arrange for his deportation to his home country.
    • "...workers suffer other forms of abuse, such as overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous housing, which continues to be a severe problem. According to news reports, the economic recession has led to an escalation in overcrowding and other poor treatment of workers at labor camps. The Ministry of Labor's chief inspector said that some companies, to cut costs, have added as much as 40 percent to the population of their labor camps (without increasing space for accommodation), and have cut workers' meals from three a day to one. Some more can be gleaned about workers accomodation from headlines "400 labour camps risk closure for violations," The National, August 29, 2008, http://www.thenational.ae/article/20080828/... "Chickenpox spread like wildfire at labor accommodations," Gulf News, June 6, 2008, http://www.gulfnews.com/Nation/Health/10218831.html, accessed March 16, 2008; Anthony Richardson, Praveen Menon and Greg Aris, "Early morning fire kills 11 men in Dubai," The National, August 26, 2008.

      • Companies require workers to sign new contracts upon arrival in the UAE. These contracts are based on a Ministry of Labor model contract, written in Arabic and English. Most workers interviewed said they did not understand these languages, and that they signed their contracts without receiving any explanation of the contractual terms. No construction workers we interviewed had copies of their UAE work contracts. Workers sign these contracts in a coercive atmosphere. Some workers said companies threatened to deport them if they refused to sign. The driver for a road-building crew on Saadiyat Island said that a labour supply agency had promised him and 30 other men from Andra Pradesh jobs with a basic salary of 700 dirhams ($190) in the UAE; when they arrived and the Al Jaber company told them to sign contracts for a basic salary of 350 dirhams ($95), "We refused to sign anything. But after a month we all signed, because they were going to send us back."

      • Because workers have already paid large fees to manpower agencies, they are not in a position to bargain over these contracts. Many workers interviewed said that their employers instructed them to sign UAE work contracts quickly and under pressure. An Abu Dhabi National Hotels employee said he had to sign his contract immediately after he arrived in the UAE: "they made us sign them on the bus on the way from Dubai airport at four in the morning."

      Illiterate workers are asked for a finger-print. Some workers said they were asked to sign or fingerprint blank sheets of paper, and told the company would fill in the contract later.

      • "In some cases, the degree of control employers exert over migrant workers amounts to forced labor. Several employees of Abu Dhabi National Hotels Compass (ADNH) on Saadiyat Island told Human Rights Watch they wanted to quit their various jobs, but that their employer had threatened to fine them before returning their passports if they quit before completing two years' service".

      In 2006, Human Rights Watch noted that the absence of labor unions and of independent workers' rights NGOs "has produced a situation where the government and the business sector are the sole entities deciding on labor-related issues." This has remained the case today. Workers were afraid to unionize or strike due to threats they would be fired and deported – threats backed up by laws that do not protect the right to organize and that forbid strikes, in violation of international labor laws.

      None of the workers interviewed were members of trade unions. Most workers said they would be fired and deported if they unionized. Some workers said company officers explicitly threatened them if they were to join or form unions. An Al Habtoor employee, who said he had been assigned to work on a Leighton project on Saadiyat (the companies announced a joint venture in 2007), said that when he first arrived in the UAE, "The foreman told us all when we first got here not to try to form any groups because they'd cancel our visas."

      Workers also said that company officials threatened them with deportation if they went on strike. A construction worker from Pakistan, who had been working on Saadiyat Island for five months without a holiday for Al Habtoor, said that "people from the company told us that if we went on strike our visas would be terminated."

      Nevertheless tens of thousands of migrant workers in the UAE have gone on strike to protest low wages or poor treatment; authorities reportedly deported thousands and banned them from returning. In February 2007, a Dubai court sentenced 45 Indian construction workers to six-month jail terms, followed by deportation orders, for violence during a strike. In October, according to news reports, "thousands of construction workers in Dubai's Jebel Ali free-trade zone smashed police cars and blocked traffic. Within weeks, about 40,000 migrants in Dubai had staged strikes to demand pay raises, including for work building Burj Dubai, the world's tallest skyscraper."

      UAE law does not protect the right to form or organize a union, or collective bargaining. The federal labor law is silent on the issue of strikes, but allows employers to dismiss workers without notice who are absent from work "without a valid reason" for seven consecutive or 20 non-consecutive days in one year.

