Conference commits to rebuild after Covid

UNISON held it’s first virtual Special Delegate Conference, celebrating the importance of public service workers during Covid

As I write, we have just returned from three days at the Special Delegate Conference, which took place just across the room. Whilst nothing can replace the buzz of a conference hall; it was still great to watch the conference online and see UNISON’s democracy in action at a national level. Given the challenges of bringing together delegates from Lands End to John O’Groats in a virtual platform, aside from a small number of technical hiccups, the event ran smoothly and was quite an achievement.

Conference voted by a significant margin to pass the NEC two-year work of the branch resources review (BRR). The proposals will come into effect from January next year and should result in more funding to most branches, along with the creation of a new Branch Support & Organising Fund for the region. Branches will hear more about this in the coming months.

UNISON’s first woman General Secretary, Christina McAnea, gave a passionate and moving maiden address, urging the government to bring forward the start of the Covid public inquiry. Christina highlighted the importance of investing in public services, and the public service workers that have kept the country going throughout the Pandemic.

Conference rightly highlighted the significance of public services during Covid – we were united in a commitment to be the generation that rebuilds better after Covid. Debates looked at the Government’s Covid record , from procurement of PPE to the impact on Black workers, and how recruitment and retention in the union boomed during these challenging times.

Regional activists spoke on several motions, including young member Luca Di Mambro-Moor from the national young members forum, Yve White, from Isle of Wight branch  who moved a motion from the national women’s committee ‘No going backwards on equality’, and Jon Woods, Portsmouth City branch, spoke on ‘Building a sustainable post-pandemic future’.

Unfortunately, our two regional motions were not reached due to time constraints. These will now be referred to the NEC to consider, along with all motions that were not reached.

With cases rising at an alarming rate again, the government’s decision to delay loosening all restrictions was the right thing to do (for once). Whilst many adults are not yet vaccinated, and amid rising covid numbers, we must move cautiously and sensibly. However, when it comes to vaccinations, compulsory jabs for care staff is not the right way forward. Education is key, not coercion. Furthermore, this approach will drive staff out of the care sector, a sector that already has a huge recruitment and retention problem. Undervalued and underpaid, staff will leave, exacerbating the existing problems. It may also set a precedent – is this the thin end of the wedge for all NHS staff ?

It was a pleasure last weekend to meet new branch women’s officers at our online training weekend. This weekend will see new young members officers attend online training, followed by branch secretaries and chairs at the end of the month. It is good to see that with the assistance of our marvellous regional education team, we have been able to continue to deliver this training virtually this year.

Health branches across the region are making final preparations for another 2 days for £2K, and we’re looking forward to this being the biggest campaign days so far. Kicking off with an online rally on the evening of 23 June, we invite all members in the NHS to hear from guest speakers; Labour MP and Shadow Health Minister, Jon Ashworth, and UNISON Health’s Helga Pile, on the latest on the pay offer, and how to get involved with the campaign. Please encourage members in your branch to sign up to attend. We will also hear from health activists around the region, report on their branch activities. NHS pay is in the hands of the government, and with the imminent pay body recommendation, we must keep the pressure on.

Take care and stay safe.