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Cablegate: Dol Advisor Brumfield Discusses Labor Priorities with Hmg,

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RR RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHPOD
DE RUEHLO #0425/01 0430940
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 120940Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7365
INFO RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 000425

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12598: N/A
TAGS: ELAB SOCI UK
SUBJECT: DOL ADVISOR BRUMFIELD DISCUSSES LABOR PRIORITIES WITH HMG,
UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS


1. (SBU) Summary: William Brumfield, European Area Advisor and
Foreign Service Coordinator at the Department of Labor (DOL),
visited the UK to discuss labor priorities with HMG, Unions and
Employers. At HMG he was told that James Purnell, the new Work and
Pensions Secretary, will prioritize welfare reform. The UK has set
itself an "aspirational target" for employment of 80 percent, up
from current levels at approximately 72 percent. An official from
the Trades Union Congress (TUC) discussed the UK labor movement's
focus on the Temporary Agency Workers Directive. Unions are calling
for the creation of parity between the working conditions and
benefits of temporary workers and permanent employees. On Gordon
Brown, Brumfield was told that while the Labour Party has seen a
change in leadership, there has not been a change in substance. A
meeting with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) discussed a
downturn in economic growth which has hurt public finances.
However, the UK housing market is not as vulnerable as the U.S's
because the UK still has a housing shortage. End Summary.

HMG Prioritizes Welfare Reform
-----------------------------

2. (U) In a meeting at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
with Satish Parmar, of the International Employment and Social
Policy Division, and Paul Russell, of the ILO, UN and Council of
Europe team, Brumfield was told that James Purnell, the new Work and
Pensions Secretary, will prioritize welfare reform. In his new
position, following Peter Hain's resignation, Purnell will focus on
raising the UK employment rate by getting more lone parents,
disabled people, and ethnic minorities into work. Personalized
employment advice and 'city strategies' will be used to increase
employment amongst these groups. Incapacity benefit will also be
reformed into a new Employment and Support allowance. The support
allowance will go to people who have no capacity to work. The
employment allowance, which will be a lower level of assistance,
will go to people whose capacity for work has been assessed and who
undertake mandatory activity to get back to work. The government
has set itself an "aspirational target" of 80 percent employment, up
from current levels at approximately 72 or 74 percent.

3. (SBU) Parmar discussed the UK's bilateral relationships. He
noted that DWP has a rolling program of meetings with counterpart
ministries in France and Germany. He went on to observe that, based
on a recent visit from a high-level Canadian official, the UK and
Canada are going to initiate a reciprocal study tour whereby a group
of officials from the UK visit Canada with a "shopping list" of
things that the UK is interested in seeing and vice versa. Parmar
said there would be interest in introducing the same type of
exchange with the U.S. DWP is also finalizing an international
strategy, which now needs to be signed off by Ministers. It will
identify what all parts of the department are doing in terms of
international engagement. It is intended to lead to a more coherent
international approach across the department.

HMG's Participation in International Labor Meetings
---------------------- ----------------------------

4. (SBU) On the OECD's LEED meeting in Venice, Parmar said that it
is unlikely to be attended at the Ministerial level. The UK has not
previously placed a high value on these meetings, only attending one
or two at a junior level. However, the focus on addressing local
problems, including money for local regeneration, is now high on the
UK agenda. Caroline Flint, Minister for Employment prior to Peter
Hain's resignation, had expressed an interest in attending the
meeting given its focus. However, they are still waiting to see if
Stephen Timms, Flint's replacement, will attend. It is highly
unlikely, however, that Purnell will go.

5. (SBU) On the G8 preparatory meeting, Parmar said he will be
attending on the UK side along with Liz Tillett, Deputy Director of
the International, Employment and Social Policy Division. The UK is
looking to agree on outcome-based employment objectives, which will
be useful to persuade other European countries of the benefits of
adopting policies less likely to promote benefits dependence. With
regards to the Ministerial meeting, Peter Hain had agreed to attend.
It is likely that Purnell will attend but they are awaiting
confirmation. If he does not attend, Stephen Timms will attend in
his place.

