Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Member-led trade unionism

Rule B2.2 in the UNISON Rule Book says that one of our aims and objectives is;

“To promote and establish a member-led union and to carry out and fulfil decisions made by members in a spirit of unity and accountability.”

I just like to remind myself of that from time to time :)

Regional Council AGM

I won't be posting tomorrow as I will be busy with a number of matters including the Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Council. I hope for a well attended meeting with comradely and constructive debate.

It is a shame that we have not had a quorum at a meeting of our Regional Council since the last AGM, particularly as that was the best attended Regional Council meeting we had ever had. I hope we have a similarly large turnout tomorrow, and that those attending can be persuaded to remain engaged with our policy making machinery throughout the year.

Black Members seats on the UNISON NEC

The Tuesday meeting of UNISON's Development and Organisation Committee has agreed to recommend that the NEC proposes amendments to Rule to create Black Members' seats on our NEC.

The Committee had previously considered the results of consultation on the role of the four NEC members who hold the “additional members” seats created in 2000, and agreed the recommendations of a report which proposes to change the title of these posts to “Black Members seats”. By law these seats cannot be restricted to black members only and will be open to all members, but the holders of the seats will have a brief to promote issues of concerns to our black members in particular.

The meeting agreed the recommendations of the report with one slight amendment following clarification that some of the inconsistencies in the proposals were necessary in order to comply with the law. This will lead to an NEC Rule Amendment to this year’s Conference, so that the changes will not take effect until the next NEC elections in 2009.

It is regrettable that the law does not allow trade unions to reserve seats on their NECs for black members. However it is a step forward that we are proposing to create Black Members seats on the highest Committee in the Union.

UNISON Conference motions

The UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee agreed on Tuesday to recommend four motions to go to National Delegate Conference on the following topics;

UNISON wide equality scheme;

Migrant workers;

Organising and recruiting;

Education and Training.

Moz Greenshields (East Midlands) complained about the practice of tabling draft Conference motions on the day of Committee meetings. This inexcusable practice has been common for some years and I regret to report that the majority of NEC members seem perfectly happy to agree motions drafted by officers “on the nod”.

I proposed an amendment to the motion on migrant workers to restate our Conference policy, developed in and moved by the Greater London Region in 2005, in favour of an amnesty for undocumented workers. The officer responsible for the motion (Liane Venner) explained that the motion was meant to address organising rather than policy issues, but as I felt that the motion did include policy issues I pushed the amendment to a vote. This was lost.

Of course NEC Conference motions are open to amendment from branches but I regret that the NEC motion fails to restate an important Conference policy, the commitment to which in some quarters of our Union I have questioned following our consistent refusal to put our policy to the TUC Congress in the past two years.

The Committee structure of the NEC - and the way in which motions (all of which are drafted by officers at Mabledon Place) notionally emerge from the Committees to go before the NEC can mean that topics which are relevant to the briefs of more than one main Committee do not get dealt with in a very satisfactory way.

In this case, the question of how to organise migrant workers and the question of what policy demands to make of Government are linked very closely. I personally hope that branches can use their right to amend motions to restore this link if the full NEC fails to do so.

UNISON's Review of Structures

The first, and major, item was a discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee was of the report of the working group on the review of our branch and service group structures set up in response to the decision of Conference 2005. This working group has been engaged in extensive consultation and the Chair, Sue Highton, urged us to accept the recommendations of the report, which was introduced by the officer who had led this work. Liane Venner.

The report, which will now be put to the National Executive Council on 21 February for submission to Conference this summer makes a number of recommendations, including;
A revised scheme for branches under Rule G1.2;


Flexibility to allow branches to participate in more than one Region or Service Group;


A review of the allocation of resources to branches and Regions;


Annual assessments of branch organisation in each Region;


A review of the role of “sectors” within and between Service Groups;


A review to enhance cross service-group working;


Further consultation about structures for Further Education, Community and Voluntary Sector, and Private Sector members;


Further consultation on Service Group structures, focusing on Energy, Transport, Water and Environment Service Groups;


Rule amendments dealing with the definition of “sectors” in Rule Q and to govern cross service-group sectors in Rule D3.7.

Liane Venner gave a full introduction to the report. Glenn Kelly (representing Local Government) expressed some concerns about how some of the recommendations could be viewed by branches. I expressed some similar concerns and suggested some possible amendments to address these. John Jones (representing Water and Environment) expressed concern about the recommendation to review Service Group structures. Moz Greenshields (from the East Midlands Region) made the obvious but necessary point that the D&O Committee had never itself debated this subject, since it had agreed to defer discussion pending consultation and was now being presented with recommendations as a fait accompli. (I regret that this is not uncommon on the NEC!) Liane responded to the debate with a thorough defence of the recommendations of the report.

I decided to push just one amendment to the vote, and urged the Committee to agree that the review of resource allocation should include all resources, including those allocated to HQ, not just those allocated to branches and Regions. Bob Oram (from the North West Region) who chairs the NEC Staffing Committee objected to this proposed amendment on the grounds that the Staffing Committee is already undertaking Regional staffing reviews. The long standing view of the NEC is that staffing matters should not be discussed at National Delegate Conference, although this view is not supported by our Rule Book. In the event a majority of the Committee supported the recommendations of the working party as drafted by officers. Glenn Kelly also proposed some amendments which were rejected, although his suggestion that one of the Rule Amendments was inadequate was “taken away” for further consideration prior to the forthcoming NEC meeting.

