Monday, 30 May 2016

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council 13th April 2016

At the start of the meeting the President referred to a number of queries concerning the ERS (Electoral Reform Services) report in relation to the General Secretary election the result of which had been declared in December 2015. The independent scrutineer had upheld a number of complaints regarding breaches of election procedures but it was stated the issue of whether the breaches influenced the election result was considered carefully but ERS concluded there was ‘minimal evidence the breaches influenced voting intentions of members and the overall ballot result’.

In the light of an ongoing investigation by the Certification officer (CO) as a result of complaints received by the CO there was to be no further debate at this time – this it was stated was standard practice in the light of the possibility of actual or contemplated litigation. The CO had written to the union with complaints and they were being dealt with by the unions legal department. There were areas of work to be taken up by the Development and Organisation (D&O) subcommittee of the NEC in future on i) Participation levels in the election and ii) Election procedures.
Also referred to by the President was a report commissioned by one of the Assistant General Secretary’s and conducted by an independent person into Access issues at NEC meetings. The report stated current arrangements were ‘exemplary’ subject to a couple of suggested improvements to be put in place.
A number of colleagues were welcomed back after ill health and obituaries were also read out with a minute’s silence observed.
Provisional policy on motions and proposed NEC amendments to motions was discussed. The great majority of motions (that make it onto the agenda and are not ruled out of order for various reasons) are supported by the NEC and seen as uncontentious. There was some discussion on Motion 1 The Trade union bill – policy was to defer – as we didn’t know where the Tory legislation was going on this (in particular on DOCAS - Deduction of contributions at source or check off) – the position could be changed at a later date depending on this. The first group of motions were relevant to D&O subcommittee that had met the previous day – the position was unchanged on these see –
Motions that were relevant to Policy committee were considered – again the great majority were supported by the NEC. Motion 27 Pension Funds: Divestment from fossil fuel extraction - policy was to support as amended. The motion, it was stated, was in accord with Environmental policy but there were also important issues that needed to be considered like the Governance of funds and the Government’s intentions to amalgamate Pension funds.  29 Keep it local, Keep it public - policy was to support with qualifications. 30 Cancel PFI contracts - there was an NEC amendment - policy was support as amended after some debate at the meeting. The debate centred around us not wanting to compensate the rich companies involved in PFI contracts the counter argument was without compensation our Pension funds could take a hit.  32 The threat to Local democracy – support with qualifications. 34 The Housing crisis – support and amend. 37,38 (similar motions) Extending the Right to buy to Housing associations and ‘Pay to stay’ - support and amend. 40 and 41 Kill the Housing bill and Social Care – a system in danger of collapse - support and amend. 44 Open libraries - support and amend. 42,45 Crisis in social care and Public ownership of Energy utilities - support with qualifications. 47 Attacks on democracy – support and amend. The amendment referred to giving Regions autonomy to deal with developments such as the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in their own areas.  67 Universal basic income – support with qualifications. 68 Workers under attack – support with qualifications. 69 Democratic socialism – defer – A question was raised on this – if we have concerns on this why don’t we move an amendment. We then moved to the International motions 79 and 80 Support Peace negotiations in Turkey - were support and amend – calling on the Turkish government to respect human rights and the release all political prisoners to enable them to take part in peace negotiations. 81 Saudi Arabia – support and amend. The amendment broadens out the motion. 89 and 90. Chibok girls - a minor amendment to replace wording of ‘International Crimes commission’ with ‘International Criminal court’.  94 to 98 on the EU referendum – defer. (There was a debate on this later in the meeting). 102 – The refugee crisis: The media’s reporting and it’s negative impact. Support and amend. The GPF (General Political Fund) was producing national materials for use by branches. 111 – The impact of social care cuts on NHS waiting and response times - Support and amend. 112 – Support the NHS bill to reinstate a publicly funded, publicly provided and accountable NHS. – support with qualifications. 120 Prostate cancer testing – support and amend. Then the Finance motions were discussed – 122, 123 and 124 – The future of branch funding - defer. There was to be a discussion with the branches submitting the motions before policy was recommended.
125 (D&O) Branch directory – defer. 126. Recognising continued long membership of the union (long service badges) – support.
