Pensions, profits and equalities dominated debate at the energy service group conference in Liverpool today.
Shadow energy minister Caroline Flint spoke to conference and joined in extensive discussions about key issues.
She delivered a fluent no nonsense take on the environment and climate change: “I love polar bears as much as anyone else but we must not lose sight that climate change is about jobs and the future.
“The energy sector is one of the few areas that has seen growth. There is investment out there but to get it we must have certainty and confidence. That’s why a decarbonisation target by 2030 is so important.”
Her wide ranging address touched on supply mis-selling, smart meters, call centres, the green deal and creating a pool for energy generators. But she acknowledged that the public had become disengaged from the energy market and it was UNISON members working in energy companies who were having to deal with the public’s complaints.
Delegates were also worried about pensions. They were warned that protection for pensions under the 1990 privatisation regulations was under threat. The new state single tier pension scheme could raise national insurance with employers passing on their costs to employees via pension contributions.
John Fish from Western Power said: “We were the last company to close our final salary pension scheme to new entrants. With a final salary scheme the regulator wanted to know how Western Power could avoid a fixed cost.”
He recalled attending a meeting of the regulator Ofgem as a trade union rep and being told that the privatisation protection could be removed.
Conference called on UNISON to campaign for employers to share the cost of increased national insurance, oppose attempts to reduce pension benefits and to encourage work with other trade unions on the issue.
Delegates also passed a series of motions on equalities. These included challenging workplace transphobia and raising the profile of black activists and boosting training for black members.
Justin Cooper, LGBT committee, quoted research that transgender people faced more discrimination than everyone else. He said many managers in energy companies were not up to speed on their responsibilities to trans staff.
He added: “You may not be aware of transgender people in your branch but that does not mean it isn’t an issue.”
He urged those affected to start using the “excellent” UNISON resources accessible via the website.
A successful motion “No place for transphobia” called for dissemination of UNISON material in branches and workplaces and to seek to local improvements where practice fell short.
Western Energy branch warned of the dangers of hot desking. This included exposure to airborne illnesses and a denial of quality personal space.
Paul Hamill from Western Power, said the outcome was dehumanising. There were issues around hygiene, finding the right chair and arranging your desktop.
Delegates called for a survey into how widespread hotdesking was and to highlight growing concerns about over health and personal space.