Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Off to Cuba - but missing so much back in the UK

So I'm taking a break amidst packing and sorting for my trip to Cuba. We'll be flying in the morning. I will be there with around a 40 young trade unionists from the UK, from lots of different unions. There will also be young trade unionists from across the world there together.

One of the sad things is that I'll be away at such a key time, so I thought I'd leave my blog readers with some key messages.

Vote Labour!
Local Elections taking place in various places across England and Wales, and of course the all important London elections. People may feel like giving the government a kicking at this election, but remember the power of that vote and think of the effect on our public services and our members with Tory and Liberal administrations.

Stop the BNP!

If there's any BNP candidates near you then get out there and make sure the anti-fascist vote is mobilised against them. Important everywhere, but with PR it's hugely important in London.

Support striking workers

With other unions in national action on Thursday and of course UNISON's biggest branch here in Birmingham on a two day strike tomorrow and Thursday.

I was able to get to the picket line in February for Birmingham's 1 day strike, and sorry I can't make it again this time. If you're near Birmingham find a picket line and go and give your support, which I'm sure will be welcomed by our members on the picket line.

Off the plane then straight back to it

When I get back it will be straight up to Glasgow for the National Young Members Weekend, which I hope to see you at. Apologies in advance if I'm a bit jet-lagged!

Monday, April 21, 2008

National Young Members Forum sets its agenda for National Delegate Conference

The National Young Members Forum met on Friday, and as with most of UNISON's structures at the moment much was taken up with National Delegate Conference. For the NYMF, NDC is an important opportunity for young members to take our agenda to the rest of the union and get our message across to one of Europe's largest gatherings of trade unionists. We previously decided to submit the motion 'Celebrating, defending and improving the National Minimum Wage As It Reaches Its 10th Year' and a rule amendment to add environmental sustainability into the aims. Both of these were successful in reaching the agenda.

We decided to submit 2 amendments (which is our limit), amending Motion 46 - Education & Skills and Motion 1 - Organising, our amendments highlight young members priorities in these areas. On Education & Skills we add stuff on the 2009 review of higher education funding, and include more on apprenticeships (a key issue with the Government's aim to increase there use within the public sector).

The National Young Members Forum also gets to prioritise 4 motions and 2 rule amendments.

Motions (in order of priority):
  1. Motion 12 - Celebrating, Defending and Improving the National Minimum Wage as it Reaches its 10th Year (NYMF)

  2. Motion 46 - Education & Skills (NEC) NYMF Amendment

  3. Motion 01 - Organising (NEC) NYMF Amendment

  4. Motion 76 - Opposing the Far Right (Newcastle City Branch)

Rule Amendments (in order of priority)

  1. Rule amendment 01 - Including environmental stability in aims (NYMF)

  2. Rule amendment 06 - Reducing length of membership needed to qualify for legal representation from 13 to 4 weeks (Bury St. Edmond's District Health Branch; Croydon Branch; Haringey LG Branch)

We also discussed that all important issue of The First Annual Young Members at NDC Social!

The NYMF has previously decided not to have a newsheet at conference, and instead fund a social for Young Members at the conference to have a get together. This year we will be going bowling! We will be having a get together at the conference centre and then getting bussed to the bowling ally. Details will be coming out to those delegates and visitors registered and identified as young - I will post details here closer to the time too.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Health Conference 08

When I first became active in UNISON a few years ago (rather then just carrying the card and paying the subs), my first event outside my branch was Health Conference. Although a great deal more sedate and consensual than the student movement I had been used to, I really enjoyed it and so Health Conference is always a bit special.

This year was no different, but having had the pay offer go out last week this year was certainly tenser. A pay offer which falls woefully short of our claim for a substantially above inflation increase, but clearly the best so far in the public services worth 2.75 overall in the first year, then 2.5 in following year. Though the rate is too low, there are some significant improvements within the offer on other issues. UNISON has consistently argued for the removal of Band 1, the lowest pay band in the A4C scale. By removing the lowest pay point this offer would take us a significant step forward to that aim. It would leave the starting point on Band 1 being the same as Band 2, and increase the already relatively high minimum wage in the NHS. The offer also includes extra for the lower paid bands (1-3) which is clearly an achievement for UNISON’s negotiators, the only ones representing a significant number of low paid staff. The deal will also benefit many staff on Band 5, which with be restructured to be shorter, a step towards UNISON’s policy of reducing the length of the long pay bands.

Having had the Service Group Executive (SGE) exactly split on whether to recommend acceptance or rejection of the offer, the SGE put an Emergency Motion to the conference to ballot without recommendation. There were also emergency motions to reject the offer and go to a strike ballot, and to recommend acceptance of the first year and not following years (which isn’t even an offer on the table).

After some very vigorous debate, there needed to be a card vote which came out in favour of the SGE motion to ballot without recommendation.

