Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Local Government members will say no to 2%

I don't normally do predictions as I don't believe in astrology (because I am a Capricorn) but here is a safe bet...

When the results of the consultative ballot of UNISON members in local government are out they’ll appear on the local government page of the website. They’ll show a significant majority to reject the current 2% offer and to prepare for an official strike ballot. We need to find ways to coordinate with civil servants and postal workers, and to use the forthcoming TUC Congress to build that unity.

If we can build unity of large sections of the public service workforce we can defeat the 2% norm.

Equal Pay - the Allen decision and debate within the trade unions

The long awaited judgement of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Allen –v- GMB is now available online. Before I venture any opinion on this matter please remember that this is a personal blog and the opinions I express are my own and are not expressed on behalf of UNISON.

UNISON’s position on Equal Pay is set out on the website, this includes specific guidance for individual members and a persuasive riposte to the attempts by “no win no fee” solicitors to encourage members to litigate against the Union.

The Allen case is one such attempt to sue the GMB (and there are similar cases against UNISON and the TGWU) alleging that the Unions have failed to fight for equal pay with sufficient vigour and then alleging that this amounts to unlawful discrimination.

As far as I can see the Employment Appeals Tribunal seems to have demolished this argument fairly well, in so doing they have supported the right of a trade union to determine priorities in negotiations. The question of how that is done, and by whom, is a question for trade union members (not the courts).

Not everyone is happy with the approach of the trade unions to equal pay – particularly in relation to Single Status in local government. The implementation of Single Status has provoked and is provoking industrial action, and is causing headaches for local authorities in, for example, Wales, the South East and the South West.

Causing headaches for employers is no bad thing – although not of course an end in itself in most circumstances…However if we are going to get the best deal in achieving equal pay then this will be achieved through trade union action.

As trade unionists we need to debate our approach to achieving equal pay and to decide democratically on our priorities, strategy and tactics. Litigation against the unions is not the way to resolve our differences on this question.

This decision ought to pave the way for the democratic debate about our approach to this question which we have been denying ourselves for months. The lobby of Parliament earlier this month was a good start – now perhaps we can start sharing, officially, full information about Single Status negotiations in every authority and brainstorming how to get the best deal for our members in open discussion rather than avoiding public discussion because of pending litigation.

But as I said, all of this is just a personal opinion…

How improved is an improved pay offer?

So – an improved pay offer in health? If it is as predicted in the papers last week then surely we would be foolish to accept it?

Or are we going to fall for the line from the Government that they won’t back down whatever we do so we might as well do nothing?

What do members in the Health Service think?

This perhaps?

Monday, July 30, 2007

TUC agenda - out today

The Preliminary Agenda for this year’s TUC is now available online. The Rules have changed so that whereas in the past UNISON has only been permitted to propose two amendments to motions on the agenda now organisations with more than one million members are allowed one additional amendment for each 500,000 members or part thereof.

So by my reckoning UNISON will have three amendments (assuming that it is each additional 500,000 members above the initial million…)

UNISON’s two motions are in Part Four of the Agenda, as are the motions from PCS and the NUT on public sector pay. UNISON’s delegation meeting on Thursday will decide on UNISON’s amendments. At the moment the only mention of the local government pay dispute (involving the largest bargaining group in the economy) is a short motion from the Association of Educational Psychologists asking the TUC to stick up for the small specialist unions in local government…

Does local government really need separate specialist unions for small professional groups, or should we be trying to build UNISON as an inclusive union that is able to represent particular as well as general interests?

One local government activist I’ll miss at this year’s TUC will be my friend and comrade Tony Staunton from Plymouth, who made a distinctive contribution to last year’s delegation and whose years of service to UNISON deserve respect and admiration.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

2%? No thanks!

Normal blogging can now be resumed as I have returned from a few days away. Still no sign of the Preliminary Agenda for the TUC – which should be online here tomorrow.

The biggest issue for the public service unions must surely be the Government’s 2% pay norm, which they want to impose on us for several years, even though the Retail Price Index is increasing at more than twice that level. I understand that both PCS and the NUT will have motions on public sector pay - and that UNISON will therefore be able to consider appropriate amendments. With our two largest service groups facing a real terms pay cut right now we do need to give this issue a high priority.

The response to the consultation with UNISON members in local government should be with us shortly – if this doesn’t show a large majority for rejecting 2% I’ll be shocked. I note that the Government have hinted in public at a tiny movement on pay in the National Health Service, but without breaching the 2% limit.

We need to break the 2% limit as soon as we can – or public service workers face a downward spiral of pay and morale. The question is not whether or not there will be massive strike action over public service pay – only when.

The sooner we take united action and break the 2% limit the better for our members – and the better for Labour’s election prospects! If the Government get away with 2% this year it will be that bit harder to get our members to vote for a fourth term - and it will be increasingly likely that the fight over public sector pay will break out at a time which will be even more electorally damaging.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Members endorse new look pension scheme

In an unsurprising result the new-look Local Government Pension Scheme has been massively supported in the membership ballot. Now there is a UNISON policy to support the new-look LGPS because now our members have spoken. Democracy means the maximum freedom to express opinions before decisions are made – now that the decision has been made we move on and carry out the decision.

