“Thanks to UNISON’s hard work, the water industry is becoming the first multi-company industry to adopt the living wage,” shadow minister Alex Cunningham told delegates at UNISON’s water, environment and transport conference in Brighton today.
The shadow minister for water and the environment praised UNISON for its Making Waves for the Living Wage campaign, which calls on all UK water companies to sign up as accredited living wage employers.
However, the battle is not yet over – delegates need to keep up the pressure to ensure “the living wage for all in the water industry” by giving water companies that have not yet signed up a deadline, after which they would be publicly named as refusing to pay the living wage.
In a wide-ranging speech also covering pensions and the government’s inadequate response to flooding, Mr Cunningham made an immediate call to delegates to “get out there and convince your family and friends to remain in the European Union.”
He said the referendum was “monumentally important” and he was delighted that UNISON was campaigning to remain.
Describing the referendum as the most important issue of all, he told delegates that: “None of us should be in any doubt that we have the campaign of our lives on our hands.”
He continued by saying that remaining in the EU would protect workers’ rights against a government bent on eroding them, as well as being the best framework for trade.
Another key issue for delegates at the conference was pensions, which service group executive chair Ruth Davies warned is “still a battleground”.
Companies including Severn Trent, Dwr Cymru, Northumbria Water and United Utilities have made adverse changes to their defined benefit pensions schemes, she pointed out.
As Mr Cunningham noted: “The water industry made £2.1bn in profits in 2015 – it’s time we took action to make sure that more of that profit goes to workers.”
Delegates agreed to campaign to protect pensions and “stop this race to the bottom”. They congratulated unions in United Utilities on organising industrial action in response to changes to its defined benefit scheme.
Delegates also agreed to organise a survey of members in the Environment Agency to gather “robust information about the level of strain the organisation is under”, which can be used in a campaign against further cuts to staff numbers and to make the case for more resources to maintain flood defences.
Cuts to the agency was another issue that was raised by Mr Cunningham, who said: “The Tories have been wilfully negligent in their approach and response to floods.”