Every UNITE workplace and branch should be holding elections for reps and branch officers in the near future. This is the first time there's been a UNITE-wide process, rather than different processes for former Amicus and former TGWU members.
The UNITE Rulebook was updated following last year's Rules Conference. The main relevant sections are rules:
- Rule 6, which defines who is eligible to hold which lay positions in the union (i.e. positions where you're not employed by the union). There's EC guidance on the application of Rule 6, but this doesn't yet reflect the work done on an updated version. For these elections the key points are pretty obvious - members in a workplace can stand to be representatives, members in a branch can stand to be branch officers. The definition of a "workplace" is necessarily flexible.
- NOTE: Rule 6 defines the term of office as three years, but this is a maximum, not a minimum. There's nothing to stop a branch or workplace holding elections more frequently if they wish. If membership is relatively volatile or there are new activists getting involved, I'd personally suggest a more frequent election would be a good idea.
- Rule 17 covers Branches. Rule 17.7 says "Each Branch shall have for its management a Chair, a Treasurer, an Equality Officer and a Secretary and such other officers as the Branch may elect. They shall be elected at a Branch meeting by show of hands, or by ballot, if so decided by the meeting. The election shall take place and be completed not later than June 30 in each third year, and the elected candidates shall take office the following July for three years. Casual vacancies may be filled at an ordinary Branch meeting, but notice of the impending election must be given to members of the Branch on the notice convening the meeting. The positions of Secretary and Treasurer may be held by the same member if the Branch so chooses".
- Rule 18 covers Workplace Representation. It says that "At each workplace, the members employed at that workplace, shall elect from amongst themselves, at least every 3 years, 1 or more of the following representatives": Shop stewards/workplace representatives; Safety representatives; Learning representatives; Equality representatives; Environment representatives
- Rule 18.2 adds a new requirement to try to tackle under-representation of women and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) members: "The election of workplace representatives shall, where practicable, have a gender and ethnic balance at least reflecting the proportion of black, Asian and ethnic minority and female members which they represent."
The process is complicated by the fact that the reorganisation of branches is still not yet complete, and many of us are still waiting to find out what branch we'll be in. Where there are new branches, Regional Officers are expected to assist with arrangements and notification of members about the meetings and elections.
If you're in a workplace that hasn't had any reps till now, here are a few tips for organising a meeting:
- Find out whether you're allowed to hold a meeting in the workplace, and if so whether it can be in work time or not
- Book a suitable venue, date and time to make it as easy as possible for most people to attend
- Can you get other issues of interest to members on the agenda, to encourage attendance?
- Use several means (e.g. poster on a union noticeboard, leaflet, email, letter, text message, word of mouth) to notify members about the meeting (bearing in mind any rules on what you can do in your workplace). If possible, give people plenty of notice and also a reminder near the time
- Make sure candidates have a chance to say why they are standing, either by circulating a short election address or by speaking briefly at the meeting.
- Get someone to chair the meeting.
- Make sure members vote on whether to elect the reps, even if some positions aren't contested - this gives them more legitimacy and authority, and also gets members in the habit of taking their own decisions collectively
Once you've got your new branch officers and reps elected, it's vitally important to inform the Regional Office ensure all the details are correctly recorded on the union's database. The Regional Industrial Sector Conferences are planned for September, and the organisation of these will rely on the information on the union database.
It's important to be clear with the Regional Office as to whether you want the union to notify the employer who has been elected as reps. The norm should be to do so, as this gives the reps extra protection against discrimination. But there could be exceptional circumstances where the union is only just getting going and the employer is hostile where it could be better not to.