Trade unions need to “challenge the dogma that the market knows best, and expose every fiasco and fiddle in the private sector,” UNISON’s Jane Carolan told TUC delegates in Liverpool.
NEC member Ms Carolan was moving a composite motion on defending quality public services.
“Let’s face it, every privatisation, from our railways and the energy sector onward, has been proved to be inefficient, less responsive to need and dedicated to screwing more money out of consumers,” she said.
“Privatisation has been about increasing profit for multinational companies. That is what NHS privatisation is about – not patient care or improved health.
“But the fate of our NHS is only one small part of the Tory project. Some of our other services, like education and childcare, have suffered even more.”
UNISON president Lucia McKeever told Congress that UK parents paid out a higher proportion of their net income in childcare costs than in any other European country except Switzerland.
“Affordability remains, perhaps, the biggest hurdle for childcare in the UK,” she said. “Childcare costs are a key factor in a parent’s decisions about work and, particularly, the transition back to work.
“Many people are now paying more for childcare than their mortgages or rent, and in some areas it is common for parents to earn much less than the childcare costs required to cover that work – effectively they work at a loss, just to keep their job available to them.”
UNISON members are particularly affected by the childcare issue, Ms McKeever said. Around 70% of members were a part of households with pre-school or school-age children, while the union represented over 50,000 early years staff in nurseries, schools and Sure Start centres.
Congress voted to:
- campaign for childcare support that will benefit all parents;
- campaign for decent terms and conditions for the staff providing childcare in schools and nurseries, including adequate training and safe child/carer ratios;
- lobby for childcare to be at the heart of 2015 election manifestos.
UNISON also backed a resolution opposing the privatisation of children’s services.
Recent union campaigning has forced the government to limit outsourcing of children’s services to non-profit organisations.
But as a UNISON amendment noted, this has left the back door open for profit-making companies to set up non-profit subsidiaries.
The union’s Chris Tansley told Liverpool delegates that the government had done nothing to address the many other concerns with its regulations, such as the dilution of accountability, the fragmentation of functions and the conflicts of interest for contractors, and there had been no move to subject the proposals to greater scrutiny and debate.
“We have already seen the damage that this sort of contracting out approach has wrought in our other public services – particularly elsewhere in local government, such as adult social care,” he said.
“Children’s services are amongst the most complex services to run, and you are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in society.
“There is no place for the profit motive in children’s services and no place for the race to the bottom invariably caused by cost-driven contracting.”
Supporting the Speak Up for Justice campaign, which calls for properly-funded prison, probation and court services, UNISON’s Caryl Nobbs spoke of the government’s “dangerous reform agenda” in these services.
“The campaign has brought the justice unions together at a time when our services are under the greatest threat we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” she said.
She spoke of the difficulties faced by the thousands of probation staff forced to work for the new probation bodies, and of the thousands of police support staff and PCSOs who have lost their jobs.
“Driven by the government’s misguided and deceitful austerity policy, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice have cut deep and hard without any regard for the safety of service users, staff or the general public.”