Friday, February 17, 2017

Do the Democracy in UNISON guidelines apply to paid staff? (Yes)

As you may imagine, the hearing before the Assistant Certification Officer (ACO) heard a fair bit about some matters not of direct relevance to the specific issues to be decided by the ACO – the extent to which these may (or may not) be relevant to the judgements which the ACO has to make about those specific issues is – predictably – a matter of contention between the parties.

It would be inappropriate for me to comment here at this stage on the issues before the ACO for decision, but I don’t think that self-denying ordinance needs to prevent mention of the evidence offered by a senior UNISON official in December, which was that a meeting of what was to become “Team Dave” took place in Glasgow, in June 2015, in a hotel which had been completely booked (and paid for) by UNISON (and therefore by UNISON members).

I only know about the meeting because of the testimony of that senior official to the ACO.

(I should add that I know of no evidence that the General Secretary himself was aware of or involved in this meeting and make no such allegation.)

I don’t think I will be giving anything away by letting you know that the Union’s lawyers argue that this meeting cannot have been in breach of the election procedures because it too place before those procedures had been agreed.

But other things had been agreed.

There are for example, the Democracy in UNISON guidelines. These include explicit reference to the policy agreed at National Delegate Conference 2001 that “it is not permissible to use members’ subscriptions… …to fund organised factions within the Union… …set up to support particular candidates in elections.”

Paragraph 7 of the guidelines provide that “the principles and objectives contained within this framework will be acknowledged, supported and upheld by all UNISON paid staff.”

So, whatever else happens, or does not happen, before the ACO, and whatever she may decide to do, UNISON will need to determine what action to take concerning the frank admission of a very senior official that they (and others) failed to “acknowledge, support and uphold” (as is required of UNISON paid staff) the policy of our Conference that it is “not permissible’ to “use members’ subscriptions… …to support particular candidates in elections.”

Small businesses plead for tax dodge while workers are denied justice

Today’s news features the objections from businesses in some areas to the revaluation of business rates. In particular, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) are calling on the Chancellor to increase small business rate relief (i.e. letting them get away without paying tax). The FSB whine about the costs of providing their staff with pensions and other aspects of Government policy.

But the FSB don’t mind some occasions when the Government takes money off people hardly able to afford it. In a recent report on the dramatic reduction in access to justice since the introduction of employment tribunal fees, Martin McTague, policy director at the FSB, defended their introduction, claiming that "Tribunal fees have brought down the number of claims with no merit. Before this, the balance of justice had tipped unfairly against smaller employers that struggled with a rising tide of vexatious claims. Fees must be set at a level that enables justice but prevents unreasonable claims." Employment tribunal claims have fallen by 70% since the introduction of fees, and it is quite clear that many workers with entirely reasonable claims are being denied justice (for example an employer can happily make an unauthorised deduction from a worker’s salary if it is less than the fee the worker would now have to pay to complain about this theft to a tribunal).

The FSB estimate that the tax dodge they are pleading for would cost the Government £100 million a year. Government figures show that employment tribunal fees currently raise less than £10 million a year. The same Government review of employment tribunal fees reveals that in 2015/16 the overall cost of Employment Tribunals (including the costs of the Employment Appeals Tribunal) was £66 million (a reduction from £71 million in 2014/15 and £76.3 million in 2013/14).

In other words, small businesses in London are demanding an annual subsidy from the Exchequer which is half again the total annual cost of the entire employment tribunal system, whilst gleefully celebrating the Government’s denial of justice to so many working people.


Friday, February 10, 2017

UNISON General Secretary election - the day of reckoning approaches

As regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Internationalist) will be aware, I am in the process of stepping down from my UNISON responsibilities – but that does not mean that I care nothing for the future of UNISON, a trade union which continues to have tremendous potential, mostly unfortunately yet to be realised.

That’s why I will be one of the complainants at the final day of the Certification Officer hearing into complaints arising from the last General Secretary election, on Wednesday week (22 February) from 10am at the Holiday Inn in Carburton St, London, W1W 5EE.

At this hearing we will hear the closing submissions on behalf of the complainants and the Union. After the hearing concludes I will publish further commentary upon the evidence put before the hearing by all parties, much of which it is important that UNISON members can access before they decide how to vote in the forthcoming elections to the National Executive Council (NEC).

Candidates in support of the failing status quo within UNISON will want to sweep the overwhelming evidence of serious wrongdoing under the carpet – but I am pleased to know that the largest ever number of candidates who really believe in trade unionism and democracy are standing to transform UNISON.

The UNISON Centre (a.k.a. the Great White Elephant of the Euston Road) is a deeply unhappy place where committed employees and intelligent activists alike despair at our lack of vigour and direction. Perhaps this need not always be so.