Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris UNISON-Centre) sometimes wonder which of UNISON's many Rules are most interesting and important.
UNISON Rule D.2.12 is one of the most important rules in the UNISON Rule Book. It deals with the employment of staff as follows;
“2.12.1 The National Executive Council (or the General Secretary acting on its behalf) shall have the power to engage or dismiss such staff as may be required for the conduct of the business of the Union.
2.12.2 The National Executive Council shall determine the pay and conditions of service of staff. The General Secretary shall be responsible to the National Executive Council for all remaining staffing matters.”
The UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) therefore has the responsibility for the appointment of UNISON staff, and for their pay and conditions, which - in accordance with Rule D.2.9 - it delegates to its Staffing Committee.
Every couple of years, during my fourteen years on the NEC, when given the opportunity, I would give quite a high preference to the Staffing Committee in my options for Committees on which to serve, but (in my time) dissident left-wingers were kept well away from that Committee in particular.
However, it wasn’t just the minority of miscreants who were kept at arms length from the goings-on of the Staffing Committee. The Committee kept most of its business pretty much confidential from the rest of the NEC.
Or - as it was put in one of the NEC member’s handbooks I was sent during my time “for reasons of staff confidentiality and data protection, staffing committee minutes are not circulated to the NEC. Summary reports are prepared for the NEC on major staffing issues.” This is, of course, no good reason why the Committee’s minutes should be kept secret from the UNISON NEC - it would be a simple matter for the Staffing Committee, like a Committee of a local authority, to have a “Part One” agenda and minutes, for wider circulation, with “Part Two” (dealing with genuinely confidential matters) having a more restricted circulation.
There are Committees which the UNISON Rule Book specifies should have a degree of autonomy from the NEC as a whole (the two Political Fund Committees). The Staffing Committee is not give such autonomy by UNISON Rules - indeed the Rule Book does not require that there should be a Staffing Committee. Rule D.2.12 gives staffing responsibilities to the NEC itself, and the NEC simply chooses to allocate these to a Committee. Over the years, the Staffing Committee has given itself a status for which there is no basis and the majority of the NEC have allowed this.
In my first term on the NEC, which began in 2003, some of the newcomers (myself included) tried to argue for greater accountability of the Staffing Committee to the NEC as a whole, but all we got were occasional written updates from the Chair of the Staffing Committee.
In 2021, the incoming NEC has the opportunity, if it wishes to take it, to re-set its relationship with its own Staffing Committee and reassert the authority of the NEC as a whole in relation to staffing matters.
There are, of course, staffing matters which need to be dealt with (on behalf of the NEC) without all the details being shared with the whole NEC (individual recruitment to senior posts would be an obvious example) - but there is no reason whatsoever that, for example, the NEC as a whole ought not to in a position to exercise its own power under Rule D.2.12.2 and to be in full possession of information about negotiations concerning the terms and conditions of staff.
The NEC members allocated to the Staffing Committee for 2021-23 will face particular challenges and will need the full support not only of their NEC colleagues, but of UNISON activists generally.