NEC told: ‘We will hold government to account on COVID-19’

First remote national executive council hears tributes to UNISON members who have lost their lives during the coronavirus crisis

Microscopic view of the Coronavirus

Supporting our members during the coronavirus pandemic has been UNISON’s mission during the current crisis – but we will also be their voice to hold this government to account, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis told the national executive council (NEC) on Wednesday.

Speaking at the first online meeting of the union’s NEC, Mr Prentis said: “Helping our members and supporting our activists to do the same has been our number one priority.

“But as we move forward, the government should be aware that there will be a day of reckoning and we will hold them to account.

“We are documenting our members’ experiences and their testimony, and we will make sure their story is told.

“The government’s failure is not just the last 10 weeks, but the last 10 years: the cuts to public services, the year-on-year underfunding of the NHS, the growing local government funding gap, social care privatised and run for profit.

“We will tell the truth and hold this government to account. I believe we owe this to our members who have given so much and to those we have lost to this virus.”

The meeting had opened with a moving tribute and a minute’s silence after the names were read out of some 66 UNISON members who had died during the coronavirus pandemic.

The general secretary began his report with a powerful message to the union’s Black members in the wake of the worldwide protests following the brutal killing of George Floyd in the US.

“To every Black member of UNISON, I say – we stand with you and we commit to ourselves to the fight against racism. In UNISON, Black lives always matter.”

He reported that the union had called on the government to publish the report into high COVID-19 death rates among Black people and confirmed that UNISON will be working closely with Doreen Lawrence on her commission looking at the reasons behind this and identifying actions that need to be taken.

Mr Prentis reported on how, in the past 10 weeks, the union has:

  • moved to operate away from its usual workplaces;
  • responded to a huge and fast-moving bargaining agenda;
  • provided detailed advice and guidance to members;
  • helped branches to continue to support members, whether they remain in workplaces or are working remotely; and
  • provided an emergency welfare fund to members who are suffering financial or emotional distress.

“This union has been my life for 40 years and I am proud of what we have achieved. But what I have seen in the last 10 weeks has been the best of our union – even in the worst possible circumstances.”

President Josie Bird also paid tribute to our members “who have kept the country running and are literally risking their lives.

“We need to make sure the role of public service workers does not become a forgotten footnote and that their role is recognised.”

The NEC also:

  • agreed an appeal to branches to support the union’s There for You COVID-19 welfare fund;
  • agreed that the election of the presidential team, which would normally happen at the close of the union’s national delegate conference in June, will continue to be linked to a rearranged national delegate conference and that this will be reviewed in October if a conference has not yet been held. The current presidential team remains in place;
  • paid tribute to UNISON Northern Ireland joint regional convenor Denis Keatings who sadly died recently, along with those we have lost due to coronavirus.