Thursday, 9 April 2015

Personal report of UNISON NEC – 8th April 2015

This NEC was to a large part concerned with National Delegate Conference (NDC) business. NDC is to be held in Glasgow in June. There are 117 motions on the preliminary agenda for NDC as well as 28 rule amendments submitted by various bodies in the union. I therefore won’t go into detail on every one. Most of these motions are supported by the NEC.

A couple dozen each of motions and amendments to rule have been ruled ‘out of order’.
There is an important branch motion on ‘Solidarity with PCS’ (Civil service union) which the current NEC position is to ‘defer’ pending discussion with other Trade Unions.   Check off (DOCAS or Deductions of Contributions at source) was being ended in the Civil service as the Tories ideologically did not believe employers should collect money for Trade Unions. It is therefore vital that the rest of the Trade Union movement openly express solidarity with PCS. Dave Prentis, General Secretary stated later in the meeting in his General Secretary’s report that PCS had been successful in signing up around 115,000 members to paying union subs by Direct debit since their members were removed from check off. UNISON could be in the firing line if the Tories are re-elected in May in the same way. The motion also calls upon a Labour government if elected in May to ‘reverse these attacks as a clear signal of their respect for the positive role Trade Unions play’.  

In response to a good motion in opposition to ‘Fracking’ (shale gas extraction) it was requested by an NEC member that further consultation take place with all relevant service groups before a common policy was determined. One NEC member reminded us that our opposition to Fracking was based not just on the effect on the local environment but the world-wide environment with the burning of fossil fuels.
There was contention on a motion on ‘Changes to strike pay’ where the current position was to remit or oppose. The motion calls for an increase in the amount of daily strike pay payable. This amount has not been changed since the early 1990s and stands at £15 per day. One NEC member stated that whilst it was understood that for national disputes involving large numbers of members we don’t pay strike pay sometimes even if we get to a 4th day on strike the issue was that for local disputes there was a problem with the amount paid and also that the strike pay wouldn’t get paid till the 4th day. There was not a massive amount of Industrial Action at local level despite the huge attacks on us therefore we needed to show encouragement to local disputes where they occur. Another NEC member suggested that we put in a constructive amendment to this motion.  

In terms of the rule amendments please refer to my previous post - 
The NEC approved its 12 priority motions and 6 priority rule amendments.   

The draft NEC annual report was discussed (to be circulated to delegates before the National Delegate conference). Bernie Gallagher, NEC member North West region asked that in relation to the reference in the report to the English Combined authorities could there be mention of what had happened in Greater Manchester recently with the transfer of the £6 billion NHS budget to a Greater Manchester level and the implications this would have.
On the NEC Conference plan it was acknowledged that there may need to be emergency motions to NDC depending on the outcome of the General election on 7th May. The Orgreave truth and justice campaign would have a solidarity table at the conference. There would be a guest speaker from Canada on TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). I asked had we been able to secure a Greek trade unionist or representative of Syriza (the Greek anti austerity party that is now in Government) for national conference as the Greeks were at the sharp end of the fight against austerity and this would be an act of solidarity. We currently do not have a speaker from Greece although the minutes of the previous meeting stated that this was being looked into.   

Dave Prentis in his General Secretary’s report mentioned the victimisation case involving Charlotte Munro from Whipp’s Cross Hospital in London who was a whistle blower in this big NHS trust that has also been placed in special measures.  UNISON had supported Charlotte in a case of unfair dismissal. This is significant in the current climate of cuts, privatisation and attacks on trade union activists. Charlotte has been reinstated after a long battle which is tremendous news.
UNISON had been granted permission to appeal against a High Court decision regarding fees for employment tribunals. There was, Dave said, a commitment from Labour to review the whole tribunal fees system.

We were urging members to get out and vote in the General election - our message is 'not that we are Labour but that we are UNISON’. If the Tories got in there would be another 5 years of austerity. There were 61 marginals and we had to ensure the Tories did not win the marginal seats.  
It was suggested by an NEC member that we send Charlotte Munro a message of congratulations for her courage in this case and that the case is appropriately publicised.

In response to a question Dave stated that Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary had told the TUC General Council 2 months ago that he had been told by Labour that they would reverse the changes made to the check off system if elected.
Under the ‘Organising update’ it was requested that in the case of online joiners when this has occurred - and new members are allocated to a branch - it is not always known by the branch - could there therefore automatically be a mechanism for informing branches in this circumstance.  

Paul Holmes, UNISON NEC member in response to the updates on the Service Groups (Pay campaigns) stated that the Local Government special conference that had taken place recently had been a serious conference which was well attended with a good debate. There had been a decision to resubmit a pay claim – how were we approaching the other 2 unions involved (UNITE and GMB) ?
In response it was stated that the Local Government SGE (Service Group Executive) were meeting the following day and this would be considered. The Local Government NJC Committee would meet on April 14th.

General election update – There were 29 days to go. Labour was 2 points ahead. The vote flight to the Scottish National Party was continuing north of the border. A U magazine (UNISON magazine) special was planned to members in the 61 marginal seats identified by the union and there would be a direct mailing to those members in the marginal seats.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Personal report of Development and Organisation (D&O) subcommittee of the NEC – 7th April 2015

This D&O meeting was concerned with National Delegate Conference business (which will take place in June in Glasgow) and motions and rule amendments from various union bodies and amendments to motions from the NEC that were specifically to do with Bargaining and under the remit of this subcommittee of the NEC. The meeting took a view on what our position was going to be on these motions, amendments and rule amendments which would be the recommendation for policy at tomorrow’s full meeting of the UNISON NEC.

I won’t go into detail of every item that was considered as these included 16 motions, 2 amendments to motions and 28 rule amendments.
It is good to see a motion (Motion 102) on Domestic violence, a gendered issue from the National Women’s Committee and the D&O policy of support. There was major contention when a similar motion was ruled out of order last year on the grounds of ‘legal jeopardy’. Considerable debate was generated at conference. Whilst raising awareness of existing guidance, the motion calls on the NEC to work with the National Women’s Committee to develop guidance on supporting women who allege violence whilst ensuring branches can represent all parties involved fairly and impartially.

As last year there are a whole raft of rule amendments that seek to change internal UNISON elections from annual to biennial and also to change the frequency of meetings of various bodies of the union from annual to biennial. It was stated that Consultation has recently taken place with Regional Convenors and the view was that we are still (as last year) opposed to biennial elections.  
It was stated by some NEC members that as NEC (National Executive Council) elections and SGE (Service Group Executive) elections take place every 2 years shouldn’t the same apply to branch elections? The position of the Left NEC members present was that there was a difference between someone serving a 2 year term on the NEC and a Branch Secretary who could be undertaking a full time role. Annual elections at branch level were vital for the democracy of the union. If a Branch Secretary, for example, was doing a good job they would be re-elected therefore it would seem sensible to stick with annual elections. I stated that it would be potentially a nightmare for members if there was a cycle of elections in branches every 2 years and to be saddled with a Branch Secretary for example who was disinterested, disengaged from members, not representing them etc. and there was no way to remove that person from the role.

There was a very good contribution from one of the Assistant General Secretaries along the lines that whilst there were clearly varied views on the D&O committee on this there was a problem in terms of how you could get rid of someone who was not performing in their union role and annual elections were vital for this and to keep branches re-invigorated. There was therefore an organising dimension to this also.
In the end it was agreed we would recommend opposition to rule amendments proposing a move from annual to biennial elections for Regional Council and Regional Committee. It was agreed to defer consideration of rule amendments to do with Branch Committee elections as this would give more time to consider our position and look at what this would mean in terms of the organising agenda.