UNISON Local Government Conference 2016 19-20 June 2016 Part One

Published June 20, 2016 at 13:41

Part one of the Branch’s “blog” from the Local Government Delegate Conference.

Blackburn with Darwen’s Conference delegates this year are Denise Wilkins, Branch Secretary and Geoff Wilkinson, Branch Communications Officer.

As ever, most motions are not contentious but they are worth listening to for ideas and anecdotes. The idea behind these blogs is to highlight certain issues

Those with keen eyes will notice that the motions are not necessarily in order – the running order is set each morning by the Standing Orders Committee

Grumblings from the floor initially that the start of the conference was delayed too much by platform speakers. Introductions from the President and announcements from the Standing Orders Committee aside, motions didn’t start to be debated until 10.45am. Considering the fact that there is always loads to get through in just two days, you can understand their concerns perhaps.

Motion 2 – Organising in Local Government.

The first quote of the day was a really good one. “If we organise, we won’t need to recruit. Potential Members will come to us.” Brilliantly simple. Build your reputation and your reputation will do the work for you.

Very good but Lisa Bennett from Unison notloB (those of a certain age will remember fondly Monty Pythons Flying Circus saying Bolton was Ipswich spelt backwards – notloB it is then) pointed out that organising (and by extension Activism) may have some barriers – being low paid being one of them. Those on low pay find themselves unable to afford both the money and time to be active. Pressures placed upon them to work harder for such low pay may prevent them from putting themselves forward as activists.

Margaret Greer from the Black Members SOG made a good point also – her group found they had no time to put forward an amendment so she took to the podium to thank other groups for making their point. The Black Members group found they had no time because there are so many other pressures placed upon them in their workplace.

Motion 22 – Facility Time

Moved by the West Sussex Branch – for the fourth year in succession!

West Sussex’s workload and complexity of issues is increasing yet their facility time is still being eroded. The Branches employer are making the ideological shift away from National Agreements, thus leaving negotiations to local representatives. The question they put is “How can we do all this with decreasing resources?” They pointed out that the world has moved on since 2010 but Unison haven’t.

The Platform put forward their support – with qualifications (that was no surprise since West Sussex raised the point that Unison haven’t done enough in the last 4 years). What does “qualification” mean? I’ve yet to find out. I suspect that it means that Unison don’t have to comply with the exact wording of the motion. Perhaps that’s why one region voted en block against the motion

Motion 39 – National Housing Forum

More than a “talking shop” but seen as a potential Influencer. The motion called for Unison to engage with Tenants Associations and other groups to try and influence Policy on National Housing. A mighty fine sentiment. However, it wasn’t backed with a particularly strong argument from one delegate. She said:

“A National Housing Forum won’t solve the crisis but it will show people we care”. Considering the previous motion called on help with Facility Time and the overwork that the lack of it causes, how will “showing we care” help in the long run?  Maybe it will help but at the moment, it is hard to think about committing more time and resources – at least locally – to something that may be of benefit. It is speculative at best when our time is being eaten up with other equally pressing matters

Motion 28 – Bullying and Young Members

This is an issue that we as a Branch are going to be campaigning on in the run up to November so listening to the motion mover and backers gave us some good statistics to help us out.

The motion mover was the Scottish Young Members Committee. They recently conducted a survey with some, although not surprising, pretty alarming results.

75% of young members surveyed had suffered from Bullying but half of the respondents didn’t fully understand exactly what was bullying and what wasn’t. After explanation, it was found that half of cases were not reported in the first place. Banter and “having laugh” just doesn’t cut it anymore – thankfully.

The figures for Local Government were more frightening. 85% of young members had experienced bullying.

In the 70s, Initiation Ceremonies in workplaces were common. It was seen as banter but also seen as keeping the “young ‘uns” in their place. Nowadays, the tool to keep us in place is Job Cuts.

Peter Cooper from Poole Unison spoke how Employers are now using their own employees to do their bullying – setting one against the other in the race to save their own job. Divisive to say the least.

Motion 44 – Stress and Overwork

Where do we start on this? Ok, we can start with 488,000 cases of stress related absence were recorded in 2015. Glasgow Branch talked about the rise of “presentee-ism” – that is working whilst ill. This is not a new phenomenon. In the past, people coming into work while ill could have been seen as martyrdom – no longer. When people come to work ill, it is now understood they are doing so because they are under threat. When redundancy matrices are agreed, staff absence is one of the key factors. Why would you put yourself at threat if you can drag yourself into work?

With £11billion cuts to Local Authorities resulting in half a million job losses since 2010, it is little wonder that stress related illness has rocketed. Nottingham though spoke about fighting back. They pointed out that, as well as being Unison’s policy, other Trades Unions have called for the backing of “no cuts” Councils. That though will be hard when its Central Government that cut the funding in the first place

Motion 26 – Incapability Dismissals

The bane of many a representative and member. It is “reasonable adjustments” that can help but the Employers version of these adjustments is often far from reasonable. Ask yourself the question though – does this apply to all employees? The answer is “no”. Those lower down the scale must go through these procedures, making adjustments, perhaps being set unreasonable targets (in order to force out members). Senior Managers though, in the words of the Motions mover, are often offered enhanced terms instead. Is that fair?

Emergency Motion A – Call to Censure the NJC for not following Unison Procedure during National Pay Negotiations

…more on this in the next edition – carried over until Monday. It’ll be divisive and contentious.

Other notes

The Unison “There for you” charity had a stall in the conference foyer. They told us that referrals to their welfare service had dropped significantly in the last year or two – at the same time that Debt Advice Services are being cut and Foodbanks are on the rise. I posited that the reason for it was that Branches often don’t have Welfare Officers anymore. The service is there to provide assistance – members need to be told and told again that help is there if and when they need it. It will be a priority to highlight “There for you” after conference – in the meantime, visit www.unison.org.uk/thereforyou or call on 0207 121 5620 (or 0800 3893302 for Debt advice). They can even help with school uniforms come September.

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