Friday, 18 October 2013

Why have women’s rights in Jersey not advanced in the last 11 years?” – it’s the government’s fault, stupid!



The organisers of Thursday morning’s breakfast seminar ’Advancing Women in Politics & Public Life’ were undoubtedly surprised by the numbers wishing to attend. Had they chosen a venue larger than the Grand Hotel’s 160 places it could have been filled. The key note speaker, Tessa Jowell, former Labour MP, was clearly a draw and did not disappoint.




The Top Quartile

The event was a slightly curious one, and even Senator Sir Philip Bailhache alluded to this in his introduction to Tessa Jowell, observing that the majority of the women present in the room were in the upper quartile of society, or ‘aspiring to get there’. 

The atmosphere, with women dressed in their office attire, meant it could easily have been a Finance seminar about the latest developments in funds management. Indeed, the sponsors EY, formerly Ernst & Young accountants, had kindly provided a brochure on each seat entitled “Time for change – recruiting for Europe’s boardrooms”. Surely not, Time4Change?

In fact, the event was to discuss the position of women in Jersey society and the obstacles to their advancement – a far more ticklish subject. Whilst some clearly came because the “glass ceiling” keeps women off Boards of Directors, others had more prosaic issues like expensive child care and the absence of statutory maternity leave and pay. Regardless of class position, all these women shared a common experience in that as women they face discrimination precisely because they are women.

So what was the seminar supposed to achieve? Even at the end, I was left wondering. Here was a government funded trust, the Jersey Community Relations Trust (JCRT), tentatively raising the issue of gender equality in a public meeting. We know that in Jersey the word equality is only ever mentioned in hushed tones. 

What have Sir Philip Bailhache and Deputy Kristina Moore ever done for women?

The key note speaker Tessa Jowell called herself a “feminist”, yet the panel could not have been more eminently respectable, with a former Bailiff, Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, a women Deputy, Kristina Moore and an EY partner, another man. Karen Rankin, head of CTV, acted as moderator at question time. It was all terribly bourgeois. What was the hidden agenda?

I asked myself √† la Monty Python, what have Sir Philip Bailhache and Deputy Kristina Moore ever done for women? I have never heard either raise issues in the States relating to discrimination or equality. So why were they there? 

The excellent JCRT report was merely alluded to by Deputy Moore with her ever grinning Cheshire Cat approach to difficult issues in politics, yet it contains a damning litany of government failure and neglect. 

No one on the panel ever mentioned that the Jersey government consistently refuses to sign up to The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”), often described as an international bill of rights for women. This was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly and signed up to by the UK in 1982.

The Emperor's New Clothes moment - No political will

The whole meeting never seemed to get round to critiquing government policy on these issues. Not that is until the closing seconds of question time to the panel.

Prior to that, Karen Rankin, from CCTV moderated question time in a way that carefully chose questions from pre-selected individuals in the audience that would not be too controversial. The party line was the advacement of professional women in Jersey society.

Then it happened.

Half sitting and half standing, a woman at the front of the meeting rose and without the aid of the microphone started addressing an issue she felt had been entirely missed.

There was a reason nothing had changed for women in Jersey in the past 11 years she said and the reason was simple – there was no political will in the States of Jersey and in government to bring about change.

There was a stunned silence. Slightly inaudible at the outset, others listened more attentively to what the woman had to say and then applause, muffled initially, became a crescendo of endorsement. Someone had said it; the Emperor had no clothes.

There we are; it was out; government was to blame.

Tessa Jowell had been saying it all along in her speech. Until there was legislation through the UK Parliament, the cajoling of employers over maternity rights and pay had proved very limited. It took the election of a Labour government with a positive agenda to bring about change.

The woman had reminded the meeting that the draft Discrimination Law was one of the items offered up by the Home Affairs Department to the Comprehensive Spending Review cuts. It saved £100,000 and created several years law drafting delay. Did discrimination count for so little? The answer is yes. The government of Jersey does not make women's issues a priority in any sense.

The Discrimination Law has now been debated and approved by the States. Legislation on the issue of Race will become law sometime next year once approved by the Privy Council. It is only proposed to deal with issues of gender in the near future. The Social Security Minister has no firm timetable. Women ought to be angry at this feet dragging.


The meeting neatly illustrates a conundrum in Jersey politics. Much needed social reform, including issues relating to women, has been marginalised. The conservatism of the government and poltical elite is holding back developments. 

There will have been those present who probably saw the event as one of how to get more women in the Boardroom. Yet others recognised there are changes, that elsewhere are uncontroversial, are long overdue. False respectability is hindering social advance.

One issue of contention was that of quotas for women in political parties and to Boards. Tessa Jowell told us that even though the Labour Party operated women short lists for candidates, only one third of their MPs were women.

The reaction from the panel and a number of the "selected" speakers from the floor, was adamant that in Jersey there should be no special positive discrimination in favour of women. The best man for the job principle should prevail.

Sir Philip Bailhache considered that women were deterred from standing for election as a consequence of the "aggressive and immodest behaviour by a minority of States Members". In other words, the States Chamber was no place for Ladies. He was of course pandering to a favourite prejudice, blaming the small number of Deputies that actually ask questions and challenge government policy.

“Bailhache’s Babes”

The organisers of the seminar were coy about their future ambitions. It was said the JCRT would progress their campaign via their website. Clearly without some organisational outcome the event would be wholly wasted. Would they be forming a political organisation to elect women to the States of Jersey in 2014 elections? There was a hint throughout the meeting that this ought to happen. 

