Monday, April 30, 2012

A first hand report from the Health SGE (and some second hand comments from a third party)

First, I shall take the liberty of sharing extracts from the prompt and thorough report of today's Health Service Group Executive (SGE) report from excellent London SGE member, Janet Maiden and then, secondly, I'll subject you to some further comment from myself.

So, first, here is a slightly edited version of Janet's report;

"14 Members of Health SGE met in Euston today with 4 others joining via video link.

The ballot result which many of you will have heard was a 14.8% turnout

Number of papers sent 337,422

Total valid votes 49,956

Votes by ballot 7,448

Votes by post 42,600

Votes to accept 24,745 49.53%

Votes to reject 25,211 50.4%.


The initial sentiments expressed by Christina McAnea were what a disappointingly low turn out and " obvious that there was no clear mandate for action "

I argued that whether its clear or not it is precisely a mandate for action ( technically ) as 25, 211 people had to sit alone with their letters which don't inspire you to take action and a pretty wordy ballot form where you clearly vote to take sustained industrial action. I also argued that prior to 30 November we had a 3 month vote Yes campaign with resources especially staff from UNISON going round and building a Yes vote and we took action with a 25% turnout. So to have a rejection when members have effectively been " put on pause " for 4 months shows that the anger is still l there as is the will to resist.

Most members joined in the discussion saying that they had personally voted to reject as how can a trade unionist back a hike in pensions whilst facing austerity measures BUT would members come out again Another member felt that members must not be blamed for a low turnout and indeed should be congratulated in what they have done so far. People have felt that as the increases in our pensions have already happened this year that It was a done deal.

Both Steve Bell and Roger Davey highlighted what a difference campaigning for a no vote would have made and in spite of no campaigning this vote shows people are still willing to fight.

Only a couple of people from Greater London felt that this vote signalled the end of the pensions campaign . Some felt it may be a sign that pensions is not the priority for some members but thought their members would fight over terms , conditions job losses and pay.

I argued that we will have a much harder time fighting over these issues if we are no longer in the fight over pensions which has united so much of the public sector.

I raised the possibility of taking a leaf out of our Scottish comrades book and taking selective action .

I also pointed out that at health conference ( 23-25 April ) every time anyone raised support for Unite or any other union taking action on 10th May it raised a cheer.

Finally it was agreed that UNISON's HSGE offers support and solidarity to all our colleagues taking action on 10 May.

A vote was taken agreeing to take the results back to the staff council to discuss the next steps. 14 people voted for this position, 4 voted against.

Unison members can join with their colleagues from Unite on 10 May stand on picket lines before work and at lunch time. We can attend rallies and do work place collections.

I plan to join Health workers marching over Westminster bridge from St Thomas' Hospital @1200.

Hope London Health Workers will join me.
Regards,

Janet Maiden

Greater London member HSGE"

The comments I would add are, most importantly, to congratulate Janet and other comrades in health who campaigned for rejection. Their refusal to abdicate their leadership responsibilities (whether at branch, Regional or national level) have been massively important.

Imagine if there had been 500 fewer votes to reject. The narrow majority to accept on a low turnout would have been greeted with the same muted disappointment - but the acceptance of the Government's pensions "offer" in health by the largest and most important trade union would have been a foregone conclusion. That acceptance would have dealt a hammer blow to such confidence as there is, elsewhere in our movement, to continue the pensions fight. The consequent further weakening of labour movement resistance to the attack on pensions would have set back any hope of action against the pay freeze, and further drained hope from what there is in the way of opposition to cuts in jobs, services and conditions - and from the vital and politically essential opposition to privatisation, which is at the heart of the Government's many attacks upon us.

As it is, we know something we already knew. Absent a serious, enthusiastic and convincing campaign for action from trade union leaders, it is very hard to mobilise trade union members to take such action. (Yet, as Janet rightly points out in her report, more than 25,000 of our members did back sustained strike action - in the face of a campaign of effective discouragement backed in some Regions at least by improper letters seeking to inhibit entirely legitimate campaigning by branches).

The pensions dispute is not in rude health, neither in the health service nor elsewhere. Those in our ranks who believe that we lack the power effectively to resist the Government have, all too easily, done much to turn their defeatism into a self-fulfilling prophecy and the dispute, whilst not dead, is certainly unwell. It is, however, appropriate, that it is rank and file UNISON health workers who have today resuscitated the fight to save our pensions - and are keeping it alive.

In so doing, the activists who delivered the votes by UNISON health workers to reject the Government's attack on NHS pensions have offered our movement an opportunity. We know that the Government's attacks upon public service pensions were never a series of discrete industrial disputes to be dealt with by building unity "sector by sector". We know that these attacks have been and are part and parcel of wider assaults upon our members, our communities and our class. We also know that the Government intend their attacks on public service pensions, just like all the wider assaults, to continue for the lifetime of this Parliament (and - they hope - beyond).

The opportunity offered today to the trade union movement by 25,211 UNISON members in the health service in England and Wales (thanks to the campaigning efforts of leftwing activists) is the opportunity to continue to fight back against this Government, for as long as it takes.

Clearly immediate all-out national action on a sustained basis is not an option in the short term (though those who issue press releases saying we have "no mandate" for action for which we plainly do have a lawful mandate should consider their position).

However, the fact that UNISON will not now accept the health service pension capitulation, against which some of our activists were wrongly told by officials they ought not to campaign, means that we can continue, and rebuild, our opposition in the rest of the UK much as we have in Scotland.

Janet was quite right to argue at the SGE that selective action was an option (and how tragically short-sighted it now seems that we squandered the mandate given to us for action short of strike by ambulance sector members).

It is shocking that officers had nothing to offer to today's SGE in the way of an immediate response to a decision which (whilst they may have thought it as unlikely as I confess I did) was always a possibility. This dereliction of duty at the UNISON Centre must be remedied forthwith (and it needs to be about more than building the essential autumn TUC demonstration). If we don't have, tomorrow, our own e-petition, Early Day Motion or date for a lobby of Parliament (or even if we do), then it is obvious that we must throw ourselves into the 10 May Day of Action.

If there are strong sections who can be called on to strike at short notice so much the better, but with or without that cutting edge, we can be at the early morning protests and the lunchtime rallies with our purple flags. We can at least try to mobilise our health service members (not all of whom will be on the rota to work in any case).

Indeed, we could even ask our members in local government and elsewhere to mount protests over attacks on pensions on 10 May.

Far from having given the Union "no mandate" our members in health, thanks to the work of activists on the ground, have given our leaders the clearest possible mandate to continue showing the leadership that was shown in the three months following the speech by our General Secretary to the 2011 TUC.

This must mean that, within the next 48 hours, UNISON members and activists are being offered concrete recommendations for campaigning activity, on 10 May and beyond.

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Health pensions ballot result (really this time) - and it's rejection!

Health service members of UNISON have voted to reject the Government's miserly "final offer" on health service pensions (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2685).



It's a narrow rejection (by 50.4% to 49.5%) on a low turnout (of 14.8%) but a rejection nonetheless. This is very important as, although our Head of Health says there "is no mandate to take further industrial action" (which is simply untrue as, in law, there is such a mandate) the Union has also to say that "there is no mandate to endorse the pension's proposals" and that "we need to consider the next steps in the pensions campaign and we will be talking to the other health unions."



The dispute over public sector pensions very much continues. The mood reflected in the ballot result (a deflated workforce, with morale at rock bottom, unwilling to accept an assault on their living standards but unconvinced that their Union has a strategy to defend them) is not so very far from the mood reported in the "rejectionist" unions earlier this year.



What differentiates UNISON from UNITE in the health service (or from PCS, UCU or the NUT) is not so much the morale or motivation of the membership as of the leadership. The message health workers are sending to UNISON in this ballot result is surely - "we don't want to work longer and pay more to get less and we want you, our leaders, to develop a strategy which we can believe in, to resist this attack."



