Ian Allinson’s report on UNITE Executive Council 26-28th July 2010
N.B. This is not an official Unite Report; it is based on my notes of the Executive Council (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.
UNITE EC member, Electrical Engineering, Electronics & IT
The biggest items of debate at this EC were the Labour Party leadership and responding to the attacks on public services and the welfare state.
- The EC approved minutes from the meetings on 11-13 May 2010, 30 May 2010, 2 June 2010, 3 June 2010, 4 June 2010, 18 June 2010. These should be published on the UNITE web site shortly: http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/union_elections_meetings_and/executive_council_meetings.aspx
Industrial, Organising, Equality
- There was an excellent debate on the colossal attacks on public services and the welfare state, with a clear view that this was an issue for every member, not just those working in the public sector. The scale of the attacks requires a similar response. UNITE is seeking to coordinate action with other unions and build a coalition with other groups against the cuts. Plans include:
- ETUC demonstration in Brussels on 29th September, the day of action
- Protest at the Tory Party conference on 3rd October
- A UNITE lobby/rally of 3,500 on 19th October in London, as part of the TUC “week of action” to coincide with the spending review on 20th October
- Calling Area Activists Meetings (not just Area Activist Committees) to plan the campaign in each area
- A briefing document being circulated to activists and Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs)
- Campaign stalls in town centres
- TUC demonstration with a wider coalition in the spring
- Despite no recommendation being made by UNITE, and dire threats from Willie Walsh, members at BA had rejected the latest offer. The small vote to accept proved that the company line, echoed by the media, that most people support the management and oppose the strike is a lie. A further industrial action ballot will now be organised. It will be important to find ways to involve staff beyond the cabin crew themselves to increase pressure for a settlement. Further financial support for the members was agreed, and legal cases are being pursued.
- UNITE, UNISON and GMB had won a large number of equal pay claims against Birmingham City Council, with a typical award being around £30,000. Unfortunately around 900 claimants used Stefan Cross, a no-win-no-fee solicitor, who typically take 25-40% of damages recovered. The council is appealing some parts of the cases. The result is helping us make progress with other employers.
- The results of legal action over Blacklisting in construction have so far been disappointing, largely because the legislation is not retrospective. Other avenues are still being explored. Some individuals had secured access to the “un-redacted” files, which named Amicus officers colluding with the employer to blacklist members. UNITE will help members get access to all such files and take rapid and strong action against any officers who are guilty and still work for the union.
- New industrial action & balloting guidelines have been issued to officers in the light of recent court cases, and it was agreed that these should also be circulated to EC members.
- The motion on pensions from the IT & Comms sector which was agreed at the January 2010 EC meeting will be discussed again at the next F&GP meeting and a report brought back.
- The section of the Joint General Secretaries’ report relating to IT & Comms read:
IT and Communications
The BBC has put forward proposals to cap pay increases at 1% for pensionable pay purposes from 1 April 2011. Negotiations with Unite, Bectu and NUJ are taking place.
The company has also tabled its final offer on pay to the joint unions covering BECTU, NUJ and Unite.
The offer to staff now stands at a flat rate increase of £475 for staff paid up to £37,726 a year. Staff paid above the BBC-defined cap face a pay freeze. In a slight change from an earlier offer, the BBC is proposing to increase rates of pay at the floor and ceiling of BBC grades and staff allowances by 1 per cent.
The unions maintain that the BBC can afford to pay more to its staff across the board given the 2 per cent rise in its licence fee income. The proposal on the table would increase the pay bill by 1 per cent.
Together with Bectu and NUJ, we are consulting with members on the pay and pensions proposals with a view to balloting on industrial action if the BBC is unwilling to change its proposals.
HP has announced a further 934 redundancies to take effect throughout the UK by the end of October 2010, with more expected in the 12 months after that.
Two meetings have been held with the company under the auspices of ACAS since the dispute ended earlier this year. Progress in taking forward the outstanding issues of the ACAS brokered agreement has been glacial, in most senses of the word. The company appears to be taking recriminatory action against a number of Unite representatives, contrary to the settlement agreement and is proposing to cut back on facility time of the Unite senior representative.
Discussions continue to finalise suitable wording to ensure that the terms of the Defined Contribution pension scheme replacing the Defined Benefit pension scheme are contractual and can only be changed by agreement.