We now need to ensure that there is maximum response to the consultation on extending protection for LGPS scheme members who will be 60 on or before 1 April 2020 – see LGPS Bulletin 64 for details.

Responses to CLG formal consultation on extending the protection to 2020 should be sent to: Nicola Rochester, Zone2/F7 Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6DE. Email to nicola.rochester@communities.gsi.gov.uk

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott made a commitment that up to 50% of the savings arising from the removal of the 85 Rule on service after 2008 - and the provision to allow members to exchange more of their pension for a higher lump sum at retirement - could be ploughed back into the new scheme.

UNISON has calculated that, even with the improvements and the existing protections for the Rule of 85, less than 50% of the savings have been used. This means that the minimal cost of improving the protection simply removes the imbalance between the saving to the employer/taxpayer and the increase in the cost to the member.

Because of course we will (on average) be paying more for our pension from next April, as we enter the second year of the Gordon Brown pay freeze…!

Apologies (btw) for lack of posts but not only do I have an appeal hearing to prepare but I had to take time out to read the new Harry Potter book. Clearly Voldemort represents the forces of capitalist globalisation, whilst Harry embodies the fighting spirit of the working class. The Deathly Hallows symbolise the potential power of unity amongst the public service trade unions in the fight over pay…

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pay - let's be clear about 2.5%

Now pay talks in Health have failed to produce any significant progress with the English employers still refusing even to follow the example of the devolved administrations and remove the staging of the miserly 2.5% awarded by the Pay Review Body (and offered to non-PRB staff).

This follows on from the stalling of talks for Local Government workers last week, as the employers refused, despite repeated hints, to increase their 2% offer – even to 2.5%. The position of the Local Government Conference was clearly to reject 2% and also to oppose 2.5% should it be offered. I understand that this is also the position of the Health Service Group.

These clear policy positions adopted by elected lay representatives need to be borne in mind when considering the occasionally ambiguous comments on the UNISON website.

Yesterday’s story on health says, for example that;

“The government's decision to stage the 2.5% awarded by the independent pay review body has provoked anger amongst nurses, paramedics, therapists and other health workers."The retail price index is currently running at 4.4% so a 2.5% rise is already well below the level of inflation," said Mr Jackson. "Staging it has reduced its value still further to just 1.9%."Our health workers deserve better and need more to just to keep up with the rising cost of living." The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided not to stage the pay award.”

The lead comment from our General Secretary this week, is;

“The threat of local government strike action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland moved a step closer this week with all three unions formally registering a dispute over this year’s miserly 2% pay offer.Pay talks have dragged on. We know that employers have budgeted for a rise of at least 2.5% - it’s time for them to act responsibly and come up with a better offer or face a ballot for strike action.”

All of this is true, but our opposition to 2.5% could also be mentioned. The Local Government Conference put it fairly well;

“We believe that a settlement based on a 2.5% total "envelope" would not be acceptable to our members, however it was packaged. With inflation at an eight year high of 4.8% and further rises in interest rates predicted this would amount to a real and substantial further cut in living standards for Local Government Workers.”

Also, in Scotland and Wales where health workers have been offered the full 2.5% backdated to 1 April UNISON is rejecting this and continuing – rightly – to demand a proper pay rise (not a pay cut).

Two weeks ago the Chair of UNISON's Scottish Health Group said: "The 2.5% award imposed by the Scottish Executive does not address the aspirations of UNISON workers who sustain vital health services. Problems of low pay and identified and acknowledged in the NHS, but this settlement does nothing to address this. A pay increase of less than £6 per week is an insult to our low paid members"

We have an opportunity to stand together with our brothers and sisters in other public service Unions. This is an opportunity to do more than push up pay awards worth 1.9% and 2% to 2.5% when inflation is well above 4%.

I think I agree with Gregor Gall writing in today’s Morning Star; “the unions need to recognise that, by acting together industrially they can punch well above their weight politically.”

Gall goes on to tell us (the unions) to be “surefooted enough” to know that we can wring better deals out of this Government – and force Labour leftwards to reconnect with people’s social democratic aspirations. (Or – as Dave Prentis put it to the Labour Link Forum; “steering our party back to its true values, firmly grounded in policies that resonate with ordinary working people.”)

As to the last bit, well I hope so – but I think our members would settle with a pay rise that at least keeps pace with rising prices (which would of course mean breaking Brown’s pay policy).

There are (at least) two ways this could go. We should recognise that we need to unite and take on the public sector pay policy right now – campaigning vigorously amongst our members to reject 2.5% as much as 2% and whether or not it is staged, and work towards united public sector strike action on the widest basis and earliest date practicable.