In such circumstances it's a shame that we didn't have anything (not even a petition!) ready to launch immediately our members rejected the Government's offer. It's almost as if we weren't prepared for this eventuality. (We've had months now to recover from "strike fatigue"...)



Although some cynics did see indications last week that there might be just a little more combativity from the rank and file than might have been anticipated (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2681)...

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Health pensions ballot result

UNISON's ballot of health service members over the Government's derisory "work longer, pay more, get less" "final offer" on the NHS Pension Scheme closed on Friday, and the ballot result will be announced tomorrow following today's meeting of the Health Service Group Executive (SGE). I'd hazard a guess the result will appear as latest news on the pensions dispute (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/news.asp).



Like any trade unionist who wants to see our movement standing up for our members against the Government, I hope our members have rejected the offer. If that did happen the SGE would then need to decide whether it was possible to join the May 10th strike action (http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/pensions/protecting_pensions_for_our_pu.aspx).



If the vote were to be to accept a package presented to members as "the best that can be achieved by negotiation" that would pose the question of whether UNISON could, within our Rules, indicate acceptance of the scheme before the equality impact assessment has been carried out (in accordance with Danny Alexander's letter of 8 March to Brendan Barber dealing with all three of the large "unfunded" schemes) - and would pose a different challenge in relation to May 10th.



I hope there's good attendance, and constructive discussion, at today's SGE. Whatever the outome, it is appropriate that the elected lay Committee should consider the result. It is the SGE that has the responsibility, under our Rules and within the policies laid down by the Service Group Conference, to take the decision.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Support for 10 May pensions strike grows

Lecturers' union, UCU, are joining the pensions strike on 10 May (http://union-news.co.uk/2012/04/ucu-votes-to-join-m10-strike/). With the Scottish Government offering further talks on health service pensions (following industrial action by UNISON) it is clear that further strike action can improve the pensions offer to public servants.



The question facing UNISON members south of Hadrian's Wall is whether we shall be any part of the fight that still needs to be had.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

UNISON needs to keep activists informed


On 16 April I blogged here for the second time about the amendments to the law on redundancy consultation introduced last October as a result of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010. I said then that “I think it should take less than an hour to draft a simple circular to branches outlining the provisions of subsections (g), (h) and (i)[of s188(4) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992] and offering some suggestions as to how to make use of them.”

I went on to say that; “I have raised this with the appropriate officials some weeks ago. I'll wait one more week before I send anything more out.” On 18 April, our sister union, the GMB issued a clear and simple circular alerting their branches and officials to the relevant change in the law (which those advising employers have been alerting their clients to for some time). At last week’s Regional Local Government Committee Annual General Meeting I was assured that UNISON would be issuing information to our branches – but I have yet to see anything.

We have precious few legal rights, and the rights we have are of limited utility – but the least we should do is ensure that our activists are equipped with an accurate and up to date understanding of what those rights are. UNISON should not be playing catch up with the GMB like this on an issue raised within UNISON weeks ago. UNISON will have dealt with hundreds of redundancy consultations and dozens of TUPE transfers in the six months since the law changed - and in all probability we have been missing opportunities to use important new legal rights because we continue to fail to draw them to the attention of relevant activists.

This isn't good enough.

I have sent the following message to branches in London;


I am writing, as one of your UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) members, to branches in my constituency of Greater London Region for which I have an email address, to alert you to some important changes to our legal rights as trade unionists which have been in force since 1 October last year.

I believe that an official UNISON circular will be issued about this, but as I have been waiting for more than six weeks since first raising this issue with officials to see that circular, and since our sister union, the GMB, has issued a circular which you can read online at http://www.gmbyorkshire.org.uk/downloads/pdfs/New_Consultation_Rights_Regarding_Agency_Workers.pdf, I thought I should now send you this information about new legal rights for trade union representatives to have access to information about the use of agency workers by our employers.

What are our new legal rights?

As well as changing the law about how agency workers should be treated, the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 made some important amendments to legislation which deals with our rights as trade unionists to receive information from our employers in various circumstances. You can read the detail of these amendments online at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/93/schedule/2/made.

The most important of these changes relate to collective redundancy consultation and business transfers.

In any collective redundancy situation (where an employee proposes to make 20 or more redundancies within a 90 day period and therefore has to consult with the recognised trade unions in accordance with section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 then, in addition to all the information which they have always had to give us they also now have to give us they also now have to give us the following information;

  • the number of agency workers working temporarily for and under the supervision and direction of the employer,
  • the parts of the employer’s undertaking in which those agency workers are working, and
  • the type of work those agency workers are carrying out.

These are the new requirements of the new subsections (g), (h) and (i) of subsection (4) of section 188 of the 1992 Act.

In relation to any transfer of an undertaking which is a “relevant transfer” to which the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (the TUPE Regulations) apply the employer also now has to provide the following information;

  • the number of agency workers working temporarily for and under the supervision and direction of the employer;
  • the parts of the employer’s undertaking in which those agency workers are working; and
  • the type of work those agency workers are carrying out.

This is a requirement of the new Regulation 13(2A) of the TUPE Regulations.

Another potentially significant amendment is made to s181 of the 1992 Act, which covers the employer’s general duty to disclose to us information which we request “for collective bargaining purposes”that general duty now covers “information relating to use of agency workers in that undertaking.”

How can we use these new legal rights?

I think that there is quite a lot we can do with these legal rights. These are just some examples

First, if your employer is making redundancies to implement this year's budget you can argue that they cannot even commence the formal 30 or 90 day consultation period until they have provided the agency worker information. Not all employers are collating this sort of information centrally so you can buy valuable time to save jobs (or give yourself some leverage to improve severance terms). Although the limit on compensation for this breach of the law would be up to 90 days’ pay for workers made redundant (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/52/section/189) we can of course also argue – particularly to public sector employers – that they ought not deliberately to flout the law, and we can issue press release accusing them of doing so (if they do). Don’t fall for the argument that they only have to tell you about agency workers in a particular part of their “undertaking” – the law is quite clear that they have to tell you about all agency workers (as solicitors advising employers themselves recognise – see http://www.addleshawgoddard.com/view.asp?content_id=5739&parent_id=5738).

Secondly, since (for the purposes of section 188) "redundancy" also includes situations in which an employer dismisses and offers re-engagement in order to force through detrimental changes to conditions of service (see s195(1) of the Act - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1992/52/section/195), you can also insist upon the information required by subsections (g), (h) and (i) as a prerequisite for formal consultation in those circumstances (which may also flag up an argument that they could save more by reducing reliance upon agency workers than by attacking your conditions.)

Lambeth Council provide UNISON with a weekly report of all agency workers in the Council, where they are working, their job title, how long they have been here and their pay rate – so any other employer can do the same and – even if there isn’t a redundancy situation – you can use the amendment to section 181 of the 1992 Act to ask for that information “for collective bargaining purposes”. Many of our employers could save millions of pounds a year by reducing reliance on agency workers and instead employing workers properly and we should be arguing that they must do this first of all before threatening our jobs or our conditions of service.

Thirdly, in any TUPE transfer, you can insist that they provide the agency worker information. Again, since some employers simply aren’t compiling this information (or are letting it be done by procurement teams who don’t want to disclose it to trade unions) this provides an opportunity to buy time and, although the limit of compensation if they simply press ahead without providing the information is only up to thirteen weeks’ pay (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2006/246/regulation/16/made) for affected employees, there is again ample scope for us to embarrass public sector employers in particular if we can show that they are behaving unlawfully. (Also the definition of “affected employees” isn’t limited to those directly involved in a TUPE transfer (i.e. on the “TUPE list”)).

I hope that this limited information is of some use to you at least until UNISON issues us with an official circular giving more detailed information about how branches can use these recent legal rights to protect the interests of our members. If anyone wants to chat about this you can reach me on j.rogers@unison.co.uk more easily than on 07957505571.