A pay offer has been made and accepted by members covered by the Manchester bargaining group, the principal elements of which include a “cost of living” increase of 1% or £225 (whichever is the greater) effective from 1 August 2010, approximately 1% to be allocated on the basis of matrices that guarantee larger increases for higher performers and the lower paid, and 0.25% to be allocated at managers’ discretion, in accordance with guidelines. The company will review the salaries of anyone who would still be paid less than £13,500.
We have organised 34 field service engineers out of 53 in the proposed bargaining unit. Following our initial request for a voluntary agreement which was refused by the company, the statutory recognition process had been commenced.
Two meetings involving senior reps and full time officials have been used as part of a campaign to improve our union organisation in this company.
Computer Services Organising Project
Following the organising workshop for reps in CSC, Fujitsu HP, IBM and Steria in autumn 2009, further workshops are being arranged with the aim of a follow up conference as part of an organising campaign with the assistance of the Organising Department to take the campaign forward. We are also working with the Organising Department to co-ordinate activities in companies in the sector which form part of the 100% Organising Campaign at regional level.
Future of cheques
In December 2009, the Board of the Payments Council announced a target end date of 31 October 2018 for cheque clearings in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and said there should be "no scenario" for using cheques by 2018. A final review will come in 2016. This is of key importance to our members in HP and iPSL, a Unisys joint venture company, who are involved in cheque processing and clearing for all the major UK clearing banks.
Following our submission to the House of Lords Treasury Committee in support of our members livelihoods, we are working across the IT & Communications, Finance and GPM Sectors on this campaign in order to safeguard the interests of members affected and people and organisations who rely on being able to use cheques as a means of payment. Other sectors such as Logistics may also be affected.
ICT Life Skills
The Digital Britain report produced by the last Labour Government identified 12.5 million people who are non-users of the Internet and potentially excluded from job opportunities and full participation in today’s digital economy and society. We have worked with e-skills UK on this previously and together with the Unite Lifelong Learning team are working with relevant organisations to see how Unite can use its existing lay member networks and communication channels to mentor and support people to raise their confidence to take their first steps to learn and engage with IT.
- There was nothing from the Electrical Engineering & Electronics sector in the Joint General Secretaries’ report.
- Under “disputes, ballots and repudiations” I notice that 264 members Philips Lighting have voted for and been called to take a continuous overtime ban, and that there is a reballot at Tufnol Composites in Birmingham over a pay claim.
- UNITE is pursuing a legal case over pensions on behalf of members who lost their jobs at Visteon.
- In March-June 2010, UNITE won over £11m for members in 4215 personal injury cases, plus around £1.5m from Employment Tribunal cases.
- Standing Orders for the various committees will be reviewed to ensure that the Strategy For Growth (i.e. organising, including the 100% campaign) is high on every agenda.
- The Organising Department presented a paper demonstrating the positive contribution that the National Organising Strategy is making to membership and net union income (though this is clearly not the primary measure of success). A lot of the discussion centred on the need to build sustainable workplace union organisation – around 25% of those who join UNITE as a whole leave within a year, reflecting the fact that many of them are not integrated into effective workplace organisation. With the exception of some campaigns which have gone wrong, growth through organising campaigns is sustained beyond the end of the campaign.
- UNITE has won a ballot for union recognition in part of Capita with a 62% turnout and a 96% yes vote.
- The Equality Act 2010 will come into force on 1st October (replacing previous legislation), though the government is threatening to delay or not implement the parts of the Act which are phased. The TUC has produced a useful guide (http://www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-18199-f0.pdf).
- UNITE is working on the issue of “forced ranking” – the practice of allocating fixed proportions of appraisal scores regardless of performance. The practice had been found to be discriminatory in the USA, but the issue had arisen as part of the Finance sector organising campaign. It seems likely that the practice could be discriminatory in the UK as well. This has been an issue in a number of IT companies.
- A range of dates in the Equality diary were highlighted, including 30th October (Equal Pay Day – gender pay gap means this date is the equivalent of women not being paid until the end of the year) and 15-19th November (Anti-Bullying Week).
- Motions pressing for more effective monitoring of member diversity were remitted for consideration by the Equality department.
- Additional funding for Pride 2010 was agreed.
- New UNITE guides on “Company Accounts and how to use them” and “How to prepare and manage a pay claim” are on the union web site (http://www.unitetheunion.org/resources/publications/unite_guides.aspx)
- A case over “Fair Share Schemes” had been lost, and these arrangements are not currently active.
