Monday, 21 January 2013

Sickness absence response

“The welfare of workers must be paramount and central to any decisions about their fitness to work or to return to work”, said UNISON today, commenting on the Government’s response to the Black/Frost report on sickness absence.

The union hit back at suggestions that sickness absence management in the public sector needed strengthening, saying that they were in-line with sickness levels across the country.

The report will need to be examined in detail said UNISON, but Karen Jennings, UNISON Assistant General Secretary went on to say:

“We welcome the recognition that there is currently little support for both employees or employers on the early stages of sickness absence. 

“However, the proposed advice service to assess workers is problematic. Foremost is how this service is to be procured and on what basis? 

We would be opposed to any target driven service that would put pressure on people to get back to work quickly rather than when they were fit enough to return.

“UNISON refutes suggestions implicit in the response that the public sector needs to be singled out for special measures. There is no evidence that sickness levels are higher amongst public sector workers, when other factors are taken into account. Within the public sector, healthcare workers have to be mindful of vulnerable patients and service users, violence affects thousands every year, working face to face with the public leaves workers themselves vulnerable and many live and work in deprived areas and experience poorer health.”

The union called for time to examine the response in detail but criticised the proposal to do away with the requirement to keep sick pay records calling it a step backward in managing sickness absence. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Bleak 2013 for families warns UNISON

UNISON, the UK’s largest union