Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Attacks on union reps an issue for the whole trade union movement

#stuc13 'Stewards and reps are the lifeblood of the union' UNISON's John Stevenson told Congress as it applauded the work of lay activists and shop stewards as key to vibrant and successful trade unions with benefits to the employer as well as staff, but recognised that on a day to day basis management are taking a harder line.

The STUC will promote the benefits of facility time, will call on all employers to adhere to facility time agreements, and will prepare a briefing to counter the myths of facility time in the public sector. An STUC survey of young members will also identify if there are particular problems for this group.

Backing a Young Members and Clydebank TUC motion, UNISON’s John Stevenson told Congress that most stewards on the ground don’t have secondment or blanket facility time, but have a job to do as well as their trade union duties.

“Union reps are coming under pressure not just because they are radical or assertive. Not just because they are educating, agitating and organising. They are coming under pressure for just doing the nuts and bolts of talking to members, representing members and trying to ensure safety on the workplace.”

John told Congress that it was time to get the facts out there about the benefits of good union organisation in the workplace, not just for the union but for the employers. He pointed to UNISON’s guide to facility time which demonstrates that union reps mean up to 25,000 fewer dismissals each year across the UK; up to 7,000 fewer tribunals worth up to £43million to employers and the exchequer; up to 13,000 fewer injuries at work saving £136 million.

He added, “Union reps save the taxpayer up to £397 million by helping resolve disputes. They increase the take up of training and reduce staff turnover.

“Tellingly, they contribute up to 100,000 unpaid hours of their own time each week doing duties that directly benefit services and industry and the people who work in them.”

But he warned Congress that attacks against reps are not always rational and called for stronger links at union and local level on a range of issues not just facility time.

“We need to prioritise communication and support between each other, and we in the broader trade union movement have to take it seriously,” said John.

“There is always a risk in any organisation that the high level issues mean that the eye is taken off the lifeblood of any union. The stewards and reps on the ground.

“You can’t beat good local organisation and strength for protecting members and protecting the people who organise them. But that is not always possible and the attacks are much more sophisticated and organised than just at local level.

“That is why, if any union rep is facing unwarranted attacks on their right to represent our members, it is not just an issue for the local organisation. It is an issue for the whole union movement and we need to make sure employers know that.”

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