The recommendations of the report will be put to Conference and branches will be able to move amendments to the recommendations. Branches may wish to timetable discussion on this report between the publication of the Preliminary Agenda for National Delegate Conference and the deadline for amendments.

Since circulating this report to London Region branches it has been pointed out to me by my friend and comrade Jean Geldart, who was a member of the working party, that the lay working party did make a number of amendments to the original officer recommendations. Overall the report is a step forward, but that’s not to say that branches shouldn’t consider whether they can improve upon its recommendations!

Don't mention the Labour leadership...!

I was intending to write my full report from Tuesday’s meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee just now – but as that was a meeting with a heavy and important agenda I think I shall leave it until later.

I will mention now just one surreal moment from that meeting, which I also mentioned later in the evening to the well attended meeting of trade unionists supporting John McDonnell’s campaign for the Labour leadership.

As previously reported on this blog the UNISON Greater London Regional Secretary had sought to rule out of order a sensible and inoffensive motion from the St Mary’s Paddington Health Branch which had been submitted to the UNISON Greater London Regional Council. This motion simply asked the NEC of the Union to encourage our Labour Link Committee (which has sole responsibility for administration of the relevant section of our political fund) to seek a candidate for Labour Leader who would support UNISON policies.

After some debate at the Regional Committee, including a meeting being closed early by the Chair, the Regional Secretary agreed to seek national guidance on the interpretation of the Union’s rules.

Therefore a reference was made to the Chair of the D&O Committee of the NEC who generally exercises this responsibility on behalf of the NEC. The Chair, recognising that there was a Committee meeting at the right time to consider this question referred the matter to the Committee as a whole.

I argued that the sensible motion from a branch with a commitment to fighting for socialist policies in the Labour Party should be seen as competent for discussion by the whole of UNISON’s membership. Sadly the only person to support me was a paid up member of the Socialist Party – my old friend Glen Kelly, about whom I agree with many things, but not the Labour Party!

This was a surreal moment. The lone ultra-leftist, who does not support the Labour Party, was joining me to criticise an ill-advised attempt to limit debate which can only harm our relationship with the Labour Party, whilst those ostensibly in support of our relationship with the Labour Party were backing a decision which places that relationship in jeopardy!

So the relevant Committee of the NEC has spoken. UNISON’s membership as a whole may not disuss the Labour leadership. That is to be left to the Labour Link.

Well, this would be the same Labour Link that has just omitted a picture of the only declared candidate for Labour Leader from a “rogues gallery” of other contenders for Leader and Deputy Leader?

Yes. It would. UNISON Labour Link is one of the least effective and useful parts of our trade union. It is an embarrassment to those of us who are serious about defending and developing the vital link between trade unions and the Labour Party.

I look forward to hearing justifications from Labour Link Committee members, both Regionally and nationally, about why we should support Gordon Brown – since that appears to be their position. Not a single member of the National Labour Link Committee of UNISON has yet expressed a clear opinion to me on this subject however.

I suppose I can see why there might be an interest in avoiding debate…

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

UNISON Development and Organisation Committee

I am hoping not to be late for this morning's meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) which is set to debate the report of a review of our branch and service group structures agreed at Conference 2005 for report to this June's Brighton Conference.

I'll report here - and to branches in London - on the discussion as soon as I can. Some good ideas are emerging (allowing branches to be represented in more than one Region or Service Group, reviewing cross service group working to ensure accountability etc.) Other ideas, including a revised scheme for branches, a review of all resources (including branch funding) and annual reviews of branch organisation by Regions could be positive, but could also have the potential to create difficulties.

Watch this space...

One strike settles, another one starts

It’s not every day I buy the Financial Times (not having much in the way of a share portfolio…) Then again it’s not every day you see a Trade Union General Secretary on the front page. They seem to be presenting the settlement between British Airways and the TGWU as some sort of score draw.

The TGWU describe the settlement as a significant improvement. Whilst the pay settlement only just outstrips inflation it’s a lot more than we can expect to be offered in local government. The offer in respect of sickness absence management is difficult to assess from the outside – as anyone who has ever negotiated sickness procedures, or represented union members within them, knows that it is in the detailed implementation of such procedures on the ground that the scope for bullying arises. The employers seem to have got what they wanted on pensions and the share price rise suggests that investors are happy with the deal.

I see that there are various theories swirling around the web about why the strike was settled – if someone can point me to a site where rank and file TGWU members give their views I would be interested.

In the mean time, there doesn’t seem much hope of an early settlement for our comrades in PCS who strike tomorrow. All trade unionists have to hope that our brothers and sisters in the civil service can make gains in their struggle against a New Labour Government which rarely rests from attacking their jobs – driven by a Chancellor of the Exchequer whom some union leaders seem to think would make a good Prime Minister!

I am glad to see PCS organising a series of rallies and demonstrations to maximise the public impact of their strike – I hope some others in the movement get the message that this is a good idea!

If we are going to get a good deal on the Local Government Pension Scheme we'll need energetic strike action - with the side effect that other General Secretaries will get on the front page of the FT and I'll have to buy it again...

Monday, January 29, 2007

A terrible dream?

I must stop working so late.

I must have dropped off.

I had an awful dream in which I was a member of a trade union in which the unelected officials told the elected and accountable activists that they ought not to meet to discuss an important dispute - in the name of guidelines on Democracy!

In that dream world I also heard that there had been no effective lay oversight of the crucial leaflet issued to all members about proposals for the future of the Pension Scheme.

