The Waltham Forest UNISON team has arrived in Brighton for the Local Government Conference. Charlie Nevill, Marilyn Moore, Melinda Christopher, Sandra Bennett, Sylvia Adjei and Dave Knight are here for the week to attend both the Local Government and National Delegate Conferences.
Sunday saw us heading for the Brighton Conference Centre where we heard many reports about the impact of Council cuts and many delegates expressed their disappointment that cuts were being carried out in Labour controlled Councils just as ferociously as they are in Tory Councils. UNISON needs to use its affiliated status within the Labour Party to better effect.
There were particularly moving contributions from Youth Service workers across the country. Youth Services have been decimated under this government. We heard how cuts have impacted with more severity on Black, Women, Disabled and LGBT workers as old prejudices have resurfaced to hit disadvantaged groups more severely.
Particularly scary were the tales of the meat inspectors. These inspectors provide monitoring and independent scrutiny over the food we all eat, but the government plan to privatise them to the meat industry, which would become effectively self regulating. Despite E-coli, the Horsemeat Scandals, Foot and Mouth, CJD and all the other meat scares that we have suffered, the government intend to place our food safety into the hands of the industry itself. Conference gasped at the sheer madness of it all.
There was also a long session on Ethical Care. Home Care workers across the land are exploited by zero hours contracts, minimum wage levels. No pay for travel time, no sick pay and unbelievable workloads leading to ludicrous time limits on the care they can provide to individuals. Our branch has started to try and apply the Ethical Care Charter that seeks to ensure the Living Wage as the lowest pay in the industry and to make sure that service users receive the care they require by making sure companies pay for travel time and recognise the value of allowing flexibility in their care time-slots so that carers can provide the care they need to provide rather than having to cut visits short before driving anxiously to their next appointment.
Finally, conference received an update from Keith Ewing, professor of Public Law at Kings College. He went through how this government have weakened the trade unions through attacks on facility time, collective bargaining and the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. He advocates a return to the days of collective bargaining when 82% of British workers were covered by a National Agreement. Now it is down to just 23% and as a result we have lost many employment rights and pay has fallen. He advised that all of us challenge the politicians when they come calling for our votes, to take up the call for the restoration of collective bargaining as an economic tool to improve the economy and the lives of our workers.