Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council meeting 12th October 2016.

The President Eric Roberts welcomed everyone to the meeting, and also welcomed back a number of NEC members who had been ill or suffered injury (including me). Thank you again to North West colleagues for the support after my accident at National Delegate Conference in Brighton.
We observed the one minute silence for colleagues who had sadly passed including for Dave Ellis of Kirklees branch. Dave Prentis , General Secretary, the President and Paul Holmes NEC member and Branch Secretary of Kirklees paid tribute to Dave who had died aged 69 from cancer of the oesophagus. Dave was a veteran trade unionist and worked as a caretaker. Dave Prentis said he was special, a socialist, chair of the FE college committee for a number of years and he was ‘the heart and soul of this union’. Paul Holmes said Dave’s silhouette would be painted on the branch banner alongside Tony Benn and Bob Crow.
Sue Hatherley from the South East region had retired and had stood down from the NEC. Angela Roberts was welcomed as a new NEC member from Cymru/Wales.
The President’s charity is the new MIND campaign to deal with mental health issues for staff in the Emergency services. It was hoped this issue would be taken up in branches.
A message of solidarity was sent to striking workers in South Korea. This was part of the S.Korea government plans to privatise public services. There is a hashtag #koreanstrikeforjustice
Dave Prentis in his General Secretary report referred to the disaster in Haiti. The NEC gave power to the Presidential team to give a donation when the call comes from the Disaster Emergency Committee. There was a campaign on to highlight the position of workers and lack of rights for those building stadia for the World Cup in Qatar – a number of Premier league grounds would be leafleted.
Dave referred to the Brexit vote. This could be 2010 again only worse. What would be the effect on public services as Brexit went forward? The latest calculation was that in 18 months there would be a 9/10% drop in Gross Domestic Product. We needed a campaign to make sure the public championed our public services. Alongside Brexit there had been growing racism in this country. We had taken on the BNP, EDL and we would take on racism again in this country. Also referred to was the Orgreave justice campaign and that there should be a public enquiry into what went on at Orgreave. Ethical care charter - 19 Local authorities had signed up to the Ethical Care charter. We needed to spread the word to get a domino effect going.
Dave referred to the Teaching assistants industrial action in Durham and Derby. In Derby staff had received a 25% pay cut. The council had decided to downgrade them with no consultation and protection. The average wage was £18 K to £20k. Some had had difficulty paying rent or mortgage. The leader of the council arrogantly ignored the plight of the workers. It was incumbent on us to make sure we won the dispute and the workers know they have the support of the union. There had been an article in the Guardian newspaper on the dispute.
In Durham a similar thing was proposed (25% pay cut) from January 2017 – there were negotiations ongoing. 70% had vote against the latest offer. The Deputy leader of council had been hardline. UNISON members had been offered 1 year compensation from January 2017. Legal action was also being looked at. The union had asked Jeremy Corbyn, the Local Government association and North East MPs to intervene. UNISON has recruited 500 teaching assistants. There was also industrial action taking place at Further Education colleges in Scotland.

We had been through the TUC and Labour Party conferences. An incredible amount of work had been done by the union since the conference in June. The big battle would be to keep employment rights.
The NEC sent a message of support to the teaching assistants and the members taking action at the FE colleges in Scotland.
John Jones from WET and the North West asked that the General Secretary report be higher on the agenda in the future as was the case today and also raised concern for the Local Government Pension Scheme and attempts to restrict redundancy, pension and other ‘exit’ payments.
Roger Bannister from the North West asked if we could approach Jeremy Corbyn to get a general statement from him about actions of some Labour local authorities about unilateral variation of contracts and dismiss and reengage - not acceptable actions from Labour councils.
Dave Prentis said public sector exit payments was becoming a bigger and bigger issue. There were talks taking place in the civil service where it was understood the 2 biggest unions had rejected the offer. Our position was to reject the proposals and it would be an issue for Service Groups. We had to co-ordinate our response.
Our position on the Jeremy Corbyn election was that we nominated Jeremy and we had supported Jeremy going directly on the election paper. We had put Jeremy on the ballot paper.
What the Tories do would lead to the economy contracting and there would likely be cuts to public services.
An NEC member asked if we should support (as the largest union in the NHS) a national demo in support of the NHS in the New Year. Keep our NHS public and others were looking at this.
Dave said January was not a good time for a national demonstration and there was an issue of having time to build for the demo. It would be an issue for the Health Service Group Executive.
I asked that a message be sent from the NEC (to say how proud we were of them) to Dave Anderson and Angela Rayner (both former NEC members) in the Labour shadow cabinet. Both had stepped up to the plate following the shadow cabinet resignations during the summer. Angie was now Shadow Education secretary leading the campaign against the Tory grammar schools and had been high profile on TV leading the campaign etc. and had emerged as a significant political figure.
I also asked could we review the fact we have not met as a full NEC since June 24th 2016 and since then we had had the Brexit vote - arguably the biggest political crisis since the Second World War, the increase in racism and renewed threats to workers’ rights etc. Had we not missed a trick by not meeting over the summer?  
In response to a criticism from an NEC member Dave said he didn’t say we couldn’t run a demonstration in January 2017 – we would take a lead from the Health SGE but January was still not a good month.
Organising update – August was a slow month for recruitment but this year was better than the previous 2 years although there was still a net drop in membership. A significant number of our existing and new members are EU citizens. They now face an uncertain future as a result of the Brexit vote. There was a campaign for the ‘right to remain’.
Public Service champions campaign – One of the Assistant General Secretary’s lead on this – this was a campaign post Brexit and with a new Tory administration and in the wake of Motion 31 (‘Public services under pressure’) at national conference. We had done surveys over the summer about how members feel about the political situation. The objectives of the campaign were that UNISON continues to be positioned as the expert on Public service provision, to highlight the valuable work our members do, to build public awareness of the pressure on public services , to build hard-line policy and political argument as we go into a more fraught political phase. Launched at the Labour Party conference on 26th September 2016, Adverts have gone out on radio, press and billboards. The response of members to the surveys was that no one ever said thank you for all the extra effort they were putting in. The thank you was to make members feel good about themselves. At the end of October phase of the campaign the message would be that this is all at risk because of the Government. The campaign was geared towards the budget statement at the end of November 2016. It is a 5 year campaign.
Whilst most NEC members had no concern about the content of the campaign however as the campaign was a 5 year long one some questions were asked about where did it come from in lay structures?, shouldn’t it have been discussed by the whole NEC and why was there a verbal report not a written report. We needed to take ownership of it and bring it into the proper democratic structures of the NEC. Again there had been a disbenefit by us not having an NEC meeting over the summer.   
Service Group update –We received an update on bargaining and pay campaigns across all the union’s service groups, most often there was reported a 1% pay offer although noting that the lowest NHS pay band had been abolished in Scotland from 1 October, leading to a £3,000 a year pay rise for the lowest paid workers. Questions were raised by some NEC members about the Trade Union act and our ability to organise national industrial action. The Industrial action committee would meet to discuss the implications of the Act.
Finance – We approved the union’s accounts for the first eight months of the year.

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