- The UNITE National Political Committee recommended that the EC decide to make a supporting nomination for Ed Milliband as leader of the Labour Party. The EC endorsed this recommendation, with 10 votes (including me) against.
- Several remits (motions) had been submitted protesting at the TUC inviting David Cameron to address TUC Congress. Cameron has said he cannot attend and the invitation to Vince Cable has been withdrawn.
- UNITE is running a pilot project in 10 constituencies where big workplaces are targeted to encourage people to get involved in the Labour Party with the aim of ensuring candidates are selected who are more sympathetic to UNITE policies.
- A remit promoting UNITE’s councillors network was agreed and passed to the Political Committee.
- It was pointed out that despite the conference decision, UNITE was not yet listed as a signatory to the People’s Charter. It was agreed this must be actioned and the Charter publicised through the union.
- The EC approved a report from the Returning Officer in relation to the election for UNITE General Secretary. The key points arising from this are:
- Regular (not special) meetings of UNITE committees may invite all the candidates, but may not endorse a candidate.
- A “workplace” is not defined in rule. For the purposes of workplace nominations, these must be based on a meeting of members represented by a workplace representative.
- There was a proposal to hold open “hustings” in each region. Three of the four candidates were willing to participate, but the fourth was not. The proposal was put to a vote and defeated, with 11 (including me) voting in favour.
- The MOD and Government Departments sector will be consulted about a proposal to include the Communication Managers’ Association (CMA) in that sector.
- The Joint General Secretaries will send a strongly worded letter to Regional Secretaries to ensure that all committees such as Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) and Area Activist Committees are convened as required by rule, and that they taken place in the time-window allocated.
- Branches, Regional Committees and National Industrial Sector Committees are invited to send in their views on the future of UNITE branches. Concerns were raised that the request for views had not been adequately circulated, and this will be addressed.
- The ongoing discrepancy in branch funding (ex-Amicus 3%, ex-TGWU 10%) was raised yet again, but despite the EC statement agreed by the Policy Conference, no progress is being made. The Joint General Secretaries did commit to resolve the problem where ex-Amicus branches are left with no money if cheques are cashed late after the end of the year.
- The decisions of the UNITE Policy Conference have been published on the union web site (http://www.unitetheunion.org/pdf/015-UPC-decisions-taken.pdf). The next EC meeting will consider motions that were remitted and also what action to take as a result of the motions passed.
- The Rulebook as revised by the special Rules Conference is online (http://www.unitetheunion.org/pdf/054-Unite%20Rule%20book%20-%20effective%20from%201%20May%2009%20amended%204%20Ju%E2%80%A6.pdf).
- Arrangements were agreed for UNITE regional and national Young Members’ Committees. The first National Young Members’ Committee is now planned for 14th October, allowing more time for the regional meetings to take place up to the end of September 2010. Extra seats were added to the national committee, to reflect the distribution of young members between regions and to make room for proportionality.
- A common set of waiting/qualification periods for new joiners to qualify for various benefits was discussed, but needed more work before being agreed. The idea is to protect the union against people joining with issues and immediately demanding the union deploy large resources, only for them to leave afterwards. However, it was recognised that discretion will need to be exercised to provide help before the qualification periods, for example where this assists with organising and campaigning. In summary, the time limits under discussion (not yet agreed) are:
- Dispute / victimisation benefit – 13 weeks full subs
- Advice – immediate
- Officer representation – 13 weeks full subs
- Legal services – immediate (including retirees) for personal injury, 26 weeks full subs for other legal services. Note that members off work and pursuing a personal injury claim must continue their contributions (at the Special Discounted Rate if appropriate).
- Incapacity/maternity/paternity/adoption/fixed sums, Funeral, Convalescence – 26 weeks full subs
- Driver Care – no change
- Expenses arrangements for UNITE education courses were finally agreed.
- The EC agreed in principle common arrangements for Retired Members (including permanent disability), but the detail still requires more work. In summary:
- Existing retired members maintain their subs rates, benefits etc
- New retired members must have paid full subs or part time subs for at least 5 years and be permanently retired from work and not claiming Job Seekers Allowance etc
- New retired members have all standard benefits and Funeral Care, but not other ancillary benefits
- Funeral benefit is calculated on the member’s service on full subs up to becoming a retired member. For ex-Amicus members this accrues from 1/9/2009.
