Thursday, October 27, 2016

Our pensions under attack again - from more than one direction



When I started work in local government thirty years ago this was still seen as a sector in which one could expect secure employment. From the late 1980s onwards this ceased to be the case, and trade union activists became sadly familiar with negotiating around – and fighting against – redundancy proposals.
One saving grace of local government employment remained our pension scheme, the fight to create which had been the origin of one of UNISON’s “former partner unions.”
Following disputes provoked by the New Labour Government in the middle of the last decade and – more seriously – by the Coalition Government five years ago, we gave ground on elements of our pension scheme (losing “the rule of 85” in 2008 and switching from final salary to career average in 2014).
At the time of the unsatisfactory settlement of the last dispute, the previous Government pledged not to touch our pension entitlements for another 25 years. I was among those unhappy with how we ended the dispute in 2012, but at least we had the Government’s promise of no more change to come…
This Government is now breaking that promise in more than one way.
The Government’s response to consultation on “public sector exit payment caps”  reveals – as UNISON’s excellent summary  makes clear – that this is about far more than limiting pay-outs to “fat cats”. Workers earning from £25,000 face soon losing the right to an unreduced pension if made redundant above the age of 55 – and all of us, regardless of salary could soon see that minimum age increase to nearer our state pension age.
At the same time as the Government are limiting what we can get out of our pension fund, they are also proposing to take for themselves powers to direct the investment of our pension fund, in line with their policies rather than the interests of pension fund members.
UNISON is rightly encouraging members to write to their MPs to sign up to Early Day Motion 586 (http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/586) in opposition to this change.
I so wish I had been proven wrong to doubt the wisdom of the settlement of the 2012 pension dispute...

Monday, October 24, 2016

UNISON Disciplinary Procedures

I have today had cause to reflect upon UNISON’s disciplinary procedures as they apply to lay members.

I have been interviewed, courteously and appropriately, by colleagues involved in an investigation into matters about which I blogged awhile ago.

I do not wish recklessly or carelessly to comment upon a process about with which others, themselves involved in good faith, have requested my silence.

Nevertheless, having experience over many years of the political misuse of UNISON’s disciplinary procedures, I realise that there are circumstances in which it is inappropriate to accede to such requests.

The confidentiality of a disciplinary process is a duty owed by the organisation to the individual. The individual has the right to waive that confidentiality.

And so I may,


Friday, October 21, 2016

Full details of the complaints about the UNISON General Secretary election have been published officially



Readers of this blog know where to go for occasionally obscure and often tedious posts about the state of the trade union movement in general and UNISON in particular.

This Friday lunchtime I can offer a signpost to some weekend reading for those of you interested in the impending hearing in front of the Assistant Certification Officer (ACO) of a number of complaints arising from last year’s election for the position of UNISON General Secretary. As one of the complainants I declare an interest.

This link is to the decision of the ACO from the recent preliminary hearing and provides details of all the complaints which are to be heard, and the issues to be decided by the ACO at the final hearing on 19, 20 and 21 December.

I shall not provide a running commentary on further preparations for the hearing, but will remark that, at paragraph 7(b) of the decision it is confirmed that, save for one particular disagreement between the Union and some of the claimants, the essential accuracy of the recording and transcript of a meeting of UNISON staff which took place at UNISON’s Greater London Regional Office in Congress House on 21 October 2015 is not at issue (although it would appear that the “context” of the meeting may be an issue).

As regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) would expect, I shall remind you that I make no allegations against the successful candidate, Dave Prentis (who had “clean hands” in relation to that meeting) – you can read the complaints which I am making on pages 7 and 8 of the decision from the preliminary hearing (which is itself a public document).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The future of UNISON depends upon our members and activists

UNISON members need a trade union which fights for their interests rather more effectively than is currently the case.
Today’s meeting of our NEC received a report back on pay negotiations from which one can draw the depressing news that pretty much all our public sector members are getting no more than the Government’s 1% pay norm.
Behind the sorry reality of our failure to reverse declining living standards is the disturbing information which came to light over the past year concerning trade union democracy (about which you will hear more soon).
If we are to resurrect UNISON we will need to engage, encourage and empower activists.
In this regard I am pleased to have received the following information about recent and forthcoming meetings for UNISON activists who want to be part of rebuilding our trade union;