The alternative is to find reasons for foot dragging and obfuscation, delaying action by round after round of consultation and claiming an unnecessarily modest increase to the current offers as a victory achieved by patient dialogue with our friends in Government.

Guess which one I prefer?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

UNISON's political Committees

Just a quick post as I take a break from preparing another appeal.

I can now post the composition of UNISON's Political Committees. In the case of the Labour Link Committee this is the list of the twelve NEC members elected by the NEC to that Committee. Elections for eleven directly elected members to represent the Regions (excluding Northern Ireland) are underway and nominations have just closed. The Labour Link Committee has formal authority over UNISON's work in the Labour Party - it will have to decide whether the popular action taken to restrict donations to the Party during the LGPS dispute should be repeated now that we are moving into dispute with the (Labour?) Government over pay in our two largest service groups.

The GPF (General Political Fund) Committee consists only of the twelve NEC members elected by and from those members of the NEC who pay into that section of the fund (since you can pay into both sections some NEC members are (un)lucky enough to be on both Committees. The GPF Committee controls expenditure on non-party political campaigns and (for example) funded the recent recruitment advertising featuring lions, tigers etc. (I shall restrain myself from any catty remarks on that...)

Anyway here are the members of the Committees;

LABOUR LINK
James Anthony
Angela Bowen
Sue Forster
Mike Hayes
Gill Malik
June Nelson
Lynn Poulton
Norma Stephenson
Sam Selon
Irene Stacey
Steve Warwick
Linda Wilkinson

GPF COMMITTEE
James Anthony
Sarah Bradfield
Jane Carolan
Graeme Horn
Maureen Le Marinel
Annette Mansell-Green – Co-Chair
Helen Rose
Alison Shepherd
Sian Stockham
Linda Sweet
Chris Tansley – Co-Chair
Steve Warwick

I posted the membership of all other NEC Committees previously.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Waltham Forest members rejecting 2%

I suppose I am not given to such silliness but I feel a little sad to note that the first birthday of this blog passed unremarked upon here, although I am pleased that the anniversary post was so much in the spirit of the blog, as is this latest news...

I was pleased to address a meeting of the Waltham Forest local government branch today on the question of pay, alongside comrades from the PCS, NUT and CWU. The UNISON members present voted unanimously to reject 2%.

No one seemed keen on 2.5% either…

Congratulations to the Waltham Forest branch for organising the meeting – they have a further joint union meeting on pay coming up, so all London branches need to follow suit!

UK Black Pride

Here is a post about an organization I have just added a link to at the request of my friend and comrade Khi Rafe, UNISON Greater London Regional Equality Convenor.

UK Black Pride (UKBP) is delighted to announce the official UK Black Pride festival will be held on Saturday 18th August and we are proud that London will host this year’s festival.

London is the most diverse city in Western Europe, with almost half of Britain's black and minority ethnic residents, over 300 languages and 14 faiths celebrated London is one of the world's most culturally diverse cities.

The festival will host a fun filled day of music and artistic entertainment, live performances by the hottest new acts, music by London’s best DJ’s, market place and information stalls and much more. There will be something for everyone to enjoy and more importantly the festival is an opportunity to proudly support and celebrate the talents, successes and achievements of the UK’s Black, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender community.

UKBP will continue to work with our partner organisations, sponsors and wider LGBT community to celebrate and to promote the diversity within the UK LGBT community.

UKBP look forward to welcoming you on Saturday 18th August.

Happy Pride!

Why is it so difficult to take legal and industrial action?

I worry sometimes about how timid we have become as trade unionists. Twenty years ago when I started work I was proud to be part of the 1986 Lewisham “HAC” strike in which members of my then Union, NALGO, struck for five weeks for the safety of workers in the Housing Advice Centre whose security screens were being removed.

We didn’t need to have a secret ballot, we acted on policy agreed by the branch and endorsed at my first mass meeting, of 1,400 members at Catford dog track. Five years later, working in Lambeth, I was one of the workers who engaged in a ten week unlawful occupation of advice centres threatened with closure, saving one of them for five more years to help local people.

Since 1992 and the tightening up of the Tory anti-union laws, left in place under a New Labour Government, the threat to the Union’s resources from unofficial action – and the consequent repudiation of unofficial action by the Union has meant that we have to jump through more and more hoops to get official strike ballots.

The natural bureaucratic tendencies of trade union officialdom have made it progressively harder even to ballot members for action – and when we do it is relatively easy for the employers to trip us up legally. That’s why it is wonderful to be able to wish the Fremantle strikers well for their next day of strike action next week. We need to rethink UNISON’s industrial action procedures to encourage strike action in local disputes as an effective means of putting pressure on employers and strengthening Union organisation.

As strike action became more difficult through the 1990s the branch I was part of turned increasingly to legal action through tribunal applications made collectively or individually on behalf of our members. I recollect using an application for a protective award as a useful tool to help avoid compulsory redundancies in one difficult budget round, and also that mass tribunal litigation was key to restoring lost conditions of service in our Housing neighbourhoods. Also, when our employer knew that we were prepared to challenge almost any dismissal in an employment tribunal, no matter how justified they thought it was, it kept them on their procedural toes in every other case.

