More than 170 Camden UNISON members attended our branch AGM in the Town Hall on 7 March, which meant that the members present could take binding decisions. They listened to a passionate and eloquent speech from the young left-wing journalist and author Owen Jones. They also voted for a ballot to find out whether members wish to take action against the ‘new contracts’.
Owen emphasised that austerity was failing to deliver economic growth, with Britain on the brink of a ‘triple dip’ recession and was being used to cloak an attack on the welfare state. He noted examples from readers of his newspaper column to highlight the impact of benefit cuts that would hit the poorest in society as well as highlight the mounting danger of privatisation and ‘market principles’ eroding the NHS, education and other public services. Trade unionists were reminded that the public sector pay freeze had seen our incomes shrink in real terms, and Owen made an inspiring call to stand together to defend both our jobs and pay.
The Branch Secretary, George Binette, reported back on events over the past year or so. In a good news story our members on the outsourced NSL parking contract took industrial action and won a pay rise that took them above the London Living Wage (£8.55 an hour from this April). This shows the importance of trade union organisation in the private sector.
In the main employer, the Council, Camden UNISON has been doing its best to mitigate redundancies amongst members. The toll has still been high, though, with well 500 redundancies between spring 2010 and the end of 2012. George emphasised the importance of recruiting more people to UNISON and the need for more members to become stewards. All Council staff benefit from the collective bargaining that UNISON conducts and so have good reason to join the union. Attendees were urged to speak to their colleagues who are non-members and encourage them to join UNISON. The national union will also be running a recruitment campaign from the week beginning 11 March, which will involve television and social media adverts.
On national pay, George reported that the local government employers had made an offer of 1% ‘with strings’ and 0.6% without strings. This was far too low and has been decisively rejected by UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) representatives on 27 February. There will now be consultation nationwide on the offers and what steps to take next including potential strike action, though the timetable for this process has yet to be confirmed.
UNISON members present at the AGM voted to hold an indicative ballot on whether to take strike action against the ‘new contracts’ the council are trying to ‘sell’ to staff. Despite the £1,000 ‘sweetener’ being paid to staff, the deal is a bad one for the vast majority of us – we would be losing our automatic NJC-negotiated pay rises referred to above, moving onto performance-related pay with no proper appeals process and having to work an extra hour. Staff were again urged not to sign the new contracts, though at present some could be forced onto the altered terms and conditions via a restructure. It was also acknowledged that some staff already knew that their jobs were likely to disappear within the next 12-18 months.