Friday 16 December 2011

Public sector pensions fight

Predictably, the government is seeking to divide the resistance to cuts and austerity by trying to bully union leaders into accepting a very poor deal on public sector pensions.

News (e.g. RTW) is coming out in dribs and drabs from yesterday's TUC Public Sector Liaison Group meeting about the union response to this, which doesn't appear to be entirely good news from all the unions.

UNITE's Executive Council agreed an excellent statement on the campaign last week which specifically "calls on all unions to stand together in opposition to government attempts to divide unions and offer terms of settlement to some while continuing the attack on others".

A number of activists in various public sector unions have launched a statement opposing any sell-out which you can sign here and view signatories here.  There's also going to be a lobby of the TUC Public Sector Liaison Group at 2pm outside Congress House.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Strike over pay at IT Services company Steria

UNITE members at Steria are striking tomorrow over pay.  There's a copy of the UNITE press release below, which includes details of the picket lines in Bristol, Coventry and High Wycombe.

Click here for an email address to which you can send messages of support.

Press Release: Unite members at Steria strike over pay dispute
Members of Unite, employed by IT services company Steria UK Ltd working on a Capita account, will take industrial action tomorrow (Friday, 16 December) in protest against the company's refusal to offer a pay rise for 2010 (payable from April 2011).

Unite members, who are system developers and analysts, voted an overwhelming 82 per cent in favour of strike action. Industrial action will take place at various Steria sites in Bristol, Coventry and High Wycombe (see notes) and staff will take part in the 24 hour strike from midnight tonight.

Unite regional officer, Jerry Pickford, said: “This is the first time that this group of workers have ever taken these steps as they feel that they have no option other than to withdraw their labour in protest at the refusal of Steria to make any kind off pay offer whatsoever.

“Over the last few years, our members have seen their workload increase tremendously and for nearly a decade they have received below inflation pay rises, which in real terms is seen as a pay cut. They have now reached the point where they are saying ‘enough is enough’.

“Management claim the current financial condition is the reason that a zero pay award has been given to staff, however, Steria continues to post excellent results for both last year and the first three quarters of this year. It also seems that its executives are immune to these financial conditions as they award themselves very healthy pay rises and bonuses.

“Further action will be planned for the near future. However, we hope that Steria will see sense and show proper respect for a group of workers that continually over perform for the company.”

For further information contact Jerry Pickford on 07764 655759 or Ashraf Choudhury in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2061 or 07980 224761.


24 hour strike action will take place from 12.00am, Friday 16 December at the following sites:

  • Friends Life Centre, Brierly Furlong, Stoke Gifford, Bristol, BS34 8SW.
  • 75 Corporation Street, Coventry, CV1 1GD.
  • Ashton Court, Kingsmead Business Park, Frederick Place, High Wycombe, HP11 1LA.

Sunday 11 December 2011

UNITE branches - big changes

After years of stalling and deadlock, progress is finally being made to move towards a single new branch structure for UNITE.  This week's Executive Council (EC) meeting took decisions on branch functions and finances, and on moves towards a branch structure more based on workplaces.

The EC agreed a paper which included some points on what branches will do, going beyond the role set out in rule 17:

