Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Better late than never...

This is the report which I have just circulated to London UNISON branches of the meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee meeting last month. I will blog again about some of the more important topics discussed at that meeting over the summer for the benefit of those who have left their holiday reading in the hotel ;)

Personal report of the July 2008 D&O meeting

I am sorry for the delay of almost one month in circulating this report from the 9th July meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee, on which all four of our Greater London Regional NEC members serve. Official reports will be made to the Regional Committee and Council in due course. This is a personal report (if anyone would prefer not to receive my personal reports please let me know).

The delay in preparing this report is due to the local government strike and the hot weather! However, I am pleased to be writing around to branches today so that I can draw to your attention the relaunch of the valiant struggle of the Fremantle workers to restore their terms and conditions. Check out this story on the Barnet UNISON branch blog and send your messages of support to the Barnet branch. You will see that there will be five picket lines to support on Thursday lunchtime for anyone who can get to Barnet at that time.

The D&O considered some major reports on serious issues and I would urge branches to put some of the items which follow on the agenda of your own Branch Committees at the earliest opportunity, as UNISON is a lay led union and our members at branch level are the people who should direct our future development.

Service Group and Branch Structures Review

The Committee received a report from the North West Regional Secretary, a former Chair of the Committee, on the work being undertaken to review our branch and service group structures. This is an issue of considerable importance to the future of our Union.

Branch Assessments

As part of this process next year will see the introduction of “joint Branch Region assessments” – a sort of “annual appraisal” for UNISON branches. This could be a valuable tool to assist branches in moving forward on our organising agenda, identifying areas for improvement and further work and enabling Regions to prioritise support to branches. However it also has the potential for disagreement and to invert the approach of our Rule Book which makes clear that officials are accountable to members and not the other way round.

The assessment process will be monitored by the D&O Committee and if any branches have questions about this process or would like to see the reports which we as NEC members have received please get in touch.

Your NEC members will also be available to assist in the implementation of these assessments and the Regional Convenor will have a role in helping to resolve any disagreements independently of officials.

Review of Service Group structures

Another major issue under this general heading is the review of service group structures, in relation to which the Committee finally received (officially) a report which had been in circulation (unofficially) in the spring.

This is a report which is a discussion document setting out three options for the future service group structure of our Union.

The first is a “minimal change option” (although including terminating the Transport Service Group on grounds of its size).

The second is a “moderate change option” which largely involves taking members out of the Local Government Service Group, by putting schools members into a new Education Service Group and probation members into a group with police staff, whilst consolidating Energy, Water, Transport and other private sector members into a Business and Environment Service Group.

The third, “High level change” option involves doing away with Service Groups altogether and relying upon existing sectors as the core building blocks of our union at a national level.

Branches should certainly timetable discussion of this issue for autumn Branch Committee meetings as there is to be consultation with Regional Secretaries on 4 September and Regional Convenors on 15 September and 22 November.

What appears to be an obscure issue – the structure of our Service Groups – may well have major implications for the effectiveness of our union in defending our members interests and for lay democracy and member control of UNISON.

There is to be consultation with branches starting from 16 September and, since this may lead to proposals for Rule Changes at next year’s Conference, it is important that branches timetable discussion in October. You can of course contact any of your NEC members if you want a more detailed explanation at a Branch Committee meeting.

Staffing and the Organising Challenge

The Committee received a detailed report from Bob Oram, Chair of the Staffing Committee, based upon a report given previously to the Service Group Liaison Committee.

This dealt with the staffing changes which are underway with the creation of the roles of Local Organiser and Area Organiser alongside the redefined role of Regional Organiser.

The Union is seeking to shift the emphasis of the work of our staff towards building up our organisation by creating more organising jobs (with fewer clerical and secretarial roles) and by redirecting the energies of our Regional Organisers. If the change from Regional Officer to Regional Organiser is more than just a name change this may be a very positive step.

Reserved Low Paid Seats

The Committee received a report recommending consultation on a potential change to the definition of “low pay” for the purposes of reserved low paid seats. These seats which (on the NEC and Service Group Executives) have seen few contested elections since vested day are now increasingly vacant as activists are regarded through Single Status and Agenda for Change.

Consultation on whether to raise the level of “low pay” for these purposes will be with Regions and Service Groups rather than branches – so branches will need to make their views known to members of the Regional Committee (or of course your NEC members). Of course the Regional Committee could decide to consult branches.

Whereas the Committee was presented with some radical and far reaching options on the future Service Group structure of the Union, the only concrete proposal on which it is proposed to consult in relation to the reserved low paid seats is whether to increase the relevant rate of pay.

Branches under Regional Supervision

The Committee receives a regular report on all branches placed under the supervision of their Regional Office (for a variety of reasons). I am pleased to report that as at 9 July no London branches were under Regional supervision.

Certification Officer cases

The Committee received an update on the appeals by UNISON against rulings of the Certification Officer in cases brought against the Union. A previous meeting of the Committee had endorsed the decisions to appeal in two recent cases (a decision which I had opposed).

Review of Democratic Processes

The review of UNISON’s democratic processes agreed by National Delegate Conference this June is to take place between September and next January, according to a report endorsed by the July D&O and also by the Policy Committee, which will share responsibility for the review.

It is not yet entirely clear how branches will be “engaged with” this review (although the report asserts that this will happen). There is to be a survey of branches in relation to attendance at Conferences which will be led by the D&O Committee. The Policy Committee will lead on the issue of making recommendations to members.

This was the area which gave rise to concern and to the relevant Conference decision, when branches seeking to make positive recommendations in last year’s National Health Service pay ballot were threatened with disciplinary action on the basis that, the Service Group Executive having agreed not to make a recommendation, it was a breach of UNISON policy for anyone else to try to do so.

This absurd decision is now clearly not the correct approach, as UNISON Conference has endorsed, with the support of our NEC, the right of branches to make and campaign for recommendations in member ballots. Those who believe in trade union democracy need to engage with this review of our democratic processes in order to ensure that there is no backsliding from the Conference decision to protect branch rights.

The NEC will be considering this review of democratic processes further at its meeting on 4 October so if any branches have particular views or issues which you want raised please contact one of your NEC members.

If you have any questions about this report, or would like copies of any of the papers considered at the meeting, please contact me at j.rogers@unison.co.uk.


eddie said...

I think that you're jumping the gun in the final section of your report.

UNISON NDC did not make a decision on branch recommendations apart from including consideration of the right of branches to make recommendations 'within rule' as part of the review.

Practice on consultation and balloting varies in service groups at the moment and it remains to be seen whether there is support across the union for branches making different recemmendations from representative national bodies.

Putting aside the nonsense of the 'no recommendation' scenario, that presumably is the point of the review?

Anonymous said...

Having recently received the "result" of my Branch assessment, I have found that we are lacking in some areas - according to the assessors!

The result? We've received a list of actions we have to undertake, all of which we've been told we're capable of doing ourselves with minimal support from Region.

Well, if we were able to do it with minimal support, we'd be doing it already!

We have major issues re facility time and securing Regional Officer support - so what happens when we're honest about this? We've had the problems fired back at us and we're left to solve them.

Marvellous. That's no better than a bad appraisal at work!! And this has come from my own union.....