Thursday, 31 March 2016

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council Wednesday 17th February 2016

The start of the meeting discussed the delay in the publication of the Returning officer’s report in relation to the General Secretary election – I have already blogged on this:
The early part of this meeting was taken up by considering the NEC’s motions from its strategic committees to this year’s National Delegate Conference which will be held in Brighton.

There are 12 NEC motions to Conference: 1. Trade union facilities, 2. Strengthening our union: Supporting and developing our stewards, 3. Opposing DFID’s privatisation agenda (DFID – UK Government’s Department for International Development), 4. Eradicating exploitation in supply chains, 5. Welfare and Work: Social Security provision for all, 6. Fairer Taxation and the future funding of our public services, 7. Public service workers under pressure, 8. Public Service Campaigning - Stop outsourcing and protect members, 9. Health and safety of public service staff, 10. Living standards, pay justice and the living wage, 11. Building the campaign against European Union Trade and Investment Agreements, 12. Trade Union Bill
There was also an NEC motion and report (fairly lengthy) to Conference on the Branch Resources review. I and a number of other NEC members were not happy that these had been tabled on the day and we therefore had not had time to read this material beforehand which was likely to be controversial at Conference.

Most of the 12 NEC motions were seen as uncontroversial. There was some debate however on the motion on the Trade Union bill and whether there should be an amendment, which was proposed by an NEC member, - ‘including Industrial Action co-ordinated through the TUC if any member union faces sanctions arising from the Trade Union bill.’ – this was to be inserted after the first action point in the motion. After a debate this was lost when put to the vote.  I voted in favour of the amendment.
There was then some discussion on the Branch resources review report and accompanying motion. The motion has since been titled ‘Gateway to the future: Stable and sustainable branch resources’. The report and motion propose ‘activity based budgeting’ to be rolled out to all branches which it was stated has already been piloted with branches covering 30% of the membership, and ‘that the current percentage of subscription income allocated to branch funding, 23.5 %, delivers sufficient funds to cover all branch activities’, ‘the process involves branch committees producing a work plan and a budget which reflects UNISON’s objectives’, and ‘the specific needs for resources are identified as part of the joint branch assessment’.

There is a proposal that ‘those branches that have insufficient funds to support their agreed work plans will in 2016 receive an automatic top-up from the regional pool, providing immediate support to branches most in need.’ ‘All branches will be required to produce annual activity based budgets’, ‘where a branch has agreed a work plan and budget as part of the joint branch assessment process, but does not have the resources to meet the work plan, there will be a provision for the branch budget to be automatically topped up from the Regional pool.’ Also ‘Where a branch wants to fund activities that are not agreed as part of the joint branch assessment as meeting the union’s objectives, there will be an appeal process whereby the budget is referred to a joint regional council body for resolution’. ‘During 2016, in consultation with Regions, the regional pool structure and criteria will be revised to facilitate the automatic funding for branches whose reserves are insufficient to fund their activity-based budget work plan.’  
The discussion on this was returned to later in the meeting (under the Finance item) and we moved to discussion of proposed rule amendments to be discussed at Conference. These included one allowing the NEC to determine that UNISON SGE (Service Group Executive) elections be by either postal ballot and/or electronic ballot i.e. to consider alternative voting methods. This was agreed as were a number of rule amendments arising from a private contractor’s seminar to enshrine the right of private sector members to speak and attend National Delegate Conference and Service Group Conference and to establish a private contractor’s national forum.   

On the Conference plan item - The UNIZONE will run this year from Sunday to Friday and international speakers will include somebody each from Ireland, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the international builders federation with particular emphasis on the football World Cup and a last minute suggestion was welcomed of inviting Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party.

The highlights of the General Secretary’s report included UNISON’s support for the BMA (British Medical Association) in their fight against Junior Doctors having new contracts imposed. The NEC sent them a message of support. It was repeated that there would be an industrial response from the union if the Government tried to make any detrimental changes to unsocial hour’s payments of UNISON members in the NHS. A number of NEC members said we should be asking the TUC to consider a national demonstration to defend the NHS and in support of the Junior Doctors.
There is industrial action taking place in UNISON’s Further Education Sector on 24th February 2016 and again we sent them our good wishes. UNISON continues to oppose student nurses bursaries being removed.

