BRANCH SECRETARY REPORT SUMMER 2022

This is my first report for some time and the delay is due to being very busy with Branch activities such as member meetings, representation duties, employment consultations, supporting Branch activists and workers in struggle, engaging in policy reviews, attending Grading Panels, and representing the Branch at TUC Trades Councils and UNISON Regional Council to name but a few. I have also attended UNISON’s National and Local Government conferences, a weekend Health and Safety Conference run by “Hazards” and found time to catch Covid. There has been a lot going on and the few Branch activists and I have been working very hard on your behalf as UNISON members.

I have picked out below a number of  issues which I believe are of particular concern to Staffordshire UNISON members. As always, if you wish to make a comment or ask a question about any of the information contained here, please contact the Branch Office on unison@staffsunison.org.uk   

Cost of living crisis

In 1976 the share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) awarded to the 24 million paid workers in the UK was 65.1%. It is now only 50%. Most of us have felt poorer over the past 12 years because of austerity, but some people are receiving a bigger share of the GDP cake in the form of shareholder dividends, business profits and management salaries. I certainly do not begrudge anyone making a profit because of their hard work, but is it right that raw sewage is being pumped into our rivers and seas at the same time as Water companies pay out record dividends to shareholders and we face water rationing because the Water companies have failed to fix thousands of pipe leaks since the water supply was privatised? Is it also right that there are now more Foodbanks in the UK than branches of McDonald’s and should children go hungry in this country when MPs claim millions of pounds worth of expenses for heating their second homes?

The fuel price rise cap will increase again in October sending millions more people into fuel poverty and having to decide whether to pay for food or heating this coming winter. This is not just people not in paid work and in receipt of state benefits but people in paid employment. The Government and our employers need to do much more. I have asked our biggest employer, Staffordshire County Council to consider making a cost-of-living grant to all their employees to help get them through these demoralising times. I am yet to receive a response.  I urge each UNISON member to do the same with their own employer and let me know at the Office what reaction they get. We need to publicise what local employers are doing to help struggling workers and when they are doing nothing meaningful.

There has been a 90% rise in “There for You” applications in the past 2.5 years. “There for You” is UNISON’s charitable arm and these applications are from UNISON members. The cost of living crisis is creating real hardship and it is only going to get worse.

The Retail Price Index is now 11.1%. That means your income needs to rise by the same amount to maintain the value of the money you have for food, fuel, and bills.

Other Unions such as RMT, UCU, Unite, ASLEF, PCS have already voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in support of securing inflation beating pay rises and retaining jobs and safe working practices and I have been proud to stand by the picket lines of these Trade Union colleagues offering support in my own time. Further democratically agreed industrial action is being planned for the NHS and the Education sector. It is not just local government staff who are struggling to eat and heat and survive the cost-of-living crisis. Please remember, industrial action only takes place when a clear majority of union members are balloted and agree to taking action.

NJC 2022-2023 pay offer

NJC workers have seen a 27.5% reduction in the value of their wages since 2010. Spinal points 1-3 are below the Real Living Wage rate and in 10 out of the last 11 years, the NJC pay award has been below the average price rise meaning that local government workers have gotten poorer and poorer in those 10 years.

The UNISON pay claim in 2022 was for the higher of £2000 or RPI. The employers have come back with an offer of £1925 across all grades which equates to an average increase per grade of just above 4%. This is a slightly better offer than was expected and will benefit those workers at the lowest spinal points because they will receive a higher percentage rise, but it remains effectively a 7% pay cut overall with the RPI at over 11% and predicted to rise further when energy bills rise during the Autumn.

Staffordshire UNISON was asked by UNISON Regional Office to recommend how this offer should be responded to and we urged the NJC Committee to reject it and to convene a ballot for industrial action in pursuit of an inflation beating pay offer which would still only be a standstill pay rise. Unfortunately, we were outvoted nationally, and the decision was taken to organise a consultative ballot without even a recommendation whether to accept or reject. This was very disappointing.

Many private employers (and UNISON deals with over 5000 across the UK) fix their own pay rises parallel to the NJC ones and by not fighting for a better offer which the employers would possibly agree to, then we are doing a disservice to those UNISON members working in the private sector who have been treated even more harshly than NJC members over the past 12 years of Tory imposed austerity.

**Staffordshire UNISON urges all its members to reject the employer offer through the consultative ballot which will run between 15/8/22 and 19/9/22. The only way to obtain a better pay offer and a decent living wage is through industrial action. As Christina McAnea, our UNISON General Secretary said at the National UNISON Conference in June, “…. All Branches need to get Strike ready.” **    

NJC Mileage allowances

A lot of our members are struggling to pay rising fuel prices. In Staffordshire the County Council sets its mileage rates in line with those set by HMRC to avoid workers incurring additional tax liabilities. Unfortunately, HMRC has not reviewed its recommended mileage rates since 2011-12 and they thus bear no relation to the excessively high fuel prices being seen in Garage forecourts today. The Local Government Association which represents employers has written to the Government to seek support for a review but with the Tories in complete chaos it is unlikely that this letter will receive the attention it deserves.

