Thursday 31 July 2008

UNITE's IT & Communications sector

Along with three members of the UNITE National Sector Committee for Electrical Engineering, Electronics and IT (EEE&IT), I attended a meeting on Monday with Peter Skyte, our National Officer, and two Assistant General Secretaries - Les Bayliss and Doug Collins.

The meeting was in response to the motion passed unanimously at the EEE&IT national sector conference opposing the inclusion of a disproportionate number of managers from an unrelated industry in UNITE's new "IT and Communications" sector.

Members are concerned that putting the Communication Managers Association (CMA), which represents managers in Royal Mail and the Post Officer in the sector will prevent it being as effective as we want in involving and representing workers in the IT and Telecommunications industries.

We all left the meeting disappointed. They seemed to feel that the activists in the industry had to convince them, and provide "evidence" of problems - a tall order when the new sector hasn't been created yet. How can members provide evidence of problems we are still trying to avoid?

It's a sign of how much change we still need in the culture of UNITE when officers think that members have to convince them of what needs doing, rather than the views of the members affected carrying most weight.

The one real surprise of the meeting was the news that Paul Reuter, currently the National Officer covering the Federation of Professional Associations (FPA) as well as the CMA, would continue covering the CMA within the new IT & Communications sector. This must have been decided (who by?) since the last EC meeting, as it doesn't appear on the officer allocation list agreed by the EC.

Les and Doug did undertake to consider what could be done to avoid members' fears becoming a reality and come back to us with a response, so watch this space...

Glasgow and Warwick

Following the disastrous result for Labour in the Glasgow East by-election, UNITE issued a robust press release pointing out that it is New Labour policies being rejected by voters and our desperate need for change.

Perhaps it's not surprising that there's a distinct lack of comment from our union since the outcome of the "Warwick II" Policy Forum at the weekend. Press coverage has varied wildly, often with little apparent grounding in facts.

Most of the outcomes, like those from "Warwick I", wouldn't look amiss in an episode of Yes Minister - along the lines that we are firmly committed to considering the possibility of consulting about the idea of a review about X.

The only really tangible change seems to be a slight reduction in the number of young people who will be discriminated against through the National Minimum Wage, by making the adult rate available at 21 instead of 22.

But perhaps the most damning sign of how bad the agreement is the vague and feeble attempt by some to sing its praises. As an example, look at the UNISON press release.

The message to working people from Warwick must surely be "fight for your rights, don't put your hopes in Labour".

Argos out again

UNITE members working in Argos distribution centres have rejected the improved pay offer made after their previous strikes, and are out on strike again.

The strikes are being staggered across various distribution depots from 30 July to 5 August.

Let's make sure they get full support and we get another much needed win to protect living standards from rampant inflation.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Future of the IT & Communications sector in UNITE

The new UNITE rulebook, on which members are voting at the moment, includes a new sector structure. The current Amicus "Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT" sector which I represent on the UNITE EC is being replaced with an "Electrical Engineering & Electronics" sector and an "IT and Communications" sector.

The change is uncontentious, apart from the question of who ends up in the IT and Communications sector - there have been suggestions that managers from Royal Mail in the Communication Managers Association (CMA) would be put in this sector rather than in logistics, where (for example) members in DHL are.

The sector wasn't consulted about this in time to influence the rulebook, but the National Sector Conference last month passed motion 9 on the subject. On Monday 28th July I and a small delegation from the National Sector Committee will be meeting with Peter Skyte (our National Officer) and Les Bayliss (Assistant General Secretary) to see if we can find a way forward.

The UNITE EC has already confirmed most of the National Officer allocations for the new structure. Peter Skyte will cover IT & Communications, while John Rowse will cover Electrical Engineering & Electronics.

UNITE EC meeting 7-9 July 2008

Gill George has beaten me to it again, posting a report on the last meeting on her blog.

If I can get on top of my workload arising from the redundancies at Fujitsu (my employer), I hope to do my own EC report in due course.

