Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reinstate Debbie Cordroy

As I blogged previously
Debbie Cordroy has been sacked by her employer One housing group on trumped up charges - Debbie has the full support of residents, the local MP (and my MP) Jim Fitzpatrick who spoke at the meeting, UNISON Nationally and regionally as well as her local shop who have just balloted for industrial action.

The meeting was packed with around 100 people all there to show solidarity
with debbie - the meeting was a healthy mix of residents and local unison activists and chaired by John McLoughlin branch Secretary of Tower Hamlets UNISON.

John Gray regional finance officer spoke to give the regions support to Debbie - John used to be in the tower hamlets branch and knows Debbie well (I'm sure you'll see a report on Johns blog as well.)

John McDermott from UNISON's NEC spoke and highlighted the similarity's between Debbies case and his victimisation from the Leeds ALMO, the victimisation of Yunus Bakhsh and Karen Reissmann all vocal trade unionists good at their job and who spoke out for service users and members - John made the point that Debbie should wear this as a badge of honour as its only the good union activists that get victimised.

Debbie spoke at the end of the meeting and thanked everyone for coming - Debbie spoke about the times she had spoken up for residents and other members of staff - Debbie got a standing ovation from the floor.

Msgs of solidarity from the floor came from a number of residents, Newham Unison, Havering Unison, the local NUT branch, the local tenants association amongst others.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tackling the crisis - 2 dates for your diary

Here is plenty of notice for 2 dates you must put in your diary!

With the poverty gaps and inequality widening in the UK even before the current crisis we need to demand a fairer and more equal society.

Let's be clear capitalism isn't working -
UNISON will be marching on the 28th March to Put People First - the unions will be at the front of the march joining thousands marching through London as part of a global campaign to challenge the G20, ahead of their 2nd April summit on the global financial crisis.

Check out the website
You can also see how Facebook users can get involved here:

Second date is 22nd April
Their crisis not ours campaign.
'Where's Our Bailout?
'On this day, the Government will unveil its Budget.
Let's make sure that the voice of the people is heard - I'm guessing here but I doubt we will hear much about any redistribution of wealth, investment in welfare rights because of the increased demand, increase in the funds to tackle child poverty which we are failing miserably in! - so let's demand a budget for a more equal society!

The plan is as follows:
12pm: We will line the route on Whitehall where the Chancellor will go from No. 11 Downing Street to address Parliament.
5pm: We will protest outside the Treasury.
7.30pm: We will hold a Question Time event chaired by John McDonnell MP and be addressed by a range of experts, including Graham Turner from the Left Economics advisory panel, activists and high-profile figures who will answer your questions as to how we got into this mess - and more importantly what we now do about it!

We will also be holding protests simultaneously in towns across the country.
Lets make sure the Government and the bankers hear us loud and clear

Ps we've been thinking of slogans for the day with lots of suggestions of their crisis not ours - we won't pay

Their crisis not ours - .....insert whatever u like really

But one I found in a scarf shop in London has the title of my favourite
"Are we humans? Or are we bankers?"

Suggestions in the comments please

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Public Meeting in support of Debbie Cordroy

There is a public meeting next Thursday (26th Feb) organised by UNISON and Local residents in Tower Hamlets have organised a public meeting in support of Debbie and the campaign to reinstate her.

6pm - Barkantine Hall
The Quarterdeck
Westferry Road
Isle of Dogs

Speakers Include;

Cllr Timothy Archer - Blackwall & Cubitt Town
Sarah Castro MBE - Barkantine Management Team
Debbie Cordrey - Unison Snr Shop Steward at Island Homes
Jim Fitzpatrick MP - MP for Poplar & Canning Town
John Gray - UNISON Greater London Region and Housing Associations Branch
John McDermott - UNISON National Executive
Martin Young -Barrister and former Millwall Cllr (Lab)

Debbie Cordrey, Senior Unison shop steward at Island Homes, was summarily dismissed on
4 February 2009. She had no previous warning about her conduct or performance.

Debbie is well known as a hardworking and dedicated officer, as a union steward, and as a community activist.
All those who know her are stunned at the news.
The Barkantine Management Team have written in her support, “Since coming to work at Island Homes, Debbie has been on the side of the residents campaigning for locally delivered services. She has spoken out against bad practice, poor management and the mistreatment of other staff members and we believe she is being victimised for her support of the residents and the ethos of a resident led housing association.
We demand the immediate reinstatement of this valued housing officer.”

One Housing Group dissolved the resident board and appointed their own. Now the senior union
steward has been sacked. Unison believes this is a case of victimisation and we are balloting our
members for industrial action.
It is an attack on union rights that also affects residents. If staff are scared to speak out when
management break promises you suffer too.

