Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Representing low paid workers

One consequence of the unwise decision of my NEC colleagues to press ahead with controversial Rule Amendments for which the necessary political preparation had not been done at this year's Conference is that other Rule Amendments were not reached.

One such was the Rule Amendment that would have changed the definition of low pay for the purposes of election to "Reserved Seats" on the National Executive (and also on Service Group Executives, in Conference delegations etc.) The change (which we did not reach and could not therefore make) would have increased the hourly rate threshold by one pound.

This would have increased the proportion of UNISON's low paid women members eligible to stand for such seats. Given the general lack of competition for the Reserved Seats, and the consensus that the proposed change was sensible, I hope that we can prioritise this change next year.

Although I understand that the proposal to create the Reserved Seats emerged fairly late on in the negotiations which led to the creation of UNISON in 1993, whatever the intentions of those proposing this step, the principle that UNISON should fairly represent the large number of low paid women members in our leadership is now rightly entrenched.

A number of practical problems still need to be resolved (such as those which arise when workers hold more than one contract of employment, with different hourly rates in each, some in unionised areas and some in non-union employment). These issues are not new - they were on the agenda of Women's Conference 2003 for example.

However the main task facing activists in our Union is to encourage and facilitate activism by lower paid members.

Low paid migrant workers are currently bearing the brunt of an employers' counter-offensiive in London, as the bosses turn to the immigration authorities for revenge on workers who have won pay increases (such as June's disgraceful raid on UNISON members at SOAS).

Those who can get to Liverpool Street on Friday lunchtime can support the workers -at a demonstration for the payment of unpaid salaries and holidays of the detained cleaners on Friday 21 of Aug at 1pm at the Willis Building, 51 Lime Street, London, EC3M 7DQ. For those who don’t know the location, protesters will be at 12h30 in front of McDonalds at Liverpool Street station.


Darren said...

My branch struggles desperately to fill the low paid seats and the increase would have made it a hell of a lot easier - even with a 1% increase we may very well be a delegate short at NDC next year.
One thought I had was to change the rules so that the NEC (or some subcommittee) can change the low paid rate without needing a rule change - perhaps as part of the annual report? That way it would be reviewed every year, without fail, and wouldn't risk not being reached as, funnily enough, we always seem to get through the annual report.....I'd be interested to hear thoughts around this.

Jon Rogers said...

I think that may be wise. At present the Rules dictate that the rate is uprated in line with pay inflation (based on whatever the New Earnings Survey is called now).

However, if our objective is to ensure that there is representation for (say) the lowest paid quartile of our members, then a Rule which gave some more flexibility to the NEC might provide a one-off fix for the problem which would then mean the issue did not need to compete for Conference time in future.

We certainly need to give the matter some further thought.

Sean said...

Also I find the figure pretty arbitary. living on say £8.00 an hour out of London is hardly a high wage equating to 15000.00 a year. The figure proposed in the rule amendment was about right in my opinion (subject to confirming allowances may still be stripped out) In our Branch which has a large number of female members it would have brough around an extra 700 memebrs into the equation, this is particulalry true when we have just been suscessful in gaining significant pay increases for our residential care workers and homecarers that took them above the currnet figure.