What a good job I am a member of a lay led trade union where such things could never happen.

Not just for anoraks!!!

What follows is a message I have sent today to UNISON Branches in London concerning the seemingly obscure but very important question of ongoing consultation on the arrangements for the Standing Orders Committee for the Greater London Regional Council. You might think this is one for us anoraks, but if unless all activists pay attention to these questions it is people in somewhat smarter attire (than we anoraks) who will have cause to celebrate...

"I am writing to you because, as one of your members of the National Executive Council (NEC) I sit on our Regional Committee, of which I have been a member for a number of years. I apologise in advance for the length of this message – but I hope you will agree that it deals with an important matter.

You will have received, a little while ago, a circular from Regional Office asking your views on the “standing orders” arrangements for our UNISON Regional Council, suggesting that you express a preference between two options and inviting your branch to respond by 1 March.

You may also have noticed that there are a couple of motions on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the Regional Council Annual General Meeting this coming Thursday which address the same subject. The Regional Committee has asked the movers of both motions if they will withdraw them from the agenda to allow the consultation process to conclude.

I writing to encourage branches to respond to what may not at first appear the most vital consultation document – and also to advise you of an option which was discussed at the Regional Committee but was not then included in the circular sent out from the Regional Office.

BACKGROUND

As some of us will remember, when our Regional Council was first established after vesting day there was a separate, elected, Standing Orders Committee which decided whether motions and amendments tabled by branches for the Regional Council should be admitted to the agenda. Not long into UNISON’s infancy the Regional SOC proposed that it should be abolished and its duties passed to the Regional Committee.

Our Regional Committee has therefore carried out the functions of a Standing Orders Committee for the Regional Council for a number of years. This has not caused any significant difficulties before the current year since the Regional Committee has generally taken the view that Regional Council should be allowed to debate whichever motions branches or Committees wish to put before it.

Nor has the Regional Committee changed its approach in the current year. However, on more than one occasion motions submitted for the Regional Council have either not (initially) been placed before the Committee for consideration, or the Committee has been told that it may not admit motions to the agenda (even though it is the Standing Orders Committee for the Regional Council). These new developments do not appear to have been led by lay members.

OPTIONS FOR CHANGE

The Regional Secretary put before the Regional Committee two proposals for alternative arrangements for the administration of standing orders in relation to the Regional Council. These are the two options set out in the letter which you will have received from the Regional Office. A third option, raised at the Regional Committee and widely welcomed at the meeting, was not included in the letter sent to consult branches.

The two options in the letter are, as you will have seen, that the either the Regional Finance Team or the Regional Council Officer team should take on the role and functions of a Standing Orders Committee for the Regional Council. The third option, not included in the letter, is that there should be a separate independent Standing Orders Committee elected by the Regional Council.

I hope that your branch will consider responding to the consultation exercise if you have not already done so and will, in doing so, consider the advantages and disadvantages of all three options (as well as considering any other ways of resolving this question).

Although, as I have said, it is only in the very recent past that there seems to have been a problem with the Regional Committee carrying out the Standing Orders Committee role in the Region, it is easy to see why this is less than ideal. The Regional Committee is one of the bodies which can put motions to the Regional Council and so you could argue that it has a conflict of interest when ruling on the admissibility of its own motions. As someone put it at the Regional Committee – it is a bit like asking the National Executive Council to act as the Standing Orders Committee for National Delegate Conference!

However, this problem is hardly dealt with by either of the two options set out in the letter issued by the Regional office to consult branches on this issue. Both the Regional Finance Team (consisting only of the Convenor, Finance Convenor and –unelected – Regional Secretary) and the Regional Council Officers Team (consisting of the six elected officers) are – in effect – SubCommittees of the Regional Committee. These two options are a bit like asking either the Finance Committee of the NEC or the Presidential Team to act as the Standing Orders Committee for Conference!

THE THIRD OPTION

An independent, elected Standing Orders Committee (as at National Conference) may not always make decisions which are universally welcome, but it is almost certainly the most appropriate model for a democratic and lay led trade union to administer the standing orders for important decision making meetings. The minimal cost of establishing such a body would be a small price to pay for ensuring that the administration of our lay structures remained under the effective control of lay members elected by and accountable to the membership.

I have written this letter because I have been concerned that branches have not been advised, by the office, of the third option which was discussed at the Regional Committee, and which seems to me to be the best and most democratic way to deal with the problem which has now been drawn to our attention.

I hope that in considering your response to this consultation exercise your branch will give full weight to all the options.

I look forward to seeing you at the Regional AGM on Thursday."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Excuses excuses...

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last few days – it’s been a hectic week, including Tuesday’s lobby of Parliament, the Lambeth UNISON Branch AGM (at which I returned to being Branch Secretary on a job-share basis) and a day of refresher training in the Greater London Provincial Council job evaluation scheme.

That led to my missing the second ever meeting of the Greater London Employment Forum, this time attended by even fewer representatives of the London Borough Councils than the poor turn out at the first meeting.

I am looking forward to next week’s Annual General Meeting of UNISON’s Greater London Regional Council, which will be the first meeting to attract a quorum since the last AGM. This is the first year I can remember in which we have had no quorate meeting apart from the AGM – I hope that it will be the last. We need a Union which can attract delegates to meetings at which we can take the leading role we should have in our capital city.

