Sunday, October 11, 2009

Personal Report of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting 7/10/09

This is a personal report of edited highlights of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting which took place on Wednesday 7 October 2009, which I have circulated to UNISON Branches in Greater London.

An official report is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=9503.

The meeting was chaired by Vice President Angela Lynes as our President, Gerry Gallagher was representing UNISON at the Conference of our Canadian sister union.

Organising update

There was generally good news from the Head of Organising and Recruitment, who was able to report that the Union is predicted to grow by 1.4% this year. One in five new members now join online – with 13,000 members having joined online since April. There remain issues about how members who join online are allocated to branches.

The report covered a number of specific organising projects and I asked in particular about the important three companies project. The project aims to work in partnership with our sister union from North America SEIU in order to recruit end organise the staff of three major private companies – Sohdexo, Compass and Aramark – that hold significant contracts in the public sector. We aim to test and employ SEIU organising and recruitment strategies and tactics in the care, cleaning and catering sectors. The Project Sponsor is our Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet, and I will continue to ask about this project.

New Service Group Structures

A written report on the establishment of three new Service Groups did not materialise and the NEC received a verbal update. At July’s meeting we had agreed a process whereby Regions would consult branches about the correct Service Group into which members should be placed with a deadline for data transfer on the membership system by 30 September. We were told that this deadline had been met, but also that the Assistant General Secretary would be writing to Regional Secretaries urging them to contact branches again.

All health and local government branches should check the information which has been provided from Region as to which employers will fall within the new Community Service Group since mistakes have been made in some cases. I was one of the members who queried whether the NEC had taken a decision as to which members should be in which Service Group – the view being taken seems to be that in agreeing an administrative process for data transfer in July we have given NEC approval to the outcome of that process.

Public Sector Pay Negotiations

There was some debate around the report on public sector pay negotiations, which provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of negotiations over the pay of UNISON members and other public servants. To some extent this debate became a fruitless discussion as to whether there was any worthwhile difference between a pay freeze under the Tories or a 1% increase under (New) Labour (there clearly is a difference – 1%!)

I raised the question of how we should make use of evidence that the effective rate of inflation confronting low paid workers in particular is considerably higher than the “headline rate” of inflation.

The debate ranged wider than just pay, with references to the coming attacks upon public service pension schemes and to the estimated 12,000 redundancies in local government in recent months. The General Secretary reported that the TUC Public Services Liaison Group would be coordinating the trade union response to these threats, and had already agreed to rejuvenate the NHS Together coalition.

Equal Pay issues

As ever the report which the NEC received on Equal Pay cannot be reported on here in detail for legal reasons. However, having checked with the Vice-President I can confirm that I am allowed to tell you that the legal team got a very warm round of applause from the NEC for the report. More information is in the public domain.

A Million Voices for Change campaign

It was reported that UNISON’s interventions at the TUC, Labour Party Conference – and at the Tory Party Conference – had been part of the Million Voices campaign which the General Secretary had launched at National Delegate Conference.

In promoting the campaign to the NEC Dave Prentis pointed out that we should be campaigning for higher taxes on the rich, and for money to be saved by cancelling Trident and ID cards. He also made clear that the first phase of the campaign had been the launch up to the Conference season and that we were now entering the second phase of building the campaign.

Early in the New Year the Union will need to assess how the campaign is going and, with a view to the next General Election, whether any Party has supported enough of our objectives in their manifesto. There will be no resumption of payments to individual Constituency Labour Parties under the Constituency Development Plans which were suspended by the Labour Link Committee in response to the General Secretary’s speech at Conference.

It was emphasised that thousands of UNISON members and others had signed up for this campaign (so that we couldn’t be told how many yet as they were coming in too fast to be counted). However to date only about 5% of UNISON branches had signed up to the campaign.

The Head of Policy, and the Chair of the Policy Committee, both stressed that this campaign was not intended simply to be a publicity campaign run from Head Office. The intention of the Million Voices campaign is that it becomes the vehicle for almost all UNISON activity over the coming months and that it should be used as a recruitment and organising tool.

Branches can sign up online to the campaign (as can individual members) – and all branches should have received a campaign pack. I would encourage all branches in Greater London to sign up to the campaign. I made the point that the campaign was entirely consistent with the People’s Charter which has been supported by the Trades Union Congress and that the two initiatives, which complement each other, can be supported together.

Further information about the Million Voices campaign will be available at the Greater London UNISON Regional Council meeting on Thursday 15 October, 10am at the University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1. Make sure your branch is represented in order to support this vital national campaign.

Collective responsibility

The NEC agreed a change to the way in which the NEC itself works, which I opposed (as part of a minority of 16 members outvoted by 35 of our colleagues). So that with effect from the next cycle of meetings, members of a committee may not challenge, speak against or oppose a decision or recommendation of that committee in full meetings of the NEC (although we will be permitted to abstain if we disagree).

I believed that this proposal ran counter to legal advice received by the NEC as recently as December last year (when we had been advised that NEC members are under a duty “when participating in the proceedings of the elected assembly, to express his or her own judgements, reach his or her own decisions and vote in accordance with her or her own assessment of the matters falling for decision.” However the Presidential Team did not consider that legal advice to be relevant and refused to circulate the report containing that advice to all members of the NEC.

Since from now on voting against the decision of an NEC Committee at the full NEC will lead to “a review of committee membership by the Presidential Team and potential removal of the individual from the relevant committee, subject to endorsement by the NEC”, I will report back to branches in Greater London should it appear that I may find myself in this position.

I found it disappointing that in a full meeting at which we were addressing the vital issues affecting the interests of our members we had to spend ninety minutes on this diversion. A number of my NEC colleagues feel very strongly about this issue however and seemed to think that this decision will mean that we need not consider the question again (whereas I fear that the reverse will be the case).

Staffing issues

The Chair of the NEC Staffing Committee gave a verbal report (but agreed to provide written reports in future). He dealt with the current recovery plan for the UNISON Staff Pension Scheme, which will be going out for a ballot of all scheme members to consider increasing employee contributions and make various changes intended to safeguard the future of the scheme.

It was confirmed that as there are no plans to increase the employer contributions there will be no financial implications for branches whose staff are members of the pension scheme.

Head Office Project

The building work on the site of the new Head Office for UNISON is visibly proceeding but is running four weeks behind schedule. It is hoped to keep the costs within the £72 Million allowed in the budget although it now appears that there is no prospect of bringing this figure back down to £70 Million.

Jon Rogers (NEC Greater London) j.rogers@unison.co.uk

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