Yet, what can we hope for? Will it be “Bailhache’s Babes” standing for election or will it be somewhat more militant?

March, march—many as one/Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.






Ever sensitive to social class I could not help noticing a telling remark from Senator Bailhache in response to a question from the floor from a Jersey College for Girls student named Yasmin. She had been discussing with a boy about the issue of equal pay for women – the gender gap, which we know is some 17% between men and women. This lad said it was the fault of women as they should be asking their employers for a pay rise.

Sir Philip replied by saying that Victoria College boys could be a little trying at times. Victoria College? Why did he assume this JCG student would only be talking to a Vic College boy?


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Anna G - Discrimination against working women is alive and well in Jersey. The kitchen porter who asked for her job back after giving birth.



This coming Thursday the Jersey Community Relations Trust will be hosting a seminar in the Grand Hotel entitled ‘Advancing Women in Politics & Public Life’. It is already oversubscribed. The guest speaker will be the Right Hon Dame Tessa Jowell and the panel will include Senator Sir Philip Bailhache. 

With women making up only one third of the directors, managers and senior officials, the seminar is billed to examine ‘the barriers to a greater representation of women in leadership’. The event will probably see the launch of a campaign by women professionals as candidates in the 2014 States of Jersey elections.

Women are sorely underrepresented, as is St Helier in terms of political representation. Both will face a fight to achieve change. More women, especially capable women, would be an asset to the States in general. Historically and sadly, the women elected to the States of Jersey have proved to be some of the least able of States Members. Ivy Foster may be remembered as the first woman Deputy, but what were her policies? None can recall.

Anna G

One woman who won’t be attending the gathering of the aspiring elite on Thursday, yet has been materially affected by discrimination in Jersey, is a Polish kitchen porter, Anna G, who appeared before the Jersey Employment Tribunal this Tuesday morning. 


Through her interpreter we heard how, after 18 weeks of what Anna believed to be unpaid maternity leave, she sought to come back to her job with Randalls brewery and was told by her manager that her absence meant she had resigned. 

In spite of a verbal promise by the same manger that she could take “unpaid leave” to have her child and return, she was told the company did not have contractual maternity leave and her contract of employment was silent on the point. By leaving work to have her child she had effectively resigned and all the company could offer her now was a zero hours contract.


Randalls brewery employs around 500 staff, yet the company must be one of few larger island employers not to have a maternity leave policy. Anna G’s contract of employment was silent on the issue of maternity leave and maternity pay.  


The legal issues


Before the Tribunal was an application by the company to strike out the Applicants’ claim for unfair dismissal, on the grounds that the initiating form had been filed late and outside the required statutory period beginning with the last day of employment, the 'Effective Date of Termination'.


This Interim Hearing was to consider a number of preliminary legal issues. Firstly, what was the actual date of termination of employment? Was it following her first discussion with her manager about her pregnancy  on 3rd November 2012, her last actual day of work on Saturday 1st December 2012 or on 21st April 2013 when she had a meeting with her manager about return to work, only to be told there was no job to come back to. If November, she was out of time for filing her application for Unfair Dismissal.


Also to be considered were the precise terms of Anna G’s contract of employment. Had it been varied by the manager who told her she could return to work after 18 weeks unpaid maternity leave? Did the manager have the authority to offer maternity leave and did this bind his employer Randalls?


The social reality


Anna G made it abundantly clear that she would never have dreamed of giving in her notice and resigning as she did not have five years residence in Jersey. Without those vital five years and the associated rights to social security benefits, it would have been folly indeed to resign. Such is the insecurity of immigrant workers.

For Anna her immediate boss was the company for all practical purposes. When her manager said it was acceptable to take unpaid leave to have here child, she fully expected to be able to return to work on the same terms and conditions.


Unrepresented


Anna G was not legally represented at the Tribunal, but she had received advice from JACS and the benefit of an interpreter provided by the Tribunal at the hearing. This was of vital assistance as Anna’s English was very limited and that of her Polish companion whilst adequate, did not stretch to legal concepts.


It was therefore fortunate for Anna G that Randalls was also not legally represented. This came about because the company’s HR advice contract with employment law specialists Peninsula had inadvertently lapsed. 

The area operations manager drew the short straw and turned up to represent the company with no experience of an employment Tribunal and no witnesses to support his case. This was a fatal error. It annoyed the Tribunal Chair by threatening to waste everyone’s time with an adjournment. 

Desperate phone calls to find Anna G’s manger and bring him to Town from “somewhere in St John” proved in vain. The case continued with the Chair’s warning that all the evidence given on behalf of the employer carried little weight, as it contained disputed issues that could not be put to proof by a witness on oath.


The Tribunal adjourned to consider its decision on the issue of allowing the case to be struck out, promising to notify the parties quickly and provide a written judgment in 14 days.


One would be foolish to preempt the judment of any court, however it is very likely that the case will be back before the Tribunal for a full hearing in due course. 

Chastened by todays humiliation, Randalls is certain to appear with an Advocate of the Royal Court in tow. As Anna G was unrepresented, I wonder if one of those able women lawyers attending Thursdays seminar on “Advancing Women” would offer their legal services free for a woman of a different social class in need of help? 

Anna G may not need an Advocate at the Tribunal but she could do with legal advice that will win her a decent financial settlement (hint to employer - settle rather than waste money on expensive lawyers).


Whilst some aspire to a seat in the States of Jersey, others have more modest ambition; like that of a working woman to retain employment adequate to support herself and a child.