To find out more contact John McLoughlin Tower Hamlets Branch Secretary
Tower Hamlets UNISON
5th Floor Mulberry Place, E14 2BG
tel: 0207 364 5302

Please also send messages of protest to

Catherine Kyne
Interim Managing Director,
Island Homes
Millwall Local Housing Office
12 The Quarterdeck, E14 8SJ

Mick Sweeney
Chief Executive Officer
One Housing Group
100 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH

Women in UNISON

Here is the text of a speech I gave to the cambridgeshire county branch of UNISON's AGM last Thursday.

As a young woman UNISON activist I have been asked to talk to you about women and the trade unions. I am going to concentrate upon our Union , UNISON, and say something about inequality in the workplace as well as a little about UNISON’s policy on wider issues of concern to our women members before looking at the implications for women workers of the current economic crisis.

The most obvious example of inequality in the workplace is the fact that men generally earn more than women. The Equal Pay Act came into force before I was born, but women workers still do not receive equal pay with men.
The gender pay gap currently stands at just over 17% around £4,000 a year.
That's equivalent to men getting paid all year and women working for free from 30 October!

Part of the reason for this inequality is the glass ceiling which holds women back. In local government research reveals few women make it to the top, either as chief executives or council leaders. Researchers last year found only one authority – South Northamptonshire – in which the leader, deputy leader and chief executive are all women.
In contrast there are 175 authorities in which all these posts are held by men.
As well as this straight forward discrimination there are numerous other contributors to the GPG.

In the workplace the factors have been loosely bound into 2 types of segregation vertical and horizontal.
The glass ceiling effect and differences in educational levels and work experience are classed as Vertical segregation.
We are more likely than men to have breaks from paid work to care for children and other dependants.
Women are then more likely than men to work part time
For part time workers the GPG is almost 40% - with almost 1/2 of UNISON members working part time closing the GPG is a big issue for us.

Women also spend less time travelling than men because of these time constraints – so we have a smaller geographical pool of jobs to choose from.

In other words because men are more likely to be free to work full time because of fewer caring and domestic responsibilities they are better able to get the better paid jobs.

Horizontal segregation then is so called "womens Work" Women make up 51% of the workforce but more than 60% of women work in only 10 out of the 77 recognised occupations – and these are the lowest paid occupations.
For example workers in care homes are mainly low paid women – as a result of privatisation of many care homes workers are now facing cuts in pay and terms and conditions in what is already a low paid job.

We do need to negotiate for equal pay, on the basis of winning increases for women and where single status negotiations have failed we need to litigate against employers – but litigation alone won’t solve single status – we need to put pressure on central government to provide additional funding for S Sin LG.
We have tolerated unequal pay for far too long. Women workers deserve equal pay and fair compensation –and we need our national leadership to fight for fair funding and to fight pay cuts
We are still waiting for a settlement from last years pay campaign and are due this year pay claim in a matter of weeks - Winning fair pay should be a priority for UNISON , last year we took action again and were then forced to take a pay cut – we cannot keep striking to gain nothing
We are failing all our members but mainly our women members id we fail to achieve a pay RISE in the current negotiations, we cannot afford in the current climate another pay cut in real terms. -Unless we learn lessons from last few years’ tactics we will not win 2009’s claim.
UNISON’s policy is opposition to multi year pay deals –We need to ensure that our national negotiators enforce this policy and provide a strong fighting leadership to stop this government forcing public sector workers to take real term pay cuts.
The best way to take on this government is through united action – including coordinated industrial action fighting for decent pay rises -defending bargaining rights with our sisters and brothers in the NHS and other public services.
Imagine the impact if UNISON had joined the teachers on strike in July last year – that would have made the government sit up and listen and that should be our aim for this years negotiations.

Achieving equality for women workers depends not only upon what we do in the workplace but also upon our campaigns in the wider society - As a trade union we need to tackle every aspect of women’s inequality. That’s why in addition to fighting to close the GPG it is important that UNISON also tackles other issues of concern to working class women.

We need to continue to campaign for adequate affordable childcare and improved maternity provision to help women and carers into work.
I’ll just mention three other issues on which our Union campaigns; domestic violence, rape crisis centres and abortion rights.

UNISON was one of the first unions to recognise that violence in the home is a trade union issue. Domestic violence can be from partners, ex partners or family members. Overwhelmingly the abuser is a man and the abused a woman, though this is not always the case, and more recently we have seen a drastic rise in young men suffering from DV.

