A big thank you to all our members that attended the branch AGMs last week, including our quiz and curry night on Friday.
The aggregate meetings were quorate and a real success. If you weren’t able to make it or missed the AGM papers, take a look at the Annual Report of the Branch Committee below:
Membership made a slight gain in 2017 of 8 members (0.2%).
- Full members: 5,332
- Unemployed members: 15
- Retired members: 603
- Total members: 5,950
The chart below shows our membership levels over the past six years. Over the whole period the branch has gained members (180, or +3.5%).
Membership fluctuates throughout the year and as at Friday 23rd March, full membership stood at 5,344.
In the South East region as a whole during 2017, membership dropped by 2.9%. It has dropped in the South East region by around 20% over the same six year period.
This tells us that the West Sussex branch is doing relatively well with stable levels of membership for the previous three years following three years of growth. We are pleased to have made a gain in membership in 2017, albeit a slight one, particularly as our membership in schools came under pressure due to savage and unforgivable central government funding cuts.
We ran two bespoke recruitment weeks with events at major offices during 2017. We will be working with the regional office to increase our visibility in major workplaces on a more regular basis, by conducting ‘walk rounds’ and holding stalls.
The more members we have, the more we can achieve for you. Please encourage non-members to join us.
Our Branch website unisonwestsussex.org.uk continues to be a major driver for branch communications, receiving over 22,000 visits during 2017, slightly down on 25,000 in 2016. The branch has issued regular email communications to members, usually weekly.
The Branch has continued to prioritise funding for our newsletter ‘Branch Lines’. Electronic copies are archived on our website. Branch Lines has helped the branch to recruit as we include a membership form within every issue and received 50 back to the office from this route in 2017. Branch Lines continues to also help us to highlight and thereby apply pressure and amend poor employer practice.
We have 87 workplace Reps and they continue to do a great job for the Branch recruiting new members, distributing information, supporting members or signposting them to the Branch office, and acting as a spokesperson within their workplace. This number is down on the 100 reps reported to the 2017 AGM because we have had a more proactive approach within the branch of removing dormant reps from our lists. We want our reps to be Employment Rights Act accredited (i.e. that they have completed the UNISON-approved training) and reps who do not respond to requests to undertake this training have been removed from our lists.
21 new Reps joined the Branch in 2017, compared to 16 in 2016.
37 of our reps undertook training during 2017, across 14 different types of course ranging from Employment Law to negotiation skills.
The branch also arranged a bespoke Job Evaluation training course, only attended by West Sussex branch reps.
If you would like to get more involved in your trade union, talk to a branch officer or rep at an AGM or visit our website.
Branch Officers also play an important role either through their stewardship of the Branch or by developing and utilising their expertise in particular areas. Thanks go to them for their hard work throughout 2017.
Collective work, negotiations and reorganisations
UNISON continues to work hard to support members during collective processes i.e. restructures and redundancies, and through its regular negotiations with employers. We have always as a branch diligently collected data on individual casework which is reported to the AGM, and in November 2017 we amended our recording systems for collective work so we can better track and report back on collective processes. We will therefore be able to give a fuller report on collective restructures to the AGM in 2019.
2017 was notable for the large number of school restructures which took place. There were around 100 redundancies in total from around 40 schools. This had a major impact on the schools and our children in them (particularly children with special educational needs). At least one school has fallen into OFSTED ‘requires improvement’ as a result, and has been forced to become an academy. The branch supported its members through each one of these change processes, and this meant on several occasions securing major concessions from the employer for both individuals and the group. We also ensured there was publicity for these dreadful cuts on regional TV and in the press (see below).
2017 was also notable for the insourcings which took place, moving services back from the Capita contract to WSCC. The MASH service (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) was the first of these which had to be insourced at speed through a rare Executive Order, as the council could not guarantee the safety of vulnerable children due to Capita’s inability to manage the service. This also received wide press and TV coverage. UNISON has been saying for years that the Capita contract has not led to efficient services or a contented workforce, and this was acutely apparent during 2017. The council is belatedly catching up with this reality, and accepting that some areas of service performance are just too poor to continue and have significant additional costs for the council and residents. A raft of other services (including HR – see below) were also insourced with TUPE processes commencing at the end of 2017. UNISON’s main concern now is to ensure that the full costs of outsourcing in their broadest sense are recorded so as to influence future decision-making. Currently the council is not recording those costs, and has not responded positively to UNISON requests that it does so.
Parking at the council was a major issue during 2017. This continues to be a matter which the branch is involved with as we await the launch of the scheme during 2018. The consultation on the proposed policy led to a major piece of work for the branch, with around a thousand staff and members engaged with the branch, and significant concessions were secured.
Local FE colleges are under tremendous pressure due to savage government cuts. This led to several forced mergers during 2017. Our local reps in the colleges played a crucial role supporting members and negotiating changes to terms and conditions.
