Monday 19 April 2010

UNITE Executive Council, January 2010

Apologies for not posting for so long - life has been extremely hectic.

I thought that my report from the January EC meeting might be superfluous now, with the official minutes published on the union web site. Sadly that seems to get updated even less often than this blog, so the report is below. I also have a copy of the "Joint General Secretaries' Briefing" about the meeting, which I will forward to members on request.

Ian Allinson’s report on UNITE Executive Council 20-22nd January 2010
N.B. This is not an official Unite Report; it is based on my notes of the EC meeting. I believe it to be a fair account of some of the key points and decisions taken (where I give my views about them I make this clear), and I will willingly correct any errors upon receipt of official notification from Unite.

This report is far from exhaustive – many more issues were debated and decisions taken over the three days.

Ian Allinson
UNITE EC member, Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT

Due to responsibilities in relation to the dispute at Fujitsu, where we were on strike on 22nd January, I was only able to attend the first day of the meeting. These notes do not cover debates and decisions on the second and third days. However, I have tried to indicate what issues I thought were likely to come up.

1. There was a lively debate about a Memorandum Of Understanding agreed by the Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Unions (the CSEU, of which UNITE is the majority) about terms and conditions to apply in relation to inward investment. Some EC members argued that this would open the door for employers to seek a longer working week, and that the CSEU should not have reached such an agreement without reference to UNITE and that there was a breakdown in accountability. EC members who worked at Rolls Royce argued that concessions were necessary to secure jobs in their company and that the MOU had no wider implications. Hugh Scullion, the UNITE member who heads the CSEU, had been invited to the EC meeting, but had declined saying that he had to seek guidance from the CSEU executive first. The issue was not resolved, but remits (motions) were invited through the relevant committees.

2. The EC heard an update on the situation at Two Sisters, a food plant in the Midlands. Following one of our reps being subject to racist abuse and unofficial action to support him, over 50 members had been sacked. A campaign had now resulted in an agreement to reinstate all the members, who are now returning to work.

3. There was a recognition from the EC and senior officers that more debate is needed about our future organising strategy, to make sure we learn from our successes and failures, and that we build sustainable workplace organisation rather than just recruiting individuals who then leave.

4. UNITE had obtained an independent report showing that some subcontractors in construction were paying significantly below the agreed rates, despite their claims to the contrary.

5. There were reports from many industrial sectors about the impact of the economic crisis on our members in terms of attacks on jobs, terms and conditions. Discussion included the impact on the motor industry, the takeover of Cadburys, the ongoing pay disputes at First Group in the bus industry and the attacks on public services which are expected to accelerate after the election.

6. There was a discussion about the dispute at BA, where the management seem determined to have a dispute or complete surrender in order to break the union. The court ruling was outrageous, as the issues with the ballot would not have significantly affected the result. The anti-union laws are now worse than under the Tories and UNITE is pressing Labour for reform. Members are starting a fresh ballot on 25th January for a four-week period. The issue in dispute is the imposition of changes without agreement. A court case is also planned.

7. I queried why the Joint General Secretaries’ report did not include a section on the Electrical Engineering and Electronics sector, and was encouraged to raise this at the National Industrial Sector Committee. This was not the only sector without a report, and the Joint General Secretary undertook to ask the administration to find out why.

8. The EC supported a number of remits from the IT & Communications National Industrial Sector Committee:

The IT & Communication National Industrial Sector Committee supports the members in Fujitsu who are in the midst of an industrial action campaign over jobs, pay and pensions.

This National Industrial Sector Committee calls on the EC to support the campaign including the following actions:
1. make a donation to the strike fund
2. circulate all Unite branches with an appeal for support including financial support
3. ensure that relevant Unite regional officials provide all necessary support and assistance to Unite reps and members
4. maximise Unite assistance through the Political and Campaigns & Communication Departments, given that Fujitsu has major contracts with central and local government including DWP, Home Office, Revenue and Customs and MOD.
5. give union-wide support to a parliamentary lobby over pensions using the Fujitsu dispute as a focus.

[NOTE: On point 1, the EC did not decide to make a separate donation, as the EC’s direct financial support is via Dispute Benefit which has recently been increased from £12 to £30 per day]

This conference deplores the announcement by the Swedish company Ericsson of its intention to close its high-Tech communications facility at Ansty Park, Coventry, with the potential loss of 700 highly skilled jobs.

This conference notes that Ericsson claims to be an ‘ethical’ employer of choice yet is proposing to effectively close down the Research & Development site at Ansty Park, Coventry. The new site was only opened in May of this year with Gordon Brown in attendance. £50 million pounds of public money has been spent on infrastructure, roads etc at the site.