One of the areas Gill didn't cover which will be of widespread interest is the allocation of National Officers to the various sectors defined in the rulebook which members are currently voting on. They are:

SectorNational Officer
Aerospace and ShipbuildingBernie Hamilton
Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Process & TextilesPhil McNulty, Linda McCulloch
Civil Air TransportSteve Turner, Brian Boyd
Community, Youth Workers and Not for ProfitRachael Maskell, Doug Nicholls
ConstructionBob Blackman, Tom Hardacre
Docks, Rail, Ferries and WaterwaysBrendan Gold, Bob Rixham
EducationMike Robinson
Electrical Engineering and ElectronicsJohn Rowse
Energy and UtilitiesDougie Rooney
Finance and LegalRob McGregor, TBA
Food, Drink and TobaccoJennie Formby
General Clerical and AdministrationJulia Long
HealthKaren Reay, Dave Fleming
IT and CommunicationsPeter Skyte
Local AuthoritiesPeter Allenson, John Allot
Metals (including Foundry)Terry Pye
MoD and Government DepartmentsIan Wadell
Motor ComponentsRoger Maddison
Paper, Graphical and MediaTBA
Passenger TransportGraham Stevenson
Road Transport Commercial, Logistics and Retail DistributionRon Webb, Paul Davies
Rural and AgriculturalChris Kaufman
Servicing and General IndustriesMike Smallwood, Ian Tonks
Vehicle Building and AutomotiveDave Osborne

Winning is important

At the moment, working people have much to be angry about, but our confidence and organisation is only beginning to regrow.

In these circumstances, it is really important that we have some wins and that we celebrate our successes - to raise confidence and expectations and make it easier to win more.

So it's really good to see a series of wins this year. UNITE members at Ineos Grangemouth fended off attacks on their pensions. Shell tanker drivers in UNITE won a stunning victory over pay. Manchester Airport workers in UNITE won an extra 1.5% backdated on their pay after threatening strike action. CWU activist Pat Carmody who was key to unonising Pell & Bales' call centre has been reinstated after a lively campaign. And now we hear that UNITE members at Argos are considering an increased pay offer after striking.

Can you see the pattern? Where we stand up for ourselves, stick together and refuse to get knocked off course by political or media pressure - we often win.

This should be shouted from the rooftops. If we can keep building up this momentum then unions can really grow and really make a difference for working people.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Temporary & Agency Workers

At the UNITE EC meeting last week, there was more discussion about the deal done between the unions, CBI and UK government to give more protection for agency and temporary workers.

Though the deal is far less than we'd want (protection only applies after 12 weeks on a job), we have finally applied enough pressure to stop the UK government blocking the EU directive altogether. We are told that about 70-75% of agency and temporary workers would benefit despite the 12-week rule, as well as there being a substantial benefit to the rest of the workforce whose bargaining position is undermined by the exploitation of temporary & agency workers with no rights.

Derek Simpson was adamant that there is no truth in the stories in the press (put out by the CBI) that the unions have agreed to accept a weakening of the Working Time Directive in exchange for progress on the Temporary & Agency Workers Directive.

Derek said he hadn't actually seen the deal itself, and nobody else at the EC meeting seemed to have done so, which seemed really odd. There's a report about it on the web site of the United Campaign to Repeal the Anti Union Laws, but the link to the agreement itself is broken. I'm pleased to say I've found a copy here.

Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT National Sector Conference Report

At last week's UNITE Executive Council, I asked why the decisions of the Amicus sector conferences hadn't been put on the union web site or circulated. The General Secretary promised to follow this up.

In the meantime, I thought it might be useful to publish my own report of the decisions (below), along with the report presented by our National Officer, Peter Skyte, on action taken as a result of the decisions of the 2006 conference.

