Sunday, October 12, 2008

UNISON NEC report to UNISON branches

This is a personal report, sent to London UNISON branches, from the meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) which took place on Wednesday 8 October. An official report will also be circulated and is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/nec.asp.

The meeting commenced with a lengthy and thorough report on Equal Pay with reference to the recent decisions of the Court of Appeal in the Allen and Bainbridge cases. Given the scale of litigation around this subject I will not report further here – at the request of NEC members, further official guidance will be issued shortly (and for those local government branches involved in Single Status negotiations there will be another Regional briefing session soon). Up to date guidance is available online via the main Equal Pay page at http://www.unison.org.uk/equalpay/index.asp.

The meeting received an update on public sector pay negotiations from the Deputy General Secretary which provided a factual update on the current state of play. In response to a question which had been raised with me by a branch I asked about whether branches involved in the NJC pay dispute could approach their employer for payment now “on account” of the 2.45% offer pending the outcome of the arbitration (as this may not be known before Christmas). It was confirmed by the Chair of the Service Group, Chris Tansley, that it was acceptable for branches to do this and that a similar request had been made nationally but no publicity had been issued about that request so as to avoid raising expectations. Local Government branches may wish to discuss coordinating such requests to employers.

Keith Sonnet also introduced a report on the Local Government Pension Scheme – including the news that on the 25 September there was a dramatic development
with the Association of Local Authority Advisors (ALAMA) issuing advice to its members
saying that, in their view, the certification test for medical retirement under the new scheme falls outside their competence. They are
advising members that any decision could be open to challenge. Effectively ALAMA
has now withdrawn its work as medical advisor to the LGPS!

The NEC received a report on the review of the effectiveness of our Political Funds, agreed by Conference when it passed Motion 63 as amended. This is being led by the (wonderfully titled) “Objective 3 Scrutiny Group” which was established to lead the last review of the Political Funds. The final report of this review will go to Conference in 2010 and initially research is to be undertaken on the political engagement of trade unions and survey of UNISON members and activists.

A report was also received on the new Head Office for UNISON, costs for which have risen recently. By December (when the NEC next meets) there should be greater certainty about the costs of this project.

The General Secretary, under his report, asked the NEC to endorse a statement on the financial crisis which had been agreed by the Policy Committee the previous day. The full statement, which was endorsed unanimously, can be read online here http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=4884. It was agreed that members would expect UNISON to make demands of a Government which was able to set aside hundreds of billions of pounds to bail out the banking industry but which could not find the funds for public services.

As the NEC statement rightly says; “thirty years of deregulation, privatisation, financialisation, tax-cutting and tax-evasion have resulted in an unprecedented widening of inequality and concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and a massive burden of risk transferred to the many. The neo-liberal era has ended in failure. We need now to begin to rebalance our monetary and fiscal framework, our system of taxation, our regulatory regimes and our overall pattern of investment and economic development.”

I pointed out that since no mainstream political party was currently willing to express an alternative to the failing “neoliberal” economic policy consensus, it was up to the trade unions to set out such an alternative. Obviously we also need to campaign around this statement. We were assured that the Union nationally would be sending this statement to Members of Parliament. Branches should also circulate the statement to their members and encourage members to write to their local MP to ask that they support our Union's demands. Members can access details of their MP (and contact them electronically) at http://www.writetothem.com/.

Branches could also organise meetings to discuss the statement and to invite speakers to explain the crisis and the alternative which UNISON supports. Delegates who attended the Regional Council on the following day will have heard UNISON MP Jeremy Corbyn promising to pursue support for this statement in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn reported to the Regional Council that there will be a meeting at the House of Commons organised by the Left Economics Advisory Panel on the evening of Monday 13 October at which UNISON MP Kelvin Hopkins will be speaking – details of that meeting are available online at http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/#econ. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at 7.30pm in Committee Room 10 at the House of Commons (if you are thinking of attending it is worth getting along a bit early to get through the security checks).

The General Secretary went on to report from a meeting of the TUC Public Service Liaison Group on the previous day, which had begun to consider how to better coordinate public sector pay negotiations. This discussion, including the possibility of unified public sector pay negotiations directly with the Government will be pursued further at a meeting of all public sector unions in mid November. It was reported that the national demonstration which had been agreed by the TUC at UNISON's request will take place early in the spring. My personal view – which I expressed – was that we had made a mistake last year in focusing on building unity only sector by sector (an initiative which failed in our largest service groups this year).

Whilst our members are certainly very unhappy at real terms pay cuts we all know how difficult it is to win support for the industrial action which is clearly necessary if we are to stop the attack on our living standards. In my view, united action across the public sector (on the basis of a “coalition of the willing” of unions who are prepared to take action) could shift the Government and could secure the support of our members for action. It is a shame that UNISON has not been willing or able to achieve such unity over the past year. Our members are paying the price for this failure.

The General Secretary invited the Chair of UNISON's Labour Link Committee to give a report from UNISON's intervention at Labour Party Conference. The meeting was entertained with a list of fringe meetings attended and UNISON speakers. Some other NEC members were not persuaded that UNISON had achieved the significant progress which had been reported to the meeting.

If any branches have any questions or would like to have a personal report to your branch or Branch Committee please get in touch to j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

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