- The Retired Members’ subs rate is £12.96 per year, but free for those with over 20 years membership.
- There was a lengthy debate about the working of the legal system for ex-Amicus people, which many EC members were dissatisfied with. It was clarified that nothing in the process prevents full time officers keeping reps informed of the advice received, and that the officer is supposed to send letters to the member setting out the advice. A remit (motion) calling for an urgent review of legal practices with a view to implementing a standardised system across the union by the end of the year, with preference being given to the former TGWU system, was agreed (32 – 19) against the opposition of the Joint General Secretaries. I voted for this.
- A pilot project marketing UNITE’s Personal Injury legal support to members had been very successful, with a large increase in members using the service. This benefits the members, as they keep all the compensation won, rather than a no-win-no-fee solicitor taking a big chunk. It also financially benefits the union. The project will be rolled out across the country.
- The Education Department is running an increasing number of sector-specific courses, which can be arranged quickly through the National Officer.
- As part of the membership cleanup, about 290,000 members who are more than 6 months in arrears with their subs are being excluded from membership during July. All have been sent several letters, which resulted in about 5000 rejoining. Branch secretaries will be notified which of their members have been excluded so that they can try to re-recruit them.
- Paying membership continues to decline, standing at 1,251,978 by the end of Q2 (June 2010), which is a reduction of 30,765 since the end of 2009. The equivalent figures for the EEE sector are 15,897 (down from 17,749) and for the ITC sector, 12,660 (down from 13,561).
- Following the first UNITE Policy Conference and special Rules Conference, the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) had produced a report with a variety of recommendations for the future. This will be discussed at the next EC meeting, once people have had time to consider them.
- Checking of allocation of members to sectors has, as expected resulted in an additional seat for Construction on the next EC. The re-allocation was not yet reflected in the membership report.
- Negotiations continue with the representatives of officers and staff over future pension provision.
- Of the 265 VR applications received, 149 would be gone by the end of 2010, 29 were not yet decided and 87 had been declined. The cost of those leaving was £11.3m, corresponding to their annual salary bill of £7.4m.
- The annual financial report for 2009 was accepted. The AR21 has now been filed with the Certification Officer (http://www.certoffice.org/links/pdf/795T_20092.PDF).
- The EC had previously been unable to agree guidance on discipline of members. A new and much improved proposal was brought forward and agreed. I voted against as defeating it was the only way the EC would have the opportunity to vote on a few relatively minor but important amendments.
- There were lots of complaints about the new phone system, both in terms of implementation problems, and the cost of ringing 0845 numbers from mobile phones. The Joint General Secretaries promised to resolve these.
- The long-running USW strike at Vale Inco has been settled, with all members expected to be back in work by the end of July. Not all aims were achieved, but they did secure their final salary pensions.
- UNITE workplaces, branches and committees are encouraged to look into organising and supporting showings of Oliver Stone’s “South of the Border” film which aims to counter some of the US propaganda about what is happening in Venezuela.
- UNITE is supporting the next convoy of aid to Palestine from the UK and is looking for volunteers to join this.
- There was a moving report from a delegation which had visited the Bangladeshi ship-breakers (mostly children) who work in the most appalling and dangerous conditions for poverty wages. Workers Uniting (the international grouping of UNITE and USW) is working to help them organise.
- Los Mineros, a Mexican union, has affiliated to the USW as a precursor to merger with the USW and joining Workers Uniting. Los Mineros copper miners in Cananea have been on strike for three years.
- Merger to create a new European Industrial Federation (EMF/EMCEF/ETUF-TCL) is progressing.
Other Resolutions (remits or motions) included:
- A motion from the ITC NISC on developing the IT skills of UNITE members was agreed:
Digital inclusion and developing affordable IT skills
12.5m people in the UK including a significant number of Unite members are currently Internet non-users, particularly although not exclusively concentrated amongst older people, low income households and families, unemployed people, those with no formal qualifications and people with disabilities.
Such workers are seriously disadvantaged by lack of access to affordable introductory ICT user skills training, which is a major cause of exclusion from job opportunities and full participation in today’s digital economy and society as for example 92% of all job vacancies now require IT user skills. In addition, Unite has amongst its membership a considerable number of people who do not use computers in their work; whose use of computers and/or other IT equipment is limited by the requirements of their job, whose work is highly automated and repetitive; and is often restricted to inputting data in prescribed ways.