However, the Government responded to the increase in tribunal litigation by making it harder to lodge claims, and easier for employers to obtain orders for costs against the Union (although this was always possible…) The Unions generally, and UNISON in particular, have accommodated to this development (and also crucially sought to limit the costs of professional indemnity insurance) by adopting a new approach to tribunal litigation.

In accordance with UNISON’s Representation Guide, lay activists (and indeed full time officials) are no longer supposed to lodge tribunal complaints on behalf of the Union. Instead we complete CASE Forms which are filtered at Regional Office before being passed on to the solicitors, who will only take a case if they judge that it has a “reasonable prospect of success.” This means that the Union does not take marginal cases, is unlikely to set new precedents or explore new legal avenues to defend workers’ rights, and does not weigh up the organisational costs and benefits of litigation, since the lawyers look only at the legal merits of any claim.

I think we need to rethink this and adopt a more combative and participatory approach to tribunal litigation. To do this would mean that the NEC would have to be prepared to indemnify activists and officials representing members at tribunals, and that the Union would need to have clear and objectively justifiable criteria for which cases to take, which would have to be applied consistently.

Currently when we are in dispute with employers locally there is a grave danger that our industrial action procedures tie one hand behind our back and the Representation Guide ties the other – probably not the best way to win?

If anyone out there has any bright ideas about what we should do about these problems, I’m all ears…

November 3rd - demonstrate for our Health Service

Right there we are then! The national demonstration in defence of the National Health Service is now on November 3rd and not October 13th.

Let’s mobilise the maximum number of UNISON members and show Gordon Brown and his government that we will stand up to them against cutbacks and privatisation.

On an unrelated note, the UNISON TUC delegation will meet on 2 August to consider any potential amendments to the TUC Congress in the name of UNISON. Amendments have to be a to a motion on the Preliminary Agenda. Which should appear here before too long.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Time to strike for fair pay in public services

The BBC have noticed that there might be strike action in the NHS. Admittedly this is because the RCN have said that they will consult on strike action over the staging of the 2.5% awarded by the Pay Review Body (not over the amount of the award itself).

I can see the slogans now. “Pay us peanuts but all at once!”

Although it would cost millions, the argument for consistency between England and the devolved administrations could well sway the Government. I think we will then have to watch out for attempts to convince us that 2.5% for health workers backdated to 1 April is somehow acceptable, never mind that it falls well below the rate of price inflation. This is not the view of the Health Service Group within UNISON.

In the same vein, we have to be alert in local government to the risk that any eventual increase in the current 2% offer, even if it is only to 2.5%, will require yet another round of consultation before we move to a strike ballot. As it stands the employers won’t increase the offer so we have no choice but to press ahead. UNISON’s Local Government Conference was fairly clear that 2.5% is not good enough.

No more blogging for a bit as I have to prepare a dismissal appeal…

Friday, July 13, 2007

No pay talks today - no pay motion for TUC (yet)

Good to see an official report of the NEC meeting on the UNISON website promptly. I’ll circulate the full and unexpurgated version to London branches over the weekend – but won’t repeat the attempt at almost live blogging from an NEC meeting having been politely requested not to by the President.

I am pleased the trade union side of the NJC decided not to waste their time today talking to local government employers who aren’t coming forward with a revised pay offer (though I can’t see why we should view 2.5% any differently to 2% if and when it is offered.

I do think there is a bit of a danger of whistling to keep our spirits up in relation to the policies of the Government – I believe that this misplaced optimism underpinned the decision of yesterday’s TUC delegation meeting not to put forward a motion on public sector pay proposed by Health NEC member Kate Ahrens, and supported by the Chairs of both the Health and Local Government Service Groups.

UNISON’s submissions to the TUC will instead be on public services and affordable housing (both important issues in my view, but not as high a priority for our Union right now as fighting the pay freeze). The eventual decision, following a strong intervention from the General Secretary, was clear, with 66 delegates supporting the motion on Public Services, 45 backing affordable housing and 29 supporting the motion on pay.

Dave Prentis did give a pretty unequivocal assurance that the issue of public sector pay would be on the TUC agenda – whether in a General Council statement or in an emergency motion, and promised the delegation a report back from a meeting of the TUC Public Service Liaison Group in the next few days.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Conclusion of the General Secretary's report to the UNISON NEC

In response to questions, Dave Prentis has confirmed that many General Secretaries met with the Prime Minister yesterday and protested at the appointment of Digby Jones as a Minister. He has also pointed out this “Government of all the talents” has excluded trade unionists. We are told that this criticism will be the subject of many speeches in the coming months.

So that will have the Prime Minister well worried then?

