Proud to be in UNISON – top 8 brilliant things from 2017

It’s impossible to review UNISON’s year and do justice to all the amazing things UNISON’s activists and members get up to.

So, we haven’t tried. Instead here are 8 pretty important, awesome things we’ve done together. Roll on 2018. 

It wasn’t just about ET

The big headline-grabbing win over the summer concerned employment tribunal fees. They were scrapped after UNISON won a landmark court victory against the government.

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

Thanks to UNISON, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of our legal team’s challenge.

The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals since July 2013.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

“The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.”

It’s been a busy year for the UNISON legal eagles.  It was also when we won the fight for fair holiday pay. Thanks to a UNISON-backed legal battle against British Gas, which took almost five years, the amount workers get for their holiday pay must be based on both their basic pay and any commission they earn, rather than just their basic pay.

And back in March our award-winning lawyers won £70,000 for 22 hospital cleaners who became ill after using a disinfectant without any training. The cleaners all work for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

The legal team also won £178,000 in compensation for a group of workers supporting adults with addiction issues. The workers’ jobs were transferred from Greater Manchester West NHS Foundation trust to Arch Initiatives, but the company refused to take them on and left them with no redundancy pay.

UNISON’s legal assistance scheme has supported around tens of thousands of members with legal advice, assistance or representation related to their work, injury or other legal matters. For personal injury cases alone UNISON has successfully settled nearly 3,000 cases for members suffering from work related injuries and their family members for non-work injury cases, and won over £26 million in compensation. 

Don’t mention the ‘B’ word

So you may have missed it, but there was a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU and somehow we’re leaving and Article 50 was triggered back in March and everything’s been going swimmingly since then.

Or… Brexit has been the number one news story for what seems like forever and there’s no sign of it going away. For UNISON’s part, we have been quietly working with partner organisations like the 3million, to make sure the rights of our members’ originally from the EU are protected once the UK does leave.

We organised two big rallies at Westminster and lobbied MPs, to make sure the contribution of all EU migrants is respected and valued and we will continue to make sure UNISON works for all of its members, no matter where they come from. 

Pats on the back v pay up now

As you well know, for years now, public service workers have seen their pay held back by the government in the name of austerity. First came the freeze, then there was the cap. Combined, they’ve seen public sector pay rise by just 4.4% between 2010 and 2016 while the cost of living has risen by 22%.

So, the summer saw the start of UNISON’s Pay Up Now! campaign to put real pressure on the government to change their policy and use money instead of words to reward public service workers.

The campaign took place across the union and involved a satirical ‘Pats on the back’ film starring legendary Dynasty actress Stephanie Beacham, and a government petition signed by nearly 150,000 people which forced MPs to debate the issue in Westminster in December, amongst other actions across the country.

This one isn’t a victory, yet. But the fight goes on into 2018.

Ms Smith went to Westminster

The general election that wasn’t going to happen and then did, that was going to deliver strong and stable but didn’t and arguably left the country in an even bigger mess than it was before, confused and confounded most people. But it did throw up a few UNISON-related success stories.

And none was more enjoyable or satisfying than former UNISON president Eleanor Smith’s victory in the Wolverhampton seat once held by Enoch Powell, of all people.

In doing so she became the first Black MP in the West Midlands. But she told UNISON: “You know what – it should have happened a long time ago.”

Of Powell, she said: “I can remember my mum and dad saying: ‘I can’t believe this man. He came to the West Indies asking us to move to Britain and do their jobs – and now he’s asking us to get out’” 

Getting on the charter bandwagon

The crisis in homecare was again a big issue for UNISON this year. Not only did more councils sign up to our Ethical Care Charter – stand up and take a bow Hackney, Haringey, Halton, Manchester, Sheffield, Stirling, North Lanarkshire, Gateshead, Swansea, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Aberdeen – but we made a video that went viral.

Our satirical film with celebrity Liverpudlian Claire Sweeney highlighted the problem with homecare visits being limited to 15 minutes, and was part of our Save Care Now campaign. The film was watched by over four million people. 

Winning, winning, winning

Victories like the Employment Tribunal one in July make the headlines, and understandably so. But there are smaller, quieter UNISON victories happening all the time.

For example, Neath Port Talbot Council became the first organisation in Wales to formally sign a voluntary charter which aims to secure the rights of workers diagnosed with a terminal illness, thanks to hard work by UNISON Cymru/Wales.

There was also a win in Wales in April. Staff working in the sterilisation and disinfectant units at the Morriston, Neath Port Talbot and Princess of Wales hospitals were being paid less than people doing exactly the same job at neighbouring health boards. After two years of trying to negotiate, the workers went on strike for one day and, together with further action, the board come up with an increase in pay. 

The social network

Social work chatter book – watch live now

Posted by UNISON on Tuesday, 24 October 2017

We stood up for social workers this year as we launched a new campaign ‘Stand up for Social Work,’ because these members found themselves under attack from the government’s so called ‘social work reform agenda’.

As well as contending with austerity and soaring caseloads, social workers now face an extra unnecessary challenge. The government have insisted they will soon need to pass a raft of tests and become an accredited profession, despite social workers’ overwhelming opposition, considering they are trained, qualified and registered professionals already.

UNISON led the way in calling on the government to drop their plans for accreditation, with support from leading industry experts. After a consultation, a petition, numerous articles and drum beating – the government backed down. Not wholly but considerably. They announced that just 4% of children and family social workers will need to pass the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS) by 2020, rather than all social workers, as they had originally proposed. The phased roll out has also been cut from 31 to 6 English councils this year.

However, the campaign continues to pressure the government to scrap NAAS altogether. Our latest awareness raising activity took us into new digital landscapes, as we hosted out first ‘Social Work LIVE’ – broadcasting a discussion between UNISON social workers live via Facebook. Over 2,000 people tuned in, with social workers from Brighton to Newcastle chipping in with comments to the discussion. So, watch this space – 2018 is set to be an active and exciting year for Stand up for Social Work.    

Learning on the job

Unison's Apprenticeship Charter at Southport and Ormskirsk Hospital NHS Trust

Supporting apprentices was a key focus this year, and UNISON’s Apprenticeship Charter quickly proved itself a genuinely important tool to raise apprenticeship standards. Launched at National Delegate Conference, Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust were the first organisation in the UK to sign the Charter in November.

UNISON’s Christina McAnea and John Flannery joined senior leaders from the hospital to sign the Charter. Also present was Simon Bunting, who is currently undertaking an apprenticeship in the Pharmacy department at the Trust.

He said: “I have really valued the opportunity to develop my career through undertaking an apprenticeship at the Trust.  It is hard work, but I have learned a great deal which is already helping me to have a better understanding of leadership and management, enabling me to use this knowledge to become better at my job.

“It is great that more people will have a chance to undertake a high-quality apprenticeship in the future.”

With public sector apprentices set to multiply over the next few years, the Charter could be instrumental in protecting young workers from exploitation and UNISON is leading the way.

Do you have a story of success?

If so, we’d love to hear it! Whether you successfully won a dispute in the workplace or you’ve got an excellent new branch rep you think deserves recognition, please let us know.