This will only get worse as research shows the incidences of DV will rise in a recession.
Many Local authorities are cutting their DV funding at just the time when the provision needs to be increased.
UNISON has been involved in many campaigns to save DV and Women’s centres.

Sexual violence is a major problem in the UK. In 2005 there were over 14,000 reported rapes in England and Wales and an estimated 80,000 unreported rapes. UNISON supports Rape Crisis, and its calls for proper funding for Rape Crisis centres as a funding crisis has seen the number of centres in England and Wales plummet - from 84 in 1985 to 32 today.

UNISON also calls on the Government to improve women’s access to abortion services. UNISON supports a woman’s right to choose, and our position is supported by the public, the vast majority of people in Britain consistently poll in support of a woman’s right to choose. I was privileged to be part of the reinvigorated campaigns to defend our abortion rights last year however the government used all sorts of underhand tactics and deals to prevent us from having a debate on whether or not our sisters in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as we do. It is disgraceful that women in NI are denied the rights that women have fought for over. The fight doesn’t end however there are constant attempts to erode the rights women have won and we need to keep vigilant in defending them.

All of these campaigning issues relating to women’s rights are trade union issues, relevant to the inequality which we as women experience at work, in the home and generally in society.

Now women have to face the brunt of an economic crisis which is bearing particularly heavily on women workers.

In the current recession communities secretary Hazel Blears has said that the early signs suggest that women are experiencing greater economic hardship than men.

Last month a study by the TUC showed the redundancy rate among women had risen by 2.3%, almost double the rate for men.

For UNISON – with a million women members – this makes our response to the economic crisis a vital issue for women’s equality as much as for workers’ rights.
Our General secretary Dave Prentis has called for "a major demonstration, with our people in the streets in London on 28 March" to call for jobs, people, public services and climate change to be at the heart of plans to deal with the crisis.

UNISON’s progressive social agenda to respond to the economic crisis is of particular importance to our women members, and we need to mobilise for 28 March now.

Finally I mentioned earlier that most local authorities are dominated by men at the very top. In UNISON we have strict rules about proportionality which make sure that almost two thirds of our NEC are women, but of course, our General Secretary is a man, so is our Deputy General Secretary and our Assistant General Secretary.

The future leadership of a trade union with a million women members is not likely to remain so exclusively male. Already five of our twelve Regional Secretaries are women as are the National Heads of Health, Local Government and Education.

Women in UNISON have made progress, but we have further to go – and the next place we have to go is the demonstration in London on 28 March.
I hope to see you there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

UNISON Local Government Conference deadline

I'll pass on some important information about UNISON Local Government Conference which has come out in a circular from HQ.

The deadline for Local government Conference motions is 12 Noon on Friday 20 February. Motions must be submitted on Form L6 which can be downloaded from <> or obtained from the Conference office Tel: 020 755 11123.

If NEC Rule Amendments go through National Delegate Conference this will be the last Local Government Conference that will be permitted to discuss the NJC pay negotiations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - so if you have any views about local government workers' pay this may be your last chance to do anything about that!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marathon Arbitration session with skinflint employers

My sources on the UNISON NEC tell me that our Head of Local Government reported today that yesterday's session with ACAS lasted some six hours as both the trade union side and the employers side of the National Joint Council put their case to the arbitrators who have been brought in to settle last year's pay dispute (so we can get on with this year's pay claim).

The employers argued that no further award should be made beyond their final offer - arguing that this was not affordable (although relying on financial data only up to 2006 while the trade union side had more recent information). Since local government has delivered greater "efficiency" savings than the Government wanted there obviously is money for fair pay for low paid local government workers.

I'm sure our officials gave it their best shot and I hope that ACAS do make some additional award - but I don't think many local government workers will be counting on anything. If we want fair pay we need to build up our organisation to fight for it - and to unite with other public service unions to take the Government on.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

UNISON against homophobia

As UNISON is marking LGBT History Month this February, I thought I would share here the UNISON circular on the recent EAT decision in the Islington case (about which Andrew blogged at the time);

“In July 2008, an employment tribunal found that the north London council, Islington had unlawfully discriminated against a registrar who had said that she could not carry out same-sex ceremonies "as a matter of religious conscience".
But the employment appeal tribunal in December 2008 upheld the authority's appeal, ruling that the earlier tribunal had "erred in law" and that there was no basis for concluding that any "discrimination had been established".
A full reading of the judgment can be found at (UKEAT/0453/08).

UNISON Comment

UNISON has welcomed this ruling. UNISON has always held that religious belief cannot justify discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people in employment or in the delivery of services.

The original tribunal ruling caused dismay and confusion. It is now quite clear – public services must be provided for all, without prejudice or discrimination. Public servants – or indeed anyone providing services – cannot pick and choose between who they provide those services to.