Decisions of the UNITE-Amicus EEE&IT National Sector Conference 2008

Please note that this is not an official report, but a personal one by Ian Allinson. If you have any corrections, please contact me via

Election of chair:

Sean Leahy

Election of delegates to TUC conference 2008:

Pauline Bradburn

Martin Gleeson (reserve)

Election of National Sector Committee:

1. John Clark, North East, Electrolux

2. John Garvani, Yorkshire & Humberside, Fujitsu

3. Sally Pirrie, East Midlands, IPSL

4. Colin Walker, East Midlands, CSC

5. Paul Welsh, East Midlands, Brush Electrical Machines

6. Philip Brown, Eastern, Raytheon Systems

7. Paul Fleming, London, EDS

8. Anneke Cox, South East, Philips Healthcare

9. Paul Rickard, South East, Ericsson

10. Colin Gosling, South West, Siemens Traffic Controls

11. Sean Leahy, West Midlands, Ericsson

12. Pauline Bradburn, North West, Fujitsu

13. Jackie Cook, North West, Fujitsu

14. Martin Gleeson, North West, Zetex

15. Tony Boyle, Scotland, CSC

16. Ronnie Mackenzie, Scotland, NCR

17. Stanley Freeney, Ireland, Nortel

18. James MacNiece, Ireland

19. Glyn Haynes, Wales, Eaton Electric

20. Stephen Needs, Wales, Panasonic Communications

This National Sector Committee will have a short term of office, as the new rulebook (including new sectors and sector structures) is expected to come into force on 1st November 2008, after which a new round of conferences etc will be required to populate the new structures.

Peter Skyte, the National Officer, confirmed that the EC member for the sector could take part in National Sector Committee meetings.

The following sector motions were passed:

1. WORKING TIME (from Wales)

This conference applauds the significant reduction in working time that was achieved in companies across the manufacturing sector following the CSEU 35 hour working week campaign in 1989.

Furthermore we recognise that working time in the Electrical Engineering, Electronics and IT sector is well above the average in the wider manufacturing sector.

We call upon the NEC to develop a national campaign to reduce the working time within the Electrical Engineering, Electronics and IT sector.

3. PENSIONS IN THE EEE & IT SECTOR (from South East)

We are clearly seeing a new wave of attacks on occupational pensions in the EEE & IT sector. We believe the sector pension's workshop was a valuable initiative to promote a well-informed and co-ordinated union response. We call on our national officers to ensure that the regional national sector structures are actively used to mobilise moral, practical and financial support for any group of members in the sector taking action in defence of their pensions.


This conference notes that manufacturing sites, which are a key part of the Sector, continue to be closed, with work and jobs off-shored. Whilst savings may be made by companies, the costs are usually borne by the workers affected, local communities, tax payers and in damage to the environment.

Whilst manufacturers focus on the environmental friendliness of production, they ignore the environmental impact of transportation of manufactured goods from other parts of the world to service UK customers once served by UK factories, as highlighted by the closure of the Electrolux Cooker factory in the North East.

This conference calls on the National Sector Committee to:

1) Develop a strategy for "Greening the Sector"

2) Campaign for employers to publish and take into account environmental impacts, including carbon footprints, when considering the closure and off¬shoring of workplaces.

3) Work with Trade Unions internationally in supporting manufacturing and for companies to be held accountable for the environment impacts of their actions.

5. CLIMATE CHANGE (from London)

This conference believes it is important that the trade union movement takes up the question of climate change. Climate change will always have the greatest impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society. Trade unions have a central role to play both in developing just and equitable solutions to climate change and also in building a mass movement around the issue.

Conference believes that our sector has a particular responsibility in tackling climate change as the industries we cover are both significant users of energy and the creators of products that themselves consume significant quantities of energy, therefore significantly contributing to the carbon footprint.

Conference welcomes the decision of the National Sector Committee to send a delegation to the Trade Union Conference organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change.

Conference calls on the National Sector Committee to continue to work with the Campaign and its Climate Change Trade Union Working Group.

Conference calls on the National Sector Committee to develop a set of policies for the sector designed to reduce the carbon footprint for which our industries are responsible, while, at the same time, protecting jobs and conditions.

Conference calls on the National Sector Committee to examine and promote the establishment of Environmental Reps in our workplaces.

6. ORGANISING IN THE EEE & IT SECTOR (from Yorkshire & Humberside)

This conference regrets the loss of an organiser assigned to our sector and calls on the union to replace this resource as soon as possible. We welcome the initiative where leading reps in the IT industry have taken responsibility for working on their parts of the Sector organising plan and developing plans for their company alongside their officers and organise. Given that the IT industry is one of the key organising targets for UNITE, it is vital that this approach should continue to develop.