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cheers Malcolm!

This evening I have a good excuse for my continuing failure to blog a full report from last week's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC).



I have been at a meal with comrades remembering a friend we have lost (http://remembermalcolmcampbell.blogspot.com/?m=1).



A collection of branch activists, together with former Chairs of the Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) and National Joint Council (NJC) Committee gathered in honour of a former leading activist (Malcolm Campbell, Croydon UNISON), whom we lost three years ago.



Malcolm Campbell did not live to enjoy his pension, but I am fairly certain that he would have been unforgiving of those prepared to sacrifice our pension rights on the altar of that "realism" which teaches us always to give in.



As such he would have found himself in convivial company this evening, amongst lay activists who refuse to capitulate and who face clearly, without illusions, the difficult reality in which we find ourselves.



Early on this evening I was rightly berated by comrades for my failure to issue a circular about subsections (g) (h) and (i) of s188(4) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. I protested that I had been allowing time for union officials to do this - I like to think that Malcolm would have shared the disdain with which this poor excuse on my part was viewed by comrades.



As we move forward in the struggle we are empowered by, and owe a debt to, those who came before.

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TUC - name the day for the demonstration!

I was pleased to see yesterday's news that our General Secretary is calling on the TUC to organise a massive demonstration against the policies of the Coalition Government (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2681).



To quote the UNISON press release; "The huge demonstration will bring together an alternative coalition opposed to the government's damaging policies including, public spending cuts, heavy job losses, damaging privatisation and the unfair pay freeze."



It is absolutely the case that such an alternative coalition needs to be built out of the elements of opposition to particular attacks, and the responsibility for doing this plainly lies with the TUC. This can certainly be an important part of the "high profile campaign against privatisation" for which Moz Greenshields was calling in Tuesday's Morning Star (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/118142).



Few activists are more cynical than I or more ready to criticise our leaders from time to time. However, when we are offered positive leadership we need to respond positively. The TUC need now to name the day for the demonstration in response to the positive call from Dave Prentis and activists need to get organising.



This time, unlike 26 March 2011, we need to see what must be the largest trade union demonstration in UK history not only as the culmination of the months of effort which must begin now, but also as a springboard for a continuous fightback against the privatisation policies of the Government of millionaires.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Equality and pensions

Sometimes circumstances seem almost to conspire against me! Much as I mean to blog a report of last week's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, events ("dear boy, events") keep getting in the way.



Some events are current and projected ballots of UNISON members over changes to pension schemes. In health the ballot is underway and in local government it could start any week/month/year/decade...



At any event, in accordance with Rule B.1.2 UNISON is bound to promote equality and our Equality Scheme is therefore an important document (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/18146.pdf).



This scheme includes an action plan which includes (within the Health Service Group section of the plan) action HSG 5 which commits us to the target that "Equality Impact Assessments will be undertaken on national agreements and protocols prior to UNISON approval". It also includes action (within the Local Government Service Group section) Ref LG 12 which states that it is our target that "All future regulatory changes proposed to the LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) are equality impact-assessed".



It follows from these published commitments by our trade union that we must already have an equality impact assessment of the NHS pension proposals, and must at least plan to have such an assessment of the LGPS proposals before we start any member ballot.



Being as cackhanded online as I am tongue-tied in public I have failed to find these equality impact assessments on our website so have asked the relevant officers to let me have copies. Since challenging discrimination and winning equality is at the heart of UNISON's policies (http://www.unison.org.uk/equality/) I am sure I shall soon see these assessments and be able to publish links to them.



Watch this space!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star Quality

I realise I promised that my next post would be a report from last week's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, but that was before I had read today's Morning Star - and the article by my fellow UNISON NEC member, Moz Greenshields (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/118142).



Moz makes the sound point that all aspects of the Government's assault upon our movement, our members and our class are elements of their over arching policy of privatisation and that, as such, we need a coordinated labour movement response based upon this understanding.



I couldn't agree more.



It is truly risible that there are union officials trumpeting the "triumph" of preserving the "fair deal" for pensions (securing the continued membership of privatised workers in public sector pension schemes) when all that has been done is that our pension schemes have been cheapened to the point that the privateers can happily afford them - thereby removing a sizeable obstacle to privatisation.



Those who favour capitulation on pensions (which is what the "recommendation" that "this is the best that can be achieved by negotiation" always means) do not believe that we can resist the Government's privatisation programme and seek therefore to accommodate to it.



The strength of Moz's Morning Star article is that it provides a convincing argument that there is a positive alternative to this trade union politics of despair and articulates elements of a strategy to be pursued by those for whom the interests of workers (and therefore of lay trade union members) are the primary consideration.



Those in the upper reaches of our movement who like to consider themselves, in some sense, "supporters" of the Morning Star would do well to pay heed.

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D&O Committee report

Now that I know that publication of my full National Executive Council (NEC) report will entail revealing to a waiting world the Conference priorities of the NEC (published officially by our Union in April 2010 and April 2011 but not in April 2012) I realise that I must tease my readers before revealing them.

This delay will also provide an opportunity for those who do not wish to take the risk of downloading Samizdat information about NEC priorities to look away.

I will therefore now blog a brief report from Thursday's meeting of the UNISON NEC Development and Organisation (D&O) Committee meeting.

The D&O considered its recommendations as to NEC policy on Conference motions 1 to 10. (In a cunning attempt to persuade ourselves that we knew what we meant by the "organising agenda" a few years ago, the Union has ensured that motions on "organising" are numbered at the top of the preliminary agenda).

We're supporting all of them (with one exception to which I will return) but motions 5, 8 and 10 are supported "with qualifications" (which I have been advised - most emphatically - does NOT mean that the office knows Conference will agree something it has no intention of permitting the NEC to put into practice). The one motion we are opposing is Motion 7 from Bradford, but. We are putting an amendment to the motion and would support it if amended.

In any event, depending upon the prioritisation process, a composite of any or all of motions 7, 8 (from Manchester Community and Mental Health) and 9 (from Suffolk County) is likely, since all of them touch on the vexed question of how branches can best organise members outside our core employers.

The growing fragmentation of public services makes this a larger problem with each passing year and, in the context of an assault on arrangements for time off for lay representatives within our "lead" employers, the pressure on the various arrangements whereby our branch activists provide a service to, and try to organise, members in "peripheral" employers are coming under ever increasing pressure.

Branch Secretaries feel this pressure more than most since we are, like it or not, the "representatives of last resort" - the only people in the Union with no one to whom we can pass the buck. I spent two hours out of my office yesterday dealing with one such case - and therefore had to work well into the evening to keep my head above water with other branch duties.

Whilst I sympathise very much with some of the frustration expressed in motions 7 and 8 in particular, I do also understand the motivation for the NEC amendments to be moved to these motions which seek to redirect the sentiment of "can't you find someone else to represent these members"?

The essence of the view of the office, which will be expressed by the NEC at Conference, is that we should aim to build workplace organisation in peripheral employers so that the membership there can deal with most of their own issues in the same as any other well organised section. This is common sense with which no one could disagree, but from branch level it feels also like a counsel of perfection.

I am pleased that these motions are on the agenda, and hope that they get sufficient priority that there can be a useful debate amongst branch delegates about organising (as opposed to the sometimes vacuous exchange of platitudes around motions on "organising" which say the same thing year after year).

The D&O Committee also considered recommendations to the NEC on Rule Amendments on the Conference agenda. The NEC opposes, or is seeking withdrawal of, most of the proposals from branches (generally on reasonable grounds).

Given the emerging consensus (at last) around the revised Rule Amendments relating to action to exclude or expel far right activists from the Union (11 and 3 on the agenda), the main area of likely contention at Conference could be the maximum duration to be imposed upon disciplinary sanctions (other than expulsion) imposed on members by the Union.

