Wednesday 22 September 2010

UNITE Executive Council meeting 20-22 September 2010

I've already posted on the General Secretary nominations and on the arrangements for Rules Conference. Below are summaries of the decisions on Waiting/Qualification Periods and on elections to the Executive Council, as well as an update on the position of Retired Members.

Waiting/Qualification Periods
a) Dispute/victimisation - 13 weeks full contributions (may be waived at EC/GS discretion)
b) Legal services - Immediate (and all retirees and non working dependents eligible) for personal injury claims. 13 weeks full contributions for all other Legal services (may be waived at EC/GS discretion). Members off work and pursuing a Personal Injury or other legal claim through the Union must continue to contribute at the rate appropriate to their employment status (e.g. at the Special Discounted Rate if unemployed) in order for their claim to continue to be pursued.
c) Incapacity/maternity/paternity/adoption/fixed sums - 26 weeks full contributions
d) Funeral - 26 weeks full contributions
e) Convalescence - 26 weeks full contributions
f) Driver Care - as per current arrangements

Election of Executive Council 2011-2014

  • Independent Scrutineer: Electoral Reform Services
  • Returning Officer: General Secretary
  • Election Commissioner: Professor Keith Ewing
Branches to be notified of this timetable as soon as possible:
  • 4th January 2011: Despatch of nomination forms
  • 10th January - 7th February 2011: Nomination meetings
  • 14th February 2011: Last date for receipt of nominations
  • 21st February 2011: Last date for acceptance of nomination and receipt of election address
  • 25th March 2011: Voting papers despatched by independent scrutineer
  • 15th April 2011: Last date for voting paper to be returned to the independent scrutineer
  • 16-17th April 2011: Count
The date the result will be declared and the protocol for the conduct of the election have yet to be decided.

Retired and Permanently Disabled Members
These members have discounted contribution rates. The notions of "active" and "non active" retired members had never been approved, though it was widely (and confusingly) communicated. Below is the correct position, documenting the decision of the July EC meeting.

In order to be a retired or permanently disabled member, the qualifications are:

1) Existing Retired Members

All retired and permanently disabled members from both Sections as at 31st July 2010 are "grandfathered" in all respects - e.g., in terms of contributions, benefits and eligibility to hold office in the Retired Members and Branch structures (subject to rule).

2) New Retired Members
In order for a member to be eligible for retired membership (retiring on or after 1st August 2010), he or she must meet the following criteria:
  • Be permanently retired from work;
  • Not employed or seeking employment;
  • Not claiming Job Seekers Allowance;
  • Have been a member of the Union for at least five years at the full or part time rate.
3) New Permanently Disabled Members
In order for a member to be eligible for the retired rate because of permanent disablement (becoming permanently disabled on or after 1st August 2010), he or she must be in receipt of State incapacity benefit or equivalent benefits/pension.

If a member returns to work, then they must return to paying contributions at the rate appropriate to the employment status (e.g., full or part time).

All members who become retired members on or after 1st August 2010 (including those who are permanently prevented from work due to disability) are not entitled to receive any ancillary benefit, but are entitled to Funeral Benefit.

All members who became retired members on or after 1st August 2010 (including those who are permanently prevented from work due to disability) are entitled to receive all non ancillary benefits, such as those related to legal support for personal injury, free wills, advice on State benefit etc, with the exception that such members will not be eligible to receive any benefit or support relating to employment.

Funeral Benefit is calculated based on the members' service (full time, part time at 50%) up to the point of the member becoming retired or permanently disabled. Service whilst paying the Special Discounted Rate (e.g. unemployed, retired) does not count. Service for the purpose of calculating Funeral Benefit for former Amicus Section members accrues from 1.9.09. Funeral Benefit for all members will be the rate prevailing at thetime of death (but still based upon the member's service at the time of becoming retired/permanently disabled and subject to the prevailing maximums).

Membership rate
Members retiring (or becoming permanently disabled) on or after 1st August 2010 with less than 20 years of membership must pay the special discounted rate of £12.96 per year (25p per week). In order to be cost effective, this should be paid, where possible, annually by direct debit.