I’ll blog here later about some of the items on the agenda for the meeting…

(Oh and I would like to thank friends at the Regional Office for all their support and encouragement to me to return to the position of Branch Secretary!)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lunch before pensions???

Thanks to Dorothy for a comment on an earlier post asking me about the Special Local Government Conference being called by UNISON on 6 March. I’ll return to this theme when there is more information about the motions coming up for debate from branches.

Dorothy asked whether the convening of a special conference is an embarrassment for the Union’s leadership. Technically this Conference is being convened in response to a request from the Service Group Executive (and therefore by the leadership). However, there is little doubt that this would not have happened had it not been for the very strong support for the separate requisition for a Special Conference initiated by the Kirklees branch. I understand that by the time the decision to agree the SGE request was made, the Kirklees requisition was well past the target it needed to reach.

Kirklees needed to gain the support of branches representing 25% of the membership of the Local Government Service Group (the local government section of UNISON) within a two month period. It is clear that they more than succeeded in this objective (branches with a membership of around 300,000 out of 800,000 is what I have heard). It is obvious that if branches and activists up and down the country were happy and relaxed about the way in which the dispute has been run up to now then they would not have supported the requisition for a Special Conference.

The Conference will take place on Tuesday 6 March at the Alexandra Palace. However, as I understand it, the current proposed start time for the Conference is 1pm, so quite how long we will have to debate the dispute over the Local Government Pension Scheme remains to be seen. I am sure that all activists would be sympathetic to any attempt to minimise the cost of a Special Conference, but it may prove a false economy to get us together only from lunchtime if the delegates don’t have time to get through the debate which needs to be had.

It’s the debate on pensions which we will be going to the Ally Pally to get our teeth into – not the over priced sandwiches…

Friday, January 19, 2007

Brown to launch HMS Gandhi?

So Gordon Brown is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

Lovely.

But how to honour him?

Why not name one of the new Trident nuclear submarines after him Gordon? After all – you are committed to replacing Trident.

Those in the trade union movement who support Gordon and look forward to a smooth transition from Blair to Brown ought to have the courage to say so openly and the confidence to explain why Brown’s policies are in our interests.

It is not clear that the approach of lunching Ministers is delivering for our members in the health service or for our pensions.

Of course there is a candidate for Labour Leader who can support the policies we will be advancing at the lobby of Parliament on Tuesday (and who has policies rather closer to the ideas of Gandhi than those advanced by Gordon Brown).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

20 years of pension contributions...

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of my having started work for my current local authority employer (there’s no need to post comments saying that I don’t look that old – I know ;p)

For twenty years I have been paying in to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

At today’s meeting of the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Committee we received a further update on the current discussions about the “new look” LGPS. I am not at all happy at indications that the most we are likely to get through negotiation by way of enhanced protection is a lowering of the age at which the rights of current scheme members are protected by four more years – this isn’t good enough. It will let down in particular the young members we have recruited through the course of this dispute.

I am even less happy that local government workers forced into redundancy in their fifties may no longer receive a pension and – if they do – there could be “actuarial” reductions of around 40% in the pensions of 55 year olds being made redundant (that’s a lifetime 40% reduction of course!) I would rather we didn’t have to negotiate redundancies – but where there are redundancies then a reasonable amount of compensation softens the blow.

I hope that twenty years from now the LGPS will be better than it is today – but that will only be true if we fight hard now to defend our rights.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Shhh... Don't mention the Labour Link...

We have reported before on this blog about the unending arguments about what UNISON members can and cannot debate in relation to the Labour Party in our union meetings. The daft structure we were saddled with at the time of merger in 1993 prevents proper debate amongst the membership as a whole about our ramshackle intervention in the Labour Party.

Watch this space for news about whether we are allowed to discuss the fact that the Party in Government is set to elect a new Leader who will become Prime Minister of the whole country (including all UNISON members, regardless of which part of our political fund they pay into…)

As an old fashioned trade unionist who believes that members should run their unions I prefer our Rules to be interpreted by elected rather than appointed officials. It doesn’t seem fair to me that our Union should put people in the position of deciding upon the correct reading of a Rule Book which, under that Rule Book, they could have no say in writing or amending.

Particularly not if we put people in a position where they could be accused of having a conflict of interest. It amounts to a cop out by our lay leadership – and it just isn’t fair.

I'll keep you posted...

Monday, January 15, 2007

More on the new look LGPS

This is in addition to Jon's earlier post on the pensions briefing.

What was explained at the pensions briefing was that while the first £12000 would be at the lower rate of 5.5% this would be pro rataed for part time workers who would work out the proportion of the salary that will be deducted at the higher rate by working out what the full time salary would be and applying the proportions to the part time salary. If a worker earns 12000 and works exactly half the working week their full time equivalent salary would be £24000 so that 50% or £6000 will be deducted at 5.5% and the other 50% £6000 would be at 7.5%.

This is appalling discrimination of part time workers who are mainly women and can not understand why this was not consider a “deal breaker” as they described a number of points in the new scheme. What the negotiators appeared not to have even taken account off is the effect on huge number of term time only workers, whether full time (during the working weeks) or not. A quick calculation seems to leave teaching assistant earning £12000 working 25 hours a week (which is about normal hours) and term time only paying nearly £100 more to pension scheme then some one earning £12000 on a full time basis.

Unique Care offer unique approach to industrial relations!

18 Unison members at Unique Care in Huddersfield have been sacked for standing up to bullying and intimidation

Unique Care is a voluntary sector organisation that gets contracts from social services in Kirklees. They run a home at Bradley Court, Bradley, Huddersfield and provide home care to black clients.