Several branches seek a two year maximum (a position I personally support and which secured almost the necessary two thirds at last year's Conference). Haringey branch have proposed a three year maximum, which the NEC will be supporting (whilst seeking withdrawal of the various proposals for two years).

The background to this is a massive shift in NEC policy over the past couple of years under pressure from the floor of Conference (and, as in the late 1990s, debate over the disciplinary rules has also become "shadow boxing" over the application of the current rules in particular cases - which cannot themselves be discussed at Conference).

Last year, the NEC shifted from a position of opposition to change to ourselves proposing a five year time limit. This proposal could not even command the support of 50% of delegates (even though many who also voted for the far more popular two year time limit also supported it). Now the NEC have shifted to support for a three year maximum. This is a very positive move.

It will be a matter for the branches proposing the shorter time limit whether they agree to withdraw their proposals in favour of the three year limit - and regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Conference-Anorak) may anticipate that they will wait to see the outcome of the prioritisation process before doing so.

The final item at Thursday's D&O Committee was an interim report for Conference of the ongoing review of self-organisation. This says little as there is little, as yet, to say, though some of the more threatening noises which accompanied the initiation of the review seem to have quietened down.

In my next post, I'll report from the NEC itself...

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

A day out in town...

Rather than write up my NEC report today (or have a rest) I had to spend the middle of the day opposing the so-called "March for England" (http://stopmfe.wordpress.com/).



An unappealing gaggle of approximately 100 right wing extremists were led around the streets of Brighton, outnumbered ten to one by local people objecting to their hate-filled presence, and escorted by hundreds of police from across Southern England.



From what I could see of the participants in a supposedly "family" event, the overwhelmingly male and exclusively white Islamophobes and bigots looked like they could use the exercise which they got by walking very slowly around a greatly attenuated route before being surrounded by far greater numbers of police and counter-demonstrators while failing to hold a rally.



Whilst news reports focus inevitably on the childish violence of a handful of hotheads who confuse radical politics with shouting obscenities at police officers and throwing bottles (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-17786261), what was most striking about the day was the overwhelming hostility to the marchers, angry yet peaceful, from the great majority of local people.



We're right to be angry when the contemporary equivalent of an eighteenth century "Church and King" mob try to appropriate the name of the country we all have to share for the politics of hate - and rather than appeal to the state to ban demonstrations, it has to be better to mobilise far greater numbers in opposition to the far right.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Baby come back?

The prompt (yet on this occasion strangely uninformative) official report of yesterday's UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) meeting reports that we received an update on planning for conference, including invited guest speakers (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7727).



This we did, and there was a fruitless attempt by several NEC members to suggest that we should have a Greek trade unionist to speak.



I took the opportunity of this item to ask the NEC's "Conference team" to see what steps could be taken to make our Conference accessible to women who are breastfeeding babies.



Those who were at this year's UNISON Higher Education Conference will be aware that a nursing mother and baby were excluded from the Conference and from an official fringe meeting (http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/anger-and-frustration-over-pensions-in.html?m=1).



A few years ago I recollect that an NEC member was told that she could not breastfeed at NEC meetings, a decision which I have always thought was completely at variance with what UNISON should be doing.



However an NEC member at yesterday's meeting reported breastfeeding on the floor of Conference, so it's clear we don't have a consistent practice at present.



As UNISON's own website says "Breastfeeding is good for the health of mother and baby. But often it's other people's attitudes that makes breastfeeding difficult for women." (http://www.unison.org.uk/features/features.asp?did=3400).



I hope that UNISON will adopt a consistent practice at our own Conferences which reflects our policy in support of the rights of breastfeeding mothers. We don't want to be some of the "other people" whose "attitudes" make breastfeeding difficult for women!



We already, as a trade union, quite rightly have an exemplary approach to creche provision. I hope our Conferences will be a model of the welcoming and supportive environment for breastfeeding which UNISON policy seeks.



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Friday, April 20, 2012

Pensions discussions at the UNISON Centre

Today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC), and yesterday's meetings of various NEC Committees were to deal with "Conference business only" - so various routine business (such as the NEC report on internal disciplinary matters or the Development and Organisation Committee report on branches under regional supervision) were not dealt with.

One subject which did crop up in various ways, as you might imagine, was the pensions dispute. Although not formally on the agenda, it arose several times. Since I have other work to do before I can write up my full report, I thought I would share this information quickly now, as it would be - without doubt - the information of most significance to most UNISON members from today's meeting of our Union's ruling body.

First, when the NEC considered the draft of our Annual Report to Conference, questions arose about what it had to say on the pensions issue. Karen Reissmann felt that the report should do more to acknowledge the detrimental changes to normal retirement ages which are central to the "final offer" in health.

In the course of the subsequent discussion discussion one of our Assistant General Secretaries divulged more information than I had heard previously about the negotiations relating to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). We weren't asked to treat this information as confidential.

It appears that the Government have concerns about the costs of the "low cost option" (which is, it would appear, part of the "deal" submitted to the Government by the unions and employers on 13 February). They have costings from the Government Actuaries Department (GAD) with which we (our negotiators) disagree and GAD have been sent away to look at this again.

Apparently we now expect to hear more from the Government within the next couple of days - but having heard this before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/shall-we-be-pickled-tomorrow.html?m=1) I won't be holding my breath and wouldn't recommend anyone else does unless they want direct experience of the scheme's "death in service" benefits.

The second occasion on which the question of the pensions dispute arose was when the NEC came to consider its views on the prioritisation of Conference motions. There was a lively debate as to where, in that list of priorities, the NEC Motion on pensions should come. In the context of this discussion I said that, since the NEC priorities became a matter of public record, the NEC should be mindful of how our expressed priorities would be viewed elsewhere in the union.

At this I was put right by the Chair of our Policy Committee, who said that the priorities communicated to the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) by the NEC were private and would not be published.
This was a little odd since, as I pointed out, we had published our priorities last year (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=12804).

Also, as I didn't point out, this is what we had done the previous year (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=11040).

On balance then, if its readers will accept the risk that once I've told them I may have to kill them, I'll publish the NEC Conference priorities in the full report which I'll prepare over the weekend (unless - in line with current practice - the official report includes this information, in which case I can just link to it).

(In the mean time, don't say I told you, but Pensions (Motion 14) was the tenth of twelve prioritised motions.)(Shhhh...)

The third and final occasion on which the harsh reality of the pensions dispute intruded onto our NEC agenda came courtesy of Moz Greenshields who managed to raise, as a "matter arising" from the minutes of the previous meeting, the question of whether UNISON would send a message of support to those unions planning strike action over pensions on 10 May.

Initially we were told that - officially - we knew nothing about this as the unions concerned either hadn't been at the relevant meeting at the TUC or hadn't been clear what they would be doing.

After some further discussion, in which it was pointed out that PCS (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/A0A17653-77CF-4975-8FD72BFD6605C1A3) and UNITE (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news__events/latest_news/health_workers_to_step_up_pens.aspx) were clearly planning strike action, the General Secretary confirmed that UNISON will send a message of support to sister unions taking strike action - once it was clear that this was what they would be doing.

As this was the last substantive business of the meeting I would like to tell you that we then finished the meeting with a rousing chorus of "Solidarity Forever" but I regret that we did not.

I'll blog a fuller report once it is written.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stop Press: Eric Pickles didn't eat my pension! Or did he?

It seems I was wrong when I said that Eric Pickles was sitting on a secret pensions deal (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/eric-pickles-ate-my-pension.html?m=1). Or was I?

At today's otherwise uneventful Annual General Meeting of the UNISON Greater London Region Local Government Committee, our National Head of Local Government assured us that Eric Pickles did not know the details of the deal cooked up between negotiators from the local government unions and employers, and sent to DCLG and the Treasury on 13 February.

