Putting the Member at the Centre of UNISON

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2002 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2002
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes the priority given to improving member participation and particularly that this has been agreed as a key objective for the union. Improving membership participation is vital to ensuring that UNISON remains a member-led Union.

However, it is with concern that Conference notes the loss of activists at local level and the increasing age profile of the union; for example only 1 per cent of delegates to the 2001 National Delegate Conference were aged 26 or under. Conference recognises that the problem of declining participation is not unique to UNISON, but is also reflected in, for example, other trade unions, Labour Party membership and activity, and the turn out of voters in last year’s general election.

Conference recognises the continuing challenges set by the Lawrence report to improve the involvement of black members at all levels, together with the importance of all parts of the Union meeting our responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act to ensure union activities are fully accessible. Conference further recognises the challenges and opportunities presented by the new legislation protecting lesbian and gay workers from discrimination, for both our bargaining and organising agendas..

Further, Conference notes the need to address the decreasing involvement of certain groups of members, especially low paid part time and manual workers; together with our overriding commitment to fair representation and proportionality. Increased participation of members in union activity, at whatever level, is the key to success for the union. It is an accepted fact that UNISON is member led and it is acknowledged that since vesting day the member has always been at the centre of the Union and that the members are the supreme decision makers through their elected representatives who attend National Delegate Conference on their behalf, therefore Conference needs to reaffirm this member led status to encourage improved member participation. Conference notes that 24 per cent of delegates to the 2001 National Delegate Conference were first time delegates.

Conference recognises that the achievement of proportionality and fair representation for women, black, disabled and lesbian and gay members is essential not only to achieve a truly democratic Union, but also to achieve our goal of increasing the level of activity in UNISON. Conference recognises that UNISON’s self-organised groups have a key role to play in achieving these goals.

The 2001 steward’s survey identified three key issues raised by members, these were disciplinaries, health and safety, and changes to working practices. These priorities reflect the fact that, for members and the Union, membership participation is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of ensuring that the Union addresses effectively the priorities of our members. Conference believes that a democratic, member-led Union with high levels of member participation will be most effective in promoting and defending members’ interests.

Conference therefore:

1)Urges branches, regions and national to continue to take steps to increase the participation of all members in the union, firstly by listening to our members. Two way communication with members is vital. Conference therefore also calls upon the National Executive Council, and regions, to identify and circulate to branches examples of good practice in listening to members

2)Urges all levels of the Union to monitor to ensure we are involving and welcoming new activists. Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council, and regions, to identify examples of good practice from those branches most succesful at recruiting and retaining activists, and to publicise these examples to all branches and commits to extend the successful Pathways project operating in Northern Ireland to all regions to outreach, train and support members to become new activists;

3)Asks that resources are committed to ensure members are our central focus. To this end, branches should be encouraged to hold regular branch meetings, to facilitate local meetings of young members and of UNISON’s self-organised groups, and to identify and adopt other measures to increase member participation in decisions about how UNISON’s resources are used. Conference further calls upon the National Executive Council, and regions, to identify and disseminate examples of best practice in improving member participation;

4)Agrees that targets should be set where appropriate; for example for a 5 per cent increase in workplace activists. Facility time is a key issue and conference urges branches to ensure that pressure is put upon employers to provide adequate time off for all representatives and that it is fairly distributed. Conference calls upon the National Executive Council to issue, alongside targets to increase the number of workplace activists, updated guidance on negotiating facility time, including guidance on negotiating reductions in other workloads of UNISON activists to take account of their union activity. This guidance should draw upon existing good practice;

5)Requires all branches and regions to prioritise the branch development process, to ensure that the UNISON Stewards Handbook is used as a practical organising tool, and to ensure that the Regional Pool is used to promote organising and branch development initiatives;

6)Instructs the National Executive Council to continue to work with regions, self-organised groups, young members organisation and service groups to ensure that the union reflects the views and aspirations of all our members, in both our bargaining and organising work. Conference celebrates the excellent work under way to extend the organising culture into workplaces, particularly in the light of the challenges of the break up of traditional bargaining units;

7)Urges all levels of the union to prepare for the new sexual orientation discrimination legislation by training all representatives on the issues and encouraging more lesbian and gay members to become stewards and other negotiators;

8)Agrees that the recruitment and organisation of young workers must be an absolute priority for the trade union movement. Conference calls on all representatives to ensure that UNISON addresses the concerns of younger workers and welcomes them into our organisation;

9)Welcomes retired member participation in the Union at all levels, which should be fully funded.