One Unison member underwent a kangaroo court style disciplinary and was dismissed on Friday 5th January. As a result the other Unison members walked out on the Monday. They demanded their colleague was reinstated, that new contracts of employment be withdrawn and the Chiel Executive be investigated for bullying.

On Thursday Unique Care sacked everyone

Kirklees Unison are supporting the members and messages of support and financial help are needed.

Please send the above to Kirklees Unison, 20 Queen Street, Huddersfield, HD1 2SP Fax 01484 450174 Tele 01484 223577

Friday, January 12, 2007

The new look LGPS and the employee contribution escalator

At the risk of becoming boring about the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), another aspect of the proposals for the “new look” LGPS is troubling me this morning as I speed to a Regional Pensions Briefing.

This relates to the tiered contribution structure in the new scheme. In principle this seems like a good thing. Higher paid workers should pay a higher proportion of their marginal income to pay for their pension – it is the same principle as progressive taxation.

If I have understood the (even more progressive) proposals for the NHS Pension Scheme, each “tier” of pension contribution is linked to an AfC (Agenda for Change) grade - at least for those staff on AfC grades and earning less than £100,000 (!).

As the document explaining the NHS scheme puts it; “For AfC members, NHS pay rises will also apply to pay points. Movement between pay bands will therefore not depend on the level of any agreed NHS pay rise, but in most instances on promotion to a higher pay point.”

However, the proposals for the “new-look” LGPS have just two tiers, which break at £12,000 and – in the proposals – this sum is not linked to (for example) a spine point on the agreed National Joint Council pay spine. This leads to two points, the first of which is only really relevant in Greater London, though the second applies across the board.

First, whereas in the Health Service Scheme, tiers of pension contributions will be linked to grades (and therefore London Weighting, which is paid in addition to the grade will not of itself push staff up a tier) – in the LGPS, because London Weighting is now paid as part of the Inner and Outer London pay spines, this will have the effect of significantly increasing the proportion of the workforce paying a marginal pension contribution of 7.5% in London.

Secondly, because the break point between the two tiers in the “new look” LGPS is a cash sum and is not linked to a point on the pay spine, the scheme includes a built in “escalator” for aggregate employee contributions. Year on year, as pay increases, the proportion of the pay bill going in employee pension contributions will automatically rise.

(To illustrate this point, imagine we get a 2.5% pay rise on 1 April. For some staff this pay rise will not increase their earnings beyond £12,000 so they will experience no change and will go on paying 5.5% on their whole earnings. For some staff the 2.5% pay rise will increase their pay from just below to just above £12,000 so they will start paying 7.5% pension contributions on a small fraction of their income, and their pension contribution as a share of their income will rise above 5.5%. For those staff already earning above £12,000, the proportion of their income on which they pay 7.5% contributions will increase marginally compared to the fixed amount on which they pay 5.5%, so their pension contributions as a share of their income will also increase.)

Of course all of these contributions are paid from gross income, which will further mitigate the impact of what would be – in any one year – a fairly small effect. However, over a number of years the average employee pension contribution in the new-look LGPS will rise, regardless of any annual review of costs. The amount of the rise would not be enormous and would depend upon the pay structure, but, as a ball park figure I would have thought that after five years of increases in the range of 2 to 2.5% the average would have risen from 6.3% to 6.4%. Since one of the points made in the document which discusses the Pension Scheme is that the average employee contribution is currently fractionally lower than the NHS and Teacher’s scheme, it may be important to consider this issue.

Should we not argue for the cut off point to be linked to a point on the NJC pay spine in order to remove this upward ratchet in employee contributions?

I shall ask this – and other – questions this morning…

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A victory for equality

I was pleased to see a defeat for intolerance in the House of Lords this week – in line with the policy of UNISON, as agreed at our National LGBT Conference last year.

It is quite right that there is a legal prohibition on discrimination at work on grounds of sexual orientation and it was always nonsensical that such discrimination in the provision of goods and services should remain lawful.

UNISON supported this progressive step and opposed attempts to create exemptions from the duty not to discriminate on spurious religious grounds.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Protect our Pensions (but slowly?)


I know that sometimes left-wingers like myself in the union movement are seen as over eager when it comes to strike action.

However it does seem that the trade unions may be in danger of going too far in the opposite direction in the dispute over the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Today the Service Group Executive (SGE) decided to give it another four weeks before deciding whether or not to start another strike ballot (in the hope that talks with the employers will bear fruit in that time).

Perhaps the majority of the SGE think we have been too hasty in this dispute thus far?

When we faced the threat of detrimental changes across all public service pension schemes we geared up for strike action. Then, in the run up to the 2005 General Election, the Government backed down so we called off the strike action.

OK. I thought that made sense to be honest. You don’t strike against something which isn’t going to happen, even if you worry that it might again one day. Anyway the TUC in September 2005 decided that we would all stand together, all five million public service workers. So that seemed good.

Then we had negotiations in the Public Service Forum, leading to an offer of lifetime protection for the members of other (unfunded) public service pension schemes but not for members of the (funded) LGPS. All of the unions agreed to this, and LGPS members were encouraged to think that being isolated from all the others somehow improved our position (it gave us an argument for equal treatment!)

The failure to hold together the campaigns around all of the public service pension schemes left the LGPS isolated and negotiating without the added strength of the teachers, civil servants and health workers.