This was in the context of a defence of the refusal of our negotiators to tell even our elected Service Group Executive (SGE) what it is that they and the employers have sent off to civil servants for approval (somehow, it would appear, without involving the relevant Secretary of State...)

There are, we were told, three reasons for this doubtful practice. The first reason is that you have to "weigh all the elements" of a deal as complex as one about pensions - and that too transparent a process of negotiation would (presumably) therefore have led to a disruptive cacophony of comment on this or that element of the proposed deal.

I'm not convinced.

Pensions are not nearly as complicated as those who make a living out of them would have you believe. Given a set "financial envelope" and consistent information about the demography and future employment prospects of current and future pension scheme members then you clearly do have to "weigh all the elements" - since it is fruitless to suppose that you can vary what you pay in (contribution rates) without an impact on what you get out (in a final salary scheme, as supported by Service Group Conference Policy, the accrual rate - or, in a career average scheme, as supported by the majority of the Service Group Executive in breach of Conference Policy, both the accrual and revaluation rates). This isn't so complex that it can't readily be understood by very many of our members, and explained to many more.

Particularly if our negotiators are aiming to sell us a career average scheme at some point, then there is a trade off between accrual and revaluation rates in particular on which there ought certainly to have been transparent consultation before now. There is an obvious and significant equality impact arising from how you strike a balance between accrual and revaluation rates and we ought to have been engaged in a discussion about this months ago.

At any event, as a justification for maintaining the secrecy of a proposed deal more than two months after the deal was struck and sent off to the Government, I think this argument is about as convincing as Nick Clegg's justification for supporting tuition fees. The union and employer side negotiators have, presumably, "weighed all the elements" and arrived at a conclusion. The argument that it is necessary to "weigh all the elements" can now, of itself, carry little weight as a justification for continued secrecy.

The second argument for the "hush hush" "Careless Talk Costs Pensions" approach which continues to be adopted is, apparently, that sensible people in the ranks of the Local Government Association (our employers) have wanted to keep details of any deal well away from the worst of the "Tory hawks" for as long as those "hawks" might be able to scupper a deal. It was in response to my comments on this justification that I was put right on my foolish assumption that civil servants in the Department for Communities and Local Government might possibly, since 13 February, have shared with their Secretary of State what is going on. I was told plainly that Eric Pickles doesn't know all the details.

Whilst I hesitate (as ever) to question conclusions drawn by UNISON's "world class" negotiators, I fear I do find it just the tiniest bit implausible that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government isn't being briefed on the details of discussions which will lead to legislation which he will have to steer through Parliament. Following from that, I think it unlikely that someone who was, in his time, one of the most ferocious (if least aerodynamic) of "Tory local government hawks" would maintain a vow of silence in dealings with those following in his (rightward-leading) footsteps on a matter so dear to their hearts (or to whatever it is they have instead of hearts).

I am not at all persuaded that a desire, however laudable, to keep information out of the hands of the Tory right wing can possibly justify continued secrecy about proposals sent on 13 February to the, er, Tory right wing.

The third reason offered to us today to explain why those of us who are merely members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) ought not to know the details of proposals accepted and/or made on our behalf (by those who are, by and large, in other schemes) is, we were told, that both the unions and the LGA wanted to keep the DCLG and the Treasury out of the negotiations as far as possible. This is of a piece with our (perfectly reasonable) wish to have more control over our own money.

Indeed, such is the excitement with which some in our union can discuss pension fund governance issues that I confidently predict that, in any ballot, much will be made of an optimistic reading of where the "Principles of Agreement" between the unions and the LGA may lead in this regard ("You may have to work longer and pay more to get less but at least you'll be able to vote for someone who can be easily outvoted when decisions are made about where to invest the fund into which you will pay more in order to receive less, later...")

Returning to the point which was supposed to have been made by reference to this argument, it is a pretty poor justification for secrecy of pension proposals from LGPS members to say that we wish thereby to exclude DCLG and the Treasury from knowledge of those details, when this justification is advanced more than two months after we have submitted those same details to DCLG and the Treasury.

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Tired-old-Cynic) will have realised where I am going with these three points. There simply is no plausible justification for concealing the details of what was sent to the Government on 13 February from those of us whose pensions are on the line.

The only way in which this disgraceful practice - with which, to be fair, our Head of Local Government said she was "uncomfortable" - would make sense would be if the intention of rationing information was to disarm and immobilise those who might campaign against a national recommendation to accept a deal, no matter how dire (or to "accept that this is the best that can be achieved by negotiation" - the coward's version of capitulation).

Perhaps the scariest thing I heard today, from our guest speaker at our AGM, was that, if the Government did not endorse the proposals sent to them on 13 February then we (that is to say, our negotiators) might have to "shave bits off" other aspects of the scheme.

No.

If the Government don't accept the "deal" put to them on 13 February (or even if they do) then the trade unions must publish the details immediately.

Let the members decide.

Not in a stage managed national ballot engineered to deliver acceptance without forcing the union to make an honest recommendation.

Rather, let the members decide through our elected Conference delegates in June making a considered recommendation to our hundreds of thousands of members in the Local Government Service Group. Surely other Service Groups must also be afforded the same opportunity, with special Conferences requisitioned as necessary.

After fabulous recruitment figures in the run up to 30 November, UNISON's membership growth has tailed right off. If we want to get that back on track we need both to be fighting still for decent pensions and reporting transparently to all our members about what we do.

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The challenge to UNISON on 10th May

Yesterday's decision by the National Executive of our sister union, PCS, to take national strike action on Thursday 10 May as part of the continuing fight to defend public service pensions (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/4DB0DD2F-138E-4034-869BEDC2C599FD37) is most welcome.

This follows the decision of UNITE's National Sector Committee for Health also to call national action on that date (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news__events/latest_news/health_workers_to_step_up_pens.aspx) and is likely to lead to similar decisions from other unions.

Both PCS members and UNITE members (in health) have returned 90% votes to reject the Government's "final offer" on pensions which, in all the unfunded schemes, simply amounted to a repackaging of the proposals made and rejected on 2 November. Key to the position of both unions has been the confidence of the lay leadership, supported by their officials, to offer members an honest assessment and a clear recommendation.

Where lay activists call the shots, union organisation is, as it should be, a means to the end of protecting and promoting workers' interests. The interests of the organisation are subordinate to those of its members.

I'm not looking at either PCS or UNITE through rose-tinted spectacles, nor would I want to be a cheerleader for either union (in particular, I think that the current apparent trajectory towards a merger which would have very little industrial logic is mistaken). However, the correct decision to call the 10 May action is clearly, at least in part, a product of lay democracy at work.

Left Unity, and the wider Democracy Alliance, in PCS and the United Left in UNITE have both been able, by bringing activists together, to ensure that their unions offer positive leadership to members and put the interests of ordinary workers first. There is a lesson in this for UNISON activists both within and beyond the ranks of the United Left.

It is clear that, in our Union, lay democracy is failing when it comes to the conduct of industrial disputes - and that it is doing so because too many of those elected to be accountable to our members are content to be mere spectators as the "world class negotiators" do their thing.

The consequences of this failure could be that, in future, public servants wanting a pension have to put up with working longer, paying more and receiving less than they would have had to had UNISON's lay leadership asserted the primacy of their interests.

This question is not, however, settled. UNISON Health workers in England and Wales still have the opportunity to reject the devastation of their pension scheme in order to rejoin the fight for pensions justice - as recommended to their members by our Oxfordshire Health Branch (http://www.ouh.org.uk/index.php/34-pensions/69-unison-pensions-ballot-april-2012). This would bring them back into the fight which our Scottish Health members have not abandoned (http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/pensions/).

Crucially, all UNISON members can also begin to repair lay democracy in our trade union by voting for candidates of the left in the current elections to the Service Group Executives (SGEs) (http://unisonunitedleft.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/vote-for-candidates-of-left-in-unison.html?m=1).

