UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis made a heartfelt opening address to the union’s Energy conference in Brighton today, praising the sector for having the highest membership density in the union.
After a touching tribute to their Scottish colleague, Danny Gillespie, who died in April this year, delegates heard Mr Prentis promise that he would always make sure their voices were heard.
Demonstrating his long-standing roots in the industry, the general secretary emphasised the importance of the sector by saying it was one of the most important conferences in the union.
“I am pleased that today UNISON is the largest staff union in the energy sector,” he said. “We’re the only union that’s growing. Despite all the cut backs and the pay freezes, our membership continues to grow.
“And it’s in the private sector that membership is growing. We have 180,000 members in the private sector. We’re the biggest private members union in the country.
“That’s a reflection of the hard work and dedication of all of you here today. And of countless workplace stewards and activists in all our energy branches.
“Take British Gas – UNISON’s biggest private sector employer, where overall trade union density is over 65% of staff.
“Few workplaces in the whole of the UK can boast such levels of solidarity. And that should be an enormous source of pride for you, as it is for me. Because the energy sector plays an absolutely critical role in today’s society.
“We can make a vital contribution to how energy is supplied,” he said. “We have 65% membership at British Gas. The work you do as activists. The membership is highest in any sector in the union. I wanted to come along and thank you.
“Because you do so much for others. It means so much to those who do not have a voice.”
“The work you and our members perform in delivering this essential service to the public should never be underestimated, nor downplayed, not in the country at large and certainly not in our union.”
And he highlighted the struggles members in the energy sector had experienced in the past year alone, including constant reorganisations, jobs being lost and not replaced and performance related pay and incentive schemes that seem to change every time workers stand to benefit.
In keeping with the mood of a very personal address, Mr Prentis finished by making a touching presentation to Tina Court.
Tina recently left British Gas after 17 years, many of which were spent as branch secretary of the Yorkshire Gas branch. She was a member of the British Gas national sector committee, a member of the Energy service group executive, and an active member in her region.
“Those who know Tina know she has great reputation for defending members and supporting them through challenging times,” he said. “That’s why she’s so highly regarded by members and colleagues, by UNISON and by her former employer.
“People like Tina make UNISON a great union to be involved with – passionate, dedicated, compassionate. We are so lucky to have had you in our union Tina.
“It goes without saying that you will be massively missed by all in UNISON but especially those who work in British Gas.
“So, on behalf of the union, I want to express my sincere gratitude for your efforts over the years.”