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2010 National Delegate Conference
3 June 2010

Conference expresses its profound concern that the media and politicians see the solution to the unprecedented economic crisis, and the resulting soaring national debt, is to be found in public spending cuts, marketisation and outsourcing of public services all of which severely damage public services, and lead to rising levels of job losses among our members. Conference therefore notes with increasing concern that these policies will intensify pressures on current and future membership levels.

Accordingly reaching out to everyone in the public services and organising for growth is the biggest challenge we face today. Conference welcomes the growth in membership and density in 2009. It reflects continuing national, regional and branch commitment to organising. Conference congratulates those regions and branches that have engaged in successful organising campaigns and drives, and notes that organising must remain central to the work of the union at every level in the organisation. Conference therefore welcomes the challenge to increase our membership to 1.5 million members by July 2013, our twentieth anniversary.

Conference notes that four out of ten new members join as the result of a recommendation from a work colleague, friend or family, and that the nature of the recommendation is the quality of individual representation that branches provide. This not only demonstrates the effectiveness of UNISON at a workplace level in the face of increasing fragmentation of local services, reductions in facility time and general work intensification, but the importance of branches continuing to provide good quality local services like individual representation to members as an effective organising tool. However, Conference is aware that good quality local services and representation depends on the levels of administrative effectiveness of the branch. Huge differences exist between large branches with staffed offices and small branches with no support. The levels of service members receive can vary dramatically depending on which branch they are a member of. This inequality in representation is unacceptable to Conference.

Conference welcomes the implementation of Meeting the Organising Challenge (MTOC) that has led to the appointment of over one hundred new organising staff in the regions to work in partnership with branches on the organising challenges that face us. Conference further welcomes the introduction of on-line joining last year that has become a major gateway into UNISON and has enabled over 30,000 workers, currently delivering public services, to become members of our union.

But Conference recognises that there is no room for complacency and that there is still much for us to do to meet the challenge of organising employers that deliver public services. Conference therefore welcomes the 3 Companies Organising Project and partnership working with our sister union the SEIU on the campaign to organise workers in the private sector companies that deliver public services like catering and cleaning services. Fewer than one in ten of these private sector workers are members of our union. Conference further welcomes the new two year UNISON – UMF (Union Modernisation Fund) project, Hidden Workforce, which aims to encourage organisers and activists to engage with contracted out public service workers.

Conference welcomes the success of campaigns like the Living Wage campaign, which have provided an organising model for improving pay and conditions especially among migrant workers in contracted out sectors. A growing number of employers, from banks to hospitals and universities have signed up to the Living Wage, and a number of local authorities have adopted a Living Wage policy. The Living Wage campaign has provided a model for trade unions of working with community organisations, particularly organisations like London Citizens who initiated the campaign. UNISON has played a key role in providing research and support from a national level and by encouraging branches to participate. We welcome the further development of this approach by the GPF in agreeing to help branches with affiliation costs to local Citizens Organisations. Conference recognises that the Living Wage Campaign offers an opportunity to organise, particularly in contracted out areas where many workers are on the minimum wage.

Conference notes that the use of agency workers in Local Government and Health is widespread and is growing. While some agency workers just cover short-term absences, in many cases they do the same work as permanent or fixed term colleagues, and generally on worse pay and terms and conditions. Agency workers are a more expensive option than using permanent or fixed term employees and while they are often paid the national minimum wage, the agency receives a hefty fee. They have less secure employment than permanent employees, which makes them much more vulnerable to bullying and harassment at work. Conference therefore welcomes the National Executive Council advice on organising agency workers and urges branches to act on the guidance. Conference also calls upon the National Executive Council to keep under review UNISON’s rules and processes, bringing forward future rule amendments should these be required, to address issues such as continuity of membership for agency workers who may be discontinuously employed, and the consequences of discontinuous employment for the rights of members who are agency workers.

Conference also recognises that there are increasing resource and facility time pressures for branches that organise across a range of community and voluntary sector organisations, arms length organisations, ‘third sector’ providers and other employers. It calls on the National Executive Council to continue to work with Service Groups, Regions and Branches to develop practical strategies that will provide a level of service to these members that aids recruitment and retention.

Conference further notes the rapid pace of change and increase in access to information and communication technologies (ICT) such as Twitter and YouTube, new technologies that young workers are familiar with, and which many of them use. Conference notes in particular the growth of informal UNISON accounts on social networking sites like Facebook, and calls on the National Executive Council to investigate the feasibility of using these sites to organise and recruit young workers.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council, Regions, Service Groups and

Branches to:

1)Ensure that appropriate and substantial resources are devoted to organising to enable us to meet the target of 1.5 million members by July 2013, our twentieth anniversary;

2)Conference calls on the National Executive Council to investigate the differentials in administrative support provided by branches and to report their findings to Conference in 2012 with proposals for the equalisation of such support across all branches in all service groups;

3)Use the branch assessment procedure to check that adequate resources are available to provide both local services like individual representation for current members and to organise new members;