Defying the cold and looking to the future

UNISON started the new year in January as we mean to go on

January may have ended with a cold snap for much of the country – but that didn’t stop UNISON starting the new year with a firm eye on the future, for both our planet and of our union.

We joined fellow energy unions GMB, Prospect and Unite in calling for a meeting with energy secretary Greg Clark to plan a “just transition” to the low-carbon economy needed to deal with climate change.

UNISON played a key role in bringing the four unions – and activists who represent 200,000 workers in the sector – together to talk about the issues last year. The unions have now drawn up a template for “a constructive way forward in the decade ahead”.

Closer to home, we kicked off our year of young workers as well – helping to secure the future of UNISON, our public services and the workers they rely on now and for decades to come.

Most young workers are contending with low wages, insecure jobs and no voice at work. They need trade unions more than ever.

Alongside cold snaps, another January regular is the state of the NHS. This month, UNISON released the results of our Just Another Day survey of staff’s experience of 24 hours in the health service, which took place in September.

Almost half of health members on the front line of patient care said there are not enough staff on their shift to ensure patients are treated safely and with compassion.

The survey showed “the extent to which crisis level staffing has become normal across the whole NHS,” said the union’s head of health Sara Gorton.

At the same time, she noted: “it also shows the dedication and compassion these hard-working committed staff continue to show at the most trying times.”

Former UNISON editorial manager Diana Harrison shared her own patient’s-view experience of that dedication and compassion when she wrote to thank the hospital staff helping her through cancer treatment.

And in Whitehall, the government unveiled a 10-year plan for the NHS.

“The plan is honest about the scale of the staffing challenge,” said Ms Gorton. “But nothing will happen without more money to attract new recruits and train existing employees.

There was one more thing dominating the headlines in January, much has it has done for month, after month, after month: Brexit.

While MPs played about with parliamentary arithmetic, amendments and ‘meaningful votes’ whose meaning was often less than clear, UNISON concentrated on our members and the lives they live outside the Westminster bubble.

We welcomed the news that 70,000 union members who citizens of other EU countries living in the UK and providing vital public services won’t have to pay £65 to register their settled status – a move UNISON has been campaigning for ever since the fee was introduced.

On top of that, general secretary Dave Prentis took advantage of an invitation to Downing Street to warn prime minister Theresa May that a “no deal Brexit” would be a catastrophe” for the economy, public services and everyone who works in our schools, hospitals, town halls and police forces” and must be avoided at all costs.

And the month ended on another high note, as partnership working between UNISON and the University of Bath saw the latter accredited as a living wage employer.

More than 300 staff will benefit from April, when the move will be implemented.