Branch Activities 2015

 WHAT’S BEEN HAPPENING IN YOUR BRANCH 2015

 Branch Secretary – Belinda Burton

It has been a challenging year for the Branch as usual (we live in challenging times!)  but there has also been a lot of positives.

 On-going relentless slashes to funding for Local Government and Education  has once more resulted in cuts to services, and the resulting restructures and redundancies have made it a difficult year for many of our members, and those people who do remain in post are having to cope with a significant increase in workload as numbers dwindle.  This has resulted in a noticeably higher occurrence of Sickness Absence Review meetings and members off work with stress but we have done our very best to support them, along with of course grievances,disciplinaries and negotiation/consultative meetings  with the employers and councillors.   The threat to Trade Unions from the (Anti) Trade Union Bill currently going through the parliamentary process and the need to campaign around this issue has also significantly increased our workload this year but we must defend the fundamental rights of our members. The Branch has lobbied and marched, attended rallies and meetings to support the TUC campaign including holding a very successful workplace meeting ourselves as part of heartunion week in February . Check out the TUC website if you would like to know more or to help campaign.  

On a positive note we are recruiting Stewards and Work place Contacts and Health and Safety Officers in increasing numbers and we have filled all but one of the Branch Officer posts for this year showing that there has been a good increase in participation.   Recruitment of new members has  also remained positive and  a lot of this has been down to the hard work of our Regional and Local Organisers particularly Helen  Eccles, Jon Dunn, Janine Miller, Charlie Wood, Gemma Ruffle and Neal Harrington.

We have sent more delegates than ever before to UNISON and TUC Conferences, Councils Committees and  training courses.  That’s not to say we can’t always do with more help - if you would like to know more about what we do, with the possibility of getting more involved contact us, you’ll be very welcome!

This year (could it be the Corbyn effect?!)  more people are engaging with Trade Unions. I hope that they recognise all the things that Trade Unions have achieved in the past and how valuable they can be and will be  fighting for a fairer greener future where power is not just held by a very small minority but is spread across society and how unions reach out and help the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, the different and bring them together and support them and give them a voice.

I would like to thank the Branch Staff - Karin who looks after our outside employer members and Heather; and Steve and Martin who have both joined us since the last AGM and have both been a great asset to Branch. They all work incredibly hard, that office is so hectic and full on 5 days a week, it takes special people to be able to cope with it all!  

Finally on a personal note I would like to thank the Branch for all the support they have given me as I lost my daughter Gemma to cancer this year particularly Neil, Arminel and Emma who ran the Branch when I could not be here. It has been an incredibly difficult time for me but everyone in UNISON has been wonderful.  Jo our Regional Secretary said that I was part of the UNISON  family who would look after me and she was right.  

So I am standing again this year- more ideas, more campaigns to do, more work and I am sure more difficulties from this government but together we can make a difference.   Remember-   Unity is Strength.

 

2015 – Our Active Union

Branch Chair – Arminel Goodall

Changing times, everyday challenges.

This year I have been supporting members in stressful circumstances, through disciplinaries or returning to work after lengthy sickness absences, or through team restructures or redundancy situations. Occasionally very uplifting, often sobering, but with purpose – to work hard on someone’s behalf to get the best outcome for them.

I have attended the County Council’s Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) for various SCC services, the Joint Negotiating Forum (JNF), and the first new format conference meeting with County Councillors – the HRCCM, based on the County Council’s Human Resources Policy Committee. Belinda raised UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter which was received well. We discussed the Trade Union Bill and whether its contents would be truly cost saving or are, as many see them, matters of principle that will likely undermine many of the advantages unionisation brings to employing organisations.

I have attended South West Local Government Group meetings – watch out for newsletters on progress concerning this year’s pay negotiations for Local Government staff, at the moment a two year offer is again on the table. As I write I am booked to attend this year’s SW Get Active Event for all activists which I wholeheartedly recommend activists try to attend; it’s a real ‘picker upper’.

As I reported last year we continue to struggle to be quorate at Branch Committee meetings; I urge all reps, activists and interested members to attend some; this year we came out to meet you in Yeovil and Bridgwater. Do come and join the conversation we need to hear your views and about your concerns to represent you.

Thanks as ever this year to the branch office staff: Karin, Heather, Steve and Martin, keeping things running smoothly in Branch Office this year.

Amongst the many things we all do, members in care services are undoubtedly under increasing pressure as people need more care offset by the Governments determination to reduce expenditure; members providing services for children are working hard to achieve the life improvements children should have; libraries staff have been battling to save libraries for their communities, our highways colleagues have been keeping roads open despite adverse weather and increasing demand, wear and tear; together we all do amazing things.

