Public Service Workers under Pressure

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2016 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2016
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that as a consequence of the unprecedented job cuts introduced by the Conservative government, the workload pressure being faced by many people working in public services is reaching a critical level. The effects on the well-being of our members, as working life becomes ever more stressful, and on the quality and sustainability of the services that they provide, will be catastrophic unless addressed as a matter of urgency.

Since the Conservatives were first elected to office in 2010, close to one million jobs have gone from the public services across the UK. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies have shown, this is higher than the public service job cuts implemented by Thatcher and Major in the 1980s and 90s. And although a proportion of job losses recorded by the Office for National Statistics can be accounted for by reclassification (e.g. Further Education colleges being moved to the private sector), the vast majority are direct cuts that leave ever fewer staff to try to pick up the pieces and deliver the quality services that our communities rely upon and deserve.

From social care to planning, probation to parks maintenance and from the NHS to libraries, the story is the same. A dedicated but depleted staff trying to do more with less for those that rely on the services that they provide. As one recent survey of 3,700 people working across public service jobs shows, almost all now report working beyond their contracted hours (on average respondents put in an extra seven hours a week) Close on one in five say they don’t take any break during their working day, with less than a quarter (24%) enjoying a main break of at least 30 minutes.

To make matters worse, instead of showing sympathy and understanding to the public service workforce for the conditions under which they are expecting them to work, the government criticise and refuse to take account of the impact that their own policies have for the condition of services. As some commentators have pointed out in response to David Cameron’s speech criticising social services in December 2015, the government’s policies have a clear strategic direction of travel: cut- denigrate-privatise.

Unsurprisingly surveys show that morale across the public services is at an all time low and stress at an all time high. Most delegates to National Delegate Conference will have first-hand knowledge and experience of this growing crisis, and many will have had members coming to them suffering from stress and anxiety. Some 93% of respondents to the aforementioned survey say they are stressed at work either all, some, or a lot of the time.

Conference agrees that UNISON, as the leading public services union, has a responsibility to highlight the pressure being faced by those providing public services, to campaign for a change to current policies, and to show how this will be in the best interests of our members and for public service users. Conference notes that such a campaign will not be easy. The media, opinion formers and many politicians think that the public have accepted the need for cuts as a means of tackling the deficit and that the concerns of those working in public services is simply special pleading. However, as polls are beginning to show, the public are now growing concerned that the cuts are going too far and that services are being put at risk. This is a moment we must seize.

Conference notes UNISON support for the British Medical Association and how they have so far successfully linked junior doctor working hours to patient safety in their on-going dispute in England with Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt. Also the successful Northern TUC Public Services Alliance which has been an effective campaigning body.

In this context Conference calls on the National Executive Council to develop an ambitious campaign that:

1)Speaks to and builds support among a public who are increasingly concerned about cuts to public services, particularly using new media;

2)Makes common cause with service users and patient and public service user groups through participation in both national and local community activities on a common cause;

3)Explains to the public the crisis facing public services, the difficulties and experiences our members face as a result of the crisis and ensures that blame for such deterioration is placed firmly with the Tory Government;

4)Develop credible policy alternatives that UNISON members and activists can advocate to politicians locally and at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont.