Monday, December 15, 2008

Hands Off Our Pensions

With the CBI now joining the chorus to attack public sector pensions it is clear that we face a period of intensifying assault upon the living standards of working people in this country and around the world.

The economic crisis will be used to justify and excuse all manner of things if we permit it.

The answer is not to bargain for pay cuts or lay offs, although these will be seen, but to defend all that we can with every means at our disposal.

As we try to defend every job and all of our conditions at a rank and file level we need our leaders to articulate an alternative which challenges the view that this is the best that we can hope for.

2009 is not, I fear, going to be a Happy New Year. Start saving now so that you can stand the strain of the strike action which will be needed.

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.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

UNISON members fighting Tory attacks

The early arrival of the festive season has delayed my circulating a full report from Wednesday’s NEC meeting – watch this space later in the weekend for that. General Secretary Dave Prentis told the NEC that we need to take our campaign in defence of public services out on to the streets.

Barnet UNISON are showing the way. They achieved some excellent publicity for their campaign of opposition to wholesale privatisation on Wednesday evening. The Tory scheme to outsource anything that isn’t nailed down is clearly a glimpse of the future under a Cameron Government

Another such glimpse is provided by the slaughter of jobs in Tory Hammersmith and Fulham – including the relocation of caller centre jobs out of London. London local government affords us evidence which all those who know that a Tory Government would be even worse than New Labour should want to see widely publicised.

So I wait (and wait) to see support for London UNISON members’ campaigns where it ought to be being expressed. Dave Prentis congratulated the Westminster branch at the NEC for having prevented the employer introducing fingerprint recognition machines – and rightly so! We need official support and solidarity for all the UNISON members in our Region who are facing Tory attacks.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Report of the UNISON Development and Organisation Committee

This is the report of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation Committee 2 December 2008 which I have sent to London UNISON branches.


This is a personal report of today’s meeting of the Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee. I will deal with only some major items in this report. The meeting commenced with brief reports on recruitment and on learning activity.


Far Right political parties and trade unions


We then received an update on Clause 18 of the Employment Bill (as was) dealing with the ability of trade unions to exclude active members of far right organisations from membership. The unsatisfactory provisions of the Act will come into force on 1 April next and UNISON is working with Searchlight and the TUC to consider a legal challenge.


UNISON has also considered what action to take in relation to the recent publication of a list of alleged members of the British National Party. UNISON has had legal advice that we could lawfully cross reference our membership lists with this list but could not take any action simply by virtue of their being on the list. However any activity by members of far right organisations could lead to disciplinary action by the Union – new guidance will be issued to branches on this point. The Union has had legal advice that we could lawfully strengthen Rule I.3 which deals with this issue.


Service Group Structures


We then moved on to debate a report on future Service Group structures. Sue Highton introduced the paper on behalf of Jane Carolan. This paper had been circulated less than one working day in advance of the meeting. Frank Hont, North West Regional Secretary presented the proposals in detail.


I expressed reservations about being asked to endorse such major proposals with so little opportunity to consider the documentation. I was very critical of the way in which the proposals empowered the Service Group Liaison Committee, which in my view suffers a serious democratic deficit.


Some other members expressed anger at my comments that many parts of our Union are not lay led and that often the lay leadership is led by the nose by officials. I subsequently clarified that I had not intended to offend any individual.


Kate Ahrens, representing the Health Service Group made the point that the current proposals do not provide for the collective accountability of sector committees to any collective body of members such as a Conference. Service Group Conferences would, under the proposals being considered, have no useful role in relation to bargaining.


Glenn Kelly pointed out on behalf of the local government group that the largest service group representing the majority of our members opposed the scale of change being proposed. The Health Service Group also did not support this. He pointed out that Rule Changes will be required and that it would be unlikely that Conference would support changes which went against the views of our largest groups of members.


Paul Glover from Energy opposed the proposals insofar as the affected members in the current Energy Service Group. He felt that the proposals before the Committee did not reflect the outcome of consultation.


Bob Oram from the North West Region spoke in defence of the proposals but only to criticise those who had expressed reservations and concerns. He felt that this had been discussed for five years and we should get on and agree with it.


John Jones, representing Water and Environment echoed the concerns which had been expressed by the representative from Energy.


At the conclusion of this important debate the Committee did not agree to endorse the report as had been recommended but instead, on the recommendation of the Chair (Chris Tansley) that the report would now go out for further consultation.


Subject to discussion at tomorrow’s meeting of the full NEC, the report will be circulated to all branches. If any Greater London branch would like a copy (or indeed a copy of any other report considered at the Committee meeting) please get in touch.


RMS Update


The Committee received a detailed presentation on developments in relation to the RMS, in particular long awaited developments in relation to matching up our membership database with DOCAS information from the employers.


Election processes and timetable


The Committee agreed a report on the procedures for the forthcoming NEC elections. This will now go to tomorrow’s NEC meeting and I will therefore cover it in my report from that meeting.


Collective responsibility


The Committee was told that the Union had sought legal advice on whether individual NEC members should be permitted to attend Conference as delegates from branches. The Committee resolved to agree a report, which had been tabled that morning, recommending that tomorrow’s NEC rule that NEC members may not attend Conference in any other capacity. I was among a minority who opposed this at the meeting and will oppose it again tomorrow at the NEC as I consider it unnecessary.


Branches under Regional supervision


The Committee received a written report on the cases of branches under Regional supervision. I questioned the accuracy of comments in the report about the Newham local government branch. The Chair ruled that the meeting should move on and not discuss the report in detail. Pete Gaskin from the Eastern Region expressed dissatisfaction that it had not been possible for Committee members to raise issues about matters covered in this report.


I will be in touch with an NEC report later in the week. I hope to see delegates from branches at the Regional Council meeting on 9 December 2008.