Sunday, March 24, 2024

UNISON Community Annual Seminar & Conference 24 - Day 1 "Supporting organising in Community Hybrid Workplaces"

Belated report from my speech at day one of UNISON National Community Conference earlier this month. I was moving an amendment to motion 1.

"Conference, Vice President, John Gray, moving amendment 1.1 on behalf of the SGE.

May I start by congratulating my London sister branch C&V org for this really important motion and make it clear from the off, that this is intended to be a friendly amendment by your SGE, intended to improve and expand the motion.

Also, to be absolutely clear, while there are real and significant challenges to organising in a hybrid workplace but there are enormous opportunities as well.

Now, community member employers come in all shapes and sizes. Let me tell my story. My employer, a very large housing association, has 4000 employees spread all over England in every single unison region, with 24 different offices and 100s of smaller workplaces such as caretaking lock ups, hostels or warden controlled sheltered housing blocks. A majority of staff are now, to a lesser or greater degree, hybrid workers, including most of our unison reps.

Pre covid pandemic, it was incredibly hard for our stewards to organise across this fragmented and geographical diverse workforce.

As dreadful as the pandemic was, it has resulted in an opportunity for us to organise effectively, to hold regular virtual meetings of reps, with national officers, with members. We are going through our annual pay claim and have had planning and consultation meetings with 90% of reps attending and participating in “real time”. Pre pandemic we really struggled to get reps to meet centrally.

Recently there has been a proposed restructure of our IT department potentially impacted over 150 workers who are based in London, Norwich, Plymouth, and Manchester. We were able to organise 2 virtual well attended open meetings with these workers and undertook a series of collective and collaborative online meetings and teams messaging to put together constructive challenge and counter proposals intended to save jobs and conditions but also improve the service. Again, this would have so difficult to have organised in the past.

It is not all good, especially for younger workers, who may be living in a privately rented HMO and don’t have a spare room but are expected somehow to work from their bedroom with a laptop, literally, on their lap.

The best technology is frankly no real substitute for face-to-face meeting and personal conversations and there will always remain a vital role for in-person meetings and representation.

Conference, the necessary debate about the pros and cons of home working is sometimes framed as “all or nothing”. You are expected to think it either the best thing since sliced bread or some sort of an evil conspiracy by big tech.

We know it is more complicated than this.

Conference, please support this amendment and the motion as amended. Let’s get organised in all our workplaces, in person… virtual and hybrid.

Remember we are not just individual volunteers, we are a collective and we do our best as a collective when we work effectively and truly represent all union members. Conference I move".

No comments: