Thursday, 5 December 2013

Report from GPM&IT National Industrial Sector Conference, November 2013

The UNITE national sector conferences were spread across a week, with several sectors meeting each day.  Each morning started with a plenary session with Len McCluskey, who gave a speech and answered questions.

Our plenary, like those on other days, was dominated by the disgraceful attacks on members at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant and refinery, on Stevie Deans, and on UNITE, which have been coming from the Labour right, from Ineos and its billionaire owner Ratcliffe, from the Tories and their press.

The deal accepted by UNITE at Grangemouth included a three year no-strike agreement and pay freeze, worse pensions and cuts in union facilities.  This had been accepted under the threat of closure and the loss of many jobs.  While standing united in defence of our union and Stevie Deans, it is vital we learn lessons from this serious setback.  We cannot afford employers to imagine that such blackmail will work again.  Nor can we afford our own members to conclude that there is no alternative to making massive concessions without even a fight.  The debate about what these lessons were continued through the conferences and in the bars, and is still ongoing.

The conference for the Graphical, Paper, Media & IT sector was the first meeting since the old GPM and IT & Comms sectors came together.  There was a degree of suspicion, hostility and misconceptions from a small minority of delegates, but most seemed keen to make the sector work and to learn about the issues across all the industries.  This was helped by two hefty reports - one from the National Officers, the other on Collective Bargaining.  These reports, along with a copy of Len's speech, can be found here if you log on to the UNITE web site.

The 2012 Labour Force Survey reports that 12% of UK employees in the Information and Communication industries are union members, but I assume this includes companies such as BT and Royal Mail, giving slightly too rosy a picture.  Overall the GPM sector had 11% union density.

The conference elected delegates to TUC Congress:

  • 2014: Ged D, with Tony M as substitute
  • 2015: Pauline B, with Ged D as substitute
All the conferences meeting that day jiontly elected three members of the Standing Orders Committee:
  • Bill D, Metals, East Midlands
  • Ann M, Automotive, North West
  • Paul R, GPM&IT, Scotland
The following motions were agreed:

This Conference welcomes the continuing development of our strategic relationship with the USW in the USA and Canada’s papermaking and packaging sector.

The exchange of FOCs, MOCs and Union Reps in our countries has developed a greater understanding of the globalisation of the papermaking and packaging industry and the development of good working relationships between lay reps within the sectors.

Conference believes that we must now deepen the relationship by extending the USW’s involvement, where appropriate, in EWCs in the paper and packaging sector and that we look to develop joint negotiations with companies where both of our Unions have membership.

This Conference welcomes the Leveson Enquiry and subsequent police enquiries uncover alleged untold wrong doings and illegal behaviour by Executives of News International, including the alleged corruption of public officials and the police, leading to the closure of the News of the World and the arrest of senior Executives of News International.

This Conference congratulates Tom Watson MP and other Labour MPs who refused to be bullied and cowed by News International and were prepared to expose the disgraceful acts of NI executives and senior journalists.

This Conference believes that the lack of Union involvement in the News International empire by Unite and the NUJ contributed to the alleged wrong doing and illegal activities and the corrupt power wielded by Rupert Murdoch and his family over political and public life in this country.

This conference notes that the government’s austerity, cuts and deregulation policies are affecting members in our sector by:
  1. deflating the economy
  2. cutting the public services we and our families and communities rely on
  3. cutting in-work benefits and tax credits
  4. putting downward pressure on pay and conditions by attacking them in the public sector
  5. putting downward pressure on pay and conditions by increasing competition for jobs by cutting benefits, driving sick and disabled people into the job market, and encouraging the expansion of low-paid and unpaid work
  6. cutting legal protection for members on everything from health & safety to redundancy consultation
  7. feeding racism by scapegoating migrants and Muslims, boosting organisations such as UKIP, the BNP or EDL
This conference believes that strong and effective union organisation cannot be built without tackling political questions such as these within the workplace. This conference rejects attempts to divide members in our sector from colleagues in the public sector, from those reliant on state benefits, or from migrants or Muslims. This conference believes that unity is strength and an injury to one is an injury to all.