UNISON has launched a joint campaign with mental health charity MIND called Blue Light which deals with mental health issues. The scheme is supported by the ambulance and other emergency services and aims to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers across England. 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental health issues at some point in any year and some of these will be issues at work.  
Dave Prentis, General Secretary reported that this year’s Black Members Conference was the best attended yet with some 750 in attendance. Equally, Women’s Conference attracted about 800.

Dave Prentis referred to the Trade Union bill as the biggest threat to our Trade Union. The bill was going through the Lords. Some changes (in the right direction) had been made re: use of social media in relation to disputes. There were differences between the unions in terms of ballot thresholds. UNISON had argued for workplace balloting. UNITE would accept a 50% threshold if they could have electronic balloting. UNITE has taken a harder line subsequently. The Bishops in the Lords had been sympathetic. One NEC member (from the North West) quipped that hopefully a few thunderbolts as well would be sent from on high in the direction of the Tories. We had to make sure that the end result wasn’t that members lost the protection of their union. The devolved nations have said they won’t countenance such plans as contained in this Bill.
Dave Prentis said we needed to have a debate about an interim rule change to go to conference to protect our political fund. We needed a holding motion to conference on this. If the default was members had to sign up to go into the fund rather than being in unless they opt out and we didn’t take remedial action in terms of a rule change our income would go down within a matter of weeks.

One of the Assistant General Secretaries reported that there should be a 3rd collection date for Direct Debit payment of subscriptions by the end of February 2016. There would be a RMS/WARMS (the UNISON membership system) upgrade over the May bank holiday also including a reporting mechanism on how many had switched from check off. The North West Region had developed a switch ready check list so that before a branch switches all the building blocks would be in place.
One of the national officers reported there was an initiative to support this work – the big UNISON prize draw that would aim to increase the membership data.

Dave Prentis again referred to the unions political fund and that if the change in the Trade Union bill went through we would have to sign up 1 million people to the political fund in 3 months to retain our right and ability to politically campaign. One of the NEC members referred to it being essential that it is agreed as a stopgap (the rule amendment) otherwise the consequence could be we would have new members in the union who did not contribute to the political fund.  
Under the organising report we heard that private sector recruitment was continuing to increase as a proportion of recruitment and that 70% of joiners now join online. Job losses continued, though, with Local Government being particularly hard hit. Concern was rightly expressed about the likely cessation of state funding for Trade Union education in the not too distant future and the union was awaiting a response on the future of Unionlearn.

EU referendum – Whilst the union had established policy in relation to the European Union (EU) itself and the various treaties that had arisen over time e.g. Maastricht, Lisbon etc., we did not have a policy as yet on whether the UK should stay or leave the EU. A consultation would take place with members to consider what position, if any, the union should take on this. Briefing materials and a consultation questionnaire would be sent to branches. There would also be a series of Regional meetings. This would be fed back to the NEC’s policy committee to look at, the policy committee would then make a decision for referral to the NEC meeting in April. The referendum date was believed (subsequently confirmed) to be Thursday 23rd June 2016.  
Finance - The management accounts for the 12 months to the end of December 2015 were approved.

There was then a fairly lengthy debate and discussion of the Branch resources review motion and report referred to earlier with concerns and reservations expressed from North West NEC members that branches were struggling with outsourcing/privatisation etc. but with no extra funding. There was not an automatic top up proposed as had been suggested but a process where branches had to apply and this would be seen as bureaucratic. Branches would challenge the statement in the motion that branch retention at 23.5% was sufficient to cover all branch activities. Since the funding formula was introduced there had been many changes in the challenges branches had had to face over that time. There was falling membership and income in many branches but the basic overheads like premises and employing staff remained the same and there was no reduction in the work branches had to do. This was not being addressed in the motion and report but the proposal was that branches could get extra money on the basis of planned activity. One of the North West NEC members suggested that this may well go down like a lead balloon at conference. After the debate however the motion was carried.
John Jones, Water, Environment and Transport Service Group NEC member and also from the North West reported on the positive outcome in United Utilities branch regarding the removal of the threat to close the Defined Benefit pension scheme (for the time being) following healthy returns for strike action and action short of strike by UNISON and the 3 smaller Trade Unions at United Utilities.

Finally under NEC minutes after a number of NEC members had submitted written questions as to why there was no reference in the minutes to the statement read out regarding the General Secretary election by the President at the start of the 9th December 2015 meeting, it was agreed the minutes would be amended to reflect this.  

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