The final element of the General Secretary’s report is on pay. He is concerned that we should know how to coordinate within UNISON in the run up to a meeting of the TUC Public Service Liaison Group on 15 July, there will also be a separate meeting with PCS.

CWU have reported that support for their industrial action is increasing.

Unfortunately the General Secretary is of the view the “Democracy in UNISON guidelines” preclude branches taking initiatives such as organising joint union rallies (!) (This is precisely the sort of draconian interpretation of the guidelines which some of us were criticised as scaremongers for predicting…)

I suggest that activists use local Trades Councils to convene meetings rather than take up too much time debating internal union guidelines when we should be fighting to break the 2% pay norm.

Finally, Dave is reporting that Keith Sonnet, our Deputy General Secretary will be seeking election as General Secretary of the Public Services International - the international grouping of public service trade unions. This will be a contested election and the outcome will be known after the PSI Congress at the end of September.

The President has wished Keith good luck ("not that we want rid of you or anything"). The General Secretary's report has only lasted about two and a half hours...

General Secretary's report continued

The good news about Gordon Brown is social housing and the abandonment of super casinos. Dave Prentis says that “if” Gordon Brown goes down the path of marketisation we will oppose him, but that we seem to have a team of ministers in health whom we can work with. (If?) (Is there more than one Gordon Brown?)

Dave also points out that the SNP administration in Scotland is implementing a number of measures which reflect our policies as will the Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition in Wales. I look forward to hearing about the lessons which our Labour Link Committee (to which I was sadly not elected by my NEC colleagues) have drawn for our work in England.

Without pausing for breath (or questions) Dave has moved on to report on NHS Together and Karen Jennings is now telling us that we need to move the national demonstration planned for 13 October because of difficulties with venues. The new date is likely to be 3 November, when a better venue is available.

Debate on pensions at the UNISON NEC

On pensions, the General Secretary wants us all to respond to the statutory consultation on extending protection from 2016 to 2020 – clearly this is important since, even though 2020 isn’t good enough in my view, it is better than 2016. Moving forward Dave says that we need to pursue the issue of governance of our pension fund – UNISON’s view is that a European Directive requires pension fund members to be represented on the decision making bodies, whereas the Government view is that, as the LGPS is a statutory fund they are not required to concede this representation.

Our pension funds are our money and we do need to pursue this campaign, Peter Gaskin from Eastern Region has intervened to support Dave on this point and I shall certainly report further on this blog about this developing area of the Union’s work.

Glenn Kelly, representing local government has asked about instructions being issued to branches that they may not issue recommendations contrary to the national recommendation to accept the LGPS proposals. I agree that this is foolish control freakery and made some comments to this effect. I was pleased to receive a friendly response from the Chair of the Service Group Liaison Committee who made passing reference to a speech I had given at the Local Government Conference.

Dave Prentis thinks that we should not be allowed to use UNISON resources to express dissent from a national recommendation – this is clearly a new departure for UNISON and activists need to consider how we respond.

The fundamental error which I think the General Secretary is making is that he says that UNISON has agreed its policy, whereas the policy of the Union will be decided by our members in the ballot and, until that decision is taken by the membership the policy has not been set and different points of view must be allowed to find expression.

General Secretary's report to UNISON NEC

The General Secretary began his report to the UNISON NEC this morning with reference to the Union having achieved Investors in People status and by praising the role of UNISON Welfare in supporting members who have been affected by flooding.

He then moved on to discuss Equal Pay, and I think that now we have had a briefing on the subject in an open session at Conference I can safely report some of this discussion, which prompted numerous contributions from the floor.

We have been told again that there will be a “roadshow” of meetings around the Union to consult all parts of the Union on how to resource mass Equal Pay litigation. This won’t be like the ACAS sanctioned events at which employers try to cajole employees into accepting settlements!

The General Secretary expressed disappointment at the turn out for Tuesday’s lobby of Parliament – whilst rightly congratulating those who attended for their efforts. I suggested that more could have been done – for example at Conference – to get members to the lobby, but this prompted a strong defence of the effectiveness of the work done to build the lobby from the Chair of the Policy Committee.

Dave Prentis said that we need to think through why we now struggle to fill the small hall at Central Hall whereas twenty years ago the Unions could fill the large hall (which is now what London Citizens do).