This conference resolves:
  1. Our sector will work with other sectors, unions and community groups to deliver a strong and united response to the government’s attacks on working people
  2. The NISC, working with appropriate officers and staff, will periodically produce template leaflets on such issues for reps to adapt and combine with workplace-specific material
  3. Activists in our sector are encouraged to invite speakers from public service sectors, community branches and anti-fascist groups to address workplace and branch meetings.

This Conference believes:
  1. Organisations in the public and private sector are now heavily reliant on IT & Communications in order to function
  2. Outsourcing and “cloud” services are concentrating a high proportion of IT & Communications services in a relatively small number of large companies
  3. Commoditisation of IT & Communications products and services is leading to commoditisation of jobs and skills and accelerating downward pressure on pay and conditions
  4. Hundreds of thousands of workers in IT & Communications would benefit from UNITE organisation
  5. Strong UNITE organisation in IT & Communications would strengthen UNITE’s leverage and bargaining power across every sector.
This National Industrial Sector Conference notes that Technology continues to impact traditional industries both developing new opportunities for employment whilst reducing manning levels significantly in older processes.

The overwhelming majority of young people entering the UK labour market today take ICT skills for granted in the same way basic skills of reading and writing were viewed by previous generations.

The union movement has been slow to adapt to this growing workforce and even today in industries well organised in production and distribution areas is poorly organised in ICT sections. Yet the ICT Industry is future proofed has a diverse workforce and controls in many respects the UK economy.

Often these critical workers are not employed by the main company anymore and so are excluded from the major campaigns of the union.

Because of the fragmentation of ICT workers across the membership it is not possible to commence a major campaign at either RISC or Regional Committee level. To really organise these workers there needs to be a campaign supported by the National Union across the sector as a whole.

ICT workers occupy powerful positions in the processes operating within industry, services and the public sector. Their ability to influence employer’s decisions is significant whereas nowadays due to a combination of alternative supply and fragmented workforces many groups struggle to produce such an impact.

This Conference requests the Executive Council to establish an initiative to raise the profile of UNITE amongst ICT workers and the ICT Industry in general. Such a campaign to be launched at the start of 2014 will not only assist organise ICT workers in ICT companies but also ICT workers in existing employers with union agreements.

Conference notes that the Government has published its response to the latest public consultation on reviewing TUPE on 5 September 2103 under the heading of Making the labour market more flexible, efficient and fair

The Government has concluded that there is scope to amend the Regulations by removing provisions which go further than the Acquired Rights Directive requires and generally improve how the Regulations operate.

Due to the structure of ICT industry through the winning and losing of accounts ICT workers are vulnerable to being transferred disproportionately compared to other employees. This means that these proposed changes will impact adversely on IT workers who often work in the contracted out sector so need the protection of TUPE.

This Conference opposes the attack upon collective bargaining rights of UK trade unionists by placing limits upon the protection of collective agreements post a TUPE transfer. This is a significant development that introduces time limits on voluntary agreements governing workers’ terms and conditions of employment for the first time in the UK.

According to Government figures there are between 26500 and 48000 TUPE transfer every year with the number of workers affected ranging between 1.42 million and 2.11 million with the majority of these workers being transferred yearly to other employers being potential members.

Every ICT worker who has transferred in the past now works under a contract between the client and their employer that will come up for renewal or a new service provider will take over the contract. The workers’ terms and conditions of employment will also then be vulnerable to employer attempts to reduce them. The race to the bottom is accelerated by these changes.

Unite must take the lead opposing this attack upon terms and conditions of employment and agreements that is a campaigning issue that affects millions – those already transferred, those being transferred and those that fear outsourcing of their jobs.

The Coalition’s programme of relentless attacks upon the limited defences in favour of workers’ rights includes the withdrawal of many of these workers from TUPE protection by virtue of removing service provision changes.

Conference calls upon the Unite Executive Council to launch a campaign within three months to alert UK workers to the risk to their futures that these changes represent to both private and public sector workers, skilled and unskilled, manufacturing and services.

UK industry is suffering from the lack of investment in training especially the lack of opportunities available to young people entering traditional industries through training programmes especially apprenticeships.

