2019 reviewed – part two

Despite the threats posed by Boris, Brexit and a bitter general election, UNISON members continued to fight for quality public services and workers’ rights


The month opened with a living wage win in Cheshire, after the union successfully negotiated a deal with Edsential for school caterers and cleaners to be paid at least £9 an hour. Other school support staff would also get a pay rise in the deal.

BBC Radio 4 broadcast a week-long drama about the problems of 15-minute care visits, based on the experiences of UNISON member Caroline Firmin, whose campaigning saw Southwark Council become one of the first councils in the UK to adopt our Ethical Care Charter.

A period of busy summer strike action saw members take to the picket lines over pay in Birmingham and Blackpool and outsourcing in Bradford.

The month also saw the Conservative Party vote for their new leader. Boris Johnson, a man never known to let anything stand in the way of his personal ambitions, finally landed himself the PM job he had always, modestly, felt was born for. But would he keep it…?


UNISON secured another victory at the Court of Appeal, this time affecting hundreds of thousands of employees working part-time and irregular hours or patterns.

Harpur Trust v Brazel & UNISON clarifies the legal position ensuring that all workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid annual leave, even if they are not given work or pay for parts of the year. In addition, this leave must be paid at the rate of a normal week’s pay, or based on the average payment for the preceding 12 weeks if pay is irregular.

More positive news saw the West Midlands Ambulance Service win back a contract to deliver the local 111 service, allowing it to integrate 111 and 999 services, leading to “significant improvements for patient care”. For the previous four years, the 111 service had been delivered by private company Care UK.


Going back to school never felt sunnier, as 700 kids returned in fresh uniforms thanks to UNISON’s school uniform grants. There for You gave over £34,500 worth of grants to members.

Our first ever Green UNISON Week saw branches across the UK organising activities – from taking spider plants to work to switching off computers – that drew attention to the need for urgent action on climate change. UNISON members also supported the Global Climate Strike, which saw thousands of children and adults walking out of schools and workplaces.

Meanwhile, UNISON launched the first union health and safety guide, designed to tackle the dangers faced by lone workers in the gig economy. And at the TUC conference in Brighton, UNISON health members made a colourful protest against the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the NHS.


Building on the campaign launched in April, we held our first Local Services Champions Day, on 17 October. Throughout the UK, council workers and members of the public celebrated the contribution local services – and the people who deliver them – make to our lives.

In London, low-paid and outsourced university workers at UCL – including porters, security staff and catering workers – celebrated after UNISON secured them the same pay, pension and annual leave rights as directly employed workers. The union said the deal ended years of unfair treatment.

And in the North West, outsourced social care workers won statutory recognition for their union – UNISON, naturally – for collective bargaining. The members work for PossAbilities, in Stockport, a social enterprise that delivers support to vulnerable adults across a number of local authorities.

At month’s end, more Brexit manoeuvring saw Boris Johnson forced to ask for the Article 50 extension he swore he’d never have. The EU granted it, until 31 January 2020, removing the threat of the UK crashing out without a deal on Halloween.


November kicked off with a team of UNISON members winning the Nursing Times Team of the Year Award for their transformative work on a secure psychiatric ward in North Wales (pictured above).

The award recognised the “incredible” changes they were making on the eight-bed Tryweryn psychiatric intensive care ward, at the Heddfan psychiatric unit in Wrexham. The team spoke passionately to UNISON about the new “human rights approach” they had brought to their work.

At the disabled members’ conference, assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told delegates that eliminating pay discrimination for workers with a disability was a key priority for the union.

Northamptonshire Council staff had a huge win when they were promised a 4% pay rise from April 2020 – their first increase in three years. They were also given an extra day’s holiday on 27 December.

Cleaners, caterers and security guards at Birmingham University Hospital secured a hard-won pay increase, following a series of campus strikes. Staff voted to accept a pay offer of more than 4% for lowest-paid workers, and 3% for the highest paid.

Halfway through the month came the inevitable announcement of a general election, which UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis described as “the fight of our lives”.


Across the UK, UNISON members took to the streets to campaign for the issues that mattered most to them – as public service workers, employees, individuals and family members who have been struggling through years of austerity.

Dave Prentis commended the Labour manifesto as one that reflected the union’s own priorities. He listed 12 reasons why, including: a real public service pay rise (5% in the first year, and real rises after that); proper funding for public services, including £26 billion more for the NHS; a real living wage for all; and the creation of a National Care Service, building on UNISON’s own Ethical Care Charter.

Mr Prentis also sent a video message to members recounting how the NHS saved his life, many years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer, adding that the Conservative-led governments since 2010 had pushed the service into its current crisis, which could only be averted by a Labour victory.

UNISON also aired another video, Why are we waiting?, illustrating the NHS’s funding crisis through a comic account of the very real problems patients face in booking a GP appointment. And it published data analysis of the cuts suffered across all public services over the past nine years.

On December 12, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives won a landslide victory, with significant gains in Labour heartlands across the North. Mr Prentis called the result “a devastating blow” for public services.

Ever defiant, the general secretary added that UNISON would continue to stand up for its values and the priorities of members. “In UNISON we know that whoever is in power, our union makes us stronger.”

A Year in UNISON: 2019 reviewed – part one