This conference notes that Ericsson did not consult with the EWC or the Union to avoid the closure or to retain R&D staff. The announcement was made without regard to the procedures by denying the exploration of any alternatives to the closure.

This conference notes the Government’s reluctance to receive a delegation of the members affected by this proposed closure, despite the importance of the issue and the support given by Unite the Union to the party in Government. This Crisis demands urgent attention and the continuation of the Government’s failure to respond appropriately would be unacceptable.

The retention of highly skilled jobs is a priority for Unite the Union and this conference believes that it should also be a priority for the Government if the UK is to have a future in the strategically important telecommunications industry.
This conference notes with dismay the reports that Ericsson are proposing to remove all R&D and Global Competence Centres from the UK and Re-locate to low cost centres with poorer pay and conditions in Eastern Europe and China. Resistance to the Ansty Park closure therefore has national and international significance.

This conference believes that R&D and manufacturing strategy requires a greater involvement by the Government to ensure that companies cannot abuse their responsibilities, particularly when they have received substantial public financial assistance, regardless of where they are based.

1. This conference call upon Unite the Union to use its influence, established over many years of support to the Labour Party, to demand that the business secretary, Peter Mandelson, intervenes to ensure that the Ericsson decision is reversed and take all steps necessary to retain the expertise and skills of the workforce.
2. This conference calls for Unite the union to demand that the government intervenes with the same urgency, attitude and financial resources, if necessary, that it demonstrated during the Banking crisis. High tech jobs, skills and experience are as important to the UK’s future as a stable financial environment.
3. This Conference pledges its support to the legitimate efforts of the workforce to defend their jobs and to resist the transfer of R&D information to other sites.
4. This conference calls for Unite the Union to support a legal challenge over Ericsson’s breach of the European legislation on consultation, taking the claim to the European Court of Justice if necessary. This conference notes that Unite recently won a similar case against the Peugeot closure of Ryton on Coventry.

This conference calls for Unite the Union to initiate a high profile national campaign to save these highly skilled jobs. The campaign should include use of the web, exposing the reality behind the Ericsson brand, a public boycott of Ericsson mobile phones and protesting outside sale outlets.

This Conference urges all employers to retain and re-train experienced staff in new skills, as legacy IT systems continue to be decommissioned, this making those employees more relevant and productive to the business whilst at the same time leveraging their experience, reliability and quality of work.

Conference notes the attempts by an increasing range of employers to attack pension provision, and in particular defined benefit pension schemes in the IT and Communications sector. We note that sections of the media and politicians are proclaiming the death of the defined benefit pension and promoting divisions between workers in the private and public sector.

Conference condemns the way in which many companies in the sector are ending their final salary and defined benefit schemes despite being a highly profitable sector.

We note that a threat to pension provision is one of the situations most likely to lead members to support industrial action. We note that UNITE’s campaigning in defence of pensions is already leading to significant membership growth in a number of companies.

Given the scale of the attacks now, and the likelihood of them spreading, we call on the IT and Communications National Industrial Sector Committee and the Executive Council to step up UNITE’s campaigning on pensions by:
1) Allocating more resources to providing specialist pensions advice and support to our officers and reps and to run pension workshops for reps
2) Allocating more resources to providing legal advice and support to our officers and reps dealing with attacks on pensions
3) Coordinating our campaigning on pensions at regional, sectoral and national level to maximise our impact
4) Organising protests and petitions wherever schemes are under threat
5) Working with other unions, pensioner groups etc to maximise our impact
6) Involving members who are affected by threats to pensions in lobbying government to act to protect pensions
7) Encouraging members to stand for election as trustees and organise and coordinate UNITE members who are pension trustees
8) Working with government lobbies to protect pensions under TUPE transfers and arrangements
9) Using all the political channels to pressurise companies closing their schemes

A relatively small number companies dominate the sub-sector offering IT outsourcing services. Employees are often subject to TUPE transfers between these companies as contracts are won and lost. UNITE should strengthen its work around these transfers:
i) Reps should ensure they notify the National Officer when transfers are taking place, so that the National Officer can put them in touch with reps in the other companies involved in the transfer
ii) Reps should ensure membership records are updated when transfers take place
iii) As part of the TUPE consultation, reps often have access to a "matrix" comparing terms and conditions in the companies involved. Reps should provide a copy to the National Officer. The National Officer should use these to produce a master matrix comparing terms and conditions across the sub-sector, which reps can use to assist in collective bargaining and campaigning.
iv) Many of the companies are involved in outsourcing public services. UNITE should organise a workshop for reps in the industry to examine the "Code of Practice on Workforce Matters in Public Sector Service Contracts" ( and the "Cabinet Office Statement of Practice on Staff Transfers in the Public Sector" ( These documents affect people working on a contract where someone else originally worked in the public sector, not just the original transferees. They could offer ways for employees to exert additional influence over terms and conditions and to extend consultation rights.
v) We should campaign, as part of our wider campaign to strengthen TUPE protection, for the government to strengthen the codes so that employees transferring between companies working on public sector contracts do not suffer detriment, whether or not any of the employees was originally in the public sector, and to strengthen their provisions in relation to pensions.