NEC policy on rule amendments was discussed. These are relevant to D&O (see previous blog post).
Priorities – the NEC’s 12 priority motions were 1. Trade Union bill. 2.Trade Union facilities 3. Living standards and Pay justice. 4. Fairer taxation. 5. Privatisation of DFID. 6. Welfare and Work. 7. Health and Safety. 8. Strengthening our union. 9. TTIP. 10. Welfare and work 11. Stop outsourcing 12. Exploitation in supply chains.
The 6 priority rule amendments – 4,13 and 16 and 2,3 and 7
If there is a grouped debate on the Private contractor’s national forum rule amendments 2,3,7,8 and 14 would all be priorities. 
Draft NEC report – The report aimed to capture NEC activities between conferences. There was some comment from an NEC member that the tone of the report suggested ‘business as usual’ rather than reflecting that Local Government, in particular, was taking a hammering under Government austerity. It was not business as usual. It was also asked could there be more reference to the Equalities conferences which had been very well attended.
Conference Plan – guest speakers had not been confirmed yet. John Jones from the North West and WET service group asked if North West Regional Health and Safety committee were having a stall in the UNIZONE – it was confirmed this was the case.
There was then the debate on the EU referendum – this was lengthy, conducted in a respectful spirit with some very good points made on both sides of the argument. The union had conducted a consultation with members and branches and members wanted us to show leadership on this issue. The agenda on the referendum had been hijacked by big business and those with a racist agenda. 70% of members wanted us to take a position and 95% of those branches who wanted us to make a recommendation wanted the position be that the UK should stay in the EU. This was the recommendation to the full NEC from the Policy subcommittee of the NEC.
Some of the points made for remain were that the EU was far from perfect but that we should campaign for workers’ rights in a social Europe. It was right that we should show leadership and remain was the lesser evil and sometimes the lesser evil was the best we could get. It was obvious that if the vote was to leave this would give a boost to the most reactionary forces. It would be Nigel Farage who would be crowing on TV the next day if the vote was to leave. There was legal opinion from the TUC on how a reactionary government could dismantle employment rights legislation on exit from the EU.  The left’s position in the 1980’s was correct in terms of not wanting to be part of the ‘common market’ but we are not now in the 1980’s but part of a global economy. If we think we are delivering a blow to David Cameron on leaving the EU the reality is we would be delivering a blow to ourselves and our members. Another NEC member said that a remain position does not mean we accept TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).
Those speaking for leave the EU said there was no democracy in the Common market you could not reform it it is an austerity club, you cannot oppose TTIP and say we should stay in the EU. What had happened to Greece was about telling Ireland, Spain and Italy this is what will happen to you if you oppose austerity. If there was a leave vote there would be a General election this was why Jeremy Corbyn was facing media attacks. There would be a recession in the next 5 years if we stayed in we would suffer and it would be that worse than in 2008.
There was a summation before the vote was taken - 58,000 members had responded in the consultation; the NEC was entrusted in between national conferences to make a decision. We would put out balanced information to members who were worried about the impact on workers’ rights and public services – so the recommendation was to remain on the basis of much needed reform.
The vote was taken and was overwhelmingly in favour of campaigning to remain to stay in the EU (this included most members of the left caucus of the NEC).
General Secretary’s report – Dave Prentis, General Secretary referred to Rule amendment J on the union’s political fund – this had to be agreed by the NEC, Affiliated Political Fund (APF) and General Political Fund (GPF) and the Certification Officer. The GPF and APF had approved the motion. No procedures that had been in place since 1993 had been broken. Dave pointed out the irony of Donald Trump being against TTIP while Hilary Clinton was in favour of it. The Trade Union bill was the biggest thing for us – we had had major victories in the House of Lords. We needed to persuade the Lords to stay strong on i) Political funds ii) Check off. The 5 year review of political funds is out, only new members have to opt in, not existing members. Re-balloting on Industrial Action is to be extended to 6 or 9 months.  
Organising update - there had been membership increases in February and March but there were health warnings due to continuing Government austerity and its impact on public service jobs.
Service Group pay campaigns – NJC pay – there was an Industrial Action Committee meeting following the NEC meeting to consider whether or not to proceed to a ballot. Business, Community and Environment – the employer at Action for Children had come back to the negotiating table after an 84% vote for action - this wouldn’t have happened had members not shown they were willing to stand up.

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