UNISON NEC Committee membership

Here, for those interested in such matters are the Committee membership for the next two years on the UNISON NEC;

DEVELOPMENT & ORGANISATION COMMITTEE
Kate Ahrens
Mark Clifford
Louise Couling
Sue Forster
Peter Gaskin
Paul Glover
Moz Greenshields
Sue Highton (Chair)
John Jones
Glenn Kelly
Ann MacMillan Wood
Gill Malik
Bob Oram
Lynn Poulton
Jon Rogers
Kim Silver
Irene Stacey
Chris Tansley (Vice-Chair)

INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE
Susan Brearley
Rob Curzon (provisional)
Mary Ferris
Helen Jenner
Angela Lynes (Vice-Chair)
Kevin Naylor
Jessie Russel
Alison Shepherd (Chair)
Linda Sweet
Sofi Taylor
Linda Wilkinson

POLICY DEVELOPMENT & CAMPAIGNS COMMITTEE
James Anthony
Roger Bannister
Angela Bowen
Sarah Bradfield
Alison Brown
Jane Carolan (Chair)
Linda Coey
Emma Goodall
Paul Holmes
Graeme Horn
Dilys Jouvenat
Diana Leach
Colm Magee
Annette Mansell-Green
John McDermott
June Nelson
Helen Rose
Samantha Selon
Eleanor Smith
Fiona Smith
Sian Stockham
Paul Thompson
Jean Thorpe
Steve Warwick (Vice-Chair)


SERVICES TO MEMBERS COMMITTEE
Sarah Barwick
Jim Burnett
Lesley Discombe
Bernie Gallagher
Gerry Gallagher (Chair)
Paul Harper
Mike Hayes
Maureen Le Marinel
Stephen Mead
Jennifer Mortimer
Norma Stephenson (Vice-Chair)
Mike Tucker

STAFFING COMMITTEE
Angela Bowen
Mark Clifford
Mary Ferris
Sue Forster (Vice-Chair)
Sue Highton
Dilys Jouvenat
Angela Lynes
Bob Oram (Chair)
Lynn Poulton
Eleanor Smith
Irene Stacey
Chris Tansley

FINANCE & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
Jane Carolan
Linda Coey (Vice-Chair)
Peter Gaskin
Paul Glover
Moz Greenshields
Mike Hayes (Chair)
John Jones
Diana Leach
Ann MacMillan Wood
Colm Magee
Stephen Mead
Jessie Russel
Fiona Smith
Sofi Taylor
Mike Tucker

INDUSTRIAL ACTION COMMITTEE
Sarah Barwick
Susan Brearley
Louise Couling
Emma Goodall
Moz Greenshields
Diana Leach
Angela Lynes (Chair)
Ann Macmillan Wood
Annette Mansell-Green
Stephen Mead (Vice-Chair)
Kevin Naylor
Jessie Russel
Samantha Selon
Fiona Smith
Irene Stacey
Norma Stephenson
Sian Stockham
Linda Sweet
Sofi Taylor
Jean Thorpe
Roger Bannister
Jim Burnett
Mike Hayes
Colm Magee
Bob Oram

BLACK MEMBERS’ COMMITTEE
Mark Clifford
June Nelson
Samantha Selon
Sofi Taylor

NATIONAL STANDING ORDERS COMMITTEE
Louise Couling
Dilys Jouvenat
Graeme Horn

Managers In Partnership Board
Bob Oram
Eleanor Smith
Norma Stephenson

PENSIONS TRUSTEES
Sue Forster
Colm Magee
June Nelson

UIA BOARD
Gerry Gallagher
Mike Hayes
Alison Shepherd

WELFARE BOARD
Angela Bowen
Louise Couling
Gerry Gallagher
Sue Highton
Maureen Le Marinel
Fiona Smith
Dilys Jouvenat
Samantha Selon

DISABLED MEMBERS’ COMMITTEE
Paul Harper
Helen Rose
Kim Silver

WOMEN’S COMMITTEE
Lesley Discombe
Helen Jenner
Jean Thorpe

HEALTH & SAFETY COMMITTEE
Roger Bannister
Maureen le Marinel
Paul Thompson

RETIRED MEMBERS’ COMMITTEE
Sarah Barwick
Sarah Bradfield
Linda Wilkinson


Once again my NEC colleagues have kindly refrained from overburdening me with Committee membership. We await the outcome of elections to the General Political Fund and Labour Link Committees (but not with great excitement).

I shall post a full report from this NEC meeting (which is underway) shortly but can report that our new President distinguished herself as a forthright Chair by introducing the exciting innovation of calling a vote in advance of a debate. The majority of the NEC were quite happy not to have a debate about the composition of the Committees and voted to endorse the above without any detailed consideration.

John McDermott thinks I should tell you all how much fun it is to be in the NEC Members Room at Mabledon Place but I am not going to as he is only on one Committee and his views cannot therefore be very important.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Equal Pay lobby of Parliament

Something of the order of 250 trade unionists (mostly UNISON members) are rallying at Central Hall Westminster as part of today’s lobby of Parliament. Jean Geldart has introduced the meeting by reading from the briefing notes provided to Labour MPs (which amount to saying that the problems of implementing Equal Pay in local government are not problems for Central Government).

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, is speaking first. .She says we still have a gender pay gap the size of the Grand Canyon. We need the Government to provide funding to enable local authorities to fill the gender pay gap in order to pay women workers the money they are owed. Heather wants the Government to put their money where their mouth is and wake up and smell the coffee (at the same time?)

Apparently Equal Pay was written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919! You live and learn eh?