  • Yorkshire and Humberside Region - Saturday 15th October, 12 - 2pm at The Victoria Hotel, 28 George St, Leeds, LS1 3DL (back of the City Hall)
  • South East Region - Saturday 24th September, 5-6.30pm at The Maybury Centre, Board School Road, Woking, GU21 5HD - (this was their second meeting and there will be more to follow with more notice apologies) Watch this space for details of the next meeting. 
  • North West Region Region - Saturday 15th October, 1.30 - 3pm in Preston, .Stanley Arms, Upstairs, 24 Lancaster Rd Preston PR1 1DA
  • Greater London Region - Tuesday 1st November 7 - 9pm - venue to be announced
  • South West Region - Friday 14th October 7- 8.30pm at Friends Meeting House,13 Bath Place,Taunton,TA1 4EP
  • West Midlands -  Tuesday 25 October 2016 7 - 8.30pm Wellington Pub 37 Bennett's Hill Birmingham B2  5SN – top floor room. 5 mins from New St station exit ,just off Colmore Row
  • Northern Region - awaiting final details
  • Scotland Region - November date pending
  •  Wales/Cymru Region - November date pending


These meetings are open to all UNISON members – and all UNISON members need them to succeed.

We are the Champions?

Following on from the General Secretary’s report to today’s meeting of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) we received a report on the Union’s Public Service Champions campaign.
This is a campaign, arising from Motion 31 agreed at UNISON National Delegate Conference this June, to promote public services, and it is starting with a simple message about the value of public services, developed following work with focus groups, to establish a database of sympathisers which can then be used to mobilise public support when (as they surely will) this Government comes to take even bigger chunks out of our public services.
The explanation which we were given for the purpose and intent of the campaign allayed considerably the substantive concerns of at least this cynic – it is clear that the campaign is not intended as some sort of labour movement equivalent of “employee of the month” or some mechanism to reward Stakhanovite endeavour. This is simply the first phase of a campaign in defence of public services for which our Conference has called.
However, your humble blogger expressed, and stands by, concerns about the way in which UNISON has developed and agreed the detail of a campaign for which our Conference called in a very general way. The campaign was launched on 26 September, and reported (as a fait accompli) to the relevant Strategic Committee of the NEC (the Policy Committee) a week later.
Today’s NEC meeting received an enthusiastic, and substantively persuasive, verbal report about the purpose and intent of the campaign (including a supplementary report about the way in which the campaign had reached Mumsnet) – but not a written report, nor information on the budget for the campaign. Having a commitment to the accountability of the union to its lay structures which borders on a personality disorder, your awkward blogger made these points to my NEC colleagues.
I have the unfashionable view that we should be rigorous in holding to account those to whom we entrust responsibility for the resources of our trade union and that we should be diligent in scrutinising what they do with those resources. I am not happy to arrive at a meeting of the NEC of the biggest and most important trade union in the United Kingdom and to receive a purely verbal report about how we have launched a major campaign which will last for five years (even if it wisely excludes ice sculptures).
With a couple of exceptions, the responses to my expressions of concern gave me the sense of what it must be to be savaged by a small flock of dead sheep, as I was criticised for “whingeing” and corrected by Committee Chairs who sought to assure the meeting of lay governance and oversight of this important campaign.
I was in a position to weigh those assurances against a written statement provided to me as a member of the NEC.
I had asked, in a written question, when, prior to the launch of the campaign, the Policy Committee had agreed to its launch. The answer told me that the General Political Fund (GPF) Committee had considered launching fresh political communications campaigns in October 2015, that the Policy Committee keeps public service campaigning “under regular review” and that Motion 31 having been passed at June’s National Delegate Conference, the GPF Committee had backed up the motion with the “public services champions” campaign. No minutes of the GPF Committee were before today’s meeting.
So the (written) answer (not seen by the rest of the NEC) was that the Union’s Policy Committee had not taken the decision to launch this campaign, but were interested and admiring spectators after the fact of its launch, as indeed was our NEC today. Nor today were we offered the courtesy of a written report to record the pearls of wisdom shared verbally, nor any metrics or financial information. I think that the campaign has merit, but that the manner of its presentation to our lay decision making body today was shoddy (and hardly consistent with Rules B.2.2 and D.2.1)
Whilst some of my NEC colleagues seemed unable to grasp the distinction between a criticism of the procedural governance of a campaign and a criticism of the substance of the campaign itself, the single most risible response to my questioning was from the individual who suggested that I was criticising the Union’s professional staff working on the campaign.
I do appreciate that it is quite the fashion now to characterise critical comment in our trade union as both outrageous disloyalty at a time of crisis and also a scandalous affront to hardworking employees, but my criticism of the flawed decision making processes which has led UNISON to commit itself to a major and important campaign without an informed decision of its ruling body is not at all a criticism of staff – it is a criticism of the majority of the elected lay leadership of the Union.
We do, indeed, face the hardest of times as a rightward moving Tory Government prepares for the self-inflicted economic damage which will follow any Brexit by sharpening their axes to hack away at still more of our public services (and at the living standards of public servants). If we are to face this challenge we need an NEC which is up to the job of leading our Union in such times, and which is unafraid to hold to account any and all of those who work on our behalf.
Such an NEC would actually lead UNISON. I hope that it will be such an NEC that will see the “public service champions” campaign through the coming years.
Which observation will lead to another post on this blog very soon I am sure.


