Nick Allen, Branch Chair

Here is the latest update from Nick Allen our Branch Chair:

I’m often asked: “What is a Trade Union and what does it do?”

At its most basic, a trade union is a workers’ collective, attempting to address the needs of the workers in work by acting as their voice to employers.

The power relationship between an employer and each individual it employs is unbalanced in favour of the employer: by creating a mass of workers, speaking with one voice, the balance of power is shifted closer to equity – it will never achieve equity under the current political system, which is established and enforced by law-makers, politicians and a media that speak from the side of the employers.

In that way, as a worker, being in a trade union is a political act. And the state, as it’s currently established, will act against you – you only need to remember the recent ballot on the pay offer, which had to reach the ridiculously unfair 50% turn-out threshold, a threshold created by the party of employers and business leaders. Few other decisions in public life, including elections to Parliament, would pass muster under the conditions of this act.

What have trade unions ever done for us?

So, what does being in a trade union achieve for the worker in their daily life? Here’s an incomplete list:

Paid holidays; paid sick-leave; paid maternity / paternity / adoption leave; the weekend; bank holidays; an end to child labour; rafts of Health & Safety legislation designed to keep us all safe at work (this is the stuff that right-wing politicians refer to as “red-tape” or “bureaucracy”: if a bit of “bureaucracy” saves one life, then it is a good thing); redundancy rights; equal pay for work of equal value…plus an awful lot more.

Unions have their own rules, but they are all generally founded on shared beliefs of anti-discrimination, in all its forms.

In work we advise members when ‘things don’t seem right’ (they probably aren’t!), or if they are faced with a meeting with managers and / or HR (who are representatives of the employer), perhaps with formal procedures being taken against them, or similarly if the member has a ‘grievance’ or complaint against something in their workplace, we will advise and accompany them through that process.

“No union is anything without its membership. Everything we do starts with our members.”

All of this requires that we are seen as a credible, united force…and that’s where the membership comes in: no union is anything without its membership. Everything we do starts with our members. But our existence, our strength is not a given, it cannot just be assumed to always be there, there are times when the membership must make itself heard. All of the good things brought to members by unions have been won by argument and by struggle.

Being in a union is not, cannot, be a passive relationship. We need input from you about what is happening in your workplaces and we need you turn out for meetings and ballots so that your opinion is heard. Simply put, without you, there is no union.

Working on campus 2019 / Working From Home 2020

Alarm, banana, bike into Leeds (50 minutes), shower, coffee and something to eat: 08.30 ready to work / alarm (later), walk from bedroom to bathroom (shower), downstairs to kitchen and breakfast – bring tea and toast up to study, next door to the bathroom – 10m from bed to PC. Switch on the PC

Check diary – several meetings: members, HR, management, regional colleagues – plot routes around campus (is it raining?) – check I have necessary paperwork / check diary – several meetings: same people – all done sitting at my PC, no breaks between meetings (doesn’t matter if it is raining, this time of year I barely notice if the sun shines) – do we need the heating on? -– back on Teams, there’s a knock at the door, run downstairs, back to Teams (“you’re on mute”) – sorry!

time between meetings – breaks / coffee – discuss issues / swap notes and opinions with colleagues / members – drop in on a rep in a school for a quick word (see how they’re doing – they might have had a difficult meeting or a tough case) / stupidly tired from staring at the computer hour after hour – go downstairs to make a coffee / have a break – was going to go for a walk, but another meeting appears in the calendar – can’t get that quick chat with X to sort out a potential problem – will have to book another Teams meeting – is the heating still on?

Drop in at my actual office (in Ziff) to do some paperwork – catch up with my own colleagues / everyone so busy, no time for socialising / chat – I have no idea what is happening in their lives

Cycle home – make tea etc. have a life / If I remember (if it is not too dark / raining) go for a walk because today I have only moved between 4 rooms of our house and once outside to the bin. Make tea. Try (often fail) to resist the temptation to read emails  

Repeat / repeat

Here’s what Nick was up to just before the Christmas break:

This week’s meetings have included: in Branch and Region to discuss responses to national pay “offer”; with the university to discuss the possibility of voluntary redundancies in Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS) and School of Medicine (SoM) and how to mitigate these; updates / discussions around H&S, the return to campus, the testing centre on campus, the safety of members working across these areas; the signing off of some updates to policy agreements between the university and UNISON, which is the culmination of months of work following a grievance; consideration of other policy amendments / new policy suggestions; several ongoing cases working with members, including more grievances; some regular ‘update’ meetings; meetings called by HR / management in response to incidents or problems that arise…and of course the branch also has responsibility for members at Bright Beginnings, Leeds University Union, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds Arts University among others.