Members retiring (or becoming permanently disabled) on or after 1st August 2010 with more than 20 years of full paying membership shall be entitled to free membership. (Members who retire with less than 20 years of fully paying membership will not qualify for free retired membership when they have paid the balance of years necessary to meet the 20 year eligibility for free membership at the retired member rate). The benefits and eligibility shall otherwise be the same as for those members paying the retired membership rate. Any members who retired or became permanently disabled on or after 1st September 2009 with more than 20 years full paying membership and paid contributions based upon the "Active" retiree notion shall be entitled to a refund of any such contributions.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

UNITE 2011 Rules Conference timetable and SOC

Today the UNITE Executive Council agreed the first parts of the timetable and arrangements for the union's first full rules conference.

  • First Quarter 2011: Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) and National Industrial Sector Committees (NISCs) elect delegates to the Rules Conference (1 delegate per 4000 members)
  • First Quarter 2011: Each branch and each Constitutional Committee can submit one rule amendment
  • Week commencing 9th May: Regional meetings of delegates assign responsibility for moving rule amendments from branches
  • 13-16th June 2011: Rules Conference, Liverpool
No amendments to rule change motions will be allowed.

The Standing Orders Committee (SOC) for the Rules Conference will consist of 20 members elected from Regional Committees, with seats allocated to ensure at least minimum proportionality:
  • East Midlands: 2
  • Ireland: 2, including at least one woman
  • London & Eastern: 2, including at least one BAEM
  • North East, Yorkshire & Humber: 2
  • North West: 2, including at least one woman
  • Scotland: 2, including at least one woman
  • South East: 2, including at least one woman
  • South West: 2
  • Wales: 2
  • West Midlands: 2
SOC members should not be delegates to the Rules Conference, but SOC members will be treated as delegates for the purposes of electing the 2015 Rules Conference SOC (at the 2011 conference).

UNITE General Secretary nominations

UNITE's Executive Council today accepted a report from the Returning Officer.

Four people received sufficient valid nominations to become candidates:

  1. Len McCluskey, 829 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 368,986 members
  2. Les Bayliss, 214 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 137,942 members
  3. Jerry Hicks, 137 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 109,088 members
  4. Gail Cartmail, 97 valid nominations, including nominations from branches representing 37,836 members
There were 165 invalid branch nominations and 83 invalid workplace nominations.

A full list of nominations will be posted on the union web site as soon as possible.

Friday 10 September 2010

Unite to consult across BA membership on union-busting

It's good to see the latest UNITE press release on the BA dispute, which talks about getting together reps from across the membership in BA. Many of us have felt for a long time that Willie Walsh was conducting the dispute as if it was all-out warfare, while the union was only deploying a fraction of its power to defend members.

The press release is in line with the comments made at UNITE's July Executive Council meeting, but from the outside little appears to have happened since to turn the comments into reality.

UNITE is a huge union, and when a group of members are under the cosh from their employer it's important they feel like they've got a million+ others behind them. This feeling doesn't come from rhetoric, but from practical organising, solidarity and support - from messages of support and workplace collections which we can all do, through to widening the action which members beyond BA Cabin Crew need to seriously consider.

Is it a coincidence that this press release has appeared just three days after UNITE General Secretary candidate Jerry Hicks went public calling for a similar approach to the BA dispute?

Whether electoral pressure has contributed to this development or not, it should be welcomed by everyone who doesn't want to see the members and their union smashed at BA.

Survey of directors shows "us and them" in pensions

A useful report from the TUC on a PensionWatch survey showing the yawning gap between pensions for top company directors and those of ordinary employees.

They survey covered 329 directors from 102 top UK companies. Despite all the attacks company bosses have made on workers' pensions, most directors are still in Defined Benefit (DB) pension schemes, and most have a retirement age of 60. The average transfer value was £3.8m, providing an average annual pension of £227,726. The most common accrual rate was 1/30th, rather than the 1/60th or 1/80th enjoyed by most workers who still have DB schemes.

And those who don't have DB schemes aren't in the same boat as the rest of us either. The average annual company contribution to a Defined Contribution (DC) pension was £134,760!

However, I doubt very much they'll be rallying behind the members of UNITE, NUJ and BECTU who are currently fighting against outrageous attacks on their pension scheme at the BBC.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Joint General Secretaries' Briefing from July 2010 UNITE EC meeting

The briefing on the last Executive Council meeting is now available. I will send it to UNITE members on request.

My own report is here.

Saturday 4 September 2010

Consultation on the future of UNITE branches

On 23rd July 2010 the Joint General Secretaries wrote out to Regional Secretaries and Executive Council members to consult about the future of branches. At the July EC meeting, a few days later, concerns were raised that this had not been adequately circulated, and the Executive was assured that this would be addressed. To date, the letter does not appear to have reached branches, the most obvious bodies to consult.

