Pay ballots continue to dominate

Today’s NEC heard updates on a series of pay disputes and impressive personal injury wins for members

UNISON flags

General secretary Christina McAnea updated the NEC on a series of pay disputes across the union, and did not disguise how member turnout was still proving to be a major obstacle to future action.

Recently, 79% of local government members voted to reject their 1.75% pay offer, with the NJC committee agreeing to move to an industrial action ballot. NHS members in England also voted by a similar margin (80%) to oppose the government over the 3% pay increase, with their SGE deciding to embark on further consultation prior to a strike ballot.

The union’s Cymru/Wales NHS pay consultation found that 87% of healthcare workers voted to oppose the 3% pay offer and support ongoing talks with the Welsh Government. In Northern Ireland, a health protest day was held on 30 September, with lay leaders raising awareness of their One Team 2k claim.

“We did a lot of work with branches and regions and with service groups on these ballots, but the turnout was still disappointingly low,” the general secretary told the NEC. “There are still major problems getting to 50% – but we should be aiming for 100%.”

The NEC agreed that work would continue with service groups to increase turnout.

Away from pay, the NEC heard about the ongoing pensions dispute at the University of Dundee, where five days of action have been organised, so far, in a bid to prevent the closure of the university’s superannuation scheme.

The university plans to close the scheme on 31 July 2022 and replace it with a cheaper, inferior scheme, which looks likely to be the worst higher education pension scheme in Scotland. And only lower grade staff will be affected.

October is Black History Month and the NEC heard how this is a “priority event” for the union. A video of Christina McAnea talking about Black History Month is available here.

The NEC also heard about the upcoming COP26 climate conference in Glasgow next month. A major report from UNISON will be launched at the conference and a series of demonstrations will take place with unions, local TUCs and climate change groups coming together.

“Climate change is one of the key areas we will be focussing on in the coming weeks and months – and for the foreseeable future,” the general secretary told the meeting.

In other items, the NEC heard:

  • It had been a busy period since the last meeting, with UNISON’s health conference and important contributions from UNISON delegations at TUC and Labour Party conference;
  • Working with our legal partners Thompson’s, in one month alone UNISON won over 190 personal injury cases, worth over £1.7m in settlements – “an incredible achievement for our members,” said Ms McAnea;
  • The union continues to receive reports that the government’s ‘no jab – no job’ policy is already causing staff shortages in care homes;
  • After months of negotiations following UNISON’s claim for the insourcing of cleaners and security staff at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, parity of terms and conditions will now be offered through a direct contract with the school;
  • Last week the union called for priority access to fuel for key workers. “Essential staff must be able to get to their jobs, so they can keep our services going, “ the general secretary said.