Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Return of the Returning officer

At the start of the NEC meeting held on Wednesday 17th February 2016 the UNISON President made a statement that the union was still waiting for the returning officer’s report in relation to the General Secretary election – the result of which was declared on 17th December 2015. The President expressed frustration that this was the case (This report has now been published on the UNISON national website - Friday 19th February 2016).

See here:

It had been hoped the report would have been ready by 11th January 2016. NEC members from the North West (myself included) asked a number of questions about the reasons for the delay as it was unusual for the report not to be available on the date the election result was declared. The President stated that she assumed the reason for the delay was because there had been so many complaints and that the union had a duty to publish the report. 
A highlight of the report now published was that ’83 complaints were received regarding staff in the Greater London Region, specifically that UNISON staff during working time were undertaking campaigning activities. The basis of all these complaints was a recording and a transcript of a meeting that took place at the Greater London UNISON offices at 2 p.m. on 21st October 2015.’ ‘These complaints are, as at the date of this report, the subject of an ongoing investigation by the union.’ – Report dated 18th February 2016.  
There is some analysis that any undue influence by these campaigning activities in the Greater London Region has not affected the outcome of the election - ‘of the 12 regions the percentage vote for Dave Prentis in the Greater London Region is the 2nd lowest percentage votes he received by Region. ‘It should also be emphasised that the returning officer has not at any stage been presented with any evidence that suggests that any candidates were directly involved in, or had any knowledge of any of the activities that were the subject of the complaints’.

There needs to be a period of reflection on all of this and the union’s NEC should have the opportunity to discuss the conclusion and recommendations of the report. There are a number of issues including the poor turnout in the election (9.8%), much lower than previous General Secretary elections, which shows a worrying disengagement of members from their union.  There is also a further article in the latest ‘Private Eye’ magazine on the UNISON General Secretary election ‘Flexible friends’ No. 1412 19th February – 3rd March 2016 which raises further worrying concerns for the union. This was raised by a North West NEC member at the meeting on 17th February 2016 asking was there an investigation into the new Private Eye allegations? The President replied that she had not seen the Private Eye allegations.  
I will blog a full report of the rest of the business discussed at the NEC meeting on 17th February 2016 separately.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Personal report of Development and Organisation subcommittee of the UNISON NEC 13th January 2016

Under the Recruitment and Organising report the figures up to the end of last year indicated there had been a net membership loss of 36,851 members this was of a membership of 1.25 million. It was stated by the national officer, Strategic Organising that compared to other unions we were doing quite well in a difficult period. 30% of those joining are not directly employed in the public sector (Private and voluntary sector). Membership in the Health service continues to hold up. The nature of the union is gradually changing as a result of these trends. Turnover rate was about 15%. This meant we had to recruit 180,000 members a year to stand still. Turnover had been about 11% before the austerity years. There were a lot of people in the public sector not in a union – so it was not the case we should focus everything on the private and voluntary sector.
Annual Line Count process - at the end of September a manual line count of the DOCAS (Deduction of Contributions at Source) schedules from employers is undertaken and member figures are added for members who pay by other methods. Regions were asked to take the DOCAS schedule information for 96% of their DOCAS membership. The annual line count process indicated a 17% turnover. Membership at 30th September 2015 was 1,254,250. In early 2017 UNISON will have its membership audited by an assurer so a Membership Audit Certificate can be issued and next year the membership figures will be taken from RMS/WARMS. This means there needs to be an intensive data cleansing process between October and December 2016.

Overseas members recruitment (Overseas nurses organising campaign) – a report had been circulated by the Head of Strategic Organising which also highlighted Government hypocrisy on immigration. The Government had failed to ensure that there were sufficient trained staff in the NHS but had also removed nursing from the shortage occupation list of migration and restricted the rights of non- EU migrants to apply for permanent residency if their salary was less than £35,000. This meant that migrant nurses including UNISON members would be faced with dismissal from their jobs from April 2016. UNISON organised a successful campaign to get the Government to withdraw these measures. On 15th October 2015 Theresa May announced she has temporarily included nursing on the Shortage occupation list. It is estimated 2,000 to 3,000 overseas nurses have been recruited by UNISON organisers.
A report was received on organising in UNISON Four seasons Healthcare project. Membership has been growing to a reasonable density. The aim was also to build up the membership in Care UK.

There was an item on Private contractor organisation and organising strategy – These were recommendations that came out of a recent private contractors national seminar which was held on 9th/10th November 2015. Work had been done to implement a 2014 National Delegate Conference resolution on Organising in fragmented workplaces which was referred to in the 2015 annual report. 4 main issues identified in the seminar were 1) Private contractors structures and democracy 2) Private contractor planning and branch allocation 3) Private contractor activist development 4) Private contractor membership eligibility. 3 options were put to the seminar 1) Do nothing 2) Have private contractors as a full blown Service Group 3) Establish national private contractor forums.  Option 3 was agreed as the best and most pragmatic by the forum and D&O Committee. For the first of the 4 issues above rule changes were approved by D&O to go to full NEC to allow the Private Contractors national forum to submit 2 motions and amendments to National Conference and individual Service Group conferences. There was a 7 page appendix tabled on Membership eligibility – UNISON Rulebook interpretation. ‘UNISON rules permit recruitment and organising across private sector employers that have some public service function’. The general assumption was we take people into membership in the private sector unless there is a compelling reason not to.
The Head of RMS Operations stated that there was a plan to get reports to Regions on a weekly basis of all join online members with a list of employers also an email would be sent to Branch Secretaries with this information so they are 100% aware of join online members going into their branch.

Under Recruitment and Organising in schools update – UNISON membership had peaked in schools in Autumn 2014 but there had been a significant increase in leavers since then. Around half of our members in schools are teaching/classroom assistants. Recruitment had spiked when linked to specific campaigns e.g. industrial action over Pensions or NJC disputes. 20% of our total membership is in schools with 13% of the total membership being teaching assistants. Possible reasons were given for the recent loss of members – a cut back in support staff and other unions being more aggressive. There was also the lack of a recent campaign around pay.
Under Learning and Organising activity we were presented with various tables which showed stats for reps, Health and Safety reps and Union Learning reps trained in 2015 compared to 2014 by Region. 447 new stewards had been appointed in the North West in 2015 with 124 of these being Employment Relations Act (ERA) accredited by the end of 2015. 

Continued development of the RMS – Development has started to introduce a third collection date for Direct Debit payers at the end of the calendar month in addition to the 1st and 15th of the month where we already collect subscriptions. This was welcomed by the committee. I stated that this was not just a technical matter as there are competitor unions offering 2 or 3 dates plus a 4 weekly option.  RMS has continued to be developed to support any mass DOCAS to Direct Debit switch.
We approved 2 motions to go from D&O to NEC for submission to 2016 National Delegate Conference – one on ‘Trade Union facilities’ and the other on ‘ Strengthening our union: Supporting and developing our stewards’. D&O is entitled to 2 of the 12 motions the NEC as a whole can submit. Rule amendments were also approved to go the NEC in relation to the establishment of the Private Contractors national forum referred to earlier in this report and also on Schedule C on elections which allows the NEC to consider alternative voting methods for Service Group Executive elections.

8 Branches are currently under Regional supervision – none from the North West.
We received full documentation regarding a Certification Officer’s decision with reference to a complaint by a disgruntled ex-activist which generally found in favour of the branch concerned although 1 rule does need updating at their AGM this year. 

An honorary life membership award was approved.