For what it's worth, the letter is here:

To: All Regional Secretaries
Cc: All EC members

Dear Colleague

Purpose and Organisation of Unite Branches

The Rules related to Branches are contained in Rule 17 of Unite’s Rule Book which commences with the following two sub-sections:-

17.1 Wherever possible, Branches shall be based on the workplace, although provision shall also be made for local Branches and National Industrial Branches as appropriate and as approved by the Executive Council.

17.2 Branch membership shall be allocated on the basis of workplace if there is a workplace Branch at the member’s workplace; or the nearest local Branch if there is not a workplace or National Industrial Branch.

While we do not want to be any more prescriptive than was intended by the Rule, there is a clearly preferred route of establishing good workplace Branches. There is still plenty of scope for Branches to be organised according to local need and requirements and for their organisation to be based on a “common sense” approach.

In addition to the maintenance of minutes/decisions taken by the Branch, and the responsibility for the probity of financial accounts, Branches should be particularly proactive in the following areas.

· Developing a single Unite entity wherever practicable.

· Ensuring that where more than one Unite Branch exists in a workplace, that the activities of the Union are co-ordinated and not in conflict.

· Supporting 100% membership in the workplace(s) where the Branch is based and developing an ‘Organising Plan’.

· Developing membership ‘Recruitment and Retention Plans’ around the Branch.

· Distributing Unite literature and campaign material amongst Branch members.

· Ensuring Membership data is up to date and accurate.

· Ensuring access to and utilisation of, the Union’s IT structures and links to the centre.

While this consultation exercise is not about Branch administration, it nevertheless seeks to establish what is viable and acceptable spend from within Branch administration.

Please would you let us have your recommendations, after discussion with your Regional Committee, on how best you think we can take this forward in your Region, with a view to completing all the appropriate consultations and achieving the consolidation of Branches wherever possible and in line with Rule. Responses should be sent to Christian Matheson and Irene Dykes.

We look forward to receiving your response to the above as speedily as possible.

Yours sincerely

Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson
Joint General Secretaries

22 July 2010

I've gathered input from my National Industrial Sector Committee, reps in my company, my branch and beyond, and submitted the response below.
It would appear that branches have not been notified about the consultation about the future of branches, which is ludicrous. Branches are a key part of the UNITE structure and sidelining them in this way is unacceptable.

1. Maximise participation by members by making branches relevant and accessible
2. Encourage participation from a diverse membership, including those with caring responsibilities
3. Bring the union’s resources as close as possible to the members
4. Branches should communicate with their members effectively
5. Democratic accountability to the members
6. Support workplace organising
7. Encourage participation in the union beyond the workplace, both in the wider UNITE structures and in the local community / labour movement
8. Accommodate the wide variety of working patterns that exist today (e.g. mobile workers, home-based workers, agency/subcontracting/non-standard employment, varying workplace size, multi-site employers, multinationals)
9. Sensible use of union resources
10. Retain as many of the current activists as possible through any change, and seek to involve new ones

The current situation
UNITE has inherited a wide range of branch structures from its predecessor unions:
1. considerable duplication (multiple branches serving the same workplace or geography) does not assist coordination of union activity
2. funding is inconsistent (ex-Amicus branches get 3% and cannot accumulate money from one year to the next, ex-TGWU branches get 10% and can save)
3. many branches do not function properly (e.g. lack of activity, inquorate meetings)
4. there are branches based on a workplace, employer, industry, occupation or geography which do function well
5. members in a single workplace are often scattered amongst many branches
6. the link between branch and workplace(s) is often weak
7. the link between branch and the wider UNITE structure is often weak
8. The profile of branches is typically low

