Sunday, 8 January 2017

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council meeting 7th December 2016

There was a sombre start to the meeting as Dave Prentis, General Secretary gave a eulogy for Eric Roberts, UNISON President who had sadly passed following a short battle with cancer. Dave said Eric ‘looked after people’ and ‘was there for them’. Eric was born in Liverpool and had once repaired the Beatles drumkit and had an early job making pots and pans before he came to London where he was an activist for many years in the London Ambulance service. The NEC held a minutes silence for Eric. There was a planned memorial for him in February 2017. Eric had asked that any donations go to the MIND Blue light charity. The NEC agreed not to appoint a President at this stage out of respect – the 2 Vice Presidents would continue till conference 2017. Dave Prentis suggested there be some kind of award in his name e.g. for best activist or best organiser.

There was a further minute’s silence for Phil Green who had been a UNISON Regional organiser and Roger York who had been an employee of NALGO.

Forward planning – financial planning and budgets for 2017 – The Chair of Finance NEC subcommittee stated that it was important we maintained balanced budgets, we maintained our reserves and did not run deficit budgets. The original 2016 budget was on the basis of £167m income this had been revised down for 2016 to £165.2m and 2017 income was now budgeted at £164.1m. Future income was becoming more difficult to predict. An NEC member asked if we could reduce our level of reserves to maintain our service to members. The Chair of Finance stated that the vast majority of reserves are property not cash. There is £46m of cash to support branches.

An NEC member raised a question about recruitment in the union and delays in filling vacancies in essential posts. What criteria is there to assess the impact? Also could we make Fighting fund organisers posts permanent as in their Region there was an issue of recruiting and retaining quality Fighting fund organisers otherwise we may lose these workers.

Dave Prentis stated that the policy of not filling posts for 6 months did not apply to posts at the sharp end. In the last 7 years income had gone down. An Assistant General Secretary post had been vacant for 6 months as had the Head of the Executive Office. Every job that was delayed in terms of being filled at the Head Office was to maintain staffing levels in the Regions.

Roger Bannister, North West NEC member stated that to spend reserves would give the wrong impression. The issue was not divorced from the performance of the union in terms of holding onto jobs under attack in Local Government and the NHS – this is the best security. The lack of income was because of losing members – we need to be seen to be fighting for members.

Draft objectives 2017 feedback – an NEC member felt there should be more emphasis on opposing austerity as well as the Trade Union Act and Brexit.

Service Group update – there was some discussion of STP’s (Sustainability and Transformation plans) an NEC member said a third of these involved emergency department closures or downgrades. We needed to kick STP’s into the long grass. The national officer for Health suggested that the advice was to not reject STP’s, they are a process, and i.e. we should work with Regions and branches on individual STP’s. The Labour Party front bench had made 5 tests for STP’s to meet. We should engage with scrutiny boards.

An NEC member from the North West referred to the STP’s and how they affect the NHS and social care in Local Authorities. It was about cuts. The North West Regional committee had condemned the secrecy and lack of democratic accountability involved. Shouldn’t we be upping our game on this and condemning the STP process?

Another NEC member said ‘we do not campaign against the existence of councils because councils are having to make cuts’. A further NEC member said ‘consultation on STP’s has been woeful, we should build opposition to them, and they are Tory led initiatives against a background of general cuts’.

Dave Prentis then gave his General Secretary’s report
Trade Union Act – the Government had published ballot thresholds from 1st March 2017. These were 50% turnout for normal industrial action with 40% of all members voting yes for essential services – this would affect health. Advice from the legal department would go out to the union. The attack on the union’s political funds was ongoing unabashed. There would be a transition period to a new political fund system for the union. Proposed changes would need to go to the national conference. Rule amendments have to be in at the same time as motions in time for February 2018. i.e. the rule amendments needed to go to National Delegate conference in 2017. There was a working group of General Political fund and Labour link.

