In response to several questions raised by the Eastern Region Service Group Committee, Heather Wakefield has offered some insightful comments on how best UNISON can support its Community Sector members.  The Branch is particulalrly welcome to the view that more needs to be done by Regions, to support those Branches who are representing Community workers.

Branch Secretary Rob Turner, who supports the involvement of Community members said, 'Heather has shown some welcoming interest in the Community Sector, for far too long the emphasis has been on the NHS (for good reason) and on the major employers, such as the Council.  But with the proliferation of outsourcing, our membership is becoming increasingly fragmented, and more resources are needed to organise in, what is recognised as a huge potential membership sector'. 

Heather's full response can be read by clicking the Read more button below

  1. 1.What do you see as the main challenges with recruitment and organising in the community service sector and how would you propose addressing them?

Answer

The community and voluntary sector – like much of the private outsourced sector in public services – is fragmented, with many small employers, with one or few members. Pressure from cuts to council and other public sector budgets is leading to cuts to pay and conditions in the community service sector, while many community sector organisations with a campaigning dimension are being forced into becoming service providers in order to maintain their grant funding or to generate income.

The following are key challenges, with some possible solutions:

  • Lack of recognition, leading to lack of facility time and absence of bargaining rights: This requires strategic organising campaigns with key regional and national employers, aimed at achieving meaningful recognition, with facility time and bargaining rights. Regions must ‘buy in’ to these campaigns and dedicate resources to them, to work along available UNISON Centre staff.
  • Not enough effort put into making the business case for trade union recognition: High turnover and unaccountable management are the results of an unrepresented workforce. Community and voluntary organisations would improve retention of staff and industrial relations if they seriously engaged with staff unions.
  • Insufficient attention from Regions: There needs to be a dialogue about what proportion of resources should be spent on organising in the community and voluntary sector – and maintaining that organisation. There need to be dedicated Regional staff and resources for this.
  • UNISON excluded from employee bodies: Push to get UNISON activists on staff councils and other supposedly representative bodies or set up proper negotiating committees as part of recognition deals.
  1. 2.How would you propose to tackle the problems with representation and involvement of community sector members in branches?
  • Identifying branches that are willing to and capable of including CVS members in their democratic structures. Clustering members into these branches where possible.
  • Following the example of West Midlands and Wales, encouraging the development of regional or geographical CVS branches.
  • Ensuring that Local Government/Health branches with community sector members have seats on branch committees for them to be represented and that they have access to resources for organising.
  • Investing in the development of CVS sub-committees in branches with significant community membership. Advocates from these sub-committees can take their issues to branch committees.
  • Asking Regions to ensure that dedicated CVS organisers are present at branch committee and other relevant meetings and ensure that CVS gets a fair proportion of attention and are not an afterthought to what was traditionally the “core” employer
  1. 3.What do you think UNISON’s national approach to the community sector should be?
  • Targeted and prioritised organising campaigns for recognition, allowing activists to get facility time to organise and negotiate with employers. Recognition in Action for Children has allowed a rep to get half release. She has done a great job at networking and building strength within the employer nationally.
  • Developing functioning national/UK employer networks, through organising campaigns in large, growing national employers.
  • Ensuring flexible and appropriate training and development for reps on these committees
  • Ensuring that CVS reps are able to attend relevant sector and Service Group seminars and conferences so that issues of mutual importance can be discussed and policy can be developed
  • Adequate resources at the UNISON Centre dedicated to supporting organising campaigns and development of CVS networks