For a few weeks before, and just after, the 30th November strike day on which UNISON came of age we caught a glimpse of the potential of our trade union. The 10th May strike offers a challenge to UNISON activists to try to find a way to realise that potential.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Subsections g, h and i of s188(4) Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992

I realise this may seem an uninspiring title for a blog post - but this is a niche blog (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/81712) and if discussion about how to use the intricacies of employment law to protect workers' interests in a redundancy situation doesn't float your boat, well, look away now.

I have blogged, albeit briefly, before about the important changes to the law on redundancy consultation which (by virtue of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010) came into force on 1 October last year (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/section-188-and-agency-workers.html?m=1).

I am blogging again, having been taken aback by the profound ignorance demonstrated to me by a senior Human Resources practitioner in the private sector, who told me that there were no subsections (g), (h) and (i) of subsection 4 of section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. I won't identify the company concerned (for obvious reasons - although whether I continue to observe this self-denying ordinance is in their hands not mine).

What these (relatively) new subsections require of an employer proposing to make 20 or more redundancies at one establishment within a 90 day period is that, in addition to the information which they have had to provide in the past, they must now provide information about all the agency workers they have "working under their direction", where they are working and what they are doing. The (rather obvious) point, given the purpose of statutory redundancy consultation as set out in s188(2), is to see if their are agency workers doing work which could provide suitable alternative employment for redundant employees.

The precise wording of the subsections are as follows (this is the new additional information which employers have to provide when making 20 or more redundancies);

"(g)the number of agency workers working temporarily for and under the supervision and direction of the employer,

(h)the parts of the employer's undertaking in which those agency workers are working, and

(i)the type of work those agency workers are carrying out.".

Let me give three examples of how trade unionists can make use of these new requirements.

First, if your employer is making redundancies to implement this year's budget - they cannot even commence the formal 30 or 90 day consultation period until they have provided this information. Not all employers are collating this sort of information centrally so you can buy valuable time to save jobs (or give yourself some leverage to improve severance terms).

Secondly, since (for the purposes of section 188) "redundancy" also includes situations in which an employer dismisses and offers re-engagement in order to force through detrimental changes to conditions of service, you can also insist upon the information required by subsections (g), (h) and (i) as a prerequisite for formal consultation in those circumstances (which may also flag up an argument that they could save more by reducing reliance upon agency workers than by attacking your conditions.)

Thirdly, you can point out to any reasonably sane public service employer that - since they will now need to provide this information whenever they propose redundancies - and, since George Osborne will ensure that this is not a rare occurrence, they might as well provide the information routinely anyway. Your employer ought to be as keen to reduce agency fees as you are.

What worried me about my interaction with the HR bod at the (as yet) unidentified private company was that, if they could deny knowledge of the legislation more than six months after it had come into force - did that mean no one else from our side of the table had raised it with them?

If there are union reps out there (or even paid officials) who aren't up to speed with subsections (g), (h) and (i) then the likelihood is that we, as a movement, are missing opportunities to delay and reduce redundancy dismissals, and maybe even to obtain protective awards. Given the paucity and inadequacy of our legal rights it seems a shame not to use to best advantage such rights as we do have.

(Hard as this may be to believe) I sometimes face a modicum of criticism within our trade union. One reason for this is when I issue advice or information which it was really someone else's job to send out.

Well, I think it should take less than an hour to draft a simple circular to branches outlining the provisions of subsections (g), (h) and (i) and offering some suggestions as to how to make use of them. I have raised this with the appropriate officials some weeks ago. I'll wait one more week before I send anything more out.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Health workers - don't give in to the Government on pensions - campaign for rejection

UNISON members in the health service are currently being balloted on the Government's "final offer" on health service pensions. Were I a health worker I would be voting to reject this awful offer, and I encourage all UNISON members to do so. I have blogged about the offer itself before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2011/12/nhs-pensions-comments-on-commentary.html?m=1) and you can read lots more elsewhere online (for example - http://l-r-c.org.uk/blog/post/save-the-nhs-defend-pensions/).

The purpose of this post is to encourage branches and activists to campaign for rejection, and therefore for further strike action alongside teachers, civil servants and other health workers (local government workers are still waiting - and waiting - to see our "final offer").

The UNISON Health Service Group Executive did not decide that UNISON should recommend that members accept the Government's derisory "final offer" - and any official who suggests that that is the policy of the SGE would be misrepresenting the policy. The SGE agreed that this offer was "the best that could be achieved by negotiation" and that rejection would need to be accompanied by a preparedness for sustained industrial action.

Branches within UNISON - and individual UNISON representatives have a clear cut right to make and campaign for recommendations in member ballots. This right was reaffirmed as recently as National Delegate Conference 2010 and an NEC colleague has had it confirmed that Branches can campaign for a NO vote provided that they make it clear that rejection would mean that a sustained programme of strike action would be necessary to improve the offer.

That is, a sustained programme of strike action exactly as is underway in Scotland, being taken by UNISON members in the health service pledged to fight for a better pensions deal.

These two links to each side of a handy A4 leaflet setting out the case for rejecting the pension offer;

(1) http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/20485601/671254642/name/Health%20Worker%20Network.%20Vote%20to%20Reject.%20APRIL2012.SIDE1%2

(2) http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/20485601/2121404843/name/Health%20Worker%20Network.%20Vote%20to%20Reject.%20APRIL2012.SIDE2%

On an earlier post I touched upon the question of how we should assess 30 November 2011. Was it a triumph or a damp squib? Did it show our strength or expose our weakness?

The answer to this question depends to a considerable extent now upon this ballot.
It is what trade unionists do from now on that will determine whether the largest strike of our lives was an important moment in mobilising trade union opposition to wide ranging attacks upon our members' interests, or whether it was no more than a token of protest intended to recruit members.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

LGPS makes headlines in the FT - but we still don't know what's going on...

Every day that lengthens the weeks since a proposed "deal" on the "big ticket items" for the 2014 Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) was put before Government Ministers is another day on which I remember that Eric Pickles knows more about the future of my pension at the moment than I do.

Today brings the news (in the form of the main headline on the front page of the Financial Times) that plans for the merger of London local government pension funds have the "broad backing" of the Communities Secretary (http://www.politicshome.com/uk/story/25974/ - or over a paywall at http://m.ft.com/login?dest=%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F2a86c21c-8161-11e1-8aae-00144feab49a.html).

Bringing together the management of the 34 London local government pension funds could achieve economies of scale at the expense of the private fund managers (who currently take a slice of our money in return for deciding where to invest it). Local authorities have the powers to share such services now (and even, somewhat misleadingly, to describe such a venture as a "mutual" if politicians think that Joint Board or Joint Committee sounds too stuffy).

Branches would have to be alive to the risk to the jobs of staff carrying out the key administrative tasks in the boroughs (particularly since such "transactional" tasks have already been identified as ripe for "sharing" - and therefore for privatising). There is, however, no reason "in principal" to oppose replicating in London the structure which already exists elsewhere in England, where County Councils (or other joint bodies based on the former Metropolitan County Councils) run pension funds which also cover Districts (and unitary authorities).

If - as the FT suggests - the consolidation of the funds enabled focused investment of our money in infrastructure projects in London which would benefit our communities whilst delivering the long term returns required to pay future pensions that, too, might be no bad thing, although a lot will depend upon detailed arrangements for governance in the 2014 scheme.

The fact that this story takes the front page of today's Financial Times demonstrates that the £30 billion invested around the world on behalf of London local government workers is of interest to those who make a (good) living making money out of other peoples' money. This should be of at least equal interest to those of us whose money it is.

However, the most important questions which I (along with other LGPS members in London) have at present are those to which I indicated my preferred answers by the action I took on 30 November;

Will I have to work longer to receive an unreduced pension?

