This was a long meeting, so my report doesn't attempt to cover everything, but to capture some key points, particularly those of interest to members in the IT & Comms sector or the Manchester Area.
Minutes of the previous Regional Committee should be posted here shortly.
There were several discussions about the poor attendance at committees (Regional Industrial Sector Committees or RISCs, Area Activists Committees or AACs and Equality Committees) in the NW region:
- Of the 34 committees in the NW, only 4 had held a quorate meeting in the last quarter.
- The Regional Secretary reported that he had contacted all officers who are secretaries of committees (apart from a few on leave he still has to contact), reminded them of their role and given them a pack explaining how to conduct meetings.
- Delegates who fail to attend meetings three times without submitting valid apologies should be removed from their position and the vacancy filled. If a rep is having difficulties with release from work, their officer is responsible for taking this up with the employer to secure release.
- The previous Regional Committee had agreed that discussions should take place with the IT & Comms RISC and the Electrical Engineering Electronics (EEE) RISC and whoever had come up with the proposal to merge them which had gone to the Executive Council without any consultation. The Regional Secretary had set up a meeting with the officers and one person from each RISC, which I had been unable to attend due to illness. The Regional Secretary informed today's meeting that the proposal had originated from head office, and the EEE RISC member supported it. The Regional Secretary explained that the reasoning for the proposal was that neither RISC was functioning properly and had poor attendance. I explained that the IT & Comms RISC had no view on the proposal yet as it hadn't had any explanation, but questioned whether merging two RISCs would increase participation if the causes lay elsewhere. The Regional Secretary agreed to reconvene the meeting.
- As a result of most committees having been inquorate, the chair ruled that most of the remits sent in to the Regional Committee could not be debated. This included the three from the IT & Comms RISC.
- One of the motions from IT & Comms was on the opreation of RISCs, so it was particularly ironic that we unable to debate it properly. The motion argued that all RISCs needed to get regular reports from the officers with industrial responsibility in the sector, to have a breakdown of the numbers of members in the sector by employer and workplace and (in line with rule 18.6) to know the identity, constituency and contact details of the reps covered by the RISC. The latter two points had been blocked by the region for our RISC. I managed to raise the points in the motion, but was unable to get a meaningful response from the Regional Secretary who just repeated that he'd given the officers a pack telling them what to do.
- The Finance & General Purposes Committee (F&GP) had discussed the request from the Manchester Area Activists Committee to identify a lead officer for Greater Manchester who could be a focal point for dealing with the press, trades councils, campaigns etc and ensure UNITE has a profile in the area. This was rejected on the spurious grounds that this wasn't a position in the UNITE job structure (nobody had ever suggested this was a "job"). In the debate it appeared that there was a consensus that this should be part of the responsibility of the officer who acts as the secretary to the Area Activists Committee, but the chair succeeded in closing the debate with only the conclusion that the debate would continue.
- A remit was agreed during the meeting to be sent to the Executive Council stressing the urgency of concluding the investigation into the "agreement otherwise" that had impacted on one of blacklisted electrician Steve Acheson's legal claims.
- Remploy struck last week and are on strike again on Thursday.
- There was a brief discussion about the Draft "Branch Standards" document which I've reproduced at the bottom of this post. The general consensus was that it was too prescriptive (e.g. "must" in places where encouragement was more appropriate) and duplicated points already in the rulebook or the existing paperwork on branch finances. Regional Committee members were urged to circulate it to their constituents and get feed back in to regional Executive Council members.
- A spin-off of the discussion on branch standards was the information that the regional offices can do mailshots to branch members on behalf of branches. While branches are charged for this, it is likely to be cheaper (and easier) than doing it yourselves because UNITE pays less for franking mail than normal stamp prices.
- A remit from the Regional Political Committee backing a lobby of the Labour Party conference over the NHS (NHS Act, reversing privatisation, PFI, internal market, fund through taxing the rich) was agreed, though clarification is required as to where the financial contribution would go. The lobby is being planned by the Liason Committee to Save the NHS.