The rest of the conference was less heated. Health Minister Ivan Lewis MP addressed conference to a rather sedate reception (the easiest ride we’ve ever given to a minister when I’ve been there). I was there as a delegate from the National Young Members Forum, having submitted a motion on student health professionals and jobs on graduation. I’m glad to say that the composite it was within passed (and it was a miracle it was heard being the last item of business on the agenda.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

UNISON Branch Funding

The funding of equal pay litigation is a significant issue for trade unions at the moment, with many thousands of claims being taken forward. The NEC has been grappling with how to fund these costs over a number of years, previously putting forward passing some of the cost onto successful claimants but this was, I think rightly, rejected.

At a previous NEC meeting we agreed to fund this by having a standstill budget across the union, which would include Branches by allocating funding without the increase in subscriptions (which results from members progressing up the subscription bands and paying more). I believe that the standstill budget approach is a fair and equatable way of funding this, which shares the burden across national, regional, and branches.

It was the NEC's desire to put this in a motion to National Delegate Conference,. However anyone that knows anything about motions to UNISON conferences know that you cannot get it passed the standing orders committee is it mentions equal and pay (due to legal advice caused by the activities of less than savoury lawyers).

However, the NEC will be putting it's decision in it's report to the conference. This gives delegates the opportunity to submit questions (which must be done in advance) and if not satisfied with the answer the NEC gives, to ask supplementary questions at Conference. If then still not happy with the answer, they have the opportunity to move reference back, which if supported by conference means the NEC have to go back to the drawing board.

I do hope we have that discussion at National Delegate Conference, but also urge branches to support the NEC in this decision. After all, this money is to support our women members in their quest for equal pay. Whatever happens this must be funded appropriately and I'm sure you agree we must share the burden across the union.

If young members have any questions or comments on these proposals please get in touch (details in the UNISON diary).

Friday, April 4, 2008

Supporting equalising the National Minimum Wage - Fringe at NUS Conference

Well this week I went up to Blackpool to speak at a fringe meeting at NUS Annual Conference. I was speaking at a Fringe sponsored by UNISON on NUS's Citizen 16 Campaign.
I was particularly asked to talk about the National Minimum Wage and talked about the issues relating to age rates and the exemption for apprentices. They are two major issues of discrimination against young workers which we must continue to challenge and NUS and their affiliated student unions can be an important part of this fight. I was joined by Raj Jethwa from the TUC and Shane Chowen, President at City College Plymouth and the Chair was Beth Walker NUS Vice President (Further Education) (who's name I got wrong to much embarrassment). The fringe was packed full of activists from student unions and gave us a great opportunity to discuss the issues and put across a positive image on UNISON.

UNISON also sponsored a fringe on transgender issues organised by NUS LGBT Campaign. Louise Ashworth, C0-Chair of UNISON's National LGBT Committee spoke to the fringe, which again went very well and was a very full meeting.

Overall it seems that UNISON's involvement in the conference was very positive, engaging with student activists on issues that they clearly cared about.

It was also interesting for me to see NUS Conference again after some absence. and catch up with some old friends, both activists and NUS staff. I have to say a highlight (other than our fringes) was seeing one of my contemporaries and an excellent activist Wes Streeting elected as the next NUS National President. I'm sure he will continue to prioritise working with Trade Unions, including UNISON.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

TUC Young Members Conference

Well I’m currently speeding up to the north west to speak at NUS Conference at a UNISON sponsored fringe (which I’m sure I will be blogging all about) and thought I’d let you know the goss from the TUC Young Members Conference at the weekend (Well not all the goss as I’m discrete but you know who you are!).

The conference ran from Friday to Sunday with delegates from different TUC affiliated trade unions, differing in size based on membership. UNISON had a great delegation of Stuart Reeves, Sarah Lewis, Matthew Egan, Karen Reid, Daniel Robertson, Jodi Rule, Amy Griffiths, Raymond Owens and me. I would like to thank them all for their excellent contribution throughout the weekend and I believe the whole delegation did UNISON proud.

The policy bit of the conference consisted of four statements submitted by the TUC Young Members Forum (after submissions from affiliates) for which there were policy workshops lead by TUC staff and then opportunity for delegations to submit amendments which were debated and voted on in the final session. The statements were on Housing, Apprenticeships and the NMW, Global Unionism, and Organising Young Workers. The UNISON delegation decided to submit a number of amendments which strengthened the statements.

The key issue for debate was within the Apprenticeships and the NMW statement, which originally called for the minimum payment for apprentices to increase to £110 a week, which is broadly in line with the youth rate of the NMW. All delegations were agreed that this should go further and that our policy should be for full inclusion in an equal national minimum wage. I’m glad to say that after a comprehensive discussion the conference voted to back the UNISON amendment which left in the bit about increasing the rate to £110 but stated, ‘That while this would be progress, conference demands that apprentices are brought within the National Minimum Wage and calls on the General Council to campaign for an equal National Minimum Wage for all.’ The conference also passed an amendment which was submitted by the GMB, and supported by the UNISON delegation, criticising the TUC General Council for failing to support the position of the Young Members Conference on minimum wage rates for young people. The General Council’s position remains a difficulty, and I will be discussing this with our members of it to see what progress can be made.

The statements now go forward to the TUC General Council, I look forward to hearing their comments.