Update at 1pm. Heather Wakefield has given us quite a wide ranging history of the past hundred years of struggle for Equal Pay. The former national negotiating machinery introduced equal pay for like work in the 1950s apparently.

Heather has just thanked Barbara Castle for the 1970 Equal Pay act. I must say I thought that the Ford sewing machinists had something to do with it as well? The role of women workers in struggle to achieve equal pay needs to be emphasised a little more than a simple chronology of past commitments.

Further update.

Diana Holland from UNITE’s TGWU section is bringing greetings of solidarity to the rally. She is stressing the importance of unity between the trade unions, and with the local authority employers, in order to press for funding to achieve equal pay without pay cuts and attacks on conditions of service. Diana believes that the Government is committed to equal pay and to filling the gender pay gap. (Also the tooth fairy?)

Further update (the second)

A little excitement as Jean Geldart has had to silence a heckler. Diana Holland says that MPs have to realise that this issue will not go away. She also says, to some considerable applause, that we can’t defend pay structures which contravene the Equal Pay Act. (I don’t think many people really want to do that. I think that there is an issue about protecting losers from the implementation of a new pay structure though – perhaps that is the concern of a few people who have just angrily left the meeting).

We are now moving on to hear Catherine Rake from the Fawcett Society.

Our speaker says that it is a disgrace that after ten years of a Labour Government we have the largest gender pay gap in Europe, which will take eighty years to close at the current rate of change for full time workers. This direct attack upon the failings of the Government distinguishes this contribution from the last and is well received.

Only 20% of MPs are women, which may be part of the reason why women’s issues receive a low priority.

The Tory Party are organising an Equal Pay day shortly (!) An opportunistic move of course, but an indication of the political dangers to the Government of failing to fund filling the gender pay gap. (The briefing note to MPs is disgraceful in refusing to accept responsibility for this problem).

We are now moving on to the practical arrangements for the lobby. I’ll have to chase my local MP so will stop blogging.

Let's hope the Government listens to us - but let's also start thinking about a political response if they don't...

Monday, July 09, 2007

One Wales - why not here?

I’ve always had the feeling that I shouldn’t switch off when we debate devolution within UNISON just because London governance arrangements are so frequently ignored.

Looking at the One Wales deal having read the leader in today’s Morning Star I realise I should pay more attention. Within the limits of the authority of the Welsh Assembly, the full detail of the agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru contains some good points.

“We firmly reject the privatisation of NHS services or the organisation of such services on market models. We will guarantee public ownership, public funding and public control of this vital public service.”

“We will move purposefully to end the internal market.”

“We will eliminate the use of private sector hospitals by the NHS in Wales by 2011.”

It’s not a full-blooded socialist programme for the twenty first century (although one is available…) – but it is a positive improvement on the policies of the Westminster Government. Is the reason for the greater success of the trade unions in influencing the devolved administrations due to deep rooted differences in the polity or is there something the unions are getting wrong at a UK wide level?

I must remember to exempt Wales and Scotland from some of the criticism of the general weakness of UNISON Labour Link at a UK level…

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Hanover Day

I don’t often blog about my Labour Party activities (and when I do I don’t use UNISON resources to do so because of the implications of Rule J)(a comment for those Rule Book junkies out there…!) However, Labour Party activism ought to go alongside union activism since we want to change the world and not just the workplace.

I had a really good time today at Hanover Day in Brighton on a Labour Party stall with candidate Nancy Platts who is far and away the best person to be the next Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion (which has to have the best name of any Parliamentary constituency – how many others are named for a Regency folly of gargantuan proportions???)

Anyway we comprehensively outclassed our main local political opponents by running a stall which had both politics and a sense of humour – we need to reclaim the Labour Party locally and nationally for Labour Party policies (as opposed to the policies of privatisation favoured by one G Brown…)

Then we could maybe win a fourth term and do good things with it...

Or am I just an incurable optimist...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Getting support for UNISON policy in Parliament

Good to see up to date reporting of Tuesday’s lobby of Parliament (for funding for equal pay in local government) on the UNISON website.

You can check out whether your MP has signed Early Day Motion 1775 supporting the lobby.

Cross referencing supporters of the EDM thus far with the UNISON group of MPs shows that so far 12 of the Labour MPs in the UNISON group are among the 37 Labour signatories of the EDM (there are also 3 Tories, 3 Liberals, 2 Unionists and 1 from the SDLP).

There are 61 MPs listed in the UNISON group and, even allowing for the fact that ministers can’t sign EDMs there is obviously a lot more work to do to get even “our own” MPs supporting this vital priority for our Union. I hope that the National Labour Link Forum, meeting now in Manchester will have been giving some thought to how to raise the game of UNISON’s Labour Party work, which is not well regarded.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Unite the fights

So we have decided to hold off on a strike ballot in health because Alan Johnson is going to talk to us about pay.

Let’s hope he doesn’t say what he said to the teachers

2.5% is not enough, whether it is paid all at once or staged. It’s not enough for health workers and it’s not enough for local government workers.

