Sunday, 18 January 2015

Report of Development and Organisation subcommittee of the UNISON NEC 14th January 2015

This report was also circulated as an addendum to the NEC reports at the North West Regional Council meeting in Manchester on the 17th January 2015 (given that the D & O meeting only took place 3 days prior) .

We received a PowerPoint briefing on ‘organising fragmented workers delivering public services’. 2 academics Professor Sian Moore of the University of the West of England and Professor Geraldine Healy of Queens University, Belfast produced the briefing for the union in the light of increased pressure on the union as a result of austerity and fragmentation.
Under the Recruiting and Organising report it was noted that despite a difficult year recruitment was holding up. A quarter of new members are now from the private sector. Online joiners account for 54% of all joiners. (The figure for the North West was 52%). We are recruiting more lower paid members and losing less lower paid members but also losing more higher paid members. There was an issue in terms of activist development and what we do around this as a result. More detailed analysis was asked for in terms of how the various pay disputes had given a differential boost to recruitment.

It was hoped we would have a better government in 6 months’ time however the question arose as to what if we have Cameron as Prime minister. DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at source) or ‘Check off’ was being withdrawn in the Civil Service. How much longer could we keep check off for in the NHS for example as a right wing government would have direct control over this? And how were we preparing for that eventuality? One of the Assistant General Secretaries stated that our systems could cope if large numbers of members changed to becoming Direct Debit payers. The Head of RMS Operations said we needed to have clear procedures in place if DOCAS is withdrawn. One NEC member suggested that it may be beneficial to have contracts or Service Level agreements in place with employers.
The Annual Line count process – This is done at the end of the calendar year and involves a manual line count (count of DOCAS schedules plus the addition of numbers of members who pay by other means) to obtain accurate membership figures for Regions and Service Groups so mitigating the scenario where an employer has not been DOCAS cleansed for some time (although it was stated that the accuracy of RMS/WARMS information has increased greatly over the last 2 years).  There was a membership drop of 1.1% or 13,000 over the year. It was noted UNISON has to deal with a large number of employers (29,000) as opposed to the PCS (Civil servants union) who only have 30 employers.

There was a presentation on the fragmented workforce with particular regard to private contractors. 150,000 members were in the outsourced sector which had been growing. A question arose ‘are we becoming a general Trade Union’. Also do some of the online joiners meet the rule book definition? For multi sector branches there was a link from this to Finance some branches had had difficulties in terms of funding caseworkers and had we done enough to follow members who had gone into the private sector. It was agreed that this would become a standing agenda item for Development and Organisation committee.
Under Learning and training activity – there had been a slight drop - 7% in the number of reps trained in line with a slight fall in the number of reps recruited. The question arose as to whether there was an efficient process for flagging up when existing ERA (Employment Relations Act) accredited stewards were due to have their training refreshed. (This reaccreditation should take place every 5 years).  The process was being discussed between RMS and Learning and Organising services and needed to be more efficient and improved but there would be more information at the next meeting.  

On ‘continued development of the RMS’, the hard work of Branches, Regions and staff was acknowledged. It was not cost effective to maintain RMS and WARMS together but there was currently  ‘no magic switch off date for RMS’. 2015 would be a challenging year but we needed to focus on retention as well as recruitment. If there were any performance issues with WARMS branches would receive help - There was an escalation route. Another collection date is being offered to members for Direct Debit collection.
There were 2 draft motions to go to the 2015 National Delegate conference from D&O (these will need to be agreed by the full NEC) these were ‘Consolidating activist development planning for sustainable organising,’ and ‘Meeting the training needs of union activists in challenging times’.

We approved a number of applications from branches for Honorary UNISON life membership.  There was one member from the North West.
Tony Wilson


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC 3rd December 2014.

I have referred in an earlier blog post to the debate around the Local Government pay dispute at this NEC meeting – please see the earlier blog post for this report:

An NEC member asked the question under the Finance report was their adequate budget provision for the election of General Secretary in 2015 and he was assured there was.
We heard from the General Secretary that there had been an 87% vote amongst UNISON members to keep the political fund (imposed on us by Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation that has survived since the 1980’s) after the recent ballot. Police and Justice service group UNISON members had voted 60% YES to Industrial Action in their pay dispute. Best Wishes were sent to police staff in their dispute.  It was emphasised there would continue to be real difficulties for Public services if the coalition got back in in May.

This may include the ending of ‘check off’ (union subs being automatically deducted from pay). This was already being done in the civil service. Whichever political party anyone was in the fight was to get the Tories out.
The union would be supporting a project to help tackle Ebola in West Africa. The NEC agreed to donate £50,000 from the union's international development fund for each of the next two years and agreed to ask branches if they want to contribute. The NEC was shown a moving video commemorating and naming the 325 health workers in the four countries affected who have died in responding to Ebola.

I asked the General Secretary, Dave Prentis was there any update on the campaign against TTIP the ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ the proposed EU – US Trade deal.
If TTIP went ahead there would be a major effect on the provision of public services and services may not be able to be brought in if privatised even if political parties could be persuaded to renationalise. There would be kangaroo courts involving commercial lawyers from multinational companies. The French based multinational company Veolia, are suing the Egyptian government for increasing the national minimum wage – claiming this will “hurt” its investment. There was a growing and massive wave of opposition to these Trade talks. We needed to start questioning MPs and put pressure on them so the Trade talks moved to the top of the agenda. Branches were encouraged to get involved in local coalitions against TTIP.

General election planning – this would be the most critical election any of us had fought. There was a line of attacks from the Tories already in place. However the election outcome was probably also the most unpredictable for a long time with political engagement in the country the lowest in the last century. Clear guidance was requested of the centre in terms of what branches could and couldn’t do given the provisions of the lobbying act. The emphasis should be on encouraging branches to engage in political campaigning through the Affiliated Political Fund and General Political Fund. We would concentrate on 60 seats where the number of UNISON members exceeds the majority of the incumbent. It was also emphasised rightly that talking to members about the key issues is free.
Recruitment and Organising campaign – This was the second best year for recruitment figures since the union came into being although the overall picture is still difficult due to government austerity.

On the Legal update it was reported by the Legal officer that there had been a shocking drop of 91% in sex discrimination claims as a result of the coalition’s employment tribunal fees and the requirement to charge these fees up front. Women and low paid workers have been the worst affected.  
Finally a message of support was sent to Barnet UNISON, in dispute over the North London councils’s attack on terms and conditions.