The committee, which covers the Graphical, Paper, Media & IT industries, met Monday and Tuesday. This is a summary of some key points. I’ve not included most of the industrial detail (and some other points) in my report because not everything is appropriate to post publicly. For jargon, see here.
Organising, Campaigning and Education:
- Osborne’s National Living Wage (NLW) is basically a rebadged and slightly higher National Minimum Wage at £7.20 an hour for over 25s, not to be confused with the real Living Wage of £8.25 or £9.40 in London for over 18s. The NLW is based on a percentage of median income rather than any measure of the cost of living. Some of the worst employers are trying to fund the NLW by cutting terms and conditions elsewhere or setting excessive workload targets so people have to work more hours than they are paid for. Members at one company are balloting over pay in relation to this. Fujitsu has had some bad press from its FSESL subsidiary in the UK. There were many more examples.
- Members at Tullis Russell who lost their jobs have won £1.5m compensation. The NISC paid tribute to the work of Paul Reilly, the Unite convenor there, who has not yet found alternative employment.
- In line with the decision of our sector conference, a report on organising is being sent out to RISCs via their secretaries following each NISC meeting and RISCs are asked to feed back their ideas, experiences, comments and plans, as well as including organising in their reports to the NISC. Verbal reports showed some good activity going on in some regions.
- The NISC’s organising strategy subcommittee will seek a meeting with Sharon Graham from the organising department.
- The NISC is keen to get a revised version of the strategic report on the sector produced for the sector conference about four years ago.
- Unite has created a new Manufacturing Combine bringing together reps from relevant sectors. An initial meeting had explored its remit and goals and set up some work groups. We elected two NISC members to attend on behalf of the GPM&IT sector.
- I gave a report on the use of Skype to increase participation of members not at sites where face to face members’ meetings were practicable. These have been well received by members and are helping offline organising and the education of members about issues and their rights.
- Education is under attack generally, from student fees, abolition of EMA, academisation of schools and cuts to adult education. Training for union reps is part of adult education, which has faced cuts of 50% this year. It is anticipated that all funding may be removed from July 2017, which will require major changes to trade union education. While Unite, other unions and organisations work on strategies to respond, workplaces are encouraged to get as many reps through training as possible before funding is removed. As always, there is a push to increase the participation of young members, women and BAEM members.
Health & Safety:
- International Workers’ Memorial Day is 28th April 2016. There are Unite posters, stickers etc on the theme “strong laws, strong enforcement, strong unions” available from offices or the web site. The intention is to highlight the threat to health and safety from government cuts and the Trade Union Bill. Other resources are available from the TUC and Hazards
- Stress is the biggest health issue facing workplaces, and Unite will be updating its existing guidance.
- The TUC health and safety and organising guide is now available in PDF and epub formats via https://www.tuc.org.uk/HandSandOrganising
- Unite is updating its H&S guide, the 2014 version is online. Susan Murray and Bud Hudspith are keen to hear members’ views on what issues should be in the new edition, the most suitable format, and any other comments.
- The Lords are still discussing the Trade Union Bill and the situation with amendments should be clearer around the end of next week. Though there may be progress on electronic balloting, the idea of secure workplace balloting, essential to raising turnout and avoiding a “digital divide”.
- The Tories are carrying out a triple attack to weaken political opposition. The Trade Union Bill aims to slash funding to the Labour Party, boundary changes will disproportionately eliminate Labour-held seats, and changes to voter registration have disenfranchised millions of people – disproportionately young, poor and in insecure housing.
- Unite is encouraging people to register to vote, and to opt for a postal vote as this delivers a higher turnout.
- While media attention is on the Euro-referendum campaign there are election for councils, devolved government etc for the entire country on 5 May. Unite is campaigning for a Labour vote. It is likely that Labour will suffer losses as it did very well the last time this set of council seats came up. There is also concern that UKIP will pick up seats so Unite has produced material highlighting that far from being an anti-establishment party they are cosy with big business and in favour of cuts to public services and workers’ rights. EU citizens living in the UK can vote in all the elections taking place on 5 May.
- There was frustration that many Labour councillors try to keep quiet about the cuts rather than being open about the impact of the Tory cuts they are passing on and campaigning on the issue. Just 15% of local government funding comes from council tax, compared to 60% from central government, and the rest from business rates and service charges.
- Some Labour MPs continue to try to undermine Corbyn. One effect of the boundary changes is that later in the parliament all constituencies will need to select their candidate for the next General Election, creating an opportunity for constituencies to choose candidates reflecting their priorities.
- A GPM&IT remit to the Executive Council supporting Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum had been “left on the table” rather than voted on as it was unlikely to have secured majority support due to “concerns” about some of the people involved in Momentum. The NISC agreed to remove the Momentum bullet point from the remit and resubmit it.
- Unite is campaigning for a “Remain” vote in the EU referendum in June, along with most other unions. NISC members overwhelmingly supported this position, but were not always confident that members in their workplaces did. Unite will run its own campaign based on jobs and workers’ rights, rather than backing any of the wider campaigns. I asked why, given that both main campaigns and the media were stoking up racism against migrants, who form an important part of Unite’s membership, and that equality is supposed to be at the heart of our union’s agenda, we weren’t making defence of migrants a central issue too. Simon Dubbins explained that Unite has produced materials to arm members for such arguments, but while not ducking the issue, it wasn’t seen as “our issue to raise”, though our approach might have to be revised as the campaign unfolded. Further information and campaign materials are available here.
- Keith Keys from the GPM Charitable Trust asked activists to raise awareness of the help that is available to members, for example with mobility aids, home adaptations and respite or convalescent care.
- The motions submitted for the Unite Policy Conference 2016 have been circulated to secretaries of branches and constitutional committees, which have until 20 May to submit amendments.
- It was agreed to have a standing item on NISC agendas to monitor and action progress on implementation of the motions passed at the sector conference, and reports can be provided to RISC members.
- The issue raised from our sector about the implications of automation and the use of robots for workforces across the economy, is now being considered by the Labour Research Department.
- Following HMRC input, Unite’s lay member expenses policy has changed, and is likely to change again in the near future. Allowance rates have been changed, and all claims for allowances must be supported by at least some receipted evidence of expenditure.
- The Welsh RISC is now functional and has elected two delegates to the NISC. There remains an issue to be resolved where the Regional Secretary believes four of those elected to the RISC are not eligible because of the constituency arrangements in Wales.
- The next NISC meetings will be 30 June – 1 July at Esher; and 13-14 October in London. NISC members who cannot attend a meeting were reminded to submit apologies in good time so that substitute delegates can be invited.