Members cannot be the ones who pay the price for the pandemic

UNISON’s new senior vice president on why post-COVID pay rises are crucial for members

Andrea Egan UNISON senior vice president

“It’s an honour and a privilege,” that’s how Andrea Egan reacted to her election to the union’s presidential team as UNISON senior vice president.

A proud northerner, Andrea hails from Bolton, Greater Manchester, and it was in the former mill town that her life-long association with the trade union movement began.

“I was one of the original young UNISON members when I worked in children’s residential services at Bolton council, 20 years ago,” she said.

“Back then there were always issues that meant we were constantly contacting the union branch.” When the opportunity to become a rep arose, Andrea was more than happy to take on the role.

A local government worker for 33 years, her commitment to fighting for workers’ rights has seen her clock up more than a decade at Bolton’s UNISON branch.

“I’ve been seconded to the branch for the past 12 years,” she said. “I was assistant branch secretary; then joint branch secretary and I’ve recently become the sole branch secretary.”

From her vantage point within local government, Andrea has seen first-hand the devastation that years of government austerity have wreaked on local services and communities. The experience has fuelled her desire to make sure those dark days never return.

“Our members paid the price for the Tories austerity programme. The government made people believe there was no option but to cut services and freeze pay. In truth, austerity was a policy decision. People bought into the spin that there wasn’t any money.”

Andrea sees worrying similarities between the fallout from the pandemic and the austerity years under the Conservative Party, but this time she is determined union members won’t be left holding the bill.

“The difference this time is that members across all sectors – education, health, private home care, social care and local authorities – have stepped up to the plate during the COVID crisis, and importantly, that’s been recognised.

“The government has also shown that there is money and that it chooses where that money goes – such as to the failed track and trace system – and where it doesn’t go.”

Andrea believes part of the challenge unions face is helping staff understand that, despite ministers’ claims to the contrary, government coffers are full enough to fund a proper pay rise for all public sector workers.

“We’ve got a job to convince workers that we shouldn’t pay for the crisis with our jobs, with our terms and conditions and with the quality of the services we provide.

“We mustn’t forget that some of our members paid the ultimate price to get us through the pandemic. Workers across all sectors deserve a decent pay rise,” she said.

Despite the challenges ahead, Andrea passionately believes that workers’ interests will be served by a united trade union movement and a vigorous Labour Party.

“The Labour Party is the party of working-class people, and they have to show that they are in opposition [to this government]. People need a Labour Party that will champion them, and they need good strong trade unions.

“I believe that, through organising and winning for them, we will convince more people to join the union and together we can stand up to the government.”