Finally, a plea from me: if you meet new colleagues, encourage them to join UNISON, our strength is in our numbers. If you are interested in becoming active, fighting for a worthy cause, or to help others in difficulty, please call Unison Office – you can do it!

 

Another year gone!

Assistant Branch Secretary – Kris Ross-Osborne

 I have now been your Assistant Branch Secretary for 2 years and am pleased to have been nominated for another year.  The past 12 months have once again proven to be eventful and full of change, some for the good, some not!!!  It continues to be a learning curve and a steep one at that!!

Once again, I have primarily focused on Business Support and Children’s Social Care and continue to take steps into Adult Social Care.  We have seen so many changes across both Adults and Children’s Social Care in the past 12 months that it is impossible to put them all into a short summary of my year.  For me, both personally and professionally, the biggest changes have been in Children’s Social Care.  Once again Ofsted arrived on the doorstep and once again Somerset was rated inadequate for the services that we provide for young people, this time in the Residential Units.  It is important to realise that this failing is not on the staff, which are passionate and dedicated about their roles in safeguarding the children in their care but lies squarely at the feet of Austerity Britain and the current Government.  As a result the decision has been made to close the remainder of our children’s homes. 

Going forward I worry about the impact that austerity measures will continue to have on the services that we provide to the residents of this county and for the job security that we all crave.  Now is the time that we need to come together as the current government tries to push through the Trade Union Bill – the greatest danger to employment rights in generations.  Our strength is in numbers, we need to stand and be counted now, we need our voices to be heard and this is where you can help.  For our work to continue, for us to continue negotiating and working on your behalf we need YOU.  We need more stewards, workplace contacts, branch officers, health and safety reps, learning reps.  There is something that each and every member of this union can do.

 

Education Officer – Emma Dunn

I left the branch to work elsewhere halfway through the year, but in the time I was in post I concentrated on updating all the training records for stewards, identifying those who needed further training and encouraging them to attend relevant courses. I also attempted to set up a mentoring scheme for new activists. This did not prove possible as too few reps wanted to take on the role of mentor. However I did manage to link new reps with an experienced buddy so that they have a first port of call when they need help and advice.

 

Challenging inequality and discriminatory practices is a trade union principle

Equalities Co-ordinator – Jamshid Ahmadi

In 2015-16 we witnessed another year of policies and practices that have led to the undermining of mechanisms and measures designed to challenge discrimination if not causing them to disappear. Under the pretext of “cutting back red-tape”, in effect tested structures and procedures were abandoned. This is all at a time when the cuts and reduction of services, resulting from the austerity regime of recent years, have already detracted from the all that was there to take our societies forward as opposed to back in the direction of the 1960s and 1970s equality-wise. 

This year we have worked to promote the operation of UNISON’s Self Organised Groups (SOGs) by advertising and encouraging participation of eligible members in their activities. I should like to report that we have had some success which will help the branch to have a pool of expertise in different fields on which to draw when necessary. The latest good news was the attendance of a branch representative in the UNISON Black Members Conference in Birmingham. 

In recent years I have served as the Chair of BMEEN, the County Council’s BME staff network, which meets monthly. This has meant that it has been possible to ensure that we are aware of the developments as far as race and ethnicity issues are concerned and have been able to provide input where necessary. This In turn has enabled us to champion good practice on equality issues and liaise with managers in the County Council to address issues that needed representation as well as supporting members.

I served on the Organising Committee of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and was involved in the successful organisation of a memorable event on 27th January.   UNISON is one of sponsors of this important event. HMD is marked each year in Taunton on 27th January.

As a direct outcome of the Equality Conference, organised by the County Council in March 2015 (and in which a number of UNISON members participated), the Council leadership in July published its “Equality Pledges”.  The pledges are signed by the Leader and CEO of Somerset County Council and are commitments on how the Council will operate in all aspects of its work.  As the Equality Officer I continue to monitor the implementation of these pledges and will ensure that the important pledge “… to review the equality and diversity performance of the authority, evaluate progress and amend targets where necessary” is monitored.

It is clear that there remains much work to do in this area going forward.

 

Campaigning for justice in a Changing World!