      According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the legislative committee of the UAE Ministry of Justice approved a bill allowing the formation of trade unions in the private sector in October 2004. In May 2006, the minister of labor indicated that the government would enact a law permitting trade union activities by the end of the year. As reported in Building Towers, Cheating Workers, Human Rights Watch asked for but did not receive details of the proposed legislation. There has been no further news on the proposal.

      All workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they feared that they would be fired and deported if they used official channels to complain about abuses. One worker, who said that a labor supply agency in Pakistan had tricked him to come to the UAE with false promises of high wages, told Human Rights Watch that he chose not to ask the Pakistani embassy for help because "I'm afraid the next day my name would appear in the company records and I'd be terminated." A mason from India who worked for Al Habtoor on Saadiyat Island said he had still not been paid for his work on a previous job, but that "If we complain the camp boss will tell the head office we're lying and making problems. One year ago when I came back from my leave, one guy got fired for complaining. Now we're afraid."

      The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will cost £200 million to build, its most expensive museum. Other institutions involved in the Saadiyat Island project include the Louvre, the University of New York, and the British Museum, which is assisting in setting up a new Sheikh Zayyad National Museum. As part of a 10-year contract, the British Museum will lend some of its treasures to the venue and help it set up and curate exhibitions. The museum’s galleries will be based on a number of themes, one promoting “the story of oil”.

      The British Museum may be hoping its undisclosed annual fee could help fund a £135m extension in London as government spending for the arts faces cuts. It's involvement in Abu Dhabi has government backing.

      Human Rights Watch says it met with members of the Guggenheim Foundation in April 2008 and with consultants to the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim project in February 2009. It was told that the Guggenheim had raised Human Rights Watch's reporting on abuses against migrant construction workers to TDIC. But there was nothing in the contract about human rights or labour conditions.

      The previous year it had contacted New York University, who did not respond until; with our concerns in September 2007; NYU did not respond until 2009, when officials finally met Human Rights Watch on April 10. University officials at the meeting stated that they had not sought any specific contractual guarantees of workers' rights protections from the Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA), their development partner, because construction of the campus had not yet begun; there was a "commitment on both our parts to make sure NYU is a model of best practices in Abu Dhabi"; and "we believe them [the EAA] that labor issues are a top priority for them and that they have room to improve."

      NYU has published a list of eleven "labor values," which state that the NYU project will comply with UAE laws but which are often vague and do not address the fundamental concerns that HRW raised. For example, the first "value" states that, "As a floor, workers providing services to NYU Abu Dhabi will be paid wages and benefits which comply with all applicable UAE laws and regulations and which provide for their essential needs and living standards." There is no minimum wage in the UAE.

      The body responsible for the Louvre was more forthcoming. But the "British Museum, which according to media reports will establish an unspecified presence in Abu Dhabi, had not responded to a letter Human Rights Watch sent on March 9, 2009 as of April 20". Perhaps I'll find out more about that.

      The statement which 135 artists have signed says:

      "We, the undersigned, are writing to demand that the Guggenheim Foundation obtain contractual guarantees that will protect the rights of workers employed in the construction and maintenance of its new branch museum in Abu Dhabi.

      "Human rights violations are currently occurring on Saadiyat Island, the location of the new museum. In two extensive reports on the UAE, Human Rights Watch has documented a cycle of abuse that leaves migrant workers deeply indebted, poorly paid, and unable to defend their rights or even quit their jobs. The UAE authorities responsible for developing the island have failed to tackle the root causes of abuse: unlawful recruiting fees, broken promises of wages, and a sponsorship system that gives employers virtually unlimited power over workers.

      These violations, which threaten to sully the Guggenheim’s reputation, present a serious, moral challenge to those who may be asked to work with the museum. No one should be asked to exhibit or perform in a building that has been constructed and maintained on the backs of exploited employees".

      There is an international petition which so far seems mainly confined to professional artists. But as well as encouraging them in this principled stand for workers rights to be respected, maybe the trade union movement can get involved. And besides the Guggenheim initiative which appears to have been started appropriately in the 'States, we should see whether leverage could be applied on the British Museum connection.

      Guggenheim campaign:



      Human Rights Watch report:

      British Museum in the Gulf:



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Helping or Bombing the Libyans? And who is defending people of Bahrain?

AS the first civilian casualties from NATO air strikes are reported from Libya, the 'coalition of the killing' (as a friend calls it) is uncertain or finding it difficult to agree a li(n)e about its aims, unable to count on the support it claims, and coming under open criticism.

Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox says the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his government are legitimate military targets, his Foreign Office colleague William Hague and US allies are more circumspect. and British commanders seem to have been caught unawares, having said that going after Gaddafi was not part of their remit from the UN. Chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, said Gaddafi was "absolutely not" a target. "It is not allowed under the UN resolution and it is not something I want to discuss any further," he told the BBC.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the UN resolution as "defective and flawed," telling workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory. that "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."

President Dmitry Medvedev on the other hand blames the air strikes on Gaddafi's behaviour, and says though Russia abstained it did not use its veto because there was nothing wrong with the UN resolution. But Medvedev did call for restraint. Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Lukashevich regretted the attacks on Libya, which he said had gone well beyond the UN resolution, and brought civilian casualties.

Russian officials and media are concerned that NATO air strikes are going beyond what the UN called for. They are also saying that US overall command brings fears of a repeat of the Iraq war, when US commanders - who now say they were "duped" by fake intelligence - sought and accepted such reports because they wanted to go to war. Yet this time in the United States, polls show up to 65 per cent of the public against US intervention.

Important NATO members Germany and Turkey are both against the attack.

Most important, Arab League general secretary Amr Moussa, who is also a candidate for the Egyptian presidency took his distance from what the British and allied forces are doing. "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians."

Libya's anti-Gaddafi rebels may have hoped for help from Tunisia and Egypt, but it now looks as though the only Arab participation the British government and its allies can count on will be from governments in the Gulf, and though there is talk of Qatari jets - hardly a major reinforcement - could be mostly financial.


What kind of "democracy" or progress do these states represent? As we have seen, Saudi forces entered Bahrain last week to help its ruler suppress his people. Opposition leaders were rounded up. People who were wounded or injured were afraid to go to the main hospital in Manama, the capital, which had been taken over by government forces.

And it's not hard to see why. Here's a report from Ben Farmer in the Sunday Telegraph, a conservative paper.

'Security forces burst into operating theatres, beat staff and searched from ward to ward for doctors according to the first detailed accounts of a violent government crackdown at the hospital in Manama. Opposition leaders in the small island kingdom described the attack by security troops as a "crime against humanity" and the United Nations said it seemed to have broken international laws.

Earlier, helicopter gunships went into action against the crowds in the square.

Within minutes the first casualties were ferried to the hospital as a pall of black smoke rose above the square and protesters camped near the hospital gates fled inside. But the tide of wounded was abruptly halted ended minutes later in what the medical worker said was a well-planned move by the government to isolate the hospital and prevent the wounded gaining entry.

"We still could hear the shooting, we could hear the helicopter gunships, we could smell the tear gas being wafted by the wind, but there was nobody coming in. Then we saw tanks had cordoned the hospital and we understood why."

While patients were not allowed in, staff were also not allowed out.

"We were sitting there, we knew our services were needed, but there was nothing we could do, we were sitting twiddling our thumbs.

"We knew there had been injuries and we knew the time when we can save lives was passing.

"We didn't know what happened to them, if they are out on the street, if they took them somewhere else or they finished them off."

Across the island small medical centres which are little more than GP's clinics were ringing Salmaniya for help saying they had been overwhelmed by those suffering injuries they could not treat.

Two senior consultants, a nurse and assistant asked permission to take an ambulance to one overwhelmed centre, but were stopped by Ministry of Interior police just outside the gates.

"They took them out, put then on their knees and started beating them up," said the worker, who witnessed the scene and said the victims suffered broken fingers.

"They humiliated them, insulted them. One of the doctors he wasn't beaten so harshly, because they wanted to extract information from him. They treat us as terrorists."

That night the staff and those protesters who had taken refuge, had little to eat. "The patients were not able to get anyone to feed them. There were so many problems there. There were no staff in the kitchen," said another worker at the hospital.

"There were not enough medical staff and they had to deal with emergencies only. One emergency doctor had not slept for four days."

Then, as staff subsisted on biscuits from vending machines and tried to sleep during the early hours, came the moment the had dreaded as the security forces began to storm the building.

"We all had the feeling they would come in," said the first hospital worker. "It was an army operation, a military operation and they strike, they cordon, besiege and then they invade."