Unions Prioritize Temporary Workers,
Public Sector Pay and Open Skies Agreement
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Owen Tudor, Head of International Relations at the Trades
Union Congress (TUC), said the Temporary Agency Workers Directive is
a primary focus of the UK labor movement. The labor movement is
calling for the creation of parity between the working conditions
and benefits of temporary workers and permanent employees. This
issue, Tudor said, is currently on Brown's desk, awaiting a
decision. The issue will be focused upon by the French Presidency
of the EU. By that time, Tudor opined, the EU Reform Treaty will

LONDON 00000425 002 OF 003


have been approved (for which the government needs the employers'
support) and the government will be in a position to accept the
Directive.

7. (SBU) In terms of public sector pay, Tudor said that everyone
knows the "money is running out". Unions acknowledge that some cuts
need to be made. However, Tudor said the government's argument that
staged pay awards are necessary to restrain inflationary pressure is
not acceptable. Instead, HMG should argue that it's done because of
public borrowing requirements.

8. (SBU) Brumfield also met with UNITE's Brendan Gold, National
Secretary for Aviation (T&G section) and Paul Talbot, Assistant

SIPDIS
General Secretary (Amicus section). Gold's union represents the
aviation sector except for pilots and air traffic controllers.
Unlike most unions, their membership is growing, by about one
thousand a year, on top of the 75,000 in aviation already part of
the T&G or Amicus sections of the newly-merged mega union UNITE.
(UNITE is the UK's largest union, with over 2 million members.)
Gold is also the vice chair of the European Transport Federation and
the International Transport Federation. Current priority for the
ETF is a pan European agreement with low cost, but unionized
European carrier EasyJet. For the ITF, it is Open Skies and
"social dumping" (seeking trade advantages by exploiting workers).
Gold said the key to organizing workers is to fight for local issues
(a break room, better food) and signing up members. Talbot had a
similar take. Unions don't want to get involved in the nitty gritty
issues at the shop floor level, but that is how members are
recruited.

TUC Critical of Brown's 'Dithering'
----------------------------------

9. (SBU) Owen Tudor stressed that while the Labour Party has seen a
change in leadership, there has not been a change in substance.
While Brown was keen to imply that he would usher in a completely
new administration, the biggest change has been one of style. Tudor
said that accusations in the press of Brown 'dithering' over
decisions were accurate, that it is difficult to get him to make a
decision. His long-term focus means decisions are not made quickly
or easily. He said there is less Ministerial control of government
business, with more done at the center, amongst Brown's close
allies.

Employers Discuss Economic Environment and Temporary Workers
-------------------------------- --------------------

10. (SBU) Speaking for the UK employers group that attends the ILO
meetings, Neil Carberry, Head of Pensions and Employment at the
Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said the Brown government's
policies were not much different from Blair's, but the economic
environment had changed. Public finances were problematic, because
economic growth had declined 17 percent in a year. The UK housing
market is not as vulnerable as the U.S.'s, in Carberry's view,
because the UK still has a housing shortage. Brown is under
pressure to spend on programs to rein in unruly parliamentary
backbenchers upset about the EU treaty, but he hasn't the money in
his budget. Hence the proposal for a rise in the capital gains tax,
which upset the business community and had to be abandoned.
Carberry said the government was legislating but not enforcing work
place rules. The pending EU vote on a Temporary Agency Workers
Directive was "totemic" for the trades unions (the same term used by
Tudor at the TUC). The law would give temporary workers the same
employment rights as full time direct hires after a certain period
on the job. The dispute is over the qualifying time period. The
unions want 6 weeks, the employers (and HMG) want one year, but
might accept 6 months. Both sides say it is more about rights than
pay.

UK ILO Office to Be Replaced by Desk Officer in Geneva
---------------------------- -------------------------

11. (SBU) In a meeting with Lord Bill Brett, currently Director of
the ILO Office in the UK, Brumfield was told that the UK's ILO
Office is closing and that Lord Brett will end his representational
role this year. The office will be replaced by a UK desk officer in
Geneva. On the position of Director-General, Lord Brett believes
Somavia will go for another term and will get another term. He said
that Somavia has unfinished business and is likely to reform the ILO
quite dramatically. Additionally, there is nothing on the horizon
that will attract him away from the ILO. He said that it is highly
unlikely that the ILO will introduce two-term limits (which HMG is
pushing for) as it is not in the interests of either the workers or
employers. On Gordon Brown, Lord Brett believes he did well to get
MPs to accept a 1.9 percent pay rise. In doing so, he isolated the
police. He also said that the various one day strikes will not have
created much fear within the government. He said the big problem on
the horizon will be pensions.

LONDON 00000425 003 OF 003


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