Protecting our members and growing in private contractors

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2018 National Delegate Conference
22 February 2018
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that in the 25 years since UNISON was created the world our members work in has changed considerably. Thatcher’s government opened the door to public sector privatisation and this has been built upon by successive governments. Under the coalition government outsourcing doubled and the current Westminster government shows no sign of changing course. We are seeing the biggest squeeze on public service funding in a generation; with continued austerity causing crisis in the NHS and cut backs across all the areas our members work. People who gave their lives to public service used to be rewarded with fair terms and conditions, decent pay and secure pensions; however too many now face zero hours contracts and the minimum wage. In some areas the delivery of services by private companies has become the norm, like in social care where 81% of people in England work for an independent provider. Many precious public services continue to be sold off to the highest bidder and we see the growing issue of privatisation through the back door as English NHS trusts and councils increasingly see wholly owned subsidiaries as a way of outsourcing cuts.

Conference also notes that our union is changing too, to reflect the vast range of employers our members now work for. In 2017 over 30% of new members we recruited work for private or community employers, and private contractors continue to be the fastest growing group of UNISON members.

Conference notes that the collapse of Carillion earlier this year exposed not just the failures of privatisation and the danger of private companies running important services but also demonstrated how vulnerable our members are when these outsourcing experiments go wrong. In the blink of an eye thousands of people delivering public services were suddenly fearful for their jobs, their pensions and their livelihoods. Conference welcomes UNISON’s continued commitment to fighting privatisation and notes that many of the warnings we have given over the years have been proved true.

To enable UNISON to support and protect members in private employers across the UK we need to develop an organising approach at all levels of the union. Where contracts have been outsourced we have a duty to follow and support our members, organising for recognition, facility time and bargaining rights. By building union power in these employers we hold them and the government to account. By developing and training activists in the private sector we will be able to take the pressure off branches. There is a real opportunity to significantly grow in the outsourced sector and to empower our members working there.

Conference notes the ongoing work the Private Contractors National Forum is doing to give our members in private employers a voice at all levels of the union. Going forward these voices need to be at the centre of shaping a union strategy that is fit for the next 25 years and inclusive for all. Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

1)Continue to make the case against privatisation and to campaign for services to be brought back in house;

2)Campaign for it to be a legal requirement for an in-house bid to be fully considered prior to any decision to outsource or retender;

3)Encourage and support branches to actively participate in procurement processes wherever possible, arguing for tendering bodies to fund contracts at a sustainable and fair level. There should be a focus on campaigning for union recognition and access to be part of any outsourced contract and for the Real Living Wage and pay uplifts to be funded. Campaigns should include requirements for facility time to be transferred and protected;

4)Support branches in identifying private employers in their area to strategically target for recruitment and activist development. This should be done with due regard to any National Executive Council, national or regional priorities. The development of more reps in private employers must be a priority across the union. Where we have density and activists we have the strength and power to hold employers to account;

5)Promote, in partnership with relevant service groups, a targeted campaign to recruit and build activism in the social care sector; with targeted materials and communications for care workers. Members who work in social care should be at the core of designing and leading this strategy;

6)Campaign at all levels of the union for better pensions in the private sector, including skilling up our members to engage with scheme management and for wider access to relevant public sector schemes for outsourced workers;

7)Continue to develop a targeted and relevant range of communications to reach out to our private sector members and make them feel a full part of the union. Their participation in seminars, training, and the private company forums should be encouraged and enabled by all levels of the union. Branches and regions should also be encouraged to look at ways they can make their structures more inclusive and accessible to private contractor members;

8)Devise a joined up strategy in liaison with national service groups and devolved nations, for campaigning closely with regions on pay in the private sector; recognising that a vast majority of bargaining is done on a contract by contract level. The approach needs to be informed, strategic and coordinated, with members and branches supported with guidance on submitting pay claims and training on the complexities of how pay is funded through contracts. Branches have a big role to play in pressuring tendering bodies for the funding for pay uplifts.