Earlier in the year Steve Swift stood down as Assistant Branch Secretary to take up a new role at UNISON North West. As 2012 draws to a close he looks back on his last year at the Manchester Branch.
“Regrets, I’ve had a few”
And I had to think long and hard about leaving the branch to take up a role at Region. I knew I’d miss members, I knew I’d miss the camaraderie, I knew I’d miss the cut and thrust of representation and private-sector pay bargaining and I do. But the regional job is all about learning, and I have, ahem, a yearning for learning. The regional office is a good place to work and I get to visit all branches in the region. So although I miss you all terribly, I love what I’m doing and the people I’m working with.
Some of the highlights? Well, if you insist.
Among the Housing Trusts, the securing of 5 and at least 3% pay deals in the last year was something I’m very proud of. This was secured by an understanding of the sector and other partner companies, hard fought negotiations bordering on intransigence in my corner and a willingness to come up with new pay configurations. Not forgetting sterling support and joint work with colleagues in GMB and UCATT and, most important of all, work of Stewards who helped with information and strategic outbursts during negotiations. Although these kind of deals were not realised throughout the sector, the deals give ABS’ something to work on and represent excellent value in an austerity culture. I was particularly pleased with the deal at Parkway Green; they were looking at a blended offer which, although raising some (mainly UCATT members) above the last 3.1% offer, dropped some Unison members below that figure. Whilst we understood the aspiration to raise lower paid workers, we clearly were not about to accept a deal which badly affected our members and so I suggested a 3% floor for all staff, allowing the higher deals to continue but protecting Unison members at the level they previously enjoyed. It is also testament to the company and the open relationship we have that they were willing to consider and accept the proposal.
I am also very pleased that disciplinary activity at the Trusts was minimal during the time they were on my worksheet and that we managed to work through restructures with little compulsory activity, even using forceful negotiations to make one Trust abandon their plans to restructure completely, leaving members untouched.
There will clearly be more challenges to come in this sector, as Trusts face the upcoming issues around the “Bedroom Tax” and Universal Credit, in fact the working together of Willow Park and Parkway Green could be seen as a reaction to the challenges. I hope Vimal, who takes over this area, enjoys the work here which can be really fulfilling and is bound to stretch him; good luck mate!
Schools were also rather challenging and I was lucky to have had the excellent support of Cath and Rena here. Each school is different really, but instead of proving problematic, I found this an opportunity. Once again, the excellent Steward network was invaluable here, to provide the information necessary to shape the approach differently for each Head Teacher. I feel the work that Unison does in this sector is really valued by and provides excellent support for members who sometimes feel cut off from the mainstream. Cath and Rena will ensure that doesn’t happen.
As a main care company on my worksheet, the Supporting People funding cut hit Creative Support hard. I worked closely with the head of Manchester operations and HR representatives to discuss how the process should be configured and Unison were the only Trade Union around the table. By taking this consensual approach, I was able to talk to all at risk members to ask what they specifically wanted from the process and was therefore able to negotiate and bargain towards the outcome that was best for them, within the redundancy parameters of course. As this was such a difficult time for members, I was very happy to be able to give the one to one support that is ideal to help during this period.
Things have been difficult in the world of work recently and are only going to get harder. But the officers at the branch are doing what they can to help and represent you; the branch sometimes doesn’t do enough to trumpet the good stuff we do – as I’m not an ABS any more I’m ideally placed to tell you that they are all committed to members, their day doesn’t end at 5 as they will answer member queries in the evening, they also work on cases at weekends. I know I did and I was not unique.
It was great to work at the branch and I learnt so much, but I’ll be seeing members and Stewards again as I work with Steve Lynch in my role as Learning Organiser to oversee the great projects he’s got ongoing and his ever-growing list of ULRs. I’d urge you to go to him or your local ULR with any queries about gaps in your training or just something you’ve always had a hankering to learn. It’s there for you and may be the most important conversation you have this month; certainly better than the one beginning “who wants cranberry sauce?”
Thanks for all your help. It’s been memorable.
“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” Arthur Miller
North West Region