Last week I was in Brighton. The reason I was there was to attend, along with several of my Unison colleagues, the Water, Environment & Transport Conference and our National Delegate Conference. It’s pretty much dominated by local government and NHS reps but these annual conferences are important for our branch as we get the chance to vote on issues affecting our union. Here are my reports from each of the conferences:
Water, Environment & Transport Conference 2016 – Brighton, Sunday 19th June 2016
Controversy! It appeared we were all taken a little by surprise when we were asked to vote for a referral back to the standing orders committee on an emergency motion previously ruled out of order. WET conferences aren’t well known for this kind of excitement but we all calmed down after the matter was dealt with …..
Our guest speaker Alex Cunningham, Shadow Minister for Water and Environment, recognised the good work STW is undertaking through their apprenticeship scheme. He also gave credit to us reps for collectively supporting and pushing the agenda for a Living Wage within the water industry. Alex mentioned the water industry first after Ruth Davies had earlier emphasized the importance of our joint venture with UU – a recognition perhaps that our sector is moving further into the spotlight in a fast changing environment (literally and metaphorically!)
John Jones asked if Alex would support full nationalisation of the water industry under a Labour government led by ‘brother Corbyn’. “It’s a fine dream” was his reply. (**as I update this on 29 June it looks more and more distant as the days go by….)
Motion 1, trackers, called for an end to vehicle trackers being used as a disciplinary tool, guidance on use of trackers and improvements in the way they’re used. Our GMB colleague Colin Bennett, a constant champion of this issue, would be pleased to know this motion was carried.
Motion 2 was also carried. It called for a seminar and workshop to share lessons learnt from pension disputes in the water industry.
Motion 3 saw us agreeing to raise awareness of adverse changes to the state pension and the negative impacts these may have on our members, particularly women (or, if you’re familiar with the Viz character Millie Tant, “wimmin’ ” as our colleague repeatedly stated at the time).
Motion 4 was from the LGBT conference calling for full equality in workplace pension schemes for WET workers. Same sex partners are entitled to a lesser share of their surviving partners pensions compared to their non-LGBT colleagues. Unsurprisingly this was also carried.
Motion 5 emphasized the importance of supporting the Living Wage as defined by the Living Wage Foundation and not this government’s idea of a living wage.
Motion 6 dealt with mental health in WET workplaces particularly in call centre environments. We agreed to organise a 2017 seminar to highlight this issue.
Motion 8 reminded us of the importance of the Working Time Directive and ensured a high profile is kept on excessive working hours within the water industry. The motion was carried to support awareness and guidance to protect our WET colleagues.
Motion 10 was an interesting motion calling for WET branches to share intelligence about the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. Interesting because the mover of this motion pointed out that Stonewall doesn’t work with nor even recognise trade unions.
Dave Prentis then addressed conference and highlighted his background in British Waterways negotiations. Nearly half a million jobs have gone in the industries we recruit from. Dave emphasized that we’re a union that adapts to represent ALL members, whether public or private sector. There shouldn’t be a 1st class and 2 nd class service.
Motion 15 saw our very own Paul Wellington urging us to continue increasing the participation of black members in WET. A fine and confident performance from one of our team!!!!
Other motions included ‘a stronger, growing Passenger Transport Forum’, ‘Negotiating workplace domestic abuse policies’, ‘facility time’, ‘securing adequate funding for flood defences’, ‘the EA and major flooding incidents’ and an emergency motion on the EA’s new payroll system which has resulted in over- and under- payments to staff. This seemed to be an outrageous unforeseen event for the EA; we’ve been dealing with this type of thing for years thanks to the bizarre world of SAP…….
Unison National Delegate Conference – Brighton, 21st – 24th June 2016
Our President’s Address started proceedings as usual, highlighting the difficult year it’s been under this government. Even more difficult than the amount of motions ruled out of order this year due to them “possibly bringing the union into disrepute”. Needless to say, none of the referrals back to the SOC was carried.
‘Challenging poverty’ was therefore our first NDC motion. As I listened to the debate, I noticed a lady knitting furiously two seats away. Obviously a pragmatic anti-poverty stance. Numerous platform speakers reiterated their support to challenge poverty. Motion carried.
‘Attacks on democracy’ heard several speakers in favour of campaigning against all anti-democratic changes introduced by this government. Motion carried.
Dave Prentis promised we would never forget Jo Cox along with mentions of UKIP, Farage, Hillsborough and opposition to Trident and the Tory government.
‘Living standards, pay justice and the living wage’ outlined the importance of pay and benefits and the erosion of workers’ salaries over recent years. Motion carried.
‘Funding for the minimum wage’ called for a raising of awareness of funding issues involved in meeting legislation to raise salaries. Those in the Community and Voluntary sector are seeing the biggest detriment on working families and communities. Motion carried.