The IT and Communications National Industrial Sector Committee calls on the Unite EC to support the following with the aim of reducing the number of members who are unable to use the Internet and to develop IT user skills as an essential element of skills for life and employment.:
1. investigate the lack of IT user and Internet skills amongst Unite members
2. arrange for the Unite Lifelong Learning team to work with all relevant Sectors and Regions to develop initiatives and projects to encourage and support the development of IT user and Internet skills for all members.
3. work with Race Online 2012 established by the last Labour government and continued by the present coalition government in support of targeting the 4m socially excluded adults who have never been online, particularly amongst Unite members
4. use all available Unite structures and communications including Union Learning Representatives in support of the above
5. promote best practice and wider use of IT in support of Unite organising and general campaigns
- A motion from the ITC NISC protesting at a General Secretary candidate claiming that UNITE engaged in “adventurism and phoney militancy” was noted, and candidates were advised to be careful and conscious of their comments:
The IT and Communications National Industrial Sector Committee condemns the statement in the letter to members from the General Secretary candidate ‘Les Bayliss’ attacking “An end to adventurism and phoney militancy that alienates our members and the general public”.
This NISC knows of no occasion where Unite the Union has backed industrial action or industrial action ballots unless the members concerned have requested it.
Backing the members who wish to take industrial action or to ballot for industrial action is not adventurism or phoney militancy – it is democracy and represents the members having control over the union.
We are also concerned that this statement came out during the BA cabin crew dispute and could be interpreted as an attack on our Cabin Crew members. Yet the union in BA has already offered savings to BA in millions of pounds. Again this cannot be described as adventurism.
We agree to forward this motion to the Unite Executive Council.
- A motion from the ITC NISC calling for publicity of the threat posed in the CBI report “Making Britain the Place to Work” was agreed.
This IT & Communications National Industrial Sector Committee calls upon the Unite Executive Council to publicise the threat posed in the CBI Report Making Britain the Place to Work to Information Technology and Communications workers in particular concerning the CBI’s demands to the Government over amending the TUPE laws. The employers’ demands will lead to job loss, insecurity and a reduction in the terms and conditions of employment of our members and potential members.
This also represents a significant opportunity to point out to the many workers in the industry that are not currently union members that TUPE if weakened will mean only union organisation can defend and protect existing terms and conditions of employment.
- A motion from the ITC NISC calling for a campaign about on-call and standby time and the Working Time Regulations was agreed.
This IT & Communications National Industrial Sector Committee calls upon the Unite Executive Council to give consideration to a national campaign calling for on-call/standby time to be included in the WT Regulations. To publicise members rights in these areas and to highlight the risks to health of being permanently on call.
- A motion on administration of hardship / dispute fund requests was agreed, but it was made clear this was not intended to delay or hinder requests for support.
- A motion calling for a single UNITE representative credential was agreed.
- Motions on two important aspects of employment law “third party pressure” and “some other substantial reason” for dismissal, were remitted for further consideration and a report back to the next EC.
- A motion calling for the cancellation of Haiti’s foreign debt was agreed.
- A motion calling for a policy on communication within UNITE to include those without email was agreed, but on the understanding that we want to enable as many branches and reps to use electronic communication as possible.
- In response to a motion calling for regular meetings of the Executive Officers (JGS etc) with Regional Secretaries, it was agreed to improve communication (including of EC decisions) but felt that a regular face-to-face meeting would be too cumbersome and expensive in time and money.
- A proposal to continue the 2% levy on branches for the BA strike, to build up a dispute fund, will be fed into the discussions on branches.
- A motion on defending pensions, in particular during TUPE transfers, was agreed.
- A motion supporting the Morning Star newspaper was agreed.
- A motion highlighting the positive Demir and Baykara cases at the European Court of Human Rights, which can be exploited to challenge some of our unacceptably poor employment legislation was agreed.
- A motion supporting Refugee and Migrant Justice was agreed.
- A motion calling for senior branch officers to have access to branch membership information in a useful electronic format was agreed.
- In response to a motion on ensuring all professional driver members have access to the Driver Care benefit, a report was promised to the next EC and it was indicated that everyone supported it in principle.
- A motion for a campaign to oppose the change from RPI to CPI in pension indexation was agreed.
- A motion on child slavery in the cocoa industry was agreed.
- A motion on processing of membership forms was remitted for further consideration.
- A motion calling for a daily “green tax” on HGVs based overseas was agreed.