Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rules for UNISON delegates

Whilst I realise that this may be fatal for attempts to establish this blog’s reputation as the premier home of cutting edge humour and excitement, I felt I should say something about some of the 21 Rule Amendments which are on the agenda for UNISON National Delegate Conference.

Please have your UNISON Rule Book to hand…

I won’t blog now in detail about the Rule Amendments ruled out of order but will return to that topic, particularly because the failure of the Rule Amendment which would have created the possibility of Sector Conferences to make it onto the agenda creates a real dilemma about a democratic deficit that I am afraid will otherwise be created by the Rule Amendments implementing the devolution of collective bargaining responsibility from Service Groups to Sectors.

Looking at what we do have, the first thing upon which to remark is that we may have a full afternoon of debating the Rules. I realise that not everyone will view this as an appealing prospect. There are however some important discussions to have and decisions to make.

Rule Amendment 17 may be among the most important since it seeks to tighten up the Rules that permit us to exclude members of far right political parties from membership. However the wording of the amendment is, on legal advice, a little opaque permitting us to exclude or expel “any individual who gives encouragement to or participates in the activities of a political party the objectives of which are contrary to the objectives of UNISON in particular those equality provisions set out in Rules A3 and/or B1.2 and/or B1.3 of the UNISON Rule Book.” I would have preferred a straightforward ban on BNP members being UNISON members. The counter argument was the fringe parties of the far right frequently change their names, and that the BNP is not the only such organisation so that a wider form of words is required.

The associated Rule Amendment 5 which deals with arrangements when members are excluded, removes the routine right of Branch Committees to refuse membership applications currently in Rule C.5.2 (clause (b)). Although that provision may have become a dead letter I think that this change will need some explanation, as will the arrangements for branches to consider representations from anyone we consider ineligible for membership.

Rule Amendment 18 will probably be uncontroversial. It implements a one off increase in the hourly rate of pay which we define as “low pay” for the purposes of Reserved low pay seats under our Rules from £7.49 to £8.50. Thereafter the amount will continue to increase in line with pay inflation. Attempts to clarify the meaning of hourly rate in the Rule Book were abandoned at an earlier stage in favour of the expectation that the National Executive Council will use its powers to interpret the Rule Book to arrive at a sensible interpretation (this is of particular concern in the Greater London Region where, in many cases, “London Weighting” payments are now rolled up into the hourly rate).

Rule Amendment 15 implements a prohibition on a single member holding more than one of the “top three” Branch Officer positions (Secretary, Treasurer and Chair) – although this may cause some problems in the smallest branches it does make sense that these different roles should be held by different individuals from the point of view of both democratic and financial accountability.

New Rule G8 brings in further change for branches as it introduces “Equality Representatives” into our Rules. I would particularly welcome the views of activists within UNISON’s self-organised groups on these proposals since self-organisation by members experiencing particular forms of oppression (whether in the workplace or the wider society) is core to UNISON and has been ever since 1993.

Most of the remaining Rule Amendments deal with different aspects of the Review of Structures, proposing the creation of new Service Groups and changes to the definitions of Service Groups and Sectors. Although in debate at the NEC we wrote back into the role of Service Groups that they should “oversee” the work of sectors I am nevertheless concerned that the devolution of autonomy to sectors in the absence of clear arrangements for collective democratic accountability of Sector Committees to a representative body of delegates would weaken rather than strengthen our Union.

New Rule D 2.9.13 clarifies the power of the NEC to issue guidelines on the democratic accountability of sectors, and since it is within Rule D.2.9 and therefore subject to the caveats surrounding the general power of the NEC under Rule D.2.1 (which subjects the NEC to “the policy of the Union as laid down by the National Delegate Conference”) it does make clear that Conference could issue instructions to the NEC about such guidelines. Whether or not the amendments to Rules D 3.1.4 and D 3.7 are agreed this year, Conference could therefore return to the question of the democratic accountability of Sectors.

New Rule D.2.9.6 is as much as is on offer to respond to the decision of 2007 Conference that the NEC should “ensure democratic accountability” in “cross service group working.” All it does is clarify that the NEC has the power to “oversee cross service group work” but, as with Rule D.2.9.13 this is at least clearly subject to Conference policy, so that a future National Delegate Conference could give the NEC some instructions about (for example) the role, composition and accountability of the Service Group Liaison Committee.

For those still reading this far down the post you now know what we have to look forward to on the Thursday afternoon of National Delegate Conference – this year won’t be the year to find other activities at that point.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Reserved low pay seats for women this is a sensible and welcome change although I agree it needs to be defined to take accout of regional supplements. On this note we have just had our conference delegation rejected on the basis that the low paid person we have put forward is male even though the delegation as a whole is proportionate: The delegation consisted of 2 black females, one young member (male) and one low paid member (male) Proportionality and fair representation are vital but there should be soem degree of flexibility and common sense in these sorts of circumsntances.