International Officer – Jamshid Ahmadi

The period since March 2015 has been full of challenges for trade unions.  As the branch International Officer, I participated in a diverse range of events and initiatives in line with the policies of the union.  I spoke at events in Taunton, Somerset and across the region on International issues of relevant interest to our union. The main focus of the events - whether relating to Palestine, Cuba, Greece, Portugal or India - has always been to extend international solidarity to workers in their struggle for peace, better wages and conditions.  Our branch continued its support for a number of initiatives for human and trade union rights and this has been widely appreciated, the following representing a snapshot:

Alongside trade unionists in Britain and Europe, we celebrated the breakthrough achieved in relation US-Cuba relations. The restoration of diplomatic links after half a century between the two raised the hope of an end to the illegal embargo imposed against socialist Cuba.  Thanks to an international campaign - which included our union and the TUC - all 5 Cuban patriots jailed in the US for their anti-terrorism activities have gained freedom and returned to Cuba.  Our branch is one of 1000’s of trade union organisations affiliated to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign that has consistently campaigned for an end to sanctions against Cuba and for justice for the Cuban Five.  We continue our campaign of solidarity with Cuba. 

The branch continued its support for the campaign for human and democratic rights in Iran.  We have joined trade unions in the UK and internationally to call for the release of all political prisoners in Iran including trade unionists, women campaigners for equality, and journalists. Our affiliation to CODIR, the Iranian solidarity campaign, has been instrumental in keeping us informed of developments in Iran.

We have supported the campaign of justice for the Palestinian people in their struggle for an independent homeland alongside the state of Israel.  UNISON supports the campaign for an end to Israeli occupation and its collective punishment of the Palestinian people.  Last year we witnessed more countries recognise the independent Palestinian statehood - currently over 70% of the 193 UN member states, including the Vatican from late last year. During this time, the UK Parliament has voted 274 to 12 in support of recognition of the Palestinian state. 

On 21st November I attended the conference, “After the Corbyn Victory, Build the Fight Against Austerity”, organised jointly by the People’s Assembly and the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group (TUCG).  The conference - in Central Hall,
Westminster - was addressed by Yanis Varoufakis, the prominent former Greek Minister of Finance; John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer; and a number of trade union general secretaries from the NUT, FBU, PCS, UCW and others.

 

Life Long Learning Co-ordinator – Kevin Gale

Wow it’s been fun!!!!!

It has been a busy and eventful year – this is my first year as a Branch Officer and to be honest it was a daunting task to begin with as I had no idea what my role would be. It has been a huge learning curve and the support that I have had from Branch Officers has been inspiring. With all the support structure’s in place I was able to take on my role within the branch with ease.

The training structure provided for me was easy to follow and very informative, this enabled me to be able to set out a structure to provide help with putting out the message around what courses and training is available to our members.

One thing I would like to get across is the challenges that working a full time job in the L.D sector, and being active in Unison entails.  Many people forget that Branch Officers, and all are workplace reps, are members – just like you.  We don’t get paid for the work we do for Unison and our members, but we carry out our roles regardless, ensuring our members receive the best possible training available for them to be able to progress in their future. This was an inspirational journey for me as the more I became involved in the role the more feedback I began to receive from members.

With the support of the Branch officers we have managed to inform more members of courses available to them, and we have a fairly good response to courses that have been available. Also the feedback I have received from members has been very positive.

The one thing we must remember is not to look back and think we did well that year, it is to look forward and plan our future as the road ahead will have many obstacles, but with support from our members and the training that will be provided we can look forward to maintaining a good and positive outcome for everybody involved.  

 

Treasurer - Jenny Winchester

2015 has been my third year as treasurer. The year has had its moments but I am gradually becoming more comfortable within the role. The Online Branch account System (OLBA) has also developed and has become a lot more user friendly. The year also saw the introduction of the new long awaited treasurer training along with finance and organised branch training. The later course is fundamental in understanding the budgeting and managing finances as part of the joint branch assessment (JBA).

2015 Totals

At the end of 2015 the General Funds Income and Expenditure Account shows a deficit of £75,266.91. This is due the transfer of funds from the general account to the industrial action fund.

Expenditure

The expenditure for 2015 increased to £261,341.73 from £128,951.66. This apparent increase is due to the transfer of £86,454.70 from the general fund to the industrial action fund. When this is taken into account then the total expenditure for the year is £174,887.03. The largest increase is for publicly as the branch has been actively recruiting new members and stewards.

Income

The income for the branch in 2015 was £186,074.82 this is less than in the previous year as in 2014 the branch received a rebate from region for their contribution to salaries in branch office and a rebate in VAT paid.

Conclusion

2015 has seen an increase of the total funds from £442,929.56 to £453,962.35. However £424,696.25 is in the industrial action fund and £29,266.10 is in the general fund.

I would like to thank Heather Deckner in branch Office for her help and support throughout the year. Without this it would make my role as Branch Treasure difficult.

