When I began my role as Regional Convenor nearly a year ago, we were in the midst of a sustained assault on public services, employment rights and workers’ living standards. We remain in the midst of that ongoing assault.
We are fighting across many fronts. This week we saw Cumbria County Council announce that it intends to cut 1800 jobs over the next three years. After previous rounds of cuts, this would mean a halving of the Council workforce in less than a decade from 10,000 to 5,000. The funding cuts are so great that there is no way that they won’t result in serious damage to the local economy and social cohesion. Sadly, the Cumbria Council example is not untypical of the crisis facing our public services. We have to keep supporting our members through this, defend jobs and push employers to say to the Government that there is no way that cuts of this scale can be made without causing real harm to our communities.
On employment rights, there has been a massive drop in the access of working people to the Employment Tribunal system after the imposition of fees. The number of applications to the Tribunal is down by about 80% – meaning many people (especially non-union members) are no longer able to seek redress from their employer. UNISON has brought a case to the High Court this week challenging the new regime, and we await the outcome with interest.
On pay and living standards, we have ongoing disputes across the public sector. In local government, academies, health, Police and the Food Standards Agency, members have voted to take action against pay offers of 1% and below. What is abundantly clear is that our members are not prepared to accept permanent austerity, and that the current pay policy cannot hold.
Where things go wrong for individuals, UNISON is there for our members, to fight their corner if they’re threatened with redundancy, and to help them make ends meet when they’re struggling on low pay through There For You. We help individuals pick up the pieces, but we are not a friendly society or a victim support group. We are a fighting trade union, and we will keep on with our fight against this current Government’s continued assault.
We had a great day last Saturday at the TUC ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ march, well-supported industrial action in health last week, and we’ve had some notable local campaign successes – for example, seeing off privatisation at UCLAN. I’m really proud of the work that branches do day-in and day-out to support our members, and I’m proud that we remain a campaigning union. This is the most hostile Government working people have faced for decades, but what we do makes a positive difference.