The President opened the meeting by referring to the sad passing of Irene Stacey a long standing NEC member from the London Region after a long battle with cancer and Assistant General Secretary Cliff Williams previously Regional Secretary of Yorkshire and Humberside Region who had had a career spanning 30 years in the union. The NEC held a minutes silence to remember Irene and Cliff and other colleagues who had passed away.
It was decided for the first time there would be a 3 minute limit on speeches.
New application forms to comply with the (anti) Trade Union Act would be circulated soon with the current ones all needing to be destroyed.
We considered NEC motions to go National Delegate Conference in Brighton in June.
1. Resourcing and reshaping our union – 25 years since the formation of UNISON there was to be a wide ranging review of the union a task force would be established comprising key stakeholders. An NEC member asked about the make-up of the task force and asked for further detail regarding accountability, inclusiveness and transparency. It was stated that if the motion was passed it would come back to the July NEC and there would be a decision on the make-up of the task force.
2. Turning the union into an organising union. A couple of NEC members referred to the recent collapse of Carillion and Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that this was a watershed moment. We should look forward to less privatisation and services being brought back in house.
3. Learning for the future.
4. Workers rights in Turkey – an NEC asked that reference be made to the Turkish states bombing of Kurds in Syria. This was agreed.
5. Modern slavery.
6. Public service champions 2018/2019.
7. The UK EU withdrawal bill and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
8. Cuts to our safety net.
9. Education is a public service – A long motion and it had been quite a while since there had been a debate about education at conference.
10. The crisis in health and social care.
11. Pay up Now! – real pay rises for all public service workers.
12. Tackling Xenophobia and the far right. An NEC member made a good point about the rise of racism and xenophobia being linked to ongoing austerity. The motion included organising opposition to Trump and any potential visit by Trump to Britain also to encourage branches affiliating and continuing to work with Hope not hate, Show Racism the Red Card and Stand up to Racism;
There was an update on the work done as a result of the (anti) Trade Union Act. New application forms to comply with the Act would be circulated with the current ones all needing to be destroyed then. I asked a question about this – we needed to make a compelling case for members to opt into the political funds, face to face conversations would be important and these changes had to be in place by 1st March - did we have examples of what the new membership forms and online forms would look like? It was stated that a lot of work had gone on on systems, training staff, new forms would be dispatched to branches soon. Dave Prentis, General Secretary stated that we had made it clear to the Labour Party we wanted the Trade Union Act repealed when a Labour government was elected.
Paul Holmes, NEC member for Local Government stated that between 1997 and 2010 the Labour government had not repealed one piece of the previous Tory anti-Trade Union legislation. We should not forget this. Tony Blair’s biggest disappointment was not breaking the link between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions. It was a sign of how healthy the relationship now was between the Labour Party and unions that when Dave said they should repeal the act we expected a Labour government to do so.
Proposed rule changes – A rule amendment was agreed that allowed the NEC to revoke honorary life membership from individuals where a Rule I disciplinary process was not feasible or practical. There was a lengthy debate over a rule change that would exclude branch employed staff from participating as UNISON activists. It was stated this was bringing branch employed staff and national employed staff under the same rule and was translating what was already in the Code of Good Branch practice into the Rule book. A number of NEC members said we were not in a situation like 20 years ago the union was now fragmented with branches covering a number of different employers a member could for example work half time as a Local Government convenor employed by the council and be an activist but also the other employed half time as an organiser in the voluntary sector by the branch. The model didn’t fit with what branches are doing now. We should look at the full extent of the problem first before trying to solve it. In reply it was stated individuals should be an employee of UNISON or a lay member either the one or the other but not both. The proposed rule amendment was agreed by the NEC. There was a further rule amendment proposed that meant the same individual could not be both Branch Chair and Branch Secretary (i.e. strategic posts). Also a proposed rule change that Branch officers could not be employed in a branch – in line with the Code of Good Branch practice.