That this case was about the provision of civil partnership makes it particularly poignant. The right for same-sex couples to register their legal commitment to each other, as opposite-sex couples can in marriage, was hard won. It is not up to individual registrars to decide whether or not they agree with that right.

UNISON supports everyone’s right to civil partnership and marriage whilst at the same time we demand full trade union consultation on any changes to working arrangements and proper staffing levels to cope with any increase in workload.”

I can only add that the UNISON circular has this completely right. We have to stand up against all forms of discrimination in the delivery of public services – and LGBT History Month is a good time to remind ourselves of that.

(Details of events for LGBT History Month are available online here).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

2009 Local Government NJC Pay Claim

We're still waiting for the outcome of arbitration on the 2008 pay award for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A hearing with the arbitrators will take place next Tuesday. I still think it was a mistake to go for arbitration - but wish luck to the UNISON officials who will be putting our case next week.

While we're waiting the pay claim for the increase due on 1 April 2009 has been submitted and today branches were sent a stewards briefing to encourage our activists to raise the claim with our members and win their support.

The claim states; " To improve real pay levels, the Trade Union Side of the NJC seeks a one-year, across-the-board pay increase of at least the level of retail price inflation, with additional increases for the lower paid." To improve real pay levels, the Trade Union Side of the NJC seeks a one-year, across-the-board pay increase of at least the level of retail price inflation, with additional increases for the lower paid." As price inflation is falling fast now, the briefing seeks to explain what this claim means.

At the time of consulting on the claim towards the end of 2008, the economic predictions were variable with predictions of low inflation in 2009 (which is now coming true). Happily there are a range of arguments to support a decent pay rise for local government workers from 1 April.

Although the RPI has fallen dramatically, this is mainly due to reducing mortgage interest payments and the effect of the reduction in VAT.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) - which was the Government's preferred measure of inflation to set our pay over the past few years - is still running at 3.1%, dropping from 4.1% in November.

Recent pay rises have seen local government workers slip behind.
The NJC pay increase for 2007-8 of 2.475% did not come close to RPI in the months up to March 2008. Neither did the 2.45% plus £100 for the lower paid "on account" with effect from 1 April 2008. It's good to be reminded of this - but stewards will know that failures in our own strategy contributed to these real terms pay cuts and will be looking to UNISON to do better in 2009.

NJC pay at the bottom of the pay spine is lower than for all key groups of public sector worker – police, probation, health and higher education. This certainly justifies our claim for a higher increase for the lowest paid. Maybe we should look at a flat rate claim if we really want to tackle low pay (and help to close the gender pay gap).

The briefing points out that the 2004 pay agreement allowed for 4.5% to be spent on pay and grading reviews – but only 50% of councils have done pay reviews.We never saw the equal pay "carrot" which was part of the three year deal in 2004 - and branch by branch we are having to deal with the consequences of agreeing Single Status with no additional funding to implement equal pay.

The stewards briefing offers some arguments we can use with members and makes some good positive proposals - but if we want to win the argument with our members to be prepared to take action in support of a decent pay rise we need to persuade members that we have a strategy to win a dispute.

Whether the crucial fights of 2009 are over national pay, job losses, pensions or all of these issues, we will need unity of all the public service unions to take on the Government as well as the national local government employers (in Scotland as well as England and Wales).

The recession - and the threat of job losses - could be used as an excuse to get us to accept a low pay rise. Local government workers didn't cause this economic crisis and we shouldn't see our living standards held down because of it.

Last year we let the Government and employers play "divide and rule" - this year we need to stand united for fair pay. We need to see a strong and positive lead from our NEC members and Service Group Executive.

Snow stops meetings but not strikes!

No doubt readers of this blog in the frozen North will be amused that a few inches of snow not only brought our capital city to a halt but also forced the postponement of the UNISON Greater London Regional AGM, due to take place tomorrow.

Elsewhere in the country, the snow didn't prevent the unofficial walkouts at construction sites from continuing. The problematic demand "British jobs for British workers" has provoked some understandable controversy on the left about what attitude to take to these strikes.

Obviously there are problems with the slogan, however, the evidence on the ground seems to be that the strikers are clear that this is a dispute with the bosses and that it is about protecting collective agreements rather than being a narrow nationalist argument about who gets which jobs.

The interaction between European Law and the largely voluntary structure of collective bargaining in the UK has never been comfortable, and recent European judgements have further opened the way for workers from one EU country to be used to try to undermine agreed conditions of employment in another.

The Labour left needs to speak out clearly in defence of workers and trade union rights from a clearly anti-racist and internationalist perspective.