Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Defending workers rights and civil liberties

This rather depressing story about an over zealous approach to preventing people with criminal records even training for work in public service jumped out at me because I have been working with an even more diligent colleague at branch level to try to get our employer to reconsider a similarly mechanical approach to requesting Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.

UNISON’s guidance on this is as helpful as it was when it was produced four years ago. To quote from the guidance “it is estimated that at least 20% of the working population has a criminal record. Many of them have difficulty finding work if their past convictions become known, even if their past record has no bearing on the job they are applying for.”

I imagine many public sector employers think that it is best to “err on the side of caution” by requesting more and more detailed CRB checks than they really need – but this approach discourages job applicants with criminal records from even applying for roles for which they may be perfectly well suited (and undermines the objective of promoting the rehabilitation of ex-offenders).

We are thereby in danger of excluding from employment in public services millions of individuals who may once have done something wrong. Since most of the Parliamentary Labour Party voted for the Iraq war (a more serious crime than those committed by most of the fifth of working people who have a criminal record) perhaps we should apply the same principles in the Palace of Westminster?

Meanwhile in the private sector the controversial National Dismissal Register may deny employment to staff who are merely suspected of wrongdoing and then placed on a register by their former employer.

The Government are refusing to get involved and denying responsibility yet the website of the outfit behind the register has the Home Office logo on it! The press release launching this dubious initiative is online and includes contact information for those promoting this sinister scheme.

At the risk of being accused of being old fashioned I could point out that the profits made by private sector employers are all of them stolen from the labour of the workers in the first place. So if we really wanted a database of the biggest thieves in the country it would be a list of the largest private sector employers…

Of course if we allow this sort of approach to take root it will lead back to the practices of the Economic League and to trade union activists being denied work.

Socialists defend the interests of working people and particularly those groups who face particular oppression or discrimination. That means sticking up for minorities whether or not they are popular – and the (large) minority of workers with criminal records are entitled to expect our support.

All of which goes to show (in my fairly predictable opinion) why we need Labour MPs who actually believe in Labour principles and will stick up for the interests of workers. (As opposed to grandstanding Tories...)

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