But even though staff had foreseen the assault, they were still shocked by its ferocity when it came. Nobody was shot at. But soldiers with their faces covered and their weapons drawn quickly entered the hospital, calling by name for doctors who had outspokenly criticised the regime's use of force.

"All of them had their faces covered as if they were anti-terrorist commandoes. They had special forces written on their shoulders. Those who spoke had Bahraini accents."

Surgeons in operating theatres were stopped mid procedure and ordered to take off their masks. Once inside the soldiers took charge of wards and searched and questioned staff, though did not use their weapons. Cameras were confiscated and locked doors were knocked in.

At least one doctor, Ali Al-Ekri, was arrested for criticising conditions in the hospital.

With the military in full control, all but a skeleton staff were told to leave on Thursday evening. Colleagues had since told the medical worker that all the patients injured in protest clashes had been removed from the hospital on Friday - some from intensive care. It was unclear where they had been taken.

Many were so grievously wounded that Salmaniya - now half empty - was the only place in the kingdom which could treat them.

"There are some horrific injuries, some requiring intensive care," the hospital worker said. "We don't know where these people are now." He said he now feared for his safety for revealing details of the attack.


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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cameron's War. We've been here before.

BAHRAINIS rally at the Pearl roundabout. Now forces of repression have forcibly cleared the area - and demolished the monument!. Commemorating the island's traditional pre-oil industry, it had apparently become a symbol of people's modern aspirations.
Cameron and co. support and arm the Saudi and Bahraini regimes, while deploring 'violence' in Libya.

AS 1,000 Saudi troops deployed in Bahrain to help suppress popular demonstrations for freedom and equal rights, and 45 people were reported killed in Yemen's crackdown on unrest, we are supposed to believe that Tory David Cameron and French President Sarkozy are leading the way for Western intervention in Libya with solely the rights and lives of Libyan people in mind.

Not only have they declined to condemn the repression in Bahrain and other Arab countries where Cameron was out selling arms, but they have the backing of the Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council and of the Arab League apparently for their planned actions.

Well, that makes it halal, I suppose. After all, we all know how energetically these governments acted for the people of Palestine. If only they had managed to secure a 'no fly zone' over Gaza, or for that matter, over Lebanon.

The Resolution 1973 from the UN called for a cease-fire , and authorises action "to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council;

5. Recognizes the important role of the League of Arab States in matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security in the region, and bearing in mind Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, requests the Member States of the League of Arab States to cooperate with other Member States in the implementation of paragraph 4;

6. Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians;...." This would not apply to humanitarian flights to bring in food or essential supplies...

This all sounds reasonable and humane. But as Gaddafi announced a cease fire, Cameron was talking about military action to hit Libyan troops and vehicles, British newspapers were depicting Gaddafi in the cross-hairs, and Sarkozy was boasting French forces were ready. Saif al Islami Gaddafi claims that Libya put money into Sarkozy's election funds. But now perhaps after being reluctant to join the rush into Iraq, France sees a bigger prize in advantages for its oil and gas companies.

The French president is hosting Cameron today and they have been joined by Hilary Clinton. Canadian forces are on the way, their jets being at Prestwick airport in Scotland, and the Dutch government expects air strikes to be launched as soon as the Paris talks are over.

No wonder some UN members, including Germany, abstained on the Resolution, and that anti-war campaigners like the Stop the War Coalition, which supported the uprising against Gaddafi, is opposing the intervention.

People remember that the war on Iraq began with a "no fly zone" and sanctions and ended with a million dead Iraqis and a devastated country. As the Iraqi people, both Arab and Kurd, start to recover their own political will, march for their rights, and are gunned down by the stooge government, they don't even rate a mention from British news media, let alone a word of support. But Hilary Clinton mentioned her talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zakari during her press conference in Paris.

The great powers which were quite happy to do business with the "mad dictator" Gaddafi so long as he seemed firmly in the saddle are not intervening now to safeguard the Libyan people (who will no doubt suffer "collateral damage" when the bombs come down) , nor even to support the anti-Gaddafi forces. Behind the fig leaf of respectability provided by the UN, they are out to secure the initiative for themselves, and hammer not just Gaddafi but Libya itself into submission to imperialist rule.

For Cameron and Sarkozy, there is the incidental bonus, that they hope an easy military show abroad will divert attention from the social war they are inflicting on their own people and services at home. It's an old racket but it worked for Thatcher, they figure, so why not again. We've been here before.

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