Will I have to pay more?

Will I receive less?

To these I would add one (or perhaps two) more - are we content to wait forever for a response from the Government? Have our negotiators given Eric Pickles complete control of the timetable?

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Confusion of the red-baiters

I am rather worried (in a charitable way) at the confusion afflicting the little-know “Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)” (who are not for one moment to be confused with the proper Communist Party) but who are sometimes to be found handing out a magazine at trade union events, or leaving copies lying around at Congress House.

In January, their journal “Workers” lauded (anonymously) the fact that “The unprecedented national stoppage of 30 November was the best possible riposte to the Coalition’s economic statement of 29 November. Two million workers striking, marching, providing emergency cover or showing solidarity with striking colleagues was a great uplift to the people of Britain. Over 30,000 people attended the central London rally. Across Britain thousands of picket lines and hundreds of marches and rallies proclaimed that organised workers still can and will act together.”

Yet, by April, the same freesheet had concluded that the Evening Standard of 1 December had been right that barely a million” had taken strike action, and went on to opine (equally anonymously) as follows;

“Barely a million – this was genuinely written as if to dismiss the biggest strike in a generation, when well over a million public sector workers took strike action to protect their pensions on 30 November. This was easily the biggest show of union strength since the “winter of discontent” and possibly since 1926.
But while the numbers are indeed impressive, and the attempt to belittle this demonstration of collective organisation ridiculous, another story is told if the number is converted into a percentage of all those entitled to take action.
Had the Evening Standard said only 35 per cent took strike action it would look quite different. A third take strike action doesn’t sound half as good as a million. So why is this important? Because 30 November was a paradox. On the one hand it was collective organisation in action, but on the other it showed that this action was not absolute, resolute or sustainable. The strike and its aftermath illustrate where unions are today.”


Whereas the conclusion of January had been that “We’ve already been forced to give our wages to the banks and now their government asks us to starve and freeze in old age. We need to wise up,” the conclusion of April was that “it is time to forget the fads and the political play fighting. Get back to the workplace. Build and develop solidarity at the most local level to the members.” This latter conclusion was based upon an uncritical acceptance of the figures used by our opponents, and an entirely downbeat assessment of the events of 30 November, completely at variance with the (rather exuberant) tone of the contemporaneous assessment of the day three months before.

Why should anyone care about the apparent degeneration of a political group noted mostly for its ferocious hostility to those whom it sees as “ultra left fantasists”? In part because they do occasionally say something sensible and give the appearance of being thoughtful about the trade union movement – but in larger part because I have the feeling that their pronouncements are a window into the opinions of some of those who (in our lay-led trade unions) don’t generally put their names to their thoughts.

The thing is, comrades, if your workplace is the Regional or national office of a trade union how can going “back to the workplace” serve to “build and develop solidarity at the most local level to the members?” And when you say that “Workers will organise themselves whatever we call the organisation.” – are you really sure that you mean this?

I’ll check back on the dear old CPBM-L next time I have some spare time. I really wouldn’t suggest anyone bothers with them whilst you have real trade union work to do (and those of us who are genuinely serious about building member-led trade unions certainly have plenty of that to be going on with).

Civil Service pensions offer - the best that can be achieved by negotiation?

Although UNISON is the dominant player in negotiations on the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) and is a key player in negotiations on health service pensions, we do also have a small number of members in the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme - and these members are being balloted on the Government's "final offer" (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/pages_view.asp?did=14198) on the familiar basis that this is "the best that can be achieved by negotiation." (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2656).

I can't remember seeing reported where an elected body within our Union had made decisions in relation to this ballot but - as that's doubtless the consequence of my inattentiveness and poor memory - I have asked the relevant questions and shall share the answers in due course.

I'm also intrigued as to how we have come to the judgment that the offer on civil service pensions is indeed "the best that can be achieved by negotiation."

Negotiations on the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme have taken place between the Cabinet Office and the National Trade Union Committee for the Civil Service which was formed when the former Council of Civil Service Unions was dissolved (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/AF7C15FC-61DD-4D0D-BE46703B8427D180).

When the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General reported to the House of Commons on the position of trade unions in relation to the civil service pension scheme on 20 December he said; "FDA, Prospect, GMB Prison Governors Association and the Immigration Services Union have agreed to take to their Executives as the best that can be achieved through negotiations. There is a specific outstanding issue relating to mechanisms for prison officers to retire earlier than state pension age where we are continuing to have discussions with the Prison Officers Association." (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111220/wmstext/111220m0001.htm) He didn't mention UNISON.

The note placed in the House of Commons Library about the Civil Service scheme (http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03224) when it comes to report the response of the trade unions to the final offer, notes (at paragraph 4.3) that Prospect have agreed to recommend the final offer "as the best that can be achieved by negotiation" and that the managers' union, the First Division Association (FDA) have also concluded that this is "the best that can be achieved by negotiation", but that members of UNITE and PCS (which alone represents the large majority of unionised members of the scheme) have voted to reject. It doesn't mention UNISON.

Were we even present at any negotiations in order to conclude that their outcome was "the best that can be achieved"?

Why has UNISON arrived at the same conclusion as the Prospect/FDA minority and not the PCS/UNITE majority?

These aren't simply rhetorical questions, and their answers won't only relate to the pensions dispute.

There is only one other large, predominantly public service trade union with which we recently agreed a joint statement (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/campaign-resources/pcs-and-unison-joint-statement.cfm).

As our General Secretary said of UNISON's alliance with PCS; "This is no paper policy, this alliance has teeth." (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/news_centre/index.cfm/id/CAE1742C-7735-4BFD-ADEDBEF5EE73B3FE).

If UNISON doesn't build on the possibility of joint campaigning with our brothers and sisters in PCS they clearly have other options (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/pcs_comment_archive.cfm/id/9FBFFD72-7284-4FAF-81A810DE7FEBE412).

All of which leads me - in a convoluted way - to the conclusion that all those with an input to the prioritisation process for UNISON National Delegate Conference should prioritise Motion 11 on "Closer Working with the Public and Commercial Services Union" from the Kent Local Government Branch.

And, of course, I'll let you know how UNISON arrived at a conclusion about the civil service pension negotiations which is diametrically opposed to the conclusion of our allies in PCS - just as soon as someone tells me...


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Friday, April 06, 2012

Further strike action over health service pensions

I am, as ever, indebted to a Ms Reissmann of "north of Watford" for reporting promptly that UNISON's Health Service Group Executive, meeting Wednesday, "were told. there is no NHS union which has any plans for further strike action (over pensions)."



Strangely, on the same day, I understand that Unite's Health Sector National Committee met and agreed to national strike action on 10th May as "the next step in the fight to defend our

pensions".



Also, as I understand it, our own members in the Scottish Health Service are engaged in a programme of strike action over pensions (http://union-news.co.uk/2012/03/unisons-strike-two-against-scottish-government-pensions-hike/).



Since the "final offer" on health service pensions is that our members should expect to pay more, to receive less, and to work longer, I can understand the position of UNISON's Scottish Health Committee, and of UNITE's National Industrial Sector Committee.



Someone told me that it would take more than one day of strike action to defeat the Government's attack on our pensions. I think they were right.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Mutual Disrespect

As one of those in our movement frequently troubled by the question; "The TUC - just what is it for?" I have to admit that the Touchstone Blog sometimes provides a positive answer.

A fine example is the recent post about the fate of public service mutuals (http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2012/04/mutuals-0-markets-1/). Let's be clear, the Government's spiel about mutuals is no more than dust kicked up around privatisation.

Only a fool would believe that the Tory Coalition Government gave a damn about co-operation (though there do seem to be some fools about!)

This is different in the case of some Labour Councils who may sincerely believe that "mutualisation" is a positive alternative to privatisation, which may even provide some protection from future privatisation.

