“Eric Roberts was our president – and he was someone who looked after people. He was a friend and he was more than a friend to so many of us,” a sombre UNISON executive heard this morning.
General secretary Dave Prentis opened the London meeting with a tribute to the union president, who passed away in late November after a short battle with cancer.
“Eric was completely loyal to this union,” said Mr Prentis. “Wherever he went, he told people how proud he was of our union – he said it was the best union in the world.
“We will never forget him.“
Eric Robert was the first ambulance staff member to be elected president of the union, having worked in the London Ambulance Service for 42 years
“He was a tremendous branch activist. He was a tremendous regional activist. He was a tremendous health activist and a tremendous union activist on this NEC.”
Vice president Carol Sewell, who chaired today’s meeting, said she and fellow vice president Margaret McKee were “very proud to have worked with Eric. We will continue in the same style.”
Ms McKee added: “We should make Eric proud by continuing on in the union. Let’s make and keep this the best union.”
Eric’s funeral will be a family event on 16 December, but the union is looking to organise a memorial meeting in the new year, possibly in February.
The NEC agreed not to appoint a replacement president to see out the rest of the presidential term to the end of the 2017 national delegate conference.
Instead, vice presidents Carol Sewell and Margaret McKee will carry out presidential duties, with support from experienced past presidents.
Mr Prentis updated the executive on the latest developments with the 2016 Trade Union Act after the government published draft regulations on thresholds for industrial action ballots and union political funds.
We will need to look at the issues involved and get advice out to our branches,” said Mr Prentis, while noting that the timetable for the political fund regulations means that rule changes required by the legal change will need to be agreed at next year’s conference.
Mr Prentis also updated the meeting on developments in two high-profile disputes involving school support staff in County Durham and Derby.
Talks continue in Durham, he said, after the county council suspended plans to dismiss up to 2,000 teaching assistants and rehire them on worse pay.
School staff in Derby, who have had pay cuts imposed, have rejected an offer from the council and strike days are planned in the run-up to Christmas and the start of the new year.
The executive also:
- received updates on pay campaigns and industrial issues from across the union’s service groups;
- heard a report on recruitment in the first 10 months of the year, which saw public-sector membership fall by just over 22,000 while the number of members in the private sector grew by 2,600;
- agreed the union’s draft objectives for 2017;
- agreed budget for 2017;
- agreed the procedures and timetable for next year’s elections to the NEC, with the nomination period opening on 9 January.