Public services need a new normal, says UNISON general secretary

Public services must be rebuilt after years of cuts and neglect

Speaking in the debate on preventing unemployment and building a better recovery on the second day of the 152nd Trades Union Congress, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:

“Outside Congress House stands Jacob Epstein’s incredible monument to war heroes – to trade unionists who gave their lives for our country.

“Six months ago, who would have imagined how many more would be doing the same in the devastating battle against Covid-19?

“Across the UK, in hospitals, care homes, nurseries, and council departments, NHS staff, refuse collectors, teaching assistants, care staff and other public service workers have shown extraordinary courage, dedication and self-sacrifice.

“There are stories of heroes – but, sadly, of tragedies too. Of those who didn’t live long enough to see the rainbow flags in every window or hear the clapping at twilight when a nation applauded its real stars.

“Many workers missed the applause as they were too busy mopping hospital floors, feeding patients, holding the hands of those in their last hours or working through the night in the mortuary.

“But memories are short. Already there’s talk of going back to normal, but we can never go back to normal.

“Normal meant a decade of pain and austerity, pay freezes and cuts. Key public services starved of resources and 700,000 jobs lost.

“Normal for public service workers was unsafe, and it meant stress and unfairness. Normal was being underappreciated, underpaid and undervalued. There can be no going back to that normal.

“There must be a new deal to rebuild all public services, where funding is based on need, where services are run in-house – for the public good, not private greed.

“A new deal where workplaces are safe and workers are treated with dignity and respect, appreciated, paid fairly, and valued.

“Because all that applause, rainbow pictures and heartfelt thanks won’t pay the rent or put food on the table.

“Never before has the work of public service workers been so visible or so important.

“They’re heroes in every sense of the word, selflessly giving their time, energy, and in too many cases, their lives simply to serve and help others.

“This is my final Congress, I’ve been part of the TUC for over 40 years. I’ve always been proud to speak out for the 1.3 million public service workers who belong to UNISON. But this year, more than any other, I could not be prouder.

“We must never forget our public service workers. We must fight for them as they have fought for us and stand with them as they have stood by us.

“We must respect, appreciate and value them as we build our new normal. Public service workers deserve nothing less.”

Notes to editors: 
– Earlier this week, UNISON launched its No Going Back to Normal campaign to secure a better future for key workers and the public services that have been supporting communities across the UK throughout the pandemic.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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