  1. Keep up to date the membership records of all members in the branch, especially employer, workplace, address, home phone number, mobile number and email address.
  2. Generally provide advice, guidance and representation up to stage 1 disciplinary and grievance hearings.  An "accredited support rep" concept needs to be developed to fulfil this task.  Branches may pay expenses and a modest payment for time to members doing this.  Full-time officials would normally undertake final appeals.
  3. Have the option of deciding at a branch meeting that all branch members pay an amount above their basic union subscriptions to create an additional "Branch Fund".
  4. Be active and have a commitment to branch growth through organising.
How branch finances will work:
  1. There will be no "claw back" of branch money to the centre, including at the end of 2011.
  2. The funds currently held by old branches to be split proportionately amongst the new branches their members go to.
  3. Once a branch has been confirmed as an ongoing UNITE branch, it will (from 1 January 2012) receive 10% of its members subs, less half of any employer fee for administering check-off (deduction from salary).  If confirmation is after 1 January 2012, payments will be backdated to then.  Branches will receive their money monthly into their bank accounts.
  4. A new Unite Dispute Fund is being set up with an initial contribution of £25m.  2.5% of subs will be deducted from each branch's finances as a contribution to the fund.  The Dispute Fund will be responsible for all costs necessary to fight a dispute, apart from payroll costs for UNITE employees.  It will be controlled by the EC through a subcommittee.
  5. Branches to pay all expenses for running the branch, including meeting rooms, newsletters, postage, conferences etc.  The intention is for branches to meet in union facilities where practicable.  Where facilities are not available, Regional Secretaries can agree to reimburse meeting room costs from the regional fund.  [IA comment: many workplace branches are likely to want to meet on the employer's premises, to maximise attendance]  On request, the union can help branches arrange cost-effective printing and website services to help minimise these costs.
  6. Branches to pay lay member expenses other than for constitutional meetings or meetings called by a Regional Secretary or National Officer.  This includes branches paying expenses for attending the open Area Activist Meetings (but not the Committees).  Normally this would include combines and national shop stewards meetings, but where branches would have difficulty covering this, the Assistant General Secretary covering the sector can authorise payment.
  7. Funds to be held with Unity Bank (or Allied Irish Bank in the Republic or Ireland) in the branch name, and belong to the union.  Branches must notify Central Office of all bank accounts.
  8. Payments to individuals (including branch officers) for running the branch must be minuted decisions of a branch meeting.  They cannot in total exceed 2.5% of subs, excluding legitimate expenses and in relation to member servicing (see the point about "accredited support rep"s above).
  9. No payments to any UNITE employee or their immediate family.  Any exceptions must be justified and approved by the General Secretary or their designate.
  10. Branches to submit quarterly "returns" of their spending, and annual audited accounts (on a calendar year basis).  Payments to branches will cease if a satisfactory return/accounts have not been supplied by the end of the quarter following the end of the relevant period.  Central office will supply a template for return/accounts.  Audited branch annual accounts must be submitted to a branch meeting for approval, and must be made available to branch members on request.
  11. UNITE will provide training to branch officers.
Branch structure
The intention is to give branches a greater role in the union, to make them more relevant to the members and to bring resources closer to the members.

Where possible, branches will be "workplace" based.  Note that the definition of a workplace can be flexible - it might be one employer in a particular area in some cases.

Where workplace branches can't be sustained, the next option would be industry branches, for example taking in all members in IT & Communications in a particular area or region.

There are a few cases where national branches are being approved for particular employers, but this clearly has major disadvantages in terms of members' ability to participate.

Where members can't be placed in workplace or sector branches, more general branches are being set up, possibly including all remaining members in a particular geographic area, or maybe grouping together a number of industrial sectors.

The new branch structure should simplify linking members and reps into the UNITE structure, for example allowing regions to allocate officers or union solicitors on a branch-by-branch basis.

Proposals from a number of regions were put before the EC, which gave the go-ahead for new branches to be created.  A minority of the proposals did raise concerns, which people should take up with the relevant Regional Secretary.  If you're unaware of the proposals for your own workplace, I'd encourage you to ask via your region as soon as possible.  Some regions hadn't yet produced proposals, and were told to do so by 1 January 2012.

From an IT & Comms point of view, I am concerned that because not all the Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) are working well, reps in the sector may not have had much input into the proposals from the regions.  This could mean the regions being unaware of the issues on the ground, such as takeovers and mergers of employers, or a lack of enough activists in particular workplaces to make a branch viable.

The changes will mean new branches being created, with many old branches being merged or split up.

    Updated UNITE rulebook

    A version of the UNITE rulebook incorporating the changes made at the 2011 Rules Conference has finally been published on the union web site.

    Saturday 10 December 2011

    UNITE Community Membership

    This week's UNITE Executive Council discussed arrangements for members who are not in paid employment, which includes students, people out of work, people unfit to work, carers and pensioners.

    This post deals specifically with "community" members.  I've posted already about retired members - who should read both posts.

    To push through its austerity measures, the government is seeking to divide those in work from the rest of the population.  UNITE's new community membership initiative is intended to build unity, give a voice to those not working, strengthen community support for members in work and strengthen the union's campaigning role in our communities.  At the same time, the union's primary focus remains the workplace, so the structures have been set up so that community members can be properly represented within the union's structures, but not dominate them.