From experience, I can say that "progressive" enthusiasm for mutualisation of public services is generally (and sometimes wilfully) ignorant. The genuine practical difficulties are consistently underestimated on a grand scale. The future risk of privatisation is also generally - and I fear wilfully - underestimated.

When the history of this decade comes to be written, I fear that it will be told that enthusiasts (http://www.co-operative.coop/corporate/Public-Service-Mutuals-/) for "public service mutuals" were no more than "useful idiots" (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot) for a Tory Coalition Government hell-bent on privatisation who were happy to borrow progressive clothes in order to achieve deeply reactionary ends.

It is important to understand what is at stake in the defining struggle of our generation. The social gains won by our grandparents - who compelled states established to reproduce the conditions of existence of a society founded on exploitation nevertheless to concede their responsibility for human welfare - stand to be lost on the altar of profit.

In this context, the froth of "mutuals" and "social enterprises" is - at (very) best an irrelevance and (more often) is a Trojan Horse for privatisation. We face the hardest years of our lives now to defend our public services. We won't do it by being "co-operative" I'm afraid.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

High pay, low pay, more pay

It happens that I work for the local authority that was the first to break the £100,000 barrier for Chief Executive pay (many years ago). With the requirement that all local authorities publish their pay strategy, and certain supplementary information, we all now know (or should know) what our Chief Executives earn - and also how many others are bringing in six figure sums (http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localismseniorpay).

The requirement that local authorities publish such information is driven by a pernicious agenda of the "Tax Dodgers Alliance" who want to use the generous salaries of a tiny proportion of the local government workforce as a stick with which to beat the public sector and as false justification for spending cuts (which will, in any case, fall overwhelmingly on the lower paid). Trade unionists should be cautious about how we use this information for fear of adding fuel to a fire meant to burn our members' jobs and the services we work to provide.

Nevertheless, the coincidence of timing of the publication of this data with the miserable refusal of the local government employers - for the third year running - to make any pay offer can hardly pass without comment. Whilst the pay freeze may be across the board, its doubtless easier to make ends meet on a six figure salary (even if it's frozen).

The trade union side approach to the employers having once more ignored our reasoned claim for a decent, across the board pay rise, with a particular emphasis on the lower paid, represents something of a departure. Rather than a directly campaigning approach, we appear to be playing the (hitherto little used) "pitiable" card, as branches are being asked to request just the £250 for those earning below £21,000 (as suggested by the Chancellor but withheld by the local authority employers).(http://www.unison.org.uk/localgov/paycampaign.asp)

Appealing to the better nature of our cash strapped bosses in the hope of their pity seems something of a long shot - and we are dangerously close to undermining consistent national (or in London sub-Regional) pay spines. However, it's obviously worth asking an authority to cost the making of such a payment, if only to then compare it with what they're spending on salaries at the top of the income distribution.

Better pay rises (and greater pay equality in the long run) will both come only from building union organisation - and that will need a campaigning approach to pay claims as to many other issues. Which seems to me a good reason to support left candidates in the forthcoming elections to Service Group Executives (of which more later...)

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Monday, April 02, 2012

LGPS - No news still not good news

Today's LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) "Protect Our Pensions" Bulletin 16 from the UNISON Centre reveals the following;

"Members and activists will be wondering where the negotiations over the LGPS have got to.... The joint negotiating team and the Governance and Administration sub groups have continued to meet on a regular basis, the most recent meeting of the negotiating 'Project ' team being this afternoon - Monday 2 April.

The negotiations are moving in a positive direction, in line with the agreed principles agreed before Christmas. However, it is obviously crucial that we ensure that every possible element of a possible new scheme is fully considered and that we explore all options in order to get the best possible deal for members. This has required a significant amount of work by actuaries and others and it is therefore not yet possible to produce final proposals.

We hope that we will be in a position to give you full details before the end of April so that the all-member ballot can commence around the start of May."

This (slightly) informative bulletin is only the tiniest bit confusing, since the last bulletin, released three weeks ago, told us that "The joint LGA - Trade Union Project Team which is negotiating over the LGPS from 2014 submitted outline proposals on 13 February to DCLG and the Treasury. Unfortunately, the government has not yet come back to us with a response to them and so there is nothing to report on the negotiations in today's newsletter. We are extremely disappointed at this and have made very strong representations to government over the unnecessary delay in our timetable. Our timetable is carefully detailed in the documents underpinning the negotiations at www.lgps.org.uk."

Since, as I understand it (and I'm relying on well informed readers who may wish to remain anonymous to correct me if necessary) the Government have still to respond to the outline proposals, I'm not sure that it's simply the workload of actuaries (and others) which means that " it is therefore not yet possible to produce final proposals."

The silence of this week's bulletin on the question of what the Government is up to is genuinely perplexing. Of equal concern is the non-sequiter contained in the sentence; "The negotiations are moving in a positive direction, in line with the agreed principles agreed before Christmas."

Since the "principles agreed before Christmas" included linking normal retirement age to the (now even more rapidly advancing) state pension age; a shift to career averages (contrary to Local Government Service Group Conference Policy) and acceptance that pensions in payment will be uprated in line with the CPI rather than the RPI I fail to see how this can possibly be a "positive direction."

All things considered I really cannot get too worked up about "the unnecessary delay in our timetable" whether this is due (as we were told three weeks ago) to Government delays or (as we were told today) to the enormous workload of actuaries (and others). As a rule, when the employers or the Government are about to do something like this to us, it's better and more comfortable if they do it more slowly.

As far as I can see, the only real imperative to getting a ballot of members underway before June's Service Group Conferences is to avoid the danger that Conference delegates might still be influenced by the dangerous rhetoric of the leftist speaker who said last year "to those who say 'name the day', I say a day won't be enough" (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=2341). A lot of UNISON members still think he was right.

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Mick Shaw RIP "an unsung working class hero"

Sad news today from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) of the untimely death of former FBU President and long serving Executive member for London, Mick Shaw (http://www.fbu.org.uk/?p=5423).



I met Mick a few times through union and political activity and found him consistent, principled, clear-headed and likeable. He is a loss to our movement precisely because he gave so much and set such a fine example.



I couldn't put it better than John McDonnell who says, on the website of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC);



"Mick was one of the finest socialists and most selfless, dedicated trade unionists I have ever met. Firmly on the Left, for many of us he was an unsung working class hero." (http://l-r-c.org.uk/press/mick-shaw-a-true-socialist/)



(At that link you can see Mick speaking to the LRC AGM in 2009.)

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No justice for workers

David Renton, in today's Morning Star, uses the occasion of the Coalition's latest attacks on workers' rights to expose the weakness of the employment tribunals as a means of obtaining justice for workers (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/view/full/117306).



As well as itemising the pitiful median levels of compensation awarded to workers found to have been treated unlawfully by employers, he makes the point that the extreme rarity of orders for reinstatement has had a knock on effect on the chances of success at in-house appeals against dismissal.



This certainly reflects my experience as a lay trade union representative in local government. As recently as twenty years ago, appeals against dismissal, heard by Panels of Councillors, were successful about half the time. Now reinstatement (by a panel of senior managers) is a rarity.



The legal rights which the Coalition are pledged to undermine were built in the first place on the foundations of workplace trade union organisation. Employers, and Governments, conceded some limited rights to be treated fairly at work because our movement was strong.



The waning of justice at work has coincided with declining union density and organisation (except of course that it's not a coincidence).



It's that workplace organisation which we need to rebuild if we are going to resist the "hire and fire" workplace culture which the Government of Millionaires are seeking to foist on the millions.



We will, however, need to consider how we deal with the challenge of up front charges for lodging tribunal complaints. If a union backs a claim, believing it likely to succeed, workers will expect help to jump this new financial hurdle - and if we want to rebuild membership and organisation we need to deliver the goods when it comes to representation.

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