We call on our National Officer to facilitate leading reps in the Non-IT parts of the sector to work on their parts of the sector organising plan, so that the plan as a whole can be updated and developed.


Conference notes with concern the increasing amount of evidence showing a possible link between deaths due to specific types of cancer and working in the semiconductor industry. Despite a feasibility study commissioned by the HSE in 2005, which recommended that an industry wide study be commissioned, no actions have been implemented to bring this about.

Conference commends Unite - Amicus for leading a delegation to the DWP to press for action on the study, and calls on the union to persevere until a properly independent research team is assigned to the task.

The semiconductor industry has developed a large number of speciality chemicals over many years, and the effects of long-term exposure are in many cases unknown. In recent years there has been a rapid increase in new materials used in semiconductor fabrication - particularly metals used for interconnections. Again, the industry has not given long-term exposure effects a high priority, and this may have an effect on workers in related industries in the electronics sector.

Conference calls on the union to campaign for more stringent evaluations of chemicals and materials used in the semiconductor industry in relation to their long term effects on worker health. A negative or inconclusive result from the cancer study should not be allowed to prevent his being taken forward.


This conference notes that with the formation of Unite, the rules commission is charged with drawing up a new rulebook which the first Unite executive council will put to a ballot of members. The rulebook, which will include a new sector structure which is unlikely to replicate previous structures in either Amicus or TGWU.

This conference notes that the rules commission has considered sectors such as "electrical engineering and electronics" and "Communications and IT" as part of the new structure. Though this conference has no objection to such a reorganisation in principle, we are deeply concerned at suggestions that the communication managers association (CMA) would form part a large part of the communications and it sector. The CMA is mainly composed of managers in Royal Mail.

It is always welcome when managers in any industry are unionised, but believe that no group of unionised workers would accept their union structure having a disproportionate management influence. This conference can see no industrial logic in grouping Royal Mail managers with IT workers, and believe that such a grouping would significantly impair our ability to pursue the organising and campaigning approach necessary for the union to take advantage of the opportunities for growth in the IT industry.

This conference resolves to seek the support of everyone in the union to ensure that members employed in the IT industry belong to a sector that does not include a disproportionate body of managers.

Good riddance to Sheila Foley

It's great to hear that Sheila Foley, the boss of the trust that sacked Karen Reissmann, has resigned.

There's a meeting for Karen's campaign at 6pm on Monday night at the Mechanics Institute, where I hope to hear more.

Karen's tribunal is scheduled for 1st September in Manchester - I'm sure there will be a good turnout of trade unionists, health campaigners and patients to give her support.

More job losses at NCR Dundee

Unite has issued a press release as another 51 jobs are put at risk.

Pay fights hotting up

With inflation high thanks to food & fuel prices, the fight to protect our living standards is vital for working people.

This week will see several important struggles which all trade unionists should get behind. A few more victories like Shell would do us the world of good!

Local Authorities
UNITE members in local authorities will be striking over pay on Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th July, alongside colleagues from UNISON.

Manchester Airport
UNITE members working for Initial Cleaners at Manchester airport will be striking over pay for three days from 6am Thursday 17th July to 6am Sunday 20th July.

This is a very low paid group of workers, so financial support will be particularly important. Cheques payable to "UNITE 6/577a Branch" can be sent to Marie Jockins, 12 Horrocks Close, Huyton, L31 7UJ.

Argos Distribution
UNITE members working at Argos distribution centres are striking over pay. There will be 24 hour strikes on 17th and 24th July, followed by staggered 4-day strikes in early August.

It's not a strike - yet - but UNITE is organising protests about NHS pay on Friday 18th July.

Manchester Pay Rally
Plans are taking shape for a pay rally in central Manchester at 12 noon on Thursday 17th July, hopefully bringing together several of the strikes.

Bolton Schools Strike
NUT and UNISON members at Withins school in Bolton will be striking on Tuesday 15th July against it being turned into an "Academy". I believe the Hayward school will also be out. Nice timing if the local authority strike closes it for the following two days as well!