Over 500 staff in the Integrated Prevention and Early Help service were re-organised by the council during 2017. This led to a major piece of work by the branch and support given to members collectively and individually. We continue to raise issues with the managers on a regular basis and are currently reviewing a staff survey for the council which seeks to understand the impact on staff one year on.
Individual casework and advice
The Branch dealt with 267 formal cases during 2017 where a rep or caseworker was assigned to represent a member in an individual case. Those 267 cases break down as follows:
- Disciplinary 69
- Grievance 80
- Sickness 104
- Capability 14
At time of writing there are 73 open cases the branch is managing.
Formal casework figures:
In addition to formal casework, in 2017 the Branch dealt with 598 requests for advice which were resolved over the phone and did not lead to formal cases. This is a doubling of advice given. This reflects that the branch has been busier than ever, with members seeking general advice more than ever before due to increased stresses in the workplace. It also is commensurate with an improvement in our data collection.
Informal advice figures:
865 members, 16.2% of the Branch membership, required formal or informal individual advice and support during 2017. This shows the pressures there are in the modern public service workplace, and how these pressures have been transferred to the branch to respond to largely without additional resource.
The figures above exclude other non-casework ‘once and done’ enquiries (e.g. about membership or subscriptions), pieces of advice dispensed direct by Branch Officers and staff when members contact them directly, and all collective work undertaken on behalf of members. Many hundreds more members received support from the Branch through collective re-organisations which are not recorded in the ‘individual support’ statistics, even though we are often helping to resolve very individual concerns.
Notably the transactional corporate HR function in the county council which had been delivered by Capita has now been insourced. UNISON welcomes this but wish the council had gone further and also insourced the HR support function schools receive.
UNISON has had some significant wins for its members during 2017, including the ultimate outcome a union can achieve for a member: the reinstatement of the member to their job after they have been dismissed.
The branch continues to receive regular positive feedback from our West Sussex members after both individual and collective representations and we publish this anonymised on our website’s what our members say about us page. We would encourage members (and non-members!) to take a look as it well-demonstrates the value of trade union membership.
The branch approved the 5% NJC pay claim during 2017 and a consultative ballot on an offer by the employer is currently underway.
The Branch has supported many local pay claims for members in 2017 in a number of employers where we are ‘recognised’ for collective bargaining: in the Capita Contact Centre; Aspire; Grace Eyre Foundation; South Downs National Park Authority; for Accredited Mental Health Professionals, and so on.
The branch was involved, through its collective agreement with WSCC, in agreeing Market-Related Supplements for children’s social workers. These are specific payments to deal with objectively measurable recruitment and retention crises. We are seeing their use spread to other areas of the council. Ultimately the need for these ‘MRS’ will only be removed when local government is properly funded and we are able to secure significant pay increases for all staff. We all have a role to play in that, when we are balloted on pay and decide whether we are willing to take part in the industrial action that the union recommends.
The branch did a great deal of work during 2017 dealing with overpayments made by the Capita-managed payroll service. The impact of such overpayments can be devastating, particularly when Capita reclaims overpayments without forewarning, which is entirely contradictory to the council’s own policy approach on the matter. It can plunge members into short-term debt crises, not of their own making. We managed to get several overpayments written off, but each case is dealt with on its own merits. If you are under- or overpaid, do not hesitate to contact the branch.
The Branch made a number of interventions in the local media during 2017. These included TV appearances, and coverage in the local press and on BBC radio.
The Branch supported Save Our Schools West Sussex (a parent-led school funding campaign) with financial and practical support. The Branch Secretary spoke at a well-attended protest march and rally in Worthing during 2017.
After securing press and TV coverage for our branch survey on school cuts in the 2017 summer term, we re-launched the survey in the autumn term to see how the cuts had impacted on the workforce. Both sets of results have now been published.
The branch also contributed to the formation of Bognor & Chichester WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality), which campaigns for justice on women’s pensions.
The branch organised a coach to take part in a national demonstration in support of a public NHS in March 2017.
The wider union
The Branch continued to engage in the regional South East tier of our union and a number of Branch Officers were successfully elected to various regional committees. The Branch also continued in 2017 to exert influence on the national agenda. The 2017 Local Government Conference passed our motion on facility time unanimously. The branch also worked with a number of other branches to ensure that the resourcing of branches remained a key matter for discussion at National Delegate Conference in June 2017. Motion 103 on activity-based budgeting, which the branch drafted, was passed by both regional and national delegate conferences.
Branch Secretary Dan Sartin was elected to the union’s National Executive Council during 2017.
The branch continues to be well-organised and able to meet the extreme challenges presented by austerity. This was recognised by the South East region during 2017 when we topped a regional branch health index.
Dan Sartin, Branch Secretary
On behalf of the Branch Committee