    Anyone over 16 years of age, not in paid employment and not already in a union should join UNITE as a community member and get involved.  This includes students, the unemployed, full-time parents and carers, people too ill to work and pensioners.

    Community membership costs 50p a week, preferably paid by quarterly direct debit (£6.50 every 3 months).

    New Community Branches are being set up, initially based on the same areas as UNITE's existing "Area Activist Committees" within each region and serviced by the same officers.  So for example in the north-west, my region, the areas are Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cumbria and the Isle of Man.  The first branch meetings will normally be called to elect officers once 50 members have signed up in a particular area.  They will also elect two members onto each Area Activist Committee.

    Community branches are funded on the same basis as all other UNITE branches, though Regional Committees may decide to financially support particular campaigns or initiatives.

    A "Community Support Unit" is being set up at UNITE head office for an initial six month-period, after which it will be reviewed.

    While I would hope most people would take up UNITE community membership to get involved and active, the initial publicity for Community membership focuses heavily on the "benefits" package, which includes:

    • Legal services (legal helpline, personal injury support)
    • Welfare benefits, tax and financial mis-selling advice
    • Gas & electricity comparison service
    • Debt counselling
    • Unite pre-paid debit card
    • Employment assistance service (CV writing, job applications, interview tips)
    • Access to hardship grants
    • Accident cover
    • Discounted insurance

    UNITE retired members

    This week's UNITE Executive Council discussed arrangements for members who are not in paid employment, which includes students, people out of work, people unfit to work, carers and pensioners.

    This post deals specifically with Retired Members.  I will post separately about Community membership, and retired members should look at both.

    Retired Members
    There are over a quarter of a million retired members in UNITE.  At the moment, some retired members pay reduced subscriptions, while many have free membership.  Most have felt pretty marginalised within the union, and the union has failed to make good use of this huge pool of commitment, knowledge, experience and time.

    Following consultation with the retired members' committee, the Executive Council agreed major changes, some of which required a rule change.

    In summary:
    1. Members who retire after 20 years' contributions will continue to be eligible for free membership.
    2. From 1 January 2012 retired members who make no financial contribution will not be eligible for benefits, but will remain entitled to vote in General Secretary elections.
    3. Retired members who wish to be eligible for union benefits after 1 January 2012 will need to have "retired member plus" or full membership.  Retired member plus membership will cost 50p a week, preferably paid by annual or biannual direct debit.
    4. Members in retirement before 31 December 2011 may be active and participate in the union's constitutional structures irrespective of their retired membership status.  Members retiring from 1 January 2012 must have retired member plus or full membership to participate in the union's structures.
    5. Retired members can choose to be a member of the branch associated with their last employment, a local retired members branch, or a local community branch.  Members cannot simultaneously be in more than one branch.
    6. There was some debate about the requirements for retired members who are branch secretaries / officers of branches (other than retired members' or community branches) to be full members.
    7. A proportion of retired member plus contributions will be remitted back to the regions for the exclusive use of retired members work and campaigning.
    8. There will be a conference of retired members in each region every three years, based on branch nomination.  This will elect a Retired Members' Regional Co-ordinating Committee of 20, which in turn will elect a retired members' observer (with speaking rights) to the Regional Committee, two delegates to the Retired Members' National Committee, and delegates to appropriate external pensioners' and labour movement organisations.
    9. Retired members who are branch delegates to Constituency Labour Parties plus four nominees from the Regional Retired Members' Co-ordinating Committee will attend the Regional Political Conference.  The EC will determine a number of retired members who can be elected to the Regional Political Committee.  Until the next Regional Political Conference, each Regional Retired Members' Co-ordinating Committee may choose two Labour Party members as extra members of the Regional Political Committee.
    10. Retired member branch officers are entitled to attend the Area Activists Meetings which take place every three years to elect Area Activist Committees, the general open Area Activists Meetings, and to stand for election to the defined retired members’ seats on Area Activists Committees.
    11. Every two years there will be a national retired members' conference, held with the other equalities conferences.  Delegates will be elected proportionately from teh retired members' regional co-ordinating committees.
    12. The Retired Members' National Committee will elect one observer to the National Political Committee and one observer to the Executive Council.  It will also elect delegates to appropriate national pensionsers' and labour movement organisations.
    Benefits of "Retired Member Plus" membership
    For new retirees after 1 January 2012, you can only participate in UNITE's structures if you have retired member plus or full membership.

