Monday, 13 November 2017

Personal report of the UNISON National Executive Council 18th October 2017

The President asked NEC members to introduce themselves when they spoke (the meeting took place over 2 floors the 9th and the 1st) as most members could not see who was speaking in the other room. A number of us sit in solidarity on the 1st floor with an NEC member who has access issues (a hidden disability). We participate via a video link, which limits visibility. NEC subcommittee allocations had been reviewed by the Presidential team since the July meeting – An NEC member asked were they proportional? The President replied that when the new NEC handbook was out committee allocations would be listed. The President referred to the sad news of the death of Rodney Bickerstaffe, former General Secretary. Condolences would be sent to his family. Dave Prentis, General Secretary spoke and said Rodney had been a close friend. Rodney’s proudest achievement was the statutory minimum wage. After his retirement he continued campaigning with the National Pensioners convention. Rodney had a deep sense of social justice and was a giant of the union movement. He would have said don’t mourn – organise. Dave Prentis also referred to the sad news of the passing of Mike Jeram, former national secretary. Condolences would be sent to Mike’s family.

Organising update – There had been a net loss of 10,000 members YTD (Year to Date). August was always a slow month for recruitment. The number of young members continues to grow. Density in Health was steady we were continuing to lose members in Local Government to outsourcing. One of the Assistant General Secretaries was optimistic we would be in growth by the end of the year. We needed to be visible in workplaces otherwise people would not join us and stay. Paul Holmes, NEC member stated the young people joining in his branch were in the private care sector on minimum wage shifts not the council. The average age of a council worker in his authority was 52 and a half. There had been a drop in the numbers of members on £25K to £45K but an increase in those £14K to £18K. Paul asked that with regard to recruitment figures could we know how many were in each subs band to see the general state of where we were. Terms and conditions of the members were a resource of the union not just money and buildings. Steve North, NEC member from the North West referred to the social care campaign in the North West where we had organised and there had been good results. There was a question of where resources sit. Did the cost of the branch recruiting a member of staff to help with the campaign mean we had to cut back in other ways? Salford branch had recruited their own organiser. Should the running costs be met by the Region or nationally?

Service group update – One of the Assistant General Secretaries spoke on the Pay up Now campaign. There had been Regional and branch activities, a demo at the Tory conference on 1st October 2017 and Dave Prentis, General Secretary had spoken at the rally in Parliament square the previous day. We were aiming for pay increases that were properly funded not at the expense of jobs or services and for all public service workers. Political lobbying had taken place particularly of those Tory MPs with a small majority. On 28th September 2017 an extended SGLC (Service Group Liaison committee) had taken place including activists from the Regions and Regional pay leads. There was the budget on 22nd November 2017. The SGLC would meet again after this and consider reports including on readiness of members to take Industrial Action. A lengthy debate then took place. A number of NEC members noted that PCS (Civil service union) were running consultative or indicative ballots to build visibility of the pay campaign, identify any weak areas where work needed doing - we could do similar ourselves and use a mixture of methods such as gate meetings and using modern technology. An NEC member stated that no member needed to be convinced that they deserved a pay rise what was needed was a lead, a strategy, co-ordinating with other Service Groups and with other public sector Trade Unions. 30th November 2011 (Pensions strike day) had been a great day and people took confidence from it. Another NEC member spoke of how the public mood had changed and people were saying enough is enough. Steve North, NW NEC member stated that an indicative ballot was a balanced, proportionate suggestion he was not saying there should be industrial action tomorrow. A proposal was put forward by Steve ‘to encourage Service Groups to put in place indicative ballots if appropriate and consider joint timescales’ that it was proposed the NEC vote on. Another NEC member said that 140,000 members had signed the online campaign petition we needed to have 500,000 sign it before we considered industrial action.  An NEC member said that the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) proclaiming a victory over the pay cap because of a comment by Jeremy Hunt could come back to bite them and that indicative ballots could build up a mood. The role of this body was to give guidance.

The Assistant General Secretary who had started the update said we were not in dispute anywhere at the moment, the decision about having ballots would be a decision of Service Groups but that would not stop consultative ballots.

The national secretary for Local Government said the Local Government claim had been lodged early in May 2017. Now the employers were waiting for the autumn statement. We anticipated an offer would be made in mid-December. The increase in the Real living wage and national living wage had led to a compression of the pay spine at the bottom. Alongside the pay claim there would be a review of the pay spine. There was a mood amongst employers that 1% was not cutting the mustard. We were lobbying councillors – all 3 unions involved had asked branches to put motions to councils. In some Regions every branch had met the local council leader. If we were expecting an offer in mid-December it would be crazy to have a consultative ballot now in Local Government. Some Local authorities were offering market supplements on pay in a haphazard way that had the potential to undermine Equal Pay.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary said members were getting angry because of our campaign and people understood the pay that had been lost. We had to take on the Government in a political and industrial campaign. Only 7 Tory MPs needed to change their minds and we had scrapped the cap. The time would come for serious industrial action. We needed to get members to believe it is as important to get a pay rise as it is to keep their job. Dave said he chaired the Service Group Liaison committee of the TUC and the aim was co-ordinated action across the union and public services in 2018. We should say to SGE’s (Service Group Executives) - ‘consider the use of consultative ballots when they deem the time is right’. If we were to move to a consultative ballot and the work had not been done where would the co-ordination be if Health voted for and Local Government against? A consultative ballot if used wrongly could stop UNISON co-ordinating and with other unions.

Some NEC members thought we should not have a vote on this at all as it was not the remit of the NEC.

It was proposed that Steve North and the Assistant General Secretary who had opened on the Service Group update come up with a form of words in the lunch break that the NEC could vote on.

On resumption the proposal put to the NEC was ‘We encourage Service Groups to consider instigating consultative ballots in order to identify strengths and weaknesses and involve members in our ongoing pay campaign’. This was agreed by the NEC.

Karen Reissmann, North West NEC member asked when an Industrial Action committee would be convened? The President stated that we would look for a date when we were all down in London again (the next full NEC meeting date).

General Secretaries report – Dave Prentis reported on a number of disputes. Glasgow janitors had won a 6% payrise – the dispute had gone on for 20 months. Salford branch had won almost 11% pay increase for social care workers. Durham had accepted the latest pay offer with 62% in favour on a greater than 50% turnout. In Derby the agreement reached there after the Teaching assistants dispute was beginning to unravel. Wigan council workers had voted for strike action in August. Action had been cancelled after agreement had been reached. The NEC agreed UNISON would be part of the campaign against the Government’s Universal Credit roll out. Dave referred to recent legal victories on Employment Tribunal fees which was a tremendous decision and also the same week there was a Court of Appeal decision which means employers will be obliged to consult with trade unions around any workplace issues that could affect employees. I raised a point about letting members know about the Stand up to Racism national conference in London that was taking place the following week. Dave said Roger McKenzie, Assistant General Secretary was speaking on behalf of the union on this and a communication would go out to members encouraging support and attendance. Lancashire County branch facility time had been withdrawn – the NEC sent a message of support and Dave Prentis had been in touch with the branch. Karen Reissmann, NEC member raised a point of accuracy on the minutes of the previous NEC meeting. It had not been recorded there had been a vote on whether to move business on or not when the issue of accessibility of NEC meetings was being discussed (there had been a call for the provision of an alternative single room on the ground floor as a reasonable adjustment – where the NEC has met on at least one occasion in the past). It was agreed the minutes would be changed to reflect this. Karen also asked that in future could we add together publicly the numbers voting one way or the other in both rooms the NEC meeting is split over. 

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