- A remit was agreed calling for an investigation and action in response to UNITE giving legal services to a member outside the process and without the reps and officers being informed.
- It looks likely that the Salford office will now be refurbished and the previous plans to relocate to a smaller officer nearby abandoned due to cost. The refurb should improve meeting facilities. The Regional Secretary hopes to finalise the plans next week.
- There was a discussion on 20th October national TUC demonstration. So far UNITE has reserved three trains (Preston, Manchester, Liverpool). The Manchester one has 11 carriages so a greater capacity than each of the trains for 26 March. Provisional enquiries are also being made about reserving seats on scheduled trains. UNITE will be providing free transport for members - there was some debate about whether this will extend to friends & family as on 26 March. I argued that we should mobilise the maximum numbers (including friends and family), would need coaches as well as trains, and should give priority to disabled people on the trains where that was appropriate. The Regional Secretary confirmed that coaches can be organised where appropriate. Some branches and large workplaces are already organising their own transport in addition. We were informed that materials to build for the demo are now available from UNITE offices.
- I raised the fact that the F&GP had decided to cancel the open meeting to build for 20th October organised by the Manchester Area Activists Committee. The F&GP minutes say the meeting "to include all trade unionists and community campaigners across Greater Manchester" is to be replaced by a "Unite open meeting". The officer who runs the Area Activists Committee had been told it was cancelled because all coordination should be done on a regional basis and the chair told the meeting it was because of confusion on the date. I informed the Regional Committee that the County Association of TUCs had organised a replacement meeting and suggested it was regrettable that UNITE had given up the leading role it had had in this and that blocking activity didn't encourage participation.
- The Regional Secretary reported that branch secretaries were now receiving proper reports of which members were to be taken out of their branches before it happened. Any appeals were being considered by the F&GP. Where workplaces wanted a workplace branch, appeals against this would not be successful, as this is in line with rule. The Regional Committee endorsed the report. Any branch not happy with the response from the region over branch reorganisation can appeal to the Executive Council.
- Though it was ruled out of order, I did manage to raise the content of the motion from the IT & Comms RISC on "branch organisation and officer allocation". This proposed that any remaining general composite (i.e. not workplace, company or industry) branches should cover a geographical area no larger than that covered by an Area Activists Committee as this wasted officer time travelling without having any industrial logic. The Regional Secretary denied that the problem existed but did promise to look into the example given.
- I also managed to raise some of the issues from a remit about communication within the region. From the discussion it appears that many reps in other sectors are receiving communication about disputes and campaigns in the region. I was astonished to hear that it is the responsibility of each RISC officer to maintain their own email database and forward such communications on to all the reps in their sector. If this is indeed the approach to communication, rather than using the union's membership database, I am surprised it works as well as it apparently does. When I've seen such "cascade" approaches to communication at work, they have always been extremely unreliable due to people being off work, forgetting, having out of date lists etc.
- Under the Political report there were questions about the Political Committee minutes which said that the committee had sought clarification of what involvement UNITE had in supporting Lucy Powell for Tony Lloyd's Manchester Central seat, but that the Political Director had advised the Regional Political Officer to leave the question alone. The question had arisen because mailings supporting Lucy had gone out with the UNITE logo even though UNITE didn't officially back any candidate. It was agreed to investigate this.
- The Regional Education Organiser has produced a guide for branch officers and the Regional Secretary confirmed that this would be sent out in the next couple of days. It will also be sent nationally so that it can be adapted and used in other regions. The region can put on training courses on request, tailored in terms of content, location etc and at very short notice.
- Under the equality report, it was highlighted that the dates for the Regional Equality Conferences will need to change as they were set before the "windows" were set and will clash with RISC meetings. UNITE is keen to have more volunteers to help with stalls at the various Pride events in the region.
- There was a discussion about the threat from various fascist groups who have attacked the UNITE office in Liverpool as well as marches and pickets. Delegates were urged to ensure there is a big turnout when we mobilise to oppose the BNP, EDL etc bullies.