This Conference believes this puts the UK at a disadvantage in comparison to other countries that invest in skills for the future of their industries. Evidence has shown that the age profile in our sector is increasing whilst the number of apprentices entering the industry is decreasing.

This conference calls upon the National Industrial Sector Committee to lobby and meet with all stake holders in our industry to analyse, discuss and plan a strategy which will ensure the industry invests in skills within the sector and to ensure training/apprenticeships are on the bargaining agenda. A written report on the progress of this should be given to the next National Industrial sector conference in 2015.
  • In addition we call on the Executive Council to campaign in support of the ‘forgotten generation’ and to lobby for: Government to increase investment in industry based skills and training.
  • To ensure that bona-fide Apprentice Programmes are available for young people.
In light of the demise of the BPIF/Unite National Agreement and the ravages of the recession on terms and conditions of employment, this conference calls on the National Industrial Sector Committee to conduct and publish an annual survey of all workplaces in the sector. The aim of the survey is to gather a database of current trends in the sector which may impact on other sites in the absence of a National Agreement. Conference also calls upon the National Industrial Sector Committee to meet with the BPIF on a regular basis in the interests of our members working in the sector

This Conference calls upon the GPM Sector NISC to explore a formal protocol with other publishing and media unions and in particular with the NUJ, to assist us in securing union recognition and extending our collective bargaining coverage across the sector.

Working with our sister unions on joint campaigns and sharing resources can only be in the best interest of the members within the joint workplaces that we strive to represent.

The conference further calls on the NISC to ask the union to revisit our dual membership arrangement with the NUJ as we see this as a further assist.

Publishing and Media workers have historically worked jointly in many of our companies and the union needs to promote and support such activity. We ask that in drafting such a protocol the NISC seeks guidance from the officers and senior reps working in this sector.

This Conference calls upon the GPM NISC to develop a strategy to address the outsourcing of our member’s jobs from our core employers to agencies within the wholesale & distribution sectors.

We have seen a major increase in temporary labour as employers dismiss their permanent workforce and rely more and more often on agency workers.

In these companies where the permanent staff is constantly reducing in numbers and the agency staff are on the increase, we are now seeing a low level of union density and the undermining of our collective terms and conditions in favour of minimum standards.

The NISC is required to defend our members, potential members and our industry standards by strengthening the links between our workplace reps and Unite officials within this sector and ensuring that the adequate resources are in place for our organising and recruitment initiatives to be sustainable.

This Conference calls upon Unite NEC and its Officers at all levels to uphold outsourcing of print, packaging, graphics & media related work for the Union, TUC and the Labour Party from recognised Unite GPMs workplaces.

At a time when print, like rest of manufacturing industry, has suffered due to the recession; and the savage ConDem's austerity and cuts agenda.

That has led to many closures, redundancies and the loss of our members livelihoods.

Outsourcing is penalising and under cutting those employers who abide by agreed union policies, procedures and pay rates.
  1. This Unite GPM sector conference therefore re-affirms the policy that our union only sources print from GPM recognised companies.
  2. We further call on Unite and our NEC to ensure that the TUC and its affiliates does likewise and upholds this principle.
  3. That they put pressure on the Labour Party at all levels to comply to ensure all party units, candidates and agents uphold the policy of only sourcing print from approved Unite GPMs unionised companies.
Conference endorses a national bargaining objective for a minimum adult hourly pay rate based on the Living Wage (both provincial and London as appropriate) where no collectively bargained national agreement exists, and calls on the GPM NISC to develop a bargaining, organising and political campaign to achieve it.

The following motion was referred to the NISC for further consideration:
Conference calls on the GPM NISC through our National Officer to call national level meetings annually of all Federated Chapels and Groups where these firms are not covered by a National Agreement for the purpose of setting co-ordinated bargaining objectives including the minimum rate of wage increases; in addition, for the independent company sector not operating under a National Agreement, the GPM NISC develops in consultation with the National Officer and appropriate Regional Officers a coherent and sustainable District by District national pay campaign strategy in preparation for the next wage round.

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