Finance update – a report was given by a member of Finance NEC subcommittee. Steve North, NEC member North West Region asked in relation to Financial challenges facing the union – had there been a decision that branches would not get any more money till April 2018 and if so why? Motion 121 in 2016 and Motion 103 in 2017 reaffirming M121 how was this squared with those conference decisions? The motion passed last year supported branches right to further funding providing activity-based budgets had been agreed in conjunction with the Regional organiser. There was a lack of certainty for branches. It was stated that it is understood we were compliant with what was passed at last years conference. The Director of Finance stated it might not be the case we would have a £1 million surplus as was previously thought, expenditure was coming through and maybe for the first time we would be in a deficit position. Another NEC member said to have £1 million reserves was not a bad position.
General Secretary report – Dave Prentis, General Secretary referred to the Birmingham home care workers dispute – a delegation had attended women’s conference. The national union would be there for them. Dave intended to visit a future picket line. A message of support was sent to them from the NEC. Dave had visited a number of branches in the North West including Halton, Liverpool and Cheshire West. And had given a reading at the Holocaust memorial day event in Liverpool. Some branches were now dealing with 200 employers whereas previously they had dealt with a much smaller number. Black members conference had taken place with 650 delegates the largest union black members conference in Europe. Black history of the last 30 years had been discussed and the harsh climate after the Brexit vote. We were continuing to work with Show racism the red card and Stand up to racism (SUTR). Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary would speak on behalf of the union at the SUTR anti-racism demo on 17th March 2018 and at an event concerning Enoch Powells notorious 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech on 20th April 2018. There would be a major demo on 30th June 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the NHS. This would be a major event for the union. Also there was the TUC national demo on 12th May 2018. The TUC demo was about a jobs agenda. (A new deal for working people). The union would have our own logo directly to promote our campaign for public services. The TUC had asked UNISON for 35,000 members. The North West Region had committed 5,000 members. We should be ambitious and we will be organising to say Austerity and the pay freeze must end. There was a memorial event to commemorate the life of Rodney Bickerstaffe in April at the Westminster central hall which could hold 1500. Branches were asked to bring banners for display in the hall. It was reported Northampton county council (Tory) had run out of money. There were fears this could happen elsewhere. If Donald Trump set foot in the UK UNISON would lead the demos at the airport and in the cities. Hopefully he would be too frightened to come. UCU Pensions dispute – we had sent a message of support. Roger McKenzie, AGS spoke about the damage Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech had done. There had been physical assaults on black people in the streets as a result. The idea behind the proposed plaque to Powell in Wolverhampton was about normalising racism. What we should be celebrating instead was defeating his racist views in the intervening years.
Organising update – Private sector membership had increased there were losses in Local Government, Health was steady. There was no net loss during 2017. Young members was a growth area – we needed to get them active in the union. 150,000 new members had been recruited over the year. The idea of a UNISON passport was raised as a way of keeping members as they moved between employers, so they didn’t have to sign again – this would be facilitated by digital means. John Jones from the North West and Water, Environment and Transport service group stated that this had been discussed a number of years earlier after being raised by a branch in his service group so the prep work should already have been done.
Service Group update – there was an update on Carillion and Capita. The top priority for the union was to get Contracts taken back in house and to protect services and terms and conditions. The question was being raised by the union: Is the private sector the right place for critical public sector works? The TUC had set up a group involving different unions to campaign for ‘insourcing’ (i.e. for Contracts to be brought back in house) that included Frances O’Grady. Health – pay negotiations were ongoing. It was hoped public sympathy generated over the winter months for NHS staff would help. The funding crisis was not just a winter issue but affected every single bit of the NHS. Local Government – Northamptonshire County council the situation there had occurred as a result of poor decisions and policy making. 2 years ago, the Tory council had decided to outsource all staff and services. Mismanagement had led to Finances being out of control. By 2020 in Local government generally there would have been a 75% cut to budgets. Sajid Javid had given £150 million to social care but this was nowhere near enough to that needed to solve the social care crisis. On Local government pay Andrea Egan from the North West referred to the decision to recommend rejection of the pay offer and that she was proud of the North West and the work that had been done with the Region sharing resources, materials and best practice out to branches. One or two NEC members from other Regions had a more pessimistic view about us delivering Industrial action over pay. Christine McAnea, AGS praised the North West for its social care organising campaign. Also discussions had taken place with UCU (college union) and PCS (Civil service union) about how to get good turnouts in Industrial action ballots.