General Secretary's report to the UNISON NEC meeting today

Today’s meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) began, following the normal introductions from our new President, with the report from our General Secretary Dave Prentis.
In a wide ranging report Dave began with a tribute to Kirklees College UNISON Convenor Dave Ellis, whose sudden and untimely death has left such a hole in our organisation. Dave (P) described Dave (E) as “the heart and soul of this Union”, a view subsequently echoed by Dave (E)’s Branch Secretary, my NEC comrade Paul Holmes.
Dave went on to advise that UNISON was awaiting a request from the Disasters Emergency Committee before making an official donation to meet the needs of those affected by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. At the suggestion of the General Secretary the NEC delegated authority to the Presidential Team to make a donation when the request is received.
Our General Secretary reported on UNISON’s support for a Day of Action in defence of striking South Korean trade unionists today – including a protest at the South Korean embassy which was attended on behalf of the NEC by the Chair of our International Committee. He went on to refer to a film which is being produced to mark the involvement of UK unions in the anti-apartheid struggle and our current support for Playfair Qatar, as well as encouraging UNISON branches to affiliate to Justice for Colombia in the light of the outcome of the recent plebiscite on a peace deal which, had it not been rejected, would have ended decades of violence.
Noting that UNISON’s major “public service champions” campaign would be the subject of a separate report later in the meeting (of which, more later) Dave noted that UNISON was supporting WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) pledging that he personally would work alongside Gloria Mills to promote this campaign. The General Secretary also reminded the NEC that UNISON supports the call for a public inquiry into the police violence against striking miners at Orgreave in 1984 as we had always support the Hillsborough families.
Moving on to other domestic political issues, the General Secretary commented upon the worrying implications of the outcome of the Referendum campaign – including indications of a loss of £66 billion in annual tax revenues (which threatens further public sector spending cuts) and the increase in racism since June.
Dave then ran through the list of current UNISON industrial action, including in particular the Derby and Durham teaching assistant disputes, the dispute in Scottish Further Education and the heroic action of three school cleaners in Wakefield. He also reported on UNISON’s interventions at the TUC and Labour Party Conferences, the campaign being waged to enforce the minimum wage by our Haringey Branch and our latest success in the holiday pay case against British Gas.
Responding to questions, the General Secretary confirmed that UNISON had supported Jeremy Corbyn’s successful campaign to be re-elected as Leader of the Labour Party and outlined the work underway to respond to Government proposals for further restrictions to “exit payments” in the public sector. Because the NEC had not met since June a great deal had happened concerning which there had been no contemporaneous reports to the NEC, and one NEC member wisely suggested that it was wrong for us to have dispensed with our July meeting.
Since the General Secretary’s report took us all the way to the tea break, your blogger will also now take a break.