9. The subcommittee of the Executive Council charged with looking at the integration of the union had not met for some time.

10. The previous Executive Council meeting had agreed a single system of expenses for lay members, to come into effect from January 2010. Implementation had been delayed, on the basis that additional issues had arisen.

11. The previous EC meeting had discussed a proposal to adopt a consistent approach to the definition of membership and ensuring that members in arrears with their subs were excluded from membership, in order that membership data was more meaningful, which is essential for effective union organisation. This had been referred to the Finance & General Purposes committee, where it had been raised, but not resolved as there had been an ongoing debate between the Joint General Secretaries. The EC was promised that a proposal would be brought to this EC meeting to resolve the matter. [I don’t know whether or not this happened after I left]

12. The EC was presented on the day with a document (3F) with statistics for the seats on the various committees that had been set up. [This was not discussed while I was present. It appears that there is still work to be done in reconvening conferences and filling vacant seats]

13. I queried why there was still no proposal in the paperwork to resolve the issues with the London & Eastern IT & Comms Regional Industrial Sector Committee, as I had been led to believe that a resolution acceptable to all concerned had been identified, and I had also raised this at the previous EC meeting. In a break, I was informed that an original proposal had been received but rejected by the senior officers without being presented to the EC. I was promised that resolving this situation would now be progressed.

14. A proposal (4E) was on the table to provide the 1% of subs to Regional Committees, but this had not been discussed when I left.

15. There was a discussion about the Joint General Secretary referring to people backing one of the candidates in the forthcoming General Secretary election as “serial trippers” due to the international delegations they had taken part in. He apologised to two EC members who had backed the candidate but to whom the comment did not fairly apply. The Joint General Secretaries said they had been offended by being asked to provide an assurance that there would be no repercussions for candidates, as members were freely entitled to stand for election.

16. EC members raised concerns that members were being refused overnight stays for National Industrial Sector Committee meetings. It was confirmed that it was up to each committee to decide what time their meeting should start, and overnight accommodation should be provided where appropriate.

17. I expected the EC during the rest of its meeting to deal with a number of other important topics, including how delegates are elected to the policy and rules conference, and how members can send motions to the conferences.

18. UNITE has played a key role, using the UNITE4Labour web site and phone bank, in Labour’s victory at the Glasgow North East by-election.

19. The current UNITE parliamentary panel (list of potential candidates) still includes people with little commitment to the union’s policies. A new panel will be established after the general election. A new procedure was agreed.

20. As the policy forum process is so bad, UNITE intends to try to influence the Labour manifesto through TULO meetings instead. It is essential that Labour offers progress on employment matters. There was a discussion on Labour’s “sell-out” to the employer lobby on the Temporary and Agency Workers regulations, which will now not be brought into force prior to the election.

21. Following on from the way that European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings, including Viking, Laval and Ruffert, are making employment law even worse, the Joint General Secretary highlighted the fact that EU trade deals with other countries around the world now include “mode 4” clauses which effectively extend the problems caused by the ECJ rulings around the world. It is Lord Mandelson who is championing this. More work needs to be done to research and campaign on this issue.

22. The BNP are hoping to make further progress in the general election, and all members are encouraged to get involved with Searchlight, Hope Not Hate, Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism to counter the threat of the BNP, the English Defence League (EDL) and its Welsh and Scottish counterparts.

23. There was discussion about how the UNITE delegation at Warwick 2 came to vote for a statement which included support for social enterprise in the NHS (a form of privatisation), against union policy. Many delegates had been unaware of the wording at the time they voted. The Joint General Secretary explained that the delegation had to choose between voting down the whole document or voting for it despite it including points UNITE disagreed with.

24. The F&GP again recommended that we didn’t renew our affiliation to Hands Off Venezuela. EC members felt that as affiliation was Amicus policy from its conference, it should not be overturned without a very strong justification. The recommendation was referred back to the F&GP again, for a final decision at the next EC meeting.

25. The TUC has launched an appeal for Haiti which members are encouraged to support. The EC agreed to make a contribution of £50K and to circulate the appeal to branches.

26. The EC heard an update on international solidarity work, including Palestine, Columbia and the Miami 5 (Cuba). UNITE had raised £75K in support of the strikers (who are fellow members of our umbrella “Workers Uniting” international union) at Vale Inco in Canada, who have been on strike for six months now. A video about the shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh has been produced as a DVD for circulation.