It is with deep sadness that UNISON North West was recently made aware of the sudden and untimely passing of Helen Harrison on 17th January, a former Branch Secretary at Rochdale Local Government Branch and long standing activist.
Helen began her UNISON journey as a local steward whilst working in Rochdale Council's Customer Services section in 1998. In 2001 she became Assistant Branch Secretary, a position Helen held for three years before embarking on a decade serving as a dogged and resilient Branch Secretary.
During that period she oversaw the introduction of the Council's pay and grading review under the Single Status Agreement, and the establishment of the Impact Partnership, in which Helen fought for a secondment staffing model over a staff transfer. Helen led the Branch response against significant threats to terms and conditions which, like many councils, Rochdale sought to impose as part of its response to the coalition government's public sector austerity programme that devastated local authority finances. That developed into a dispute that was referred for conciliation to a joint panel of North West Employer and Regional Trade Union officers and Helen's determination, combined with grounded pragmatism, ensured that members held on to many of the threatened entitlements, not least the Green Book occupational sickness scheme.
Helen was also Branch Secretary during the long running Future Directions dispute which laid bare the realities of outsourcing in social care, became a dispute of national importance, and in many ways provided some of the impetus for the successful care worker campaigns championed and delivered across UNISON North West in recent times.
Helen also represented Rochdale Branch at Conferences, Regional Council and our Local Government Service Group, including a period as a North West substitute rep to the UNISON NJC Committee. When she stepped aside from being Branch Secretary she did not disappear to the relative comfort of the back benches; becoming firstly the Branch International Officer and then, after retirement, an active member of the Retired Members Section before, logically, becoming the Retired Members Secretary in 2017, a position she held until the end.
Current Branch Secretary, Jonathan Harding, paid tribute "Helen was involved with the Rochdale Branch for over 25 years in one capacity or another. She was a very active steward, Branch Officer and retired member. Helen will be sadly missed by myself and the Rochdale Branch".
Our thoughts are with Helen's husband, Brian, and their family at this time. Messages of condolence can be sent via the Rochdale Branch to [email protected]