The employers need to do more because it is grossly unfair for staff to subsidise their travel costs when dealing with community tasks on behalf of the County Council. Vulnerable families, children and communities need Council staff to travel to see them, but members have advised us that they are having to consider using public transport instead thus taking much longer to do the same amount of work and leaving themselves and the people of Staffordshire much less well served.

I have formally requested that the County Council should provide leased vehicles for shared use by all community staff so that fuel costs are not left to underpaid staff to cover at a time of cost-of-living crisis.  

NEC issues/National UNISON Conference

National UNISON conference passed a lot of inspiring motions expressing our support for workers and vulnerable and oppressed groups within Society both in the UK and abroad.

Unfortunately, there was some unnecessary behaviour from a minority of delegates who interrupted Conference business. They accused the NEC of failing to engage with the membership democratically, but this is not my experience of the NEC and I have spent considerable time investigating what happens at NEC because I believe it is important for UNISON Branch Secretaries to do so. The NEC was voted in by members and many on the NEC publicly declared before the voting started that they wanted to initiate real positive and democratic change in UNISON. I think that some of the public presentations of the NEC could have been managed more effectively but in general terms they are interested in making UNISON more open and inclusive, and willing to campaign effectively on behalf of all members. The NEC wants to move UNISON away from its long-standing passive approach to employment issues and there is resistance to this from certain parts of the union.

There was also nonsense spoken about the now former UNISON President, Paul Holmes and anyone who takes the time and trouble as I have, to learn the details of the employer machinations against Paul would soon see that the allegations against him are politically biased and being stoked by anti-trade union sentiment. Paul has been unfairly sacked by his employing Council and is looking forward to clearing his reputation at the forthcoming Employment Tribunal.          

New Branch Local Organiser (LO) for Multi Academy Trusts (MATS)

In 2020, UNISON established a new Organising Fund for Branches to apply to for funding relating to increased organising and representation activity. Staffordshire Branch has been successful in being awarded funds for an initial 18-month Local Organiser position at the Branch to work across Staffordshire MATs where we have a lot of members but are not well served by Stewards and Health and Safety representatives. It is envisaged that member recruitment will increase because of this LO engaging more effectively within the MATs, supporting members there more directly and enhancing the public face of UNISON. The Branch is hopeful that the LO will be appointed by the Autumn with funding extended in 2023.

People Policies

For well over 18 months, the Branch and representatives of the County Council have been discussing proposed changes to the existing core People Policies across the County Council; Attendance Management, Capability, Discipline, Grievance and Bullying and Harassment. These proposed changes have been introduced by the County Council and it must be acknowledged that the Council has listened well to the numerous concerns of UNISON about their content and application. The Council has acted upon some of these concerns and amended certain aspects to ameliorate UNISON concerns. However, fundamental differences still exist and thus it is the decision of Staffordshire UNISON that the proposed new policies be only noted by us and not approved. Staffordshire UNISON cannot prevent these new policies being introduced but we can raise the flaws within on each occasion they are used in respect of our members. If any UNISON member is disadvantaged because of these new policies, then full support will be given to that member and a legal opinion sought in respect of the detriment suffered.

Staffordshire UNISON has decided to approve the proposed new Grading Policy being suggested by the County Council because there have been significant improvements to the existing policy obtained because of UNISON perseverance and the cooperation of County Council representatives. Staffordshire UNISON activists participate in the regular Job Evaluation panels and if we were to oppose this policy then we would be unable to effectively participate within the panels, to the disadvantage of member and service delivery. We have the right to be present when any member is the subject of a “People Policy.”

Employment Tribunal Victory by Staffordshire UNISON member

In May 2022 I supported a Staffordshire Branch member at an Employment Tribunal hearing convened to hear the member’s claim of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination against the County Council. The member was completely successful in his claims and the Tribunal Judges were most complimentary about the member’s case presentation and the role played by Staffordshire UNISON. This victory demonstrates one strong reason why it is important to be in a Trade Union.

Holiday entitlement victory

Thanks to UNISON, it has recently been established in law via the Supreme Court (Harpur Trust v Brazel & UNISON) that annual leave must be paid at the rate of an ordinary week’s wages (or if pay varies every week, then an average of all the weeks worked in a year). Annual leave calculations are based on weeks, as a person can work a full week or part of one. Someone working a full year is entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave (28 days for anyone working full-time hours in a week and this can include the eight bank holidays). The judgment means that an employee working all year, but say, for just two days a week is entitled to 11.2 days a year (2 x 5.6 weeks, so 2.24 weeks or 11.2 days). All workers in the UK will now receive the same minimum level of paid annual holiday leave, regardless of how many hours they work.  

Another good reason to join UNISON.

Other Employment concerns currently occupying activists at the Branch:

Stress and mental health concerns across the workforce

Ventilation in Schools

Increasing violence and aggression towards staff

Has Children’s Services Transformation been a success or are we facing another reorganisation?

Excessive workloads

If any of these issues are affecting you please get in touch with the UNISON Branch Office on 01785-245000 or unison@staffsunison.org.uk

 

Michael Vaughan

Branch Secretary

Staffordshire UNISON

August 2022