    There's also a set of benefits available to those with retired member plus membership:
    • Legal Helpline – non industrial issues
    • Personal injury claims
    • Free will service
    • Fixed fee probate
    • Lasting Power of Attorney
    • Funeral Benefit
    • Free £2,500 personal accident cover (UIB)
    • Financial health check (Incorporating debt counselling/management)
    • Welfare benefit check up (Unite offers members a free benefits review service. This will check what benefits you may be able to get and give you an estimate of the amount of money you may be eligible for.) 
    • Hardship grants – via Unite Benevolent Fund
    • Discounted personal lines Insurance (LV= UIA)
    • Co-operative current account (£100 cash back for member)
    • Co-operative Funeralcare (Discounts on prepaid and at need funerals)
    • Unite prepaid debit card (Free to member. Gives discounts at leading High Street retailers – Asda, Argos, Boots, Debenhams, M&S etc.)
    • Healthcare cash plan
    • Vision Express discount vouchers
    • Independent financial advice – estate planning etc.
    • Equity release plan
    • Gas and electricity comparison service (Union Energy)
    • Holiday Club
    • Unite Lottery
    NOTE: for funeral and convalescent benefits, transitional arrangements are in place for those with free cards who retire before 1 January 2012.

    Wednesday 7 December 2011

    UNITE Executive Council statement following November 30th

    This Unite Executive Council congratulates the two million trade unionists, including thousands of UNITE members, who struck on November 30th in defence of their pensions and our public services. The EC also welcomes and extends a huge thank you to the general public that supported in their millions and made the day a tremendous success, proving not only that we have public support but that government attempts to divide our communities will fail.

    This EC also recognises that this government is stepping up its fight against all working people with its threat to further attack trade union democracy, introduce more anti-trade union legislation and remove and/or further weaken employment protections for all.

    This EC believes that the union, working in cooperation with other public sector trade unions needs to now work up a strategic plan to escalate the action to win decent pensions for all. Action that will not only protect the pensions of our public service membership but workers across the private sector facing similar attacks on their pension schemes.

    This Executive Council

    • calls for a review of actions taken on the 30 November involving meetings in the regions as well as nationally, to see how we move forward together, share best practice and analyse strengths and weaknesses from the day. Further, we must grasp this opportunity to recruit new members and develop new stewards as part of a revitalised activist’s organisation across the union.
    • supports a plan to further nationally coordinated strike action with other public sector trade unions. The key to winning is to quickly and significantly escalate the action as early as possible in the New Year and coordinating this with private sector actions being planned as employers opportunistically attempt to undermine and/or close pension schemes across our economy.
    • supports a national march in defence of our NHS in the New Year.
    • congratulates the TUC on its coordination of action across our nations in support of each other and calls on all unions to stand together in opposition to government attempts to divide unions and offer terms of settlement to some while continuing the attack on others.
    • condemns the government and their media mogul friends who have tried to divide public and private sector workers with the claim that public sector workers have pensions far better than those enjoyed by their colleagues in the private sector. It’s time to level up not down!
    • notes that private sector workers have seen attacks on their schemes in recent years. There have been a number of strikes and threat of strikes with unions fighting back and winning concessions, despite the law being stacked against them and little legal protection for private sector schemes.
    It is clear that 2011 has seen the beginnings of a fight back against government and employer attacks on pensions, wages, jobs and services. Unite must now mobilise its members into mass action. We have demonstrated the appetite of our membership for action on March 26th and November 30th; we must build on this by nurturing our activists, mobilise the millions of workers currently under attack and put the necessary resources into doing so.

    Tuesday 6 December 2011

    UNITE Education Programme 2012

    The union web site now has the UNITE education programme for 2012 which includes dates of reps courses round the country.

    UNITE Policy Manual 2011

    UNITE has produced a "policy manual" setting out the union's policies on the whole range of issues.  This will help members know what the policies are, and consider where policies need changing or developing at future conferences.