I’m sorry not to be able to be at the shop stewards conference tomorrow, and hope that it goes well, and that rank and file activists discuss how we coordinate the fight for fair pay across our movement. I hope that the conference adopts the very sensible statement put together by the organisers.

The shop stewards conference tomorrow will offer a lot more positive guidance than any other meetings going on at the moment…

Or we could live in dreamland and put our faith in Gordon Brown

Good luck to Fremantle strikers

Good luck to all the workers taking strike action against cowboy employer Fremantle in North London! A 24 hour strike from noon yesterday is a major new development in the fight by the workers against attacks upon their pay and conditions.

Check out details of the dispute at the Barnet branch blog.

You can sign the online petition!

Also find out if your MP is one of the 50 who have signed the Early Day Motion in support of the workers.

Good luck comrades!

Update on Friday evening – I am very pleased to see the dispute getting coverage on the UNISON website!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Not quite live blogging at the Regional Local Government Executive

Not quite live blogging here but I’m in a coffee break at the UNISON Greater London Regional Local Government Executive.

I think I can safely say that this is the only place on the internet where you can read reports of this august body as its meeting takes place…

We have looked at recruitment statistics, and thanked our Chair, David Eggmore for working out some percentages. Overall recruitment this year is disappointing but some branches are doing very well and we have agreed to look in more detail at success stories, and also at cases where recruitment is particularly poor.

We also considered a report back from Local Government Conference and instructed our representative on the Standing Orders Committee for that Conference, Malcolm Campbell about our concerns. It was absurd that the Conference could not debate pensions (and for those who believe that Regional Local Government Committees may not move Emergency Motions to Service Group Conference I would invite you to consider Rule P1.3.5 (and the punctuation in particular!)

There are also concerns at the inconsistent approach adopted to Rule P1.3.6 and to the increasingly restrictive approach of all our Standing Orders Committees who no longer seem primarily to exist to facilitate debate and discussion – perhaps a Rule Amendment will be required.

Immediately before the coffee break we considered the consultation on the pay dispute – the deadline for branches to communicate members’ views to the Region is 26 July and most branches appear to be planning to hold consultative ballots.

Update just after noon - we are back in session and debating pensions. Myself, Glenn Kelly and Malcolm Campbell have all just expressed the view that branches must be permitted to act upon branch decisions to recommend a "no" vote in contradiction to the national recommendation. The Chair has agreed that branches are entitled to make their own recommendations and that there is no need to seek further clarification. It has been agreed not to seek further clarification and to accept that branches may make their own recommendations.

Another update a few minutes later - we are moving on to discuss pay and grading reviews so I shall stop live blogging in case I inadvertantly say something about Equal Pay without adequate forethought. Anyway I need to recharge my batteries...

What are you doing next Tuesday?

I’m pleased to see next week’s lobby of Parliament headlining on the UNISON website. You can even click on a link to watch a video of the Head of Local Government…!

I must admit I am struggling to mobilise members for the lobby at the moment (London branches are historically poor at lobbying Parliament because we don’t have to do so much work arranging transport etc. and tend to leave it all to the last minute).

A bit more publicity about the lobby earlier would have helped (that is the way to build a really big lobby of Parliament).

Still, better late than never! The key problem underlying the slow implementation of pay and grading reviews in local government and the consequent litigation is the consistent refusal of the Government to fund filling the gender pay gap.

I remember hearing Gordon Brown at the TUC in 2005 saying; “Our aim: to move to ending once and for all the gender pay gap.” This was in the context of the TUC in 2004 having agreed a proposal from UNISON calling for “full funding to tackle the gender pay gap across the economy, in particular the public sector.” Is Gordon Brown really listening on this???

Tuesday’s lobby of Parliament is therefore certainly not premature. I’ll have another go at encouraging attendance from my own branch and look forward to seeing you all there next week!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

LGPS - yes or no?

UNISON is urging members to vote “yes” to approve the new look Local Government Pension Scheme. This recommendation comes from the Service Group Liaison Committee. This is what the Local Government Conference thinks of that Committee.

“We believe that coordination of action in relation to the LGPS across Service Groups and between different trade unions has recently been inadequate. In particular, we express our lack of confidence in the Service Group Liaison Committee as presently constituted as an effective forum to coordinate the defence of the interests of our members.”

I shall vote “no” because I don’t think we have achieved the objectives we set for ourselves when we took strike action last March. As Dave Prentis put it;

“Members of every other public-sector pension scheme have had their pension contract honoured - why should local government workers be treated any differently? Teachers' contracts honoured but not teaching assistants; police but not police staff; civil servants but not dustmen; and social workers that work in hospitals but not those social workers who work for councils.”

I expect that members will accept the recommendation of the Service Group Liaison Committee by a large majority, but branches must be free to make their own recommendations to members. I have heard it suggested that we may not do so, but know of no basis in Rule for such a daft exercise in control freakery…