Autumn statement – there had been nothing in it for public services. There was the crisis in social care. Dave Prentis had met David Davies, Secretary of state for leaving the EU (European Union) privately with a national officer. David Davies had been pressed on employment rights. Some of those who had called for Brexit had called for less employment rights. Davies had said he did not wish to attack existing workers rights. Although Dave Prentis had been told this privately he did not see why people should not be told publicly.

TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)– This had now gone on ice.

Employment tribunals - £1,200 to pay was a negation of the right to access justice. We had said this was discriminatory. UNISON’s case was in the Supreme Court but had been bumped off because of the clause 50 debate on the EU.

Disputes – we should have a running list of these including which authority was taking action, the ballot result and outcome etc.

Teaching assistant’s disputes – Durham – rallies had taken place with halls overflowing. 2,000 members were involved and 500 had joined since the dispute. There was 2 years pay protection but a 23% pay cut. In addition to the industrial action several of the Local Constituency Labour Parties (CLP’s) had signed motions unanimously calling on the local council to stand down from what they were doing. The strikers were a solid group and enthusiastic. We would ensure termination letters giving new contracts were withdrawn. Derby – members had voted by 90% to reject the offer which was not a good one. Industrial action was planned for 14th/15th December, 19th/20th December and 4/5th January 2017. Every house in the ward of the local council leader had been knocked on and 700 families had signed up to say they wanted the council to concede. There was a national call for money to be sent by branches to support the dispute.

Roger Bannister, North West NEC member said his branch had put an article in the branch newsletter about the dispute which was important to send a message around the place if councils try and dismiss and reengage.

NHS Demo 4th March 2017 in London. I raised this and stated the North West Regional Committee had backed the demonstration the previous day. 30 NHS campaigning bodies as ‘Health Campaigns Together’ (HCT) had come together with sister Trade Union’s. This was an excellent way of undermining the Tories and UKIP in advance of the local elections and any potential General election but not in a right wing anti-immigration stance. The NHS was the crown jewels of the labour movement and a fantastic multicultural institution. Slogans were ‘no to pay restraint, for a fully funded NHS, no to privatisation and cuts’. I asked could we get materials to branches before the New Year and support the demo as an NEC? Dave Prentis said ’I believe we will support the demo’. There was an issue of the Health Service Group Executive (SGE) and it’s timetable of meetings in February 2017 being unfortunately out of sync and a little late in terms of building support for the demo. The request to support the demo from HCT would be considered at the next Health SGE. In any event the North West and South East Regions of UNISON were already supporting the demo. Another NEC member said this was directly relevant to all UNISON members as a citizenship issue.

An NEC member then referred to the difficulties of the Tories – they could not sort out HS2 or Heathrow and couldn’t hold one of their safest seats in Richmond. They were unconfident in calling a General election. They would only call one if they thought they were going to win. Brexit and even Trump had put everything up in the air. The EU would tear the Tories apart. Cameron had called the EU referendum to put the issue to bed, but it hadn’t been.

Another NEC member from the North West said Britain was polarised as across Europe and mainstream politicians could not expect to get elected as before. Living standards had gone down and people had lost faith in establishment politics. We should support what Diane Abbott had said – it was not migrant workers who were to blame. The problem was predatory employers, the lack of Trade Union rights and globalisation. We should support the day of action against racism on 18th March 2017. Also the timetable for Trade Union Act implementation was available. There had been a proposed meeting of the Industrial Action committee to discuss this and how we respond. When was the Industrial Action Committee to be convened?
It was confirmed we were supporting the day of action against racism on 18th March 2017.

Organising update – There was net loss of membership of 2,223 in October 2016 which was disappointing. Public sector membership had dropped. We had had 500 new members from the Durham Teaching assistant’s dispute but there was a loss of 1,390 in schools in October 2016. There was a concern when looked at in the same pot as the proposed merger of NUT (National Union of Teachers) and ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers). 18% of our membership is now in schools.

Finance update – The management accounts for the 10 months to October 2016 were agreed.

NEC elections 2017 – 2019 – The procedures were agreed. The nomination period opens on 9th January 2017.