Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Health service pay - should we have a discussion or not?

The UNISON Head of Health has just sent a circular to our health branches suggesting that they – and individual members of regional and national Committees – ought not to express opinions about the current consultative ballot on the marginally improved pay offer to NHS workers!

The circular reads as follows;

“The UNISON Health Group Executive ballot of individual members on the Pay Offer is due to begin on the 20 August. The position taken by the Health Group Executive is to consult members without a recommendation as “the best offer that can be secured through negotiation”. This position has been set to branches in the branch communication HC-92-07.

The Health Group Executive agreed specifically not to recommend either acceptance or rejection of the offer. It is therefore extremely important that branches and elected members of regional or national committees should not undermine that agreed policy. To do so would be a breach of the “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines.

This circular emphasises that union bodies at national, regional and branch level must observe and respect the union’s policy position which was democratically agreed by the Health Group Executive on 25 July 07. In addition it is important that Branches are aware of their obligation to ensure that they promote and implement agreed policy.”

I have just responded to this strange circular as follows;

“I have seen the circular to health branches purporting to instruct branches and office holders that it would be a breach of the “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines for branches (or individual members of Regional or National Committees) to make recommendations to members in the current consultative ballot of health service members over the pay offer.

I did at first think that this was a spoof circular issued by some mischievous comrade wishing to poke fun at the alleged “control freak” tendencies of some at Mabledon Place. I now realise however that this may be an authentic circular to branches.

I realise that August is traditionally the “silly season” but regret that we may have excelled ourselves here.

Under Rule (B.2.5) members (including members of Committees) have a clear right to campaign to initiate and develop policy. Branches have in the past relied upon this right to make recommendations at variance with national recommendations and this has not been challenged.

At the last NEC the questions was raised as to whether or not branches ought to make recommendations at variance with a clear national recommendation in the LGPS ballot. The outcome of this issue having been raised was that the General Secretary suggested that the question be referred to the Development and Organisation Committee. That question has therefore yet to be resolved.

In the case of the ballot of members on pay in health the SGE decided not to make a recommendation. In these circumstances to suggest that branches and individuals may not make recommendations is absurd and has no basis in UNISON Rules. Branches may make policy in accordance with their rules and Rule G.3.3.2. That policy can include policy to change UNISON policy (or how would Conference motions proposing a change in policy ever come about?)

There may be branches (or individual national Committee members) who feel that the priority is to secure the re-election of Gordon Brown, or who feel that the Government will not concede even to strike action (because they have told us as much). These branches and individuals have every right, under UNISON rules to campaign for acceptance of a real-terms pay cut for the majority of our NHS membership as the best practicable outcome (in their view).

Equally there are branches and individuals who will take the view that our members do not join our Union in order to be encouraged to accept a decline in their standard of living. These branches and individuals have every right under our Rules to campaign for rejection of the pay offer.

I would be grateful to know when the NEC interpreted our Rules to support the bizarre and unreasonable approach of the circular to health branches. I don’t know why we as a Union should be seeking to stifle debate in a way which gives the impression that we are more interested in supporting the Government than our own members.

I look forward to hearing from you.”

I hope that members and branches will not be discouraged from expressing and debating opinions! If the SGE decided not to make a recommendation then that cannot have been a unanimous decision to refuse to provide leadership – it must have reflected uncertainty (which is no bad thing in uncertain circumstances). If the leadership is uncertain then stifling debate amongst the rank and file is hardly sensible – how will we decide upon the correct course of action if we do so?

Of course if one had the objective of securing the acquiescence of the membership if a poor pay offer then preventing the airing of contrary opinions would be a sound tactic. Happily no one in our Union has that objective and therefore no doubt this unfortunate circular will shortly be withdrawn.

In the mean time, as an elected member of our NEC, I want to be clear that, with all due respect to the SGE, if I were a health worker I would vote to reject the offer (although I think I have voted to reject every pay offer I have ever been made so I suppose that is not too shocking…)

Really though, why should we be accepting any pay rises below the rate of inflation? Are we too rich? Too well paid????

1 comment:

DLS said...

I agree Jon, this is disgraceful weakness of the UNISON leadership.
They haven't got the balls to say this is a crap deal and take on Brown - so they'll leave it up to the members to decide.

But how can the membership have any faith that if they vote no UNISON will back them up and fight for a decent pay claim.

In reality they are not letting the membership decide - if there was an analysis of the pay claim with its pros and cons set out for all to see and then they let members decide that would be different.

Instead on all the contents of the website and Jennings circular it is stated as an improved offer - implying that the leadership have done well to get it.

In effect trying to get the members to say yes - then saying branches cannot campaign for a no vote - your the anorak has this ever happened before? I'm sure I have always received recommendations from my branch even when that differs from the national recommendation.

This smacks of a stitch up so that our weak leadership can say well it was the best we could get and the membership weren't up for a strike.

Well they never will be up for a strike if we don't show that we will support them