Strengthening Our Union: Supporting and Developing Our Stewards

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2016 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2016
Carried as Amended

Whilst UNISON can claim that we have an activist’s base of 50,000, all valuable roles and essential for creating a strong organised union, Conference notes that we have lost a significant number of experienced activists particularly our traditional steward’s as a consequence of the austerity agenda and the relentless privatisation of public services since 2010. Conference welcomes the fact that in 2015 there was an 18% increase in the number of new stewards recorded on RMS (UNISON’s membership system) compared to 2014. Additionally the percentage of these new stewards that had attended the organising stewards course, and were therefore ERA (Employment Rights Act) accredited by the end of 2015 was also slightly up on 2014 figures. However the historical data for the last 5 years indicates that the percentage of new stewards attending training within 12 months of being entered on to the RMS on average is less than 30%.

RMS data reports that 68% of stewards are ERA accredited and that a sizable minority of stewards currently are untrained and remain so for a number of years. Additionally RMS reports that there are over 11,000 contacts, of which over 2,600 are based in schools.

UNISON’s organising strategy recognises that the union organises in a rapidly changing environment of public service delivery, increased privatisation, fragmentation of services, continual public sector reform presented challenges in the ways that we traditionally recruited, trained and developed activists. A number of initiatives and developments aimed at recruiting and supporting new stewards have been successfully implemented including:

1)Modularising and flexible delivery of our organising stewards training and other core activists’ courses;

2)Extended provision of online and blended organising stewards training;

3)Flexible and tailored resources including short workshops, E-learning, and workplace contacts course;

4)Tailored projects to meet the challenges presented in recruiting and organising activists such as the national Housing Association project which established a developmental approach targeting support and encouragement from the point the potential activist expresses an interest;

5)Use of resources that acknowledge the occurrence of race discrimination in the workplace, e.g. Race Discrimination Claims Protocol and Challenging Racism in the Workplace.

There is no doubt that these initiatives are working, however year on year the union at regional and national level examine what other reasons sit behind the consistently high level of untrained stewards and workplace contacts, anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant number of these activists find the traditional forms of activism to be daunting, this is particularly so for the private sector, schools and C and VS sectors. Yet these activists do play a role and have a valuable contribution to make in supporting UNISONs recruitment and organising strategy.

Conference notes that for UNISON to continue to meet the challenges of organising in an ever changing environment and be able to deal with further attacks on activist’s facility time, the TU Bill and reduction to trade union funding, then it is essential that the union continually review how we recruit, train and support stewards and other activists.

Conference is also concerned that many trade union studies departments in further education colleges, where we also have members, have either closed or are facing closure, further limiting training opportunities.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

a)Encourage branches through the Joint Branch Assessment to dedicate resources, establish targets that embed within their branch development plans activity that will support other forms of activism to strengthen and grow the union in particularly these plans should:

i)Support and resource self organised and young member groups at branch and regional level recognising the valuable role they play in building confidence and developing skills amongst members thereby encouraging them to become activists and stewards;

ii)Promote and support UNISONs member development programme alongside organising initiatives such as Team UNISON to build confidence and the skills base amongst members’ thereby creating a route into activism.

b)Recognise that UNISON’s current systems and accreditation requirements for new stewards to become recognised by the union and therefore their employer is by attending the five day Organising Stewards course can act as a barrier for workplace contacts and untrained stewards participating more fully in UNISON. It also creates a situation where these activists cannot access training and support that would provide them with the skills to support their members in the workplace on recruitment, organising and campaigning issues.

In order to address this situation Conference agrees to:

A)Review the current Organising Stewards course, ensuring that the modules are more accessible in order to increase the number of trained activists;

Each module will be supported by “how to do” resources to build on skills acquired through training. These resources will be developed by Learning and Organising Services and will include e-notes / webinars as well as traditional resources.

B)Review the current National Executive Council scheme for the accreditation and training of UNISON Stewards / workplace reps, with a view to introducing a stage 1 accreditation upon completion of the appropriate modules of the Organising Stewards course;

Upon completion of all modules, stewards would acquire the appropriate skills and training to represent members in accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1999.

c)Continue to extend e-learning to supplement and support face to face training for stewards, by introducing further blended face to face and distance learning;

d)Encourage regions and branches to establish mentoring systems to support and develop new activists.