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Monday, July 27, 2020

UNISON publishes election procedures for General Secretary election - clear guidance to staff not to campaign in work time or using UNISON resources

UNISON has today published the election procedures for the forthcoming General Secretary election.


There are a number of changes since previous such elections, some of which will are clearly in response to the findings of the Certification Officer in response to complaints in the previous election.


One of the recommendations of the Certification Officer at paragraph 311 was that “the Union has a thorough internal discussion and debate to consider what level of paid officer activity in internal General Secretary election campaigning it wishes to have, consistent with its aims and objectives, and draft clear, unambiguous and uniformly understood rules, to reflect the decisions it reaches.”


I haven’t myself seen any evidence of a “thorough internal discussion and debate” (and indeed an attempt by the Lambeth Branch to propose motions for discussion at National Delegate Conference 2017 was ruled out of order) – but the new election procedures do include – at Appendix 1.B improved guidance to staff generally about their rights to campaign for candidates in the election.


This includes – for example – at paragraph 4;


“For the avoidance of doubt in relation to a member of staff’s ‘own time’, all working hours should be clearly recorded on a daily or weekly basis in order to protect their position. Staff are not permitted to undertake any campaigning activities on behalf of a candidate or candidates during any time recorded as working time.”


This would certainly mean that there should not be any doubtful campaigning by staff in what was obviously work time – as was clearly shown to have happened in the 2015 election.


Paragraph 5 is also an important paragraph;


“Staff, equally have the right not to participate in any campaigning on behalf of a particular candidate or candidates and shall not be subject to any detriment as a result of a decision not to participate in any campaign. Any perceived detriment or pressure staff feel has been experienced should be reported immediately. Any reports will be dealt with under the relevant procedures/processes.”


Given the evidence, from 2015, of the former Greater London Regional Secretary giving what appeared to be management instructions to staff to campaign for a particular candidate this is an important clarification of the proper position, as is paragraph 8, which states that;


“If any member of staff has a complaint they can raise this with Director of the Executive Office or through the Staff Whistle Blowing Policy if the complaint/s comply with the criteria.”


This paragraph of the election procedure seems to reflect a response to the fourth recommendation of the Certification Officer’s 2017 report into complaints about the 2015 election (at paragraph 314), which was that “a whistleblowing policy should be considered and agreed through the Union’s collective procedures without further delay.” 


Certain staff who will have key roles in relation to the administration of the coming General Secretary election are now excluded from the right to campaign in the election, including the Assistant General Secretary (Regions and Governance) (who line manages Regional Secretaries). This is also a welcome and positive development, since the absence of such a prohibition in the past, which meant that a previous postholder was able to be the campaign organiser for “Team Dave” had put that postholder, and the Union in a most invidious position.


As there will not be an incumbent candidate in the forthcoming election it is likely that the campaign will be more “open” than the past three elections. With the best will in the world, and without any suggestion of malpractice upon the part of any incumbent candidate in any trade union election, an incumbent has certain obvious advantages, and staff involved in an election in which their (ultimate) “boss” is a candidate may always feel that they should, during the election campaign, speak up for the individual for whom (as the leading figurehead of the organisation) they would speak up at any other time.


However, the election procedures – which will hopefully continue to apply in the same way into the future – now correctly steer staff much more strongly to be “neutral” in their official capacity as employees and would hopefully empower employees to stand up against the sort of malpractice that took place at the Greater London Regional Office in October 2015.


I was – and remain – saddened that so many paid officials sat through a meeting and listened to their Regional Secretary instructing them to do what they must have known was morally wrong, even if they paid insufficient attention to the affairs of the trade union for which they worked to have known that this was against the election procedures.


That so many Regional Organisers and other staff can sit quietly in the face of such an abuse of power does little to encourage those who come to learn of this that these are people who could be expected to stand up to the abuse of power by employers when they encounter it. Now that the election procedures are crystal clear, and the Whistleblowing policy is in place, I hope that UNISON will not in future be shamed in this way.


There have also been other changes to the General Secretary election procedures since 2015, reflecting changes to election procedures in recent elections to Service Group Executives (SGEs) and the National Executive Council (NEC), which seek to restrict rank and file organisation through unofficial channels (and which are an obvious attempt to hold back candidates seeking to change the Union), but I am not commenting upon those in this blog post.


As one of the complainants to the Certification Officer in 2016/17, I will be very pleased if the legacy of our complaint is a somewhat more level playing field in this and future General Secretary elections.

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