Sunday, March 06, 2011

Personal report of February 2011 NEC

This is a personal report from the February meeting of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) which I have circulated to London UNISON Branches. An official report is available online. (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=12545).

Conference Motions and Rule Amendments

The NEC agreed a number of Motions for Conference, these came from the following NEC Committees and dealt with the following topics;

Development and Organisation
· Educate and Organise
· Organising

Finance and Resource Management
· Branch Funding

International
· International campaign against public service cuts
· Palestine

Policy Development and Campaigns
· Abolition of the Two Tier Code
· Attacks on Health and Safety
· Cuts to Benefits and Welfare
· The Economy –Cuts are not the cure
· Education
· Future of Local Government Services
· Our NHS Our Future
· Public Services

The motion on Branch Funding recommends a review of the system of branch funding agreed by Conference in 2001, to involve consultation throughout the Union and it was reported that it is hoped that the Standing Orders Committee will timetable this motion so that it does not need to be the subject of the prioritisation process. If any branch can’t wait for the publication of the Preliminary Agenda to see the text of any of these motions as they were put before the NEC please let me know.

The NEC also agreed Rule Amendments for Conference. These include an amendment to Rule I which was meant to be submitted to Conference last year, facilitating action against members of far right organisations such as the British National Party, and an amendment placing a time limit (of five years) on the disciplinary sanction of a ban on holding office under our Rules.

The NEC will also be proposing a new Schedule F to the Rule Book on Branch Finance which Branch Treasurers will no doubt want to have a good look at.

Defending Public Services – March 26th and the Fighting Fund

The NEC received a detailed report on national campaigning in defence of public services and preparations for the TUC demonstration on 26 March, which I will attach to this report. Keep up to date with UNISON’s campaigning at http://www.unison.org.uk/million/ and about the 26 March demonstration at http://www.unison.org.uk/26march/.

There was a serious discussion about how to encourage members to attend the demonstration and about the practicalities.

The NEC also received a report about the £20 Million “fighting fund” announced in December.

£5.5 Million is in a General Fighting Fund to support organising and industrial work. Somewhat disappointingly the process and criteria for submitting bids had still not been worked out at the time of the NEC meeting.

A further £4.5 Million will be used to fund political campaigns under the auspices of the General Political Fund Committee. Again we were told that “separate guidance will be issued.”

£10 Million will remain in the Industrial Action Fund to support branches taking industrial action (which is where it was and what it was for before we announced it was part of a fighting fund).

General Secretary’s Report – Pensions

Dave Prentis opened his report by referring to the issue of pensions. The introduction to the discussion by General Secretary Dave Prentis was markedly more left wing than the written report circulated before the meeting, in that he referred repeatedly to the prospect of industrial action, a topic which was largely absent from the report.

Dave's focus on the need for national strike action to defend public service pensions found an echo across the NEC.

I was particularly interested in contributions from colleagues in the health service who made the point that, in recent years, the "pay as you go" (unfunded) NHS pension scheme has routinely taken in more in contributions than it has paid out in pensions.

Far from basking in the reflected glow of so-called "gold plated" pensions, low-paid health workers have been subsidising the Treasury by paying in more than is required to pay the (hardly generous) pensions of retired colleagues. Yet the Government want to levy an average 3% "increased pension contribution" or (as West Midlands NEC member James Anthony put it) a 3% tax for working in the public sector.

In the case of the (funded) Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) the Treasury are carrying out this theft from the (largely low paid) members of the scheme by taking £900 Million away from local authorities in England and Wales - increased contributions will be needed to cover this shortfall which has been deliberately created by an act of pension vandalism by the Tories.

Even the Tory-dominated local authority employers are up in arms about this theft - which could see an exodus of scheme members, threatening a massive future bill for future means-tested benefits and worsening pensioner poverty for a generation.

All of this comes on top of an estimated 15% reduction in the value of our pensions as a result of the decision, announced in June, to uprate pensions from April in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than Retail Price Index (RPI).

And - of course - we are still awaiting the Hutton report. Dave reported that he had met twice with Hutton to press the case for decent public service pensions, but that there was no knowing what would be recommended or whether the Government would go along with whatever was recommended.

There is no doubt that if we can communicate effectively to our members the scale of the attack upon our pensions we can win overwhelming support for united national industrial action.

There are practical and logistical difficulties - and Dave Prentis said that it is because of these that UNISON is arguing for a later date for the commencement of action than are some other unions. (However, I would add, we overcame these difficulties in 2006 to defend the LGPS and we can do so again.)

I argued at the NEC that the welcome tone of Dave's report was long overdue and that we now need to move as swiftly as possible.

Every cut, every redundancy, shifts the balance of power incrementally away from us and in favour of the Tories - yet at the same time the infant Coalition Government are still finding their feet (as demonstrated most recently by the U turn on the forests).

Equal Pay

The NEC received an update on recent legal cases relating to Equal Pay. Additional funding for equal pay work has ceased and Regions are now covering work on equal pay from their mainstream resources.

Organising Report

UNISON membership rose by 1.5% in 2010. In order to grow by 20,000 the Union had to recruit 163,000, a quarter of whom (41,000) joined online.

UNISON’s Finances

As at the date of the NEC meeting the Union was looking at a surplus of £11.2 Million as against a budgeted surplus of just £1.5 Million. This is due in equal measure to subscription income being higher than expected and to underspending.

Staffing Report

It was reported that UNISON have offered our staff a 1% pay rise which is being considered by the trade union side, and that Karen Jennings had been appointed as the fifth Assistant General Secretary.

Disciplinary Report

As the NEC meeting had been lobbied, at the start of the meeting by members supporting the four London UNISON members banned from holding office in a recent high profile case, I had asked the advice of officers before the meeting about when it would be appropriate to ask about how UNISON would decide whether or not to appeal a recent tribunal decision arising from that case.

I had been advised to raise the issue at this point on the agenda. I anticipated, based upon advice I had been given, that the Deputy General Secretary would then have advised that this was not a matter for the NEC as a whole but that a decision would be taken by the Presidential Team.

In the event another member of the NEC successfully moved “next business” at this point so that the Deputy General Secretary did not get to give that explanation – and the NEC failed to endorse recommendations on current disciplinary action set out in the report before it.

As ever, if any London branch would like to see any of the (non-confidential) papers considered by the NEC, or would like a verbal report back to your branch or Branch Committee please get in touch to j.rogers@unison.co.uk.

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