The Government did not offer us an acceptable package and on 28 March 2006 we took the largest strike action seen in this country for many years, involving eleven trade unions and over a million workers. We hailed the success of our strike.

But then, in the run up to the local elections in 2006, we were offered a framework for negotiations and decided to suspend our action in April last year. We were not being offered anything other than talks and a number of us argued that we should not have suspended our action. But we lost that argument.

By the time of our local government conference in June 2006, the local elections having predictably led to even more political hostility from the local government employers, we debated proposals to resume strike action. These were narrowly defeated on the basis that we were seeking a judicial review.

In September we learned that the judicial review had failed and, we were told, it now appeared that the employers had not been negotiating in good faith. Our strike action had produced a modest improvement in the proportion of the workforce whose existing rights were to be protected – but we had not achieved the objectives which we had set for ourselves.

Although we were assured that our campaign had not lost momentum nevertheless we were told it was to be stepped up. So we lobbied MPs on 22 November.

On 23 November Phil Woolas announced that he was tabling Regulations. We condemned him and called for further time for talks. He seemed to back down.

We had some more talks and, as they continued, Phil Woolas tabled the Regulations. These offer no more in the way of protecting the rights and benefits of those who have lost out during this dispute, and although they offer some long awaited positive changes (paid for with increased contributions) they include new detrimental changes also.

We could have started a strike ballot today with a view to taking strike action ahead of the implementation of the Regulations but no, that decision is to be put off until 8 February, so that if we do ballot for strike action we won’t be able to strike ahead of 1 April.

We don’t want to rush anything…


New LGPS - the impact on redundancies

One of the most alarming features of the “new look” Local Government Pension Scheme is the changed arrangements for members who are made redundant. At present those aged 50 or over are entitled to immediate payment of accrued pension benefits. Any “added years” have been discretionary, but the pension has been paid without any actuarial reduction.

An actuarial reduction is otherwise made when pensions are paid before normal retirement age to reflect the fact that the pension is likely to be in payment for a longer period before the pensioner dies.

Under the draft Regulations (Regulation 11) the employer “may” pay pension benefits early (and – from 2010 only to those aged 55 and above) which suggests that they will have discretion not to do so. Furthermore, if they exercise their discretion the employer will be required to consider whether or not to make an actuarial reduction in the pension. The actuarial reductions for those aged under 60 will obviously be higher than the well publicised reductions for those aged 60 and above.

Separately the employers will have discretion to increase the pensionable service of any active scheme member (i.e. not yet retired) by up to 10 years (Regulation 25) but it wouldn’t be wise to hold your breath to see if your employer would do so in your case (unless you wanted your dependents to benefit from the enhanced death in service benefits under Regulation 15 I suppose).

These changes would appear to represent a very serious detriment to local government employees being made redundant over the age of 55. They will also make it much less likely that longer serving older employees would be interested in volunteering for redundancy – therefore increasing the risk of compulsory redundancies in any reorganisations (of which, as any local government worker will know, there are an ever increasing number…) It now makes more sense that the Government recently increased the maximum redundancy payment for a local government employee from 66 weeks to 104 weeks pay (as higher redundancy payments will be needed to induce people to leave their jobs if they are not going to be offered their pensions up front).

If these proposals aren’t dropped by the Government during the formal consultation period on the draft Regulations they will, I should think, guarantee a large vote for strike action. On the other hand, even if they are dropped, the package on offer is still not nearly good enough.

Sometimes in negotiations the other side propose something outrageous simply in order to slip other things past you when you are so relieved that they have backed down on their very worst proposals.

UNISON Regional Committee report

The UNISON Greater London Regional Committee met today and was the usual mixture of positive and encouraging news and irritating disagreements. On the positive side, for example, we heard about the membership growth which is attributable to the fight to defend pensions (about which I’ll blog more later on) and also about the plans being made by NHS Together for action across London on Saturday 3 March. We also agreed to encourage attendance by UNISON members in London at the TUC lobby of Parliament for public services on Tuesday 23 January.

Among the less positive aspects was the fact that the Regional Committee was not even allowed to vote on whether or not a motion to the Regional AGM from St Mary’s Paddington Health branch was or was not in order. This motion touched on the vexed question of the Labour leadership (horrors!) about which I was disappointed to see that our General Secretary had told the Xmas edition of Tribune that he looked forward to a “smooth transition” (!) My friend and fellow blogger Andrew Berry of Islington rightly pursued this question like a terrier – he has blogged already about the details.

I was pleased to receive the assurance of the Regional Convenor that the Committee had already decided that when the office receives national advice that we must not discuss something then that advice will be shared with the Committee. With luck we shall have such advice for the pre-meeting of the Regional Committee before the Regional Council meeting on 1 February.

The Committee went through the motions being proposed for the Regional Annual General Meeting, which is set to be our first quorate meeting since the last AGM. I was pleased to be able to suggest a helpful amendment to an important motion addressing the question of Islamophobia from the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority branch. The Committee is supporting most of the motions going to the Council, but deferred its position on a couple for further information and is opposing an unnecessary rule amendment. If any UNISON members want more information please contact any member of the Regional Committee (or leave a comment here).

If you are a UNISON member in Greater London make sure that your branch has registered delegates to attend the Regional AGM on 1 February and is sending its full delegation!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

UNISON NEC elections - request for nominations

Well, now I've written to the UNISON branches in Greater London to request nominations in the forthcoming elections for the NEC, as follows;

UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Elections

I am writing to ask if you will ask your branch to nominate me for election to UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) in the Male Seat to represent the Greater London Region.

