Sunday, 10 January 2016

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council Wednesday 9th December 2015

I have already blogged about certain other matters that are still ongoing:

but here is my report of the rest of the NEC meeting held on 9th December 2015:

The meeting moved to the rest of the business - several NEC members were welcomed back after illness and Best Wishes were sent to former NEC member Max Watson who was also ill. The President also made reference to the serious injury (from which he has now recovered) of John Jones from the North West and WET service group.

A number of obituaries were read out including for Craig Wilde of North West Ambulance service UNISON branch.
There was a Service Group update given ‘Pay campaign/National industrial action’. It was asked by an NEC member ‘Did we have a strategy on Pay?’ It was also asked by a number of NEC members what were we planning to do on pay? and what would be co-ordinated between Service groups in terms of Industrial Action? This appeared vague from the written report that had been circulated beforehand. In reply it was stated that ‘smart forms of Industrial action’ i.e. including selective action were being floated as a point for discussion. There had been a pay summit in the Autumn involving service group reps, Regional activists and Self organised groups at which this had been discussed.   

John Jones from the North West reported that the Environment Agency (EA) had got slightly better than the 1% pay increase given elsewhere. It was hoped that the EA would not be subject to cuts any more than already the case. The NEC was asked to send a message of support to the workers who had done sterling work as regards the recent floods.
Forward planning and Budgets 2016 - In response to this report it was asked by an NEC member – how much was in the Industrial Action (I.A) fund? And over the last few months in that NEC members branch there had been an increase in members who elected to pay into the Affiliated political fund (APF) now increasing from 25% to 40% of members – was this being reflected nationally?

Another NEC member asked ‘in the budget figures which line is it where we had spent money on the General Secretary election?’ and if we had to rerun the General Secretary election where would we find that money? The President advised the last question would not be answered today. Finance would be contacted over the other questions and the information hopefully would be available before the end of the meeting. There was also an Industrial Action committee after the full NEC at which information would be provided.
Draft objectives 2016 – A consultation process had taken place across the union which was a process that takes place every year with the constituent parts of the union. The key changes this year were the reference to the Trade Union bill and also direct reference to racism including that suffered by migrant workers and also to combatting UKIP. The challenge of the Trade Union bill was a priority objective in every sense.

I stated that it was commendable that the reference to racism and combatting UKIP had been included in the draft objectives after the outright poisonous racist comments of Farage of UKIP after the Oldham by election where Labour had defeated UKIP and we needed to keep our eye on this as this unfolded.
Another NEC member also welcomed this reference and also referred to the increase in Islamophobia in society at large. 

General Secretary report – Dave Prentis devoted quite a lot of his report to updating the NEC on the campaign against the Tories Trade Union bill which was now worming its way through the House of Lords. We had been working with the TUC. The ballot provisions in the bill in particular were a negation of democracy. Evidence had been given to a select committee of Parliament by a number of the General Secretaries and Frances O’Grady of the TUC. UNITE had surprisingly written to Cameron saying they would accept voting thresholds if the Tories caved on electronic voting which was very disturbing as no union should have truck with this disgraceful legislation. Dave Prentis thanked members for attending the demonstration against austerity and the Trade Union bill in Manchester on October 4th 2015 at the Tory party conference. It was hoped the part of the bill removing DOCAS (or ‘check off’) – automatic deduction of union subscriptions from salary - would be dropped in the Lords. The 2nd reading in the House of Lords was planned for 11th January 2016. Dave Prentis again stated that we should plan for the worst if the Tories removed DOCAS and we were putting systems in place for this eventuality but we didn’t need a knee jerk response. To transfer members to Direct Debit from DOCAS if we had to do it would be one of the biggest exercises we had ever undertaken as a union.
There was a week of action against the Trade Union bill 8th February to 14th February 2016. Information would need to go to branches before Christmas to give 4 weeks for branches to organise for it. This week of action had only been decided on the previous day after a debate with all the Trade Unions. Work would have to be done nationally and from the Regions.

One of the North West NEC members in relation to the threshold for Industrial Action ballots stated that if the worst came to the worst and the change came in to ballot thresholds, branches may want to go early on local disputes so they did not get to the position whereby if the situation drags on they did not get to the threshold level on the ballot after the change.
Dave Prentis stated that the Junior Doctors dispute was an important one over unsocial hours and this would be a big issue for our members in the NHS. The British Medical Association had never balloted before and they had sought help from UNISON with regards to this. We would work closely with Junior Doctors.  

Strike action is being undertaken in Further Education colleges in January against their funding cuts and a message of solidarity was sent from the NEC.
Reference was also made to the Tory U turn on tax credits and the part UNISON had played in this where the Government had tried to reduce the income of some of the lowest paid people in the country. Also referred to was the hit to Local Government funding. Local Government had lost half of its income in the previous few years.

A major campaign in the New Year would be against the Tory plan that student nurses no longer receive bursaries but would have to take out loans to train. This would not get more people into nursing. There would be a summit in January 2016 at the UNISON Centre in London of those groups campaigning on this issue including the Royal College of Midwives and BAOT (British Association of Occupational Therapists).
On the UK bombing of Syria an anti-war statement was read out and we were right not to agree with Parliament that this would get us anywhere in relation to defeating IS/Daesh.

In reference to the recent floods in Cumbria and Lancashire, Roger Bannister, North West NEC member suggested that as well sending a message of support to the public service workers who had battled the recent floods, that we protest to the Government about the cuts in flood defence which meant that more people would be put at risk from this type of disaster.
In the recruitment and retention organising report, the loss of state funding for Trade Union education was raised from the Autumn of 2016. UNISON is reviewing the way training in the union is undertaken. The Union Learning Fund is also under threat.

Under Any other Business - Dave Prentis announced that Karen Jennings, Assistant General Secretary was retiring and she was congratulated and thanked for all the work she had done for the union. It was agreed that Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary would replace her as a UNISON delegate to the TUC General Council.