1. There can be no single solution that is appropriate throughout a union as large and diverse as UNITE, but there should be more consistency
2. As a guideline of when a separate branch should be set up, a branch needs a reasonable pool of activists (perhaps double the quorum?) to function well. This is more important than the number of members
3. All branches should receive 10% of members’ subs
4. There should be a sensible cap on the funds a branch can accumulate (e.g. 5 years’ subs or £10,000, whichever is the greater) to discourage branches feeling they need to “spend up” each year, allow flexibility of spending from one year to the next, but avoid large sums of union money being tied up in inactive branches
5. Branches should be free to spend money as their members see fit in line with union policy
6. Branches should submit audited annual accounts. If a branch fails to do so, or spends no money, the Region should investigate whether the branch is functioning.
7. There should be no honorarium, salary or other payment to branch officers. Branches should reimburse reasonable genuine authorised expenses
8. The definition of “workplace” should be flexible. The priority is industrial logic – bargaining with the employer.
9. Where a workplace is not large enough or members do not want a workplace branch, the sector should review whether it should be grouped with other workplaces in the same sector in a reasonable geographical area to form an industrial branch.
10. Where members are not allocated to a workplace or industrial branch, they should be allocated to a geographical branch, which should be local enough to facilitate attendance.
11. Members not in workplace or industrial branches should be able to choose whether to join a branch which meets near their home or their workplace.
12. In determining geographical branches, consideration should be given to the UNITE Area structure, to ensure there are local branches reasonably spread throughout.
13. All branches should be affiliated to their local TUC and encouraged to get involved in local campaigns, promote union policies and campaigns in local media etc.
14. Branch officers should have ready access to membership information in electronic form and be encouraged to maintain it. They should be able to access this through a secure online facility.
15. The union office should facilitate a mailing to branch members when reasonably requested.
16. Branches should be encouraged to have a wider range of branch officers (e.g. branch equality officer, membership secretary, press officer, branch organiser) to encourage greater activity and involvement, rather than concentrating all the work in a few hands.
17. Every branch should be allocated an officer.
18. Branches should receive copies of Area, Regional, EC (and where appropriate, RISC) minutes
19. Minutes should be taken, signed and retained.
20. Existing branches should be invited to submit a short outline of their purpose and plans.
21. Branches should not be closed or merged against the wishes of their members.
22. Organising should be part of the standard agenda of all branch meetings
23. The dates, times and places of all branch meetings should be published on the union web site
24. The union should issue membership cards at least every two years, and the card should include the branch and sector details.
25. Retired and unemployed members should be able to remain in their previous workplace branch.
26. Members should readily be able to see how to contact their branch officers, including through the union web site.
27. Each Region should produce an electronic guide to the branches in the region, listing what branches there are, what they cover, where & when they meet and who the main officers are.
28. Representatives should be encouraged to attend branch meetings and give reports on their work and negotiations. Branches may wish to maintain attendance records.
29. There should be regularly scheduled branch meetings (normally monthly), with a facility for emergency meetings when required.
30. There should be limited facility for branches to delegate certain decisions to an elected branch committee.
31. Branch officers should be lay members.
32. Branches should have their own cheque book. Cheques should be signed by at least two people, which must not include the payee.
33. One of the risks with workplace branches is that they can become insular and cut off from the wider union and movement. To counter this it is important that the EC decision to hold regular Area Activist Meetings open to all accountable representatives (in addition to the Area Activist Committees) is actually implemented. This can provide coordination and exchange of views with a geographical focus that cuts across workplaces and sectors. Area Activist Committees should be allocated a budget so that they can meaningfully undertake campaigning and other appropriate activities.
34. The union should provide written guides for branch officers explaining what the role of (at least) chair, secretary and treasurer is and how to carry it out. Training courses should also be available for branch officers. For example, how would a new branch treasurer know how to complete the accounts etc?
35. Communication from head office and the regional centres to branches needs to be significantly improved. The standard branch agenda includes items referred by the EC, but there never are any. Why not have a monthly bulletin to branches, which could include JGS report from EC meetings, information about current campaigns, union events etc? For many branches this could be electronic.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Members at the BBC vote to strike in defence of their pensions

Congratulations to UNITE members and their colleagues in the NUJ and BECTU for an impressive result in the strike ballot over plans for savage cuts to their pension provision. It is reported in The Guardian and elsewhere that members of the three unions returned a majority of over 90% for strike action.

The BBC have already said they will be making revised proposals, and the media reports that the unions are not announcing strike dates until they have considered them.

The impressive strike vote represents the best chance to successfully defend pension provision.

There seems little doubt that BBC senior management were trying to impress the Con-Dem government with their "toughness". Instead they have impressed the workforce and the public with their greed and hypocrisy. The top 15 BBC managers paid themselves £4.76m and the deputy director general will get a pension of £400,000 a year.

Nobody should be fooled by the attempts to sow division between public and private sector workers. If pensions in the public sector are cut, it will make it harder still to defend and improve provision in the private sector.