Sunday, March 10, 2024

UNISON Community Annual Seminar & Conference - Day 1


On Friday our annual Community Seminar/Conference started in Chester. I was brought up only 8 miles away from Chester (Welsh side of the border) and have many fond memories of this lovely and historic city. Walking from the railway station to the hotel I passed Chester's "Marks and Spencers" and remember (not very foundly) spending many, many hours as a young child inside with my Mum and sister, shopping for clothes. The following week my Mum would often go back and return the clothes and then start shopping again!

After a 9am Service Group Executive Meeting (I am one of the 2 UNISON Community NEC members), I then attended a meeting of UNISON delegates who also work for Housing Associations. There was a number of useful discussions on common issues and it is pretty clear that on pay, our employers have been talking together and very many (not all) are offering 5% pay increase for this year. I made a comment that if employers are working together on pay then so should we. Another argument for sectorial wide fair pay agreements if there is a change of government. 

At the same time there was delegation meetings for the wider Community & Voluntary sector and Major Charities. 

Next there was a session for new delegates, where a brave attempt was made to explain how unison conferences work and how new delegates can participate. National Officer, Gavin Edwards and SGE member, Hassan Ortega did their their very best to demystify "points of order" and "card votes". 

During lunch there was meetings of self organised groups (young members, disabled members, Black members and LGBT+). I went for a 50 minute brisk walk around Chester City Walls. 

In the afternoon, there was the Plenary seminar session, starting with a welcome by our Chair, Malcolm Gray (a long lost cousin) and Jon Richards - UNISON Assistant General Secretary. 

We then had Rebecca Young from NCVO presenting on their campaign to better fund public sector contracts in the Charity sector. UNISON policy officer Anna Birley on our Cost of Living Campaign. Finally, Gavin again on the UNISON National Care service campaigns. 

At 4.30pm delegates had a choice of 4 workshops - "Pensions made simple and how to organise to improve them", "Year of the LGBT+ Worker", "Hands off - Tie to Tackle violence at work" and "Digital Organising". I helped out with national officer Andrew Dobbie on the pensions workshop. Which gave me some ideas on what to say during the pension motion on the Saturday. 

Finally, there was regional briefings for delegates, followed by a reception in the hotel. Our keynote speaker for tomorrow's conference, Labour Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, was there and it was a pleasure to have a chat with her and her two youngest boys, who I had seen many times at previous UNISON conferences, growing up over the years. 

Afterwards, Many of the London delegates then retired to a local hostelry for food, drinks, putting the world right and lots of gossip. 

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