As health workers prepare for ballot, Unison leaders back off

Karen Jennings - Unison national secretary
Karen Jennings - Unison national secretary

Unison national secretary has angered union activists by demanding that local branches take a position of neutrality on the issue of a below inflation pay offer.

Submitted by Ed on August 15, 2007

With Unison also preparing to ballot members for strike action over pay on the 20th August, days after 95% Royal College of Nursing members asked to be balloted for strike action, Unison’s leadership have sent a message to all branches demanding that activists take no position on the government’s below inflation pay offer.

After the government made their initial pay offer, described at the time by Unison as “paltry”, the government claimed that this was their final offer and that it would not be improved upon. The government then reversed this position while RCN members were discussing being balloted for strike action with a new, improved offer.

However, many local stewards argue that the new offer is insufficient and deliberately confusing, designed to entice health workers with a promise of there being £400 on offer from November. In reality, the effect of this £400 in November followed by 1.5% from April is worth less than 2.45% in total.

With all this in mind, Unison national secretary Karen Jennings has recently seen fit to put out a circular to all branches saying that any branches taking a position on the marginally improved pay offer will be breaking “‘Democracy in Unison’ guidelines”. As such, Unison local branches are being told to take a policy of neutrality in the face of members being asked to accept a decline in living standards by the government. Local Unison activists have complained and declared the move as being undemocratic and against union rules.

Below is the circular from Karen Jennings, in full:

To: All Health Branches 14 August 2007

Dear Colleagues


The UNISON Health Group Executive ballot of individual members on the Pay Offer is due to begin on the 20 August. The position taken by the Health Group Executive is to consult members without a recommendation as “the best offer that can be secured through negotiation”. This position has been set to branches in the branch communication HC-92-07.

The Health Group Executive agreed specifically not to recommend either acceptance or rejection of the offer. It is therefore extremely important that branches and elected members of regional or national committees should not undermine that agreed policy. To do so would be a breach of the “Democracy in UNISON” guidelines.

This circular emphasises that union bodies at national, regional and branch level must observe and respect the union’s policy position which was democratically agreed by the Health Group Executive on 25 July 07. In addition it is important that Branches are aware of their obligation to ensure that they promote and implement agreed policy.

Yours sincerely,