I have been proud to represent our Region on the NEC since 2003 and believe that I can continue to play a useful role as we face the challenges of the next couple of years.

As a member of our NEC I report back regularly from meetings to branches in the Region, and have drafted the NEC reports to the Regional Council and Regional Committee.

I have also set up a “blog” (a personal website) where you can read my reports from the NEC at http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.com.

I am seeking the nomination of your branch in the forthcoming elections in order to continue to carry out this work on your behalf.

I believe that UNISON faces some serious challenges at the present time and that our members need and deserve a leadership which is prepared to face up to these challenges;

· Privatisation continues to threaten all our services – we need more joint union activity against this, such as the Public Services Not Private Profit campaign and the TUC lobby of Parliament on 23 January;
· Our Health Service is threatened by cuts and financial crises as well as privatisation – UNISON should be leading the defence of the Health Service against New Labour;
· We need a fair deal for members of the Local Government Pension Scheme. The tactics used in the dispute so far have not been delivering for our members – I hope that the Special Local Government Conference will enable lay members to take back control of this important dispute;
· UNISON must fight for fair and equal pay – but not at the expense of pay cuts for other low paid workers. The Government and the employers must find the money for equal pay – not steal it from our members;
· UNISON must develop as a democratic trade union – with control really in the hands of ordinary lay members;
· UNISON must support an effective challenge to the failing and unpopular New Labour policies which Gordon Brown will continue – I believe that UNISON should be supporting our member, John McDonnell MP in his bid to challenge for the Labour leadership on the basis of the policies supported by our Union.

As you will know, nominations need to be agreed at a meeting of your branch or Branch Committee, attended by a quorum of members.

Nomination forms have to be returned to the Member Liaison Unit, UNISON, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9AJ, by 5pm on 16 February 2007. The forms are available on the UNISON website (at http://www.unison.org.uk/elections/pages_view.asp?did=4507.)

The election procedures for these elections have now changed, and you do not need to include the personal details of candidates on the nomination forms any longer. The form does you to identify candidates by name and the seat for which they are seeking nomination. I am asking if you will consider nominating me for the Male seat in the Greater London Region.

I am a socialist, a lifelong Labour Party member and a member of UNISON United Left. If I am re-elected to our NEC I will continue to work hard to represent all our members in Greater London. I therefore hope that your branch will consider giving me your nomination.

If anyone reading this is a member of UNISON in Greater London I hope that you will ask your branch to nominate me.

I'll post further stories about candidates in the forthcoming elections (whenever I am posting from a computer which is not UNISON property...)

The new look LGPS - pay more for less?

Proposals to amend the pensions of local government workers are out for consultation.

UNISON has helpfully produced a guide to the proposals for the “new look” Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). It is being circulated to branches. The latest information online is still Campaign Bulletin 49 – but check the pensions pages and I imagine the full guide will be there soon.

It is a 28 page document which repays careful reading and includes some helpful worked examples comparing the old and new schemes for a number of case studies with different ages and lengths of service. There are clearly some better features of the new scheme, including accrual of pensions at the rate of 1/60th per year of service which, if a pensioner uses their commutation rights to achieve the same lump sum to which they would have been entitled on the old basis, delivers a pension worth 8.3% more than in the old scheme in respect of future service.

As far as I can see the document does not do enough to flag up the fact that we are of course being asked to pay more for this improved value. The average pension contribution in the new scheme will be 6.3% rather than 5.8% as at present (which is an increase of 8.6%) (i.e. 0.5% is 8.6% of 5.8%). Therefore the increased value of the scheme in respect of future service is being more than paid for by an increase in the average rate of employee contributions. I would be interested to know if other UNISON activists have come to the same conclusion on this point?

What’s more the trade union side have conceded future reviews of the costs of the scheme, albeit the review mechanism will also consider age reduction factors and lump sum commutation calculations. This is a concession to the employer’s desire to hold their contributions steady and increase our contributions if increases in longevity push up the costs of the scheme. However the scheme includes a built in upward drift in average employee contributions if the point at which the marginal contribution rate rises from 5.5% to 7.5% remains at £12,000 as wages and salaries rise over time.

Of course the big problem is the refusal of the Government to move further on protection. As the UNISON guide shows, many current staff who are too young to benefit from the transitional protection which has been offered, and who would qualify to retire at 60 with no reduction in their pension under the “Rule of 85” will lose out if they retire early, even though the unions have secured reductions in the amounts by which pensions are reduced for early retirement.

A comment on this blog suggested that rather than seek protection we should be arguing to revalue the past service of existing scheme members on the new basis. It’s a nice idea, but since it would mean persuading the employers to value our past service as being worth 8.3% more than it is at the moment I am not sure whether it is a runner. Perhaps someone reading this knows different?

The trade union side have secured some useful concessions on ill health retirement so that if anyone retiring in future would have been better off under the previous Regulations then those more favourable provisions can still be applied. It would be interesting to know if anyone has asked for realistic costings of the implications of offering a similar choice to LGPS members currently covered by the “Rule of 85”?

Finally (for the moment – I have only skimmed the document) we face a serious problem in relation to early access to pension benefits for those made redundant. Not only is the minimum age for payment of the pension going up from 50 to 55 (which is seen as almost inevitable although I don’t know why because it is only the consequence of an Act of Parliament) but the employers will have discretion to apply age reductions because of early payment of the pension in these circumstances.