 

Women’s Officer – Melinda Manickam

I was asked if I might be interested in becoming the Women’s Officer for the branch in September 2015. Working full time and being a single parent I had no idea where I would find the time to do the role but nervously agreed as I am an eternal optimist. 

In September I attended the South West Regional Women’s Conference in Bristol.  I got to meet lots of other far more experienced women involved in Unison and start the all-important role of networking and sharing good ideas. Part of that involved attending a workshop about Stress in the Workplace, which was facilitated by Sophie Jenkins, a Unison colleague based in Bristol. It was a short but brilliant workshop in which we focused on some of the practical things that employees and also managers can do to both manage their own stress and support others in managing theirs. In these times of ‘Austerity’ and with all the cut backs in Local Government, I think that the impacts of stress are being felt by more of us, more of the time and when left unchecked can cause significant physical and mental harm.  Unsurprisingly, the main feedback, as it can so often be in an excellent workshop was that we didn’t have enough time to explore the issues more fully.  So in conjunction with Sophie, and with the agreement of our Branch, I am hoping to run an all day version of this workshop for female colleagues in the Branch on Saturday 5th March 2016 (a date which will have passed by the time you are reading this but I am writing this in January 2016).

Another particular treat at Regional Women’s conference was listening to Dr Finn McKay talk about Prostitution. Finn is a lecturer at the University of the West of England, founder of the London Feminist Network and also revived the Reclaim the Night marches in London, which her book, Radical Feminism: Activism in Movement, is partly about. I’ve seen her speak before and think she is wonderful and inspiring.  So it was fab to see her speak that day, especially as somehow I’d not realized she was even going to be there! And I share all of this with you to encourage more of you to consider attending Regional Women’s Conference next year, it really is worth getting up early on a Saturday for.

I’ve also recently attended training for the upcoming Unison National Women’s Conference which I shall be attending in February for the first time. Having received my Conference pack through the door this week, which was quite a weighty tome, I was feeling quite daunted by the bureaucracy of the whole thing.  However, my fears have been allayed by the morning I spent yesterday in the company of mainly the South West Regional Women’s Committee, a bunch of supportive and knowledgeable women who talked us through the process of Conference and answered all the questions and queries some of us who are less experienced, had. I’m clear that I attend this Conference on behalf of the women in my Branch, and am acutely aware that I don’t know what your views are? In this coming year, my aim will be to try and facilitate more conversations between us, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I’m a Registration Officer based in the east of the county and my email is mmanickam@somerset.gov.uk

Retired Members' Officer - Liz Payne-Ahmadi

The Retired Members’ Section (RMS) held four ‘business’ meetings in 2015. We also met for lunch in Taunton in July and had a Christmas meal together at Somerset College following our AGM in December. 

We continued campaigning on a number of issues on behalf of retired members. We joined the anti-austerity lobby of SCC when it held its budget setting meeting in February. We attended and raised questions at the pre-general election hustings organised by Taunton and West Somerset Trades Council in April.  Throughout the year we supported the Taunton Anti-Austerity Community Campaign, which was re-launched as Taunton People’s Assembly in early July. We have participated in national demonstrations against austerity in June in London and October in Manchester and in local protests against the budget in July and the autumn statement in November.

Liz Payne-Ahmadi, the branch’s retired members’ officer, has regularly attended the Branch Committee and taken a full and active role in all its work.  In addition to the Branch Committee, she has continued as a delegate from the branch to Taunton and West Somerset Trades Council on which she serves as secretary.  Liz was re-elected in November 2015 to UNISON SW’s Retired Members’ Committee and has been re-elected as its chair.  She represented the region’s retired members at UNISON’s National Delegate Conference in Glasgow in June and was the regional representative at UNISON’s National Retired Members’ Conference (NRMC) in Brighton in October. Janet Royston has continued to serve on the SW TUC Equality Committee and has represented our Retired Members’ Section at a number of events. She was our branch’s representative at UNISON’s NRMC. 

Our congratulations go to our member, Sigrid Durant. On our recommendation, our branch nominated Sigrid to receive a long service award at UNISON SW’s Awards Evening in January 2016. Sigrid has been retired for 32 years and is still active! She received a framed certificate and bouquet at the event.

At our AGM in December, we noted the huge variety of campaigning activities with which our individual members are involved and on which they regularly update us. We decided that our campaigning priorities would continue to be against austerity measures, in support of the provision of comprehensive and accessible public transport in Somerset based on need and, in the broader arena, against TTIP which will have devastating impact, including on public services most used by older people.

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