    IT & Comms National Industrial Sector Conference 2011

    The following motions were passed at last week's UNITE IT & Communications National Industrial Sector Conference.

    1 Mode 4

    This IT & Comms NISC notes the EU is negotiating a multibillion pound free trade agreement with the Indian Government that includes World Trade Organisation Mode 4 provisions, which will allow transnational companies to bring in local labour to work temporarily inside the EU, including the UK.

    The Information Technology industries are particularly vulnerable to these proposed provisions.

    This NISC is alarmed Mode 4 will mean it will be almost impossible to enforce employment rights for Indian workers because they may be employed by “companies of convenience” with their employment contracts registered in India, outside the jurisdiction of UK courts.

    2 Home Workers

    With the ever-expanding facility of home working within ITC it is becoming commonplace for employers to seek to reduce their costs not only by reducing office accommodation of their own but, also on the customer sites their staff are allocated to, without carrying out the full or proper workplace assessment..

    Too often members are expected to work at unreasonable times in unsuitable conditions whilst the employer “spies” on them with screen prints or key stroke counters, but failing to ensure the appropriateness of conditions or even hours worked.

    This Conference calls upon the NISC and Executive Council to put into place guidance for individuals within the IT & Communications Sector who are compelled to be home workers.

    Once the proper standards are established and guidance provided to IT home workers, this NISC calls upon the National Officer to seek agreement to these basic entitlements along with the institution of best practice on an industry-wide basis.

    3 Pay Transparency

    The conference welcomes the organising campaign focussed on fair pay and benefits in the IT sector and calls on Unite to push for pay transparency throughout the IT and communications sector.

    This conference believes that our members in this sector are being disadvantaged through employers controlling information on pay and grading. It is common practice for pay to be determined through market rates and these are ultimately controlled by the employers. Pay transparency will give our members the opportunity to actually see where they are rather than believe their employers who invariably will aim for the lowest paid.

    This conference believes that the secrecy over pay rates should be abolished and calls on all reps in the sector to actively share their pay data so that a database of pay rates, progression and increases can be created by Unite for the use of reps in negotiations.

    4 Organising in the IT & Communications Industry

    This IT & Comms Conference congratulates the NISC over the initiative UNITE for Fair and Transparent Pay and Benefits in IT Services as a step forward in promoting the Sector as a union lobbying voice for Industry workers.

    This Conference believes that Unite is best placed to become the union for Information Technology and Communications workers. This Conference notes, however, that UNITE's profile in the industry does not reflect this potential.

    Conference considers it is of fundamental importance that the Sector develops and implements an organising strategy with both sufficient resources and support and realistic targets for the next five years.

    We believe that such a strategy must be under constant review and needs to draw upon knowledge and ideas from appropriate activists both within and without the Sector as many IT/Comms workers have been outsourced from unionised employers. IT workers in particular exist in every Industry and Service Sector if they are in the union and whilst they are not part of this Sector they still possess valuable experience we can utilise.

    Most members currently joining are as individuals and in workplaces where collectivism does not exist. If they have workplace issues requiring support, it can divert scarce officer resource away from helping to build self-sustaining organised workforces.

    To help our organising efforts we need to create a database of employers that have signed up to the UN Global Compact Agreement and use their OWN commitment to it by ensuring every UK worker has the right to be organised and participate in collective bargaining. This should be an integral part of any company organising campaign across the IT sector.

    Therefore we call upon the NISC to adopt (including supporting referrals to the EC if required) the following action points:
    1. All individual members (unless willing to be an activist) joining from unorganised workplaces without a rep in the IT Sector must be informed that they will only automatically qualify for telephone advice or support from a lay companion, if available.  The planned introduction of a UNITE call centre will assist manage the demands of such members.

    2. Continued support for strengthening organisation and recruitment in larger companies where we already have a base of membership: this to include training, organiser resource, and materials to support activists on the ground.

    3. Support for activists at smaller companies where the enthusiasm of the activists, and the issues around which we can organise, indicate a potential for significant recruitment and/or recognition in the short to medium term.