This aspect of the proposals appears not to have been discussed with the trade union side and is, as the UNISON guide rightly says, clearly unacceptable. It would represent a massive change in the position of many longer serving local government workers every bit as significant as the assault on the “Rule of 85”.

I hope it is just the old cynic in me who is reading into the presentation of the document a desire to “look on the bright side” a little too often…

I look forward to hearing a report from tomorrow's meeting of the UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive.

Blair silent on privatisation debate?

Defending public services from privatisation is one of the major priorities of UNISON and the trade unions generally. It is disappointing that the advocates of privatisation are not always willing to engage in debate.

Long ago, when I was young and enthusiastic (well, October) I read what Tony Blair had to say about public service reform over at the Euston Manifesto website.

I made some criticisms of Blair’s arguments on this blog and agreed to those comments being posted in the “Social Democratic Futures” section of the Euston website, where my criticisms were rapidly joined by others, perhaps more temperate and better informed.

At the time – I am sure in good faith – the Euston Manifesto site were expecting that Blair would respond to the criticisms which were made of his arguments “in due course”. Surely he could have knocked something out while he was on holiday. It’s no good trying to interact with people in a “trendy” way by blogging and then failing to respond to criticism.

It would be nice to get a reply before the TUC lobby of Parliament on 23 January. Or perhaps there just are no good arguments to defend the Prime Minister’s point of view?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Defend Public Services from Gordon Brown

I wrote this evening to all UNISON branches in the Greater London Region with best wishes for the New Year – and also to remind everyone that, along with all the other important priorities we have at the moment, it is important to get the best possible support from London Branches for the TUC lobby of Parliament in defence of Public Services, which takes place on Tuesday 23 January.

Full details are on the UNISON and TUC websites. A useful summary of relevant links on the web is also available at the Union Futures website.

I hope to see as many branches as possible on 23 January, and also at the Regional Council Annual General Meeting on 1 February – where it is of course important that all branches turn up with their full voting delegation in order to give effect to the democracy of our Union.

2007 Local Government Pensions Strike...

So we are now two weeks in to formal consultation on the latest proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme – season’s greetings from the Government I’m sure!

The Government are currently refusing to budge on the question of protecting the pension rights or current Scheme members – which was central to last March’s strike action.

Although the scheme includes some improvements for the future, these come at the price of increased contributions from employees – and, for current scheme members whose rights have not been protected this would mean paying more for less.

The emphasis on the UNISON website is on continuing negotiations. However, I understand that the Standing Orders Committee has given the green light for the Special Local Government Conference which was requisitioned by branches – and that the Service Group Executive, in local government at least, is likely to call for a fresh strike ballot.

Since we are not even being offered the inadequate level of protection offered in Scotland, UNISON members in England and Wales have little choice.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

UNISON NEC elections - a personal comment

In response to a comment on the last post below I thought I should post from my own personal computer to make a couple of things clear about the forthcoming elections to the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).

First, I am going to seek nominations for re-election to the NEC, on which I have represented Greater London for three and a half years now. I shall be writing formally to London branches in the next couple of days.

Secondly, I think that this is an important opportunity for rank and file activists to try to get an NEC for our Union which will chart a more forthright and critical path in our relationship with the Government, the actual or ultimate employer of the great majority of our members.

Last year’s National Delegate Conference was the first since 1997 not to be addressed by a Government Minister. The past year has seen not only the refusal of the Government to extend to members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) the protection afforded to members of other public service pension schemes – in spite of the largest strike action in many years. It has also seen a crisis of cuts and privatisation afflicting the National Health Service.

The Government has declared an offensive against both of UNISON’s largest service groups and our response to date has been found wanting. I attended both the NHS Together and the LGPS lobbies of Parliament in November and on both occasions was impressed by the determination and commitment of our members – as I have been when addressing meetings of UNISON members around London in the past year.

However, neither lobby was as large or impressive as the Public Services Not Private Profit lobby in the summer – and the refusal of some of our UNISON leadership to associate our Union with this joint union campaign, because of what I believe to be foolish political sectarianism, is a hallmark of the weakness of our approach to the unavoidable confrontations with this Government which lie ahead.

Indeed, rather than unite to prepare for these coming battles I am afraid that some officials appear to want to reprise damaging and unnecessary internal battles. We need a democratic union controlled by lay members – not a Union in which paid officials can override our democracy.

When posting from a computer which is not UNISON property I shall report on developments in these elections as they come to my attention. The NEC has overall responsibility for the running of the Union – we need a majority prepared to ask questions and take that responsibility.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And they're off....

Well, it’s that biennial time again folks. The UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) elections are coming – details are online here. I shall refrain from any detailed comment whilst posting from a UNISON computer (because UNISON resources must not be used to campaign for or against any candidate in an internal UNISON election) (and that includes the resources in Regional Officers and held by paid officials…)

What I will say, in my official capacity as a current member of the NEC is that I hope that we can increase the turn out and participation in the elections.

Members can update their details online or call 0845 355 0845 to check that the union has the right address for despatch of ballot papers. Worth doing if you have moved house recently!

Branches and other nominating bodies no longer need to submit signed forms from the prospective candidates whom they are nominating, as separate forms have been developed for prospective candidates themselves to submit.

Under UNISON’s Rules, the NEC has great power to run our Union – it matters who is elected to it and what they then do. So – if you are a UNISON member - then make sure you use your vote and – if you are not a UNISON member – join.