Sunday, October 12, 2008

Development and Organisation Committee Report

Here, for those who may be interested in such things, is the report I have circulated to London UNISON branches from last week's meeting of the D&O Committee;

The Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee met on Tuesday 7 October ahead of the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) the following day.

The Head of Recruitment introduced the latest recruitment statistics. UNISON's projected annual recruitment rate is 1.2% (which compares with the GMB rate of 2.5%) this varies considerably between Regions.

The Committee then considered a report from our Head of Recruitment (Alan Kerr) and academic Jeremy Waddington on a survey of UNISON members to assess the impact of our national organising and recruitment plan on recruitment.

The main reason people join the Union is to have support at work should a problem arise – and so it is encouraging that member satisfaction with representation has increased since the last survey in 2002. Interestingly over a third of members report that they have joined UNISON on their own initiative (without being asked) and another 40% join on the recommendations of friends or colleagues – the proportion of members recruited by shop stewards is far smaller.

The Committee was recommended to agree that each Region works proactively with a small number of branches who are motivated to grow in order to develop new approaches. Further surveys of how recommendations from colleagues lead to members joining the Union are to be undertaken in order to support a “marketing strategy” of advertising which raises the profile of the Union in order to support and encourage recruitment by personal recommendation and individual initiative. At long last – in the next few months – it will be possible to join UNISON online.

After years of being told that the “organising approach” meant an exclusive focus on recruitment and dedicated training to get shop stewards out there to recruit, it is refreshing that we are getting back to a common sense approach which says that doing good trade union work – and making sure that members and potential members are aware of this – is the basis upon which we can build effective recruitment. Kate Ahrens, health service NEC member reported that the positive recruitment experience in East Midlands health was based upon the Region deliberately organising on the basis of large geographical health branches. Moz Greenshields from the East Midlands made the point that the Region also makes good use of its Regional pool money to support this work. Lessons for the Greater London Region are pretty clear.

The Head of the Membership Participation Unit introduced a report to the Committee dealing with UNISON's three projects funded through the Union Modernisation Fund. All of these are sensible attempts to use this limited Government support to achieve long term benefits for the Union. The first is to develop the role of Equality Reps. The second is to develop “virtual branches.” The third is to develop the participation of migrant workers.
I asked about the role of Equality Reps in relation to self-organisation and was assured that the self-organised groups have been and will be fully involved in that project, which is likely to lead to a Rule Amendment to next year's Conference.

The Committee then moved on to consider the survey of delegates to National Delegate Conference and the Scheme of Representation for next year's Conference. Next year registration of delegates for Conference (and submission of motions) will be possible online – and this should highlight any problems in the composition of delegations at an early stage.

As always there was a fairly lively debate about this scheme and several NEC members proposed ways in which the scheme could be a little more flexible for branches – in particular around the question of whether delegates should be permitted to count in more than one “fair representation” category (for example a young worker who is also low paid be part of a four delegate delegation and by their presence satisfy both the requirement that the branch send a low paid delegate and the requirement to send a young delegate).

I challenged the suggestion that such “doubling up” should not be permitted and also supported those who were arguing that the requirement to send a low paid delegate should be a requirement to send a low paid worker who could be either male or female. The broad thrust of comments from Regions were to call for some greater flexibility.

I felt that the new proposal that the branches of more than 2,000 - who have to send a low paid delegate – would not be permitted to satisfy that requirement by sending a low paid man – was overly restrictive. However my attempt to amend this was unsuccessful and the committee went on to agree a scheme which is essentially similar to the scheme as it applied last year.

Interestingly, it was reported that in most other Regions, branches appealing against decisions to disqualify delegates are generally having their appeals upheld. Branches electing Conference delegates need to consider how to apply the requirements of the Scheme of Representation in the particular circumstances of your branch.

The Committee received a presentation on current work by UNISON's Learning and Organising Services, including a diagram which illustrates training courses available to activists and which bears more than a passing resemblance to the London Underground map (!)

The Committee was updated on the introduction in January of branch and regional joint assessments (about which the committee had received a detailed written report at its July meeting) and also on the review of Service Groups (about which Frank Hont, North West Regional Secretary also gave a presentation to NEC members later in the day). The Project Board had received feedback from service groups on the proposals which had been considered in July.

The Local Government Service group favoured “option one” (the minimal change option), the Health Service group favoured “gradual” change rather than a “big bang” approach. Generally the smaller service groups (and the Community and Voluntary sector forum) were more sympathetic to “option three” (the abolition of Service Groups and the move to a sector based structure). The process of consultation is continuing – I argued that there was no reason to rush towards agreeing fundamental changes at next year's Conference.

Branches should be aware that there will be a process of consultation about our Service Group structures in which branches and Regions will be asked to express opinions in the near future. If any branches would like any assistance in organising meetings to discuss this review I will be happy to give any help that I can.

It was reported to the Committee that the Committee Chair had endorsed the new version of the Code of Good Branch Practice as “Chair's action” without awaiting a meeting of the Committee itself. I felt that this was inappropriate, particularly since not all of the changes had been discussed by the Committee or the NEC. However a majority of the Committee were happy – and voted that in future year's the annual revision of the Code should be carried out by the Committee Chair on our behalf.

The Committee also endorsed recommendations concerning transitional arrangements for the implementation of the new Rule D.3.5.8 which prohibits NEC members elected to represent a Service Group from also occupying any other seats on their Service Group Executive. It has been agreed that from 2011, SGE members who wish to seek election to the Service Group seat on the NEC will need to stand down from the SGE before they are eligible to be nominated to the NEC. I proposed an amendment to this recommendation without success. There is however time to reconsider this before the decision will take effect (and – of course – it won't matter if we abolish Service Groups in the mean time!) If any London branches are particularly concerned about this issue please get in touch.

Following the regular report on branches under Regional Supervision (none of which are in the Greater London Region at present) the Committee received a briefing on the campaign around Clause 18 of the Employment Bill, which has been amended in the House of Lords in such a way as to make it much harder for unions to expel fascists. Details of the postcard campaign which is being supported by UNISON are available online at http://www.unitedcampaign.org.uk/employmentbill.html.

The Chair reported that the Vice-Chair, on his behalf, had agreed an interpretation of the application of Schedule D to the Rule Book in cases covered by Appendix 2 to the Rule Book (involving allegations of harassment of staff by a member). This was the only “Chair's action” (other than that reported separately in relation to the Code of Good Branch Practice) and – in response to requests from members – I sought and received an assurance that no Chair's action had been taken in relation to any branch in Greater London.

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