    4. All other sectors' RISCs should be asked through their NISCs for reports of any outsourcing or joint activity with IT workers in their workplaces.

    5. Exploit opportunities using social networking media as well as trade magazines and industry specific websites - especially those advertising employment.

    6. Increased public profile through IT & Comms website that takes up industry issues and allows feedback (and recruitment), and through article/letter/press release placements in industry publications/websites, to demonstrate the union's relevance to workers in the industry.

    7. Investigate if a separate website aimed at Industry workers would be of use such as for example

    8. Increased coordination of activity through the Sector RISCs with each RISC receiving stats on membership changes, Industry significant developments and collective bargaining data.

    9. Support informal IT & Communications Forums across Sectors if relevant to generate ideas and share information.

    10. Provide training and awareness sessions around the International Labour Standards and the Employers Corporate Social Responsibility Policies.

    [NOTE: the conference recognised the point 1 would need to be discussed further by the National Industrial Sector Committee to avoid it causing problems]

    5 Public Sector ICT cost cutting

    This Conference notes that the Cabinet Office has been pressing suppliers of ICT services to the public sector to cut the costs of their services as part of the general attack, by the Government on public sector expenditure.

    Conference further notes that this has led some suppliers in our industry to attack their ICT workers in order to protect their profit margins following contract renegotiations. Staff have faced attacks on terms and conditions, redundancies and off-shoring.

    Conference does not believe that workers in our industry should be forced to pay, any more than public sector workers should, for an economic crisis caused by the top bankers and others who control the global economy. We do not accept any divide between public and private sector workers in this respect.

    Conference therefore resolves that the IT & Communications NISC should give full support to all members in our sector who need to take action to protect their jobs, terms, and conditions in the face of demands from the Government to reduce contract costs.

    6 Solidarity

    This conference recognises that as more of the jobs in our industries become increasingly commoditised and employers put more downward pressure on terms and conditions, and as union organisation grows, members in IT & Comms are increasingly likely to take industrial action in defence of their interests.

    This conference recognises that members moving jobs between employers in the sector, whether voluntarily or through TUPE transfers, encourages them to see the connection between issues in different companies.

    This conference believes that solidarity helps union organisation for both the givers and the receivers. Givers have the opportunity to discuss and organise around issues they might not current face, allowing them to learn and draw inspiration from campaigns in other parts of the industry or beyond. Givers can have their confidence raised by contributing to successes elsewhere. Receivers gain practical benefits from solidarity as well as having their confidence boosted.

    This conference resolves that the tradition of solidarity should be strengthened by:

    1) Encouraging reps and members to participate in campaigning and solidarity activities beyond their own workplace

    2) Including details of how to give solidarity in sector newsletters

    3) Encouraging reps to publicise disputes and campaigns amongst their members

    4) Encouraging reps and members to send messages of support to disputes in other workplaces

    5) Encouraging reps to organise collections for disputes

    6) Encouraging members to participate in their branches and other Unite structures to raise the profile of disputes and deliver solidarity

    7) Encouraging members to become delegates to local Trades Union Councils
    7 Sector Structures

    We note that IT & Comms has been one of the sectors where Regional Industrial Sector Committees (RISCs) have not consistently functioned well.

    We note that the Rules Conference decided that the Executive Council shall “Determine one or more constitutional committees of lay members to which each officer employed by the Union shall report and be accountable and ensure that the list of these allocations is available to members”.

    We resolve that the names of the officers responsible for each of the IT & Communications RISCs should be displayed on the IT & Comms area of the Unite web site, along with the dates, times and venues for forthcoming Regional Industrial Sector Conferences and Committee meetings.

    We resolve that our National Officer, in consultation with the National Industrial Sector Committee, should email or write to all accountable representatives of workers in the sector explaining the role and importance of the sector structures and encouraging them to participate in the next round of Regional Industrial Sector Conferences.

    We resolve that reps in each company should seek to encourage participation in the Regional Industrial Sector Conferences around the country.

    Photos from N30

    UNITE has produced a slideshow of photos from the magnificent strike on 30 November.

    If you're talking to members about the dispute, it's worth pointing them at the "Fair Pensions For All" pamphlet jointly produced by UNITE and other unions, which shows the links between public sector, private sector and state pensions.