Motion 46 The Trade Union Bill debate underlined our union’s opposition to the bill and the negative effects it will have on us and our fundamental Labour rights. Motion carried.
Motion 16 Facility time campaigned for, among several other issues, more facility time for reps which was, naturally, carried unanimously.
A standing ovation from conference met the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (or as conference insisted ‘the future prime minister of the UK’), followed by his speech on public services and the NHS, pollution and the environment, women’s rights, equal pay and, wait for it……the water industry paying the living wage!!! He committed the Labour Party to repeal the Trade Union Act and extend employment rights – to conference’s delight.
‘Gateway to the future’ on branch resources was a lively debate indeed. This became, as it has done since 2011, a passionate and intense battle between branches who believe their autonomy is threatened and branches who see more benefit in a review into resources. It appeared to me that, from the perspective of someone in a transparent, efficient and well managed branch, some other larger branches seem desperate to keep hold of millions of pounds in unused reserves. The resulting card vote highlighted the disagreement. However, the motion was carried. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see some movement on this before we debate it yet again next year…….
Motion 123 on branch funding dealt with funding on the basis of need which must be lay member led, flexible and sustainable.
‘An organising response to the Trade Union Bill’ – anyone who quotes the Romantic poet Percy Shelley has my support. “Rise like lions……..We are many, they are few”. In contrast to the previous debate this saw a united front in response to the recently passed Trade Union Bill.
The opening motion of the afternoon addressed ‘Fairer taxation and the future funding of public services’. This debate was also uncontroversial as we’re all in agreement for fairer taxation and no more austerity. Motion 63.3 considered nationalising the whole of the banking system (!). Another fine dream. And because it’s a dream that would cost £800 billion pounds to achieve the motion fell.
‘Austerity – how much worse will it get for Black members’ highlighted the disproportionately negative effects on black members from austerity and was carried with no speakers against.
Composites B and D, ‘Housing Crisis’ and ‘Social Care Crisis’ were both carried.
Motion 75 got us off to a solid leftwing start by ‘Opposing DFID’s privatisation agenda’ and their rightwing ideology rather than handing aid budgets to publicly funded schools and hospitals. ‘Privatisation increases poverty’ was the strapline. Motion passed.
Composite H, Colombia, heard about the ongoing struggles and peace discussion against the backdrop of our union’s solidarity with Colombian activists. Motion passed.
If motion 82, ‘Don’t silence the occupation of Palestine’, was carried, 83 ‘Oppose the ongoing repression of the Palestinian people’ (and how many times have we heard that at conference over the years, comrades???!!) would fall. Off we went….after some time I worked out the difference between them. It became clear that 83 called for a ‘socialist confederation in the region’ which, as one speaker noted, is not being requested by Palestinians in the region and is not solidarity!! In the end, we managed to carry the NEC-supported motion.
Motion 48 ‘Women, refugees and trafficking’ detailed our challenge in the face of the terrible situation of desperate asylum seekers. The motion calls for more help and support for refugees and was carried.
Motion 28 ‘Public service campaigning’ called for existing public services to remain in-house and, as you’d fully expect, was carried overwhelmingly.
On to the amendments to Rules and Schedules!
Conference agreed to the provision of electronic ballots in elections and to the creation of a Private Contractors National Forum. This recognised the growing number of employees now in privatised industries. Quite rightly so and not before time!!!!
Conference also agreed to two additional NEC members made up of disabled members.
It clearly wasn’t Derbyshire County’s afternoon. Five motions proposing we do things on a biennial basis rather than annual (hold conference, elect officers and several others) were absolutely opposed. They’ve tried this for the past two years. One would suspect they’d have given up by now. Maybe next year….
There was a strange, state-of-shock atmosphere on Friday morning after the news of Britain voting to leave the EU. This was heightened by a statement from our General Secretary. In it, he reminded us that Johnson and Gove must now be held to their promise of more money for the NHS. Austerity was not caused by the EU. We must not blame all our ills on Europe.
Motion 5 followed – “Bullying young members”. This wasn’t to promote the bullying of young members (!) but quite the opposite. We need to ensure protection is there for our young members and reps.
WET’s John Jones then spoke in support of motion 6 “Strengthening our union: supporting and developing our stewards”. In light of the EU referendum he emphasised that now, more than ever, we need to organise.
Motion 4 “Supporting our activists who have to deal with stressful situations” was a relevant debate I thought. This came from the branch secretary regional meeting and recognised our workload has increased enormously over recent times. This should start to build a framework of support from Unison for all our reps under stress.
With a slightly surreal aspect to Composite I ” European Union trade agreements” I bade farewell to conference with the feeling that our work as TU reps will only get more intense as we witness a Tory government ever more eager to attack the rights for which we and previous generations like us fought so hard for.