Sunday, June 07, 2009

UNISON NEC meeting 3 June 2009

Here is the personl report of Wednesday's NEC meeting which I circulated yesterday to UNISON branches in Greater London.

(1) Conference business

The NEC discussed some outstanding items in relation to the business
for National Delegate Conference. I argued in support of Motion 7 from
the Croydon Branch which seeks a review of the scheme of
representation for branch delegations at Conference. The Chair of the
Development and Organisation Committee recommended opposition on the
grounds that the Chairs of each of the National Self Organised Groups
had reported their opposition to the motion on the basis that it
watered down the current scheme. His position commanded majority
support.

The NEC also agreed policy on amendments and composite motions. The
NEC is supporting the twelve composites but not (yet) any amendments
to composites. This includes amendment E.1 from Islington on Housing
which calls for a programme of Council house building (on which a
decision was deferred pending discussions with the branch) and
amendment I.1 from the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority
which calls for the nationalisation of the banks (which is opposed).
Personally I would support both those amendments.

The draft Order of Business for Conference (which will appear in
Standing Orders Committee Report No.2) was considered. One of the NEC
representatives on SOC reported that fewer motions had been timetabled
for debate in recent years but that this would only lead to swift
progress on the Remaining Order of Business (a.k.a. “the snake”) if
delegates showed discipline and started moving business along from the
first day of Conference.

The list of NEC speakers at Conference was not available on the day
but was circulated shortly thereafter. As my NEC colleagues have
kindly given me a week to rest my vocal chords (by not allocating me
any speeches) I shall be available to advise and assist delegates from
the Region.

The NEC also considered the Structures Review, associated with Motion
9 and several Rule Amendments on the Conference agenda. The Motion and
Rule Amendments have all been timetabled for the Thursday afternoon of
Conference. Although at a briefing the previous day the Chair of the
Development and Organisation Committee had reported that he would be
recommending that the NEC withdraw Rule Amendment 10 (merging the
Higher Education Service Group with the Further Education Sector) he
did not do this following a request from the General Secretary that we
leave that decision until the Tuesday morning of Conference. At the
briefing the previous day I had expressed my regret that attempts to
raise the question of democratic Sector Conferences at the same time
as proposing to devolve responsibility for bargaining from Service
Groups to Sectors had not been successful.

I expressed my personal view that to pass Rule Amendments 13 and 14
without building democratic Sector Conferences into our Rule Book
would be a mistake which would create a democratic deficit. In
response it was pointed out that so far no branches have responded to
the draft document setting out guidelines on the democratic
accountability of sectors. The debates on Thursday afternoon will be
amongst the most important at this year's Conference – not least
because the great bulk of policy motions on the agenda are supported
by the NEC as most of those which were not supported were also not
prioritised for debate.

The final item of Conference business was to consider the accounts for
the year ended December 2008 which had already been sent to all
Conference delegates. The NEC also received further detailed financial
information on which I will report further below.

The NEC is proposing an Emergency Motion to Conference on the trial of
Aung San Suu Kyi (an honorary life member of UNISON) by the Burmese
military junta. This will be referred to the SOC who will decide
whether it appears on the agenda.

(2) Recruitment debate

Sometimes the report on recruitment is almost nodded through at the
NEC and sometimes we have a serious debate. This meeting saw the
latter approach, with General Secretary Dave Prentis saying that
“there has got to be a revolution in the way this Union is run” in
order to focus on recruitment and increasing union density in
anticipation of a Conservative Government attacking the trade unions.
I asked about what we could do to generalise good practice and pointed
to the excellent example of the Kirklees local government branch which
has very high trade union density and Dave confirmed that he had
visited Kirklees recently. In his contribution Dave raised the
prospect of replacing Regional Organisers, as they leave, with more
Area Organiser and Local Organiser posts to focus on recruitment. The
Union now has detailed information on UNISON density in most of our
lead employers but has not published this beyond sharing it with
Regions. As well as anticipating hostility from the next Government
and, particularly in local government, the Tory dominated employers,
there is also a concern that UNITE may respond to significant job
losses in manufacturing by launching recruitment drives in direct
competition with UNISON.

(3) Public Sector Pay Negotiations

It was reported that the local government employers in England Wales
and Northern Ireland had not followed through with their threat to
withdraw any pay offer if it was not agreed by 1 June and that a
further offer might be forthcoming after the local elections (although
not that this is likely to be particularly generous!)

NHS Pay Review Body staff are within the multi-year pay deal and since
(given the economic situation) any attempt now to reopen the deal
would not lead to a larger award the trade union side will resist any
attempts to reopen the deal at present.

Higher Education members have rejected an offer of 0.3% and Further
Education members have rejected an offer of 1%.

It is clear that we face a difficult bargaining environment across the
public sector as employers anticipate spending cuts to come and use
the opportunity of private sector pay freezes and pay cuts to make
derisory pay offers to our members.

(4) Equal Pay

As usual the NEC received a confidential report on Equal Pay
litigation about which I cannot report in detail. It is proposed that
Conference will be asked to commence Friday morning in private session
in order to take Motion 125 and I hope that this will provide an
opportunity to update delegates.

(5) A Million Voices for Change

The General Secretary introduced to the NEC the “Million Voices for
Change” campaign which has been developed by a working party of the
Policy Committee in order to implement an earlier NEC decision to
campaign around the NEC statement on the economic crisis issued last
October. The intention of this campaign is to promote the progressive
policies which UNISON has agreed, both with a view to influencing
Government and to building the profile of our policies, particularly
with our own members. An initial leaflet is available to order and a
dedicated section of the website has been established. It is envisaged
that the “Million Voices” theme will be able to be used by Service
Groups, Regions and branches to give a coherent approach to
campaigning across the Union and that the campaign will run through
and beyond the next General Election, mobilising our members for the
challenges which we can foresee both now and from the next Government.

I asked the obvious question about why we were using the slogan of a
“million voices” when we have 1.3 Million member and got the
reasonable response that it is a better slogan (and one that
apparently worked for President Obama...)

Since Dave Prentis had said, in introducing the campaign, that “we did
not need to get a million signatures on a petition” I also asked why
we were not also supporting the recently launched “Peoples Charter”
(supported by UNISON's Scottish Council). To this question I received
the less satisfactory answer that UNISON should run our own campaigns
because we are the people who represent public service workers and
that we should not follow anyone else. I hear echoes in this response
of our refusal a few years ago to support the “Public Services Not
Private Profit Campaign” - and would have thought that the experience
of recent pay rounds would have demonstrated the need for trade union
unity.

I also asked what the campaign meant for our intervention around the
forthcoming election, suggesting that we should be asking candidates
if they supported our campaign and publicising the answers to our
members. Since less than a third of UNISON members now contribute to
UNISON Labour Link this question will inevitably arise. This question
received the reasonable response that the campaign is at an early
stage.

There will be considerable information about the “Million Voices”
campaign at Conference and it is clearly essential that, against the
backdrop of economic and political crises, UNISON makes the public
case for our progressive policies.

(6) Members of Parliament – expenses and allowances

As part of the General Secretary's report (in which he also reported
on our strong support for the campaign of the Communication Workers
Union against the proposed part privatisation of the Royal Mail) Dave
expressed himself very forcefully about the disgraceful conduct of a
number of Members of Parliament who have abused lax and generous
arrangements to claim allowances and expenses. He rightly pointed to
the contrast between the conduct of these MPs and the draconian way in
which low paid public sector workers are often treated if, for
example, our members face the suspicion of benefit fraud.

This provoked a lengthy discussion in which several members of the
National Labour Link Committee reported their support for the decision
of the Labour Party National Executive Council to establish the
so-called “star chamber” to investigate allegations against MPs. Local
Government NEC member, Glen Kelly, proposed that the NEC should set up
a sub group to review the conduct of members of the UNISON group of
MPs with a view to ensuring that MPs whose conduct might have brought
UNISON into disrepute would no longer be members of the group. This
proposal was withdrawn on the basis of assurances from the General
Secretary and the Chair of the Labour Link Committee that this work
would be undertaken under the auspices of the Labour Link Committee
and would be reported back to the full NEC.

Subsequent to this discussion I have been asked why the list of the
members of the UNISON group of MPs has disappeared from our website
and I am awaiting an explanation of this from officers.

(7) Financial reports

The NEC was indebted to Glenn Kelly for asking a series of detailed
questions on the various financial reports before the NEC which
included details of the report of the audit of last year's account and
the accounts for the first three months of this year.

If any branches pay honoraria to branch officers they should be aware
that such payments are taxable. UNISON has made a payment of £600,000
to HMRC in order to resolve concerns about unpaid tax on honoraria
paid over the past six years and all future honoraria payments will
have to be made via UNISON HQ (with tax being deducted before the
payments are passed on to branch officers). Several NEC members
commented that it would be better to cease honoraria payments
altogether and to seek to ensure that members are not out of pocket by
payment of appropriate expenses, a view which I share.

There has been an overspend of £48,000 in the Democratic Services
budget for the first three months of this year of which £30,000 is
attributed to travel, subsistence, accommodation and premises hire
associated with Rule I (internal UNISON disciplinary) meetings. The
question was asked why these meetings take place in expensive hotels.
This question was not answered.

I hope that this report is of interest and look forward to continuing
to report to London branches over the next two years. Thanks to those who voted for me to continue on the NEC. I'll post comment and analysis on the election results in due course.

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