As the health crisis turns into an economic crisis, UNISON needs to be stronger and more united than ever, so it can be in a better position to look after all its members, general secretary Dave Prentis told the union’s NEC on Thursday.
Mr Prentis told the online meeting: “The economic outlook is grim. My meetings with other general secretaries is a salutary reminder of the huge scale of job losses already happening in retail, aviation, hospitality and manufacturing.
“We are already seeing the effects. In many councils, in the charity sector, across higher education, we are seeing redundancies, cuts, changes to terms and conditions.”
He continued: “We have to make it clear from the outset that we won’t be the ones to carry the can again for an economic crisis.
“That’s why pay will be so important for those who risked their lives to protect us during this pandemic.
“And that’s why I condemned the divisive and distracting announcement on pay this week. It is a smokescreen and sinister, as it masked the holding down of pay for our people, with its increases for teachers but not teaching assistants, for the police but not for police staff.”
Still the UK’s biggest union – and growing
Mr Prentis also told the meeting that, for the third year running, UNISON was the UK’s biggest trade union and that there had been a huge increase in new members joining recently.
“This year, 114,183 new members have joined us. We have a clear strategy for growth and a reputation that we have built together that says UNISON is a union worth joining,” he said.
“And we need this growth to remain strong in every workplace, and we need real unity across the union to make sure we can do what we do best – campaign, organise and support every member that needs our help.”
The general secretary also outlined the way the union has been supporting members throughout the pandemic, with information and advice, pay negotiations, industrial action and disputes in London and the North West, and legal support, including the sleep-in case on behalf of care workers.
‘No other union has a charity like this’
He also focussed on There for You, the union’s charity, noting: “We have had over 2,000 applications for our £250 grants – heartbreaking stories from our members for whom these grants are, quite literally, a lifeline.
“As of today, we have given out more than £250,000 in grants and I’d like to thank all the branches who have donated to the charity. No other union has a charity like this and I am so proud that it is UNISON providing such vital support.”
Mr Prentis also updated the meeting on the reopening of UNISON offices, including the UNISONdirect call centre in Stevenage, which he had visited to welcome staff back to the office.
The NEC discussed the UNISON statement on Black lives and COVID-19, which calls on the UK government to:
- implement the recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned review by Wendy Williams, which was published in March 2020. Two years on from the scandal breaking, those affected are still waiting for the promised compensation;
- implement the Lammy Review of the criminal justice system from 2017;
- bring into force Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 – the public sector socio-economic duty in England. This is already enacted in Scotland and Cymru/Wales;
- Act on Theresa May’s comprehensive Race Disparity Audit published in 2017.
The statement said: “Continued warm words are not enough and action is needed today. Employers, governments, public bodies and regulators must be held to account for their duty of care, legal and lawful responsibilities.”
Mr Prentis added: “This is a strong statement that the whole union signed up to, because we fight racism wherever we find it. We will do everything in our power to protect Black workers.”
After the announcement that he is retiring as UNISON general secretary at the end of the year, president Josie Bird paid tribute to Mr Prentis, saying: “Dave is the only general secretary I have ever known and, while today is not the day for tributes, Dave leaves us with a really strong legacy.
“He has led our union through the toughest times and it is a reflection of his leadership and hard work that we came through the years of austerity and we are now the largest and fastest growing union in the UK.
“I have seen first-hand how tirelessly he works for our union – and how much we trust and depend on his experience and expertise.
“We have grown through 10 years of austerity and are well placed to face our future challenges.”
The NEC also:
- agreed the timetable and procedures for the general secretary election, which will be circulated to all activists on Monday;
- noted the service group election timetable and the guidance on UNISON elections during lockdown;
- discussed the pay offer in HE, the union’s social care campaign, NHS pay, local government funding and job losses in the energy sector;
- sent its support to local government members striking in Tower Hamlets, and those in the North West at We are With You (formerly Addaction), who are still in dispute over pay.