Sunday, December 07, 2008

UNISON NEC report to London branches

This is my personal report to London UNISON branches of the UNISON NEC meeting which took place on Wednesday 3 December. (A bit long for a blog post, so sorry for that).

At the commencement of the meeting, at the request of the General Secretary, the NEC agreed to send a message of condolences to Birmingham branch secretary Carole Hagans, who lost family members in the recent M6 tragedy, make a donation to the family's charity of choice (“Feed My Lambs”) and circulate a request for donations to branches and regions.

Later during the course of the meeting the President announced a message of support from the NEC for the Barnet branch who were due to be lobbying their Cabinet that evening in opposition to the “Future Shape” privatisation proposals.

The following were the main items of business at the meeting;

UNISON Objectives and Priorities for 2009

The NEC endorsed a report setting out our objectives and priorities for the coming year. These remain the four current objectives (Objective One – recruiting, organising, representing and retaining members; Objective Two – negotiating, bargaining and promoting equality; Objective Three – campaigning and promoting UNISON, and; Objective Four – an efficient and effective Union). Health service NEC members Kate Ahrens and Karen Reissmann successfully proposed an amendment to reaffirm our support for public services and opposition to privatisation.

Financial planning and budgets

The NEC adopted a budget for the coming year. This assumes slower growth in subscription income than in recent years and makes further significant provision for the costs of legal action in relation to equal pay. The coming year will also see UNISON beginning to draw upon the loan to build the new HeadQuarters building. A financial challenge will be presented by the soon to be received valuation of the UNISON staff pension fund. The General Secretary assured the NEC that this challenge can be managed over a number of years.

Recruitment

The Head of Recruitment reported that recruitment figures for 2008 had improved significantly in the autumn. It is predicted that UNISON will grow by 1.4% this year. Greater London Region is reportedly within a narrow margin of meeting our target for 2% growth.

Equal Pay

As usual the NEC received a useful and informative, but confidential and legally privileged, report on Equal Pay. Updated negotiating guidance is due out in the coming week and regular updated information is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/equalpay/branches.asp,

Public sector pay negotiations

The General Secretary introduced a round up of the state of play in all public sector pay negotiations. He reported that the public sector unions had met on the previous day, and would be meeting again in January. January will also see UNISON’s annual pay seminar, at which attempts are made to coordinate pay negotiations across the Union. I asked the General Secretary, as I had previously, if he agreed that the approach of building unity “sector by sector” within the public sector had failed to deliver for our members (almost all of whom have seen a real terms pay cut over the past year). He agreed and emphasised that the Unions were now discussing whether to have direct talks with the Government about public sector pay.

Local Government Pension Scheme

The Deputy General Secretary introduced a report on the continuing discussions over the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). It was noted that the Government have now issued guidance on ill-health retirement under the new scheme in spite of outstanding disagreements with the trade unions. There has been no progress in extending the protection of the “Rule of 85” and, from the report to the NEC, it would appear that there is now little prospect of this happening. Discussions have now moved on to “cost sharing” (which is a euphemism for further increases in employee contribution rates) against a background of attacks on the LGPS, and public sector pensions generally, from the Conservative Party.

UNISON response to the financial crisis

The Chair of the Policy Committee introduced a report updating the position since the statement adopted at the October NEC. She reported that this had been well received by members.

Another London NEC member said that rather than sending Xmas cards this year she would make a donation to UNISON Welfare in view of the likely impact of the financial crisis on our members.

The General Secretary said that he hoped that UNISON would mount a major public campaign in defence of public services, taking our campaign activities out onto the streets, on the basis that if we don’t do it no one else will. This is likely to include a major national demonstration in the spring when the “G20” economic summit is likely to take place in England.

Rule D3.5.8

The NEC endorsed a proposal from October’s meeting of the Development and Organisation Committee to have transitional arrangements for the introduction of a Rule agreed at this year’s Conference which precludes NEC members elected to represent a Service Group (and therefore holding ex officio seats upon the Service Group Executive - SGE) from simultaneously holding any other seat on the SGE.

The NEC has agreed, in effect, that this rule will not take effect until the 2011 NEC elections. Some NEC members queried whether the power of the NEC to interpret the Rules could be used in this way.

Collective responsibility of NEC members

The longest debate at the December NEC, with eighteen contributions from NEC members, concerned a proposal to interpret the Rules (in a new and different way) to prohibit NEC members from attending Conference as branch delegates. A flavour of this discussion can be given in the observation from several of those opposed to this proposal that it was “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut” (to which local government NEC member, Glenn Kelly, who attended last year’s Conference as a delegate from the Bromley branch, objected to being characterised as a “nut”).

The Union had received detailed legal advice concerning this proposal from Leading Counsel. Although this legal advice dealt in detail with the rights and responsibilities of all NEC members, the NEC was told that individual members of the NEC were not permitted to see the legal advice, only the summary of it included in a report written by officers. The Presidential Team and the Chair of the D&O Committee had seen the full legal advice, and the NEC was advised that this was perfectly appropriate as this was what they had been elected to do by the NEC. I intend to pursue a request for sight of this legal advice, and will also be interested to know how much money we spent seeking Counsel’s opinion.

Since this report had been tabled at Wednesday’s NEC, having also been tabled at the D&O Committee the previous day several NEC members, myself included, felt that the NEC should not allow itself to be bounced into agreeing a new interpretation of the Rules, overturning a previous NEC decision, without the opportunity for further thought. A proposal to delay the decision was however defeated by 29 votes to 16 and the NEC endorsed the report.

General Secretary’s report

The General Secretary used the opportunity of his report to advise the NEC, as had been reported to the D&O Committee the previous day, that UNISON has taken legal advice in response to the receipt of the leaked membership list of the far-right British National Party and would be taking steps to identify any BNP members in UNISON. He warned the NEC that we could expect attacks from the BNP as we put ourselves in the forefront of opposition to the far-right.

Dave Prentis also congratulated the Westminster City branch on defeating proposals to introduce fingerprint scanning equipment and agreed to investigate similar moves elsewhere in the public services. The NEC also agreed to send a message of support to members in the Northern Ireland community and voluntary sector under threat from 'dissidents' over their work in community projects.

NEC Election timetable

The NEC endorsed the timetable for the forthcoming round of NEC elections. Nominations will open on 5 January and close on 13 February. The ballot period will be between 14 April and 15 May and the results will be known just ahead of National Delegate Conference in June.

As always, if any branch would like further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Jon, was there any discussion about the decision to make a donation to 'Feed My Lambs'? Clearly the death of family members of a UNISON activist is a tragedy, and one which the NEC would want to acknowledge and offer sympathy.

But making a donation to an evangelical organisation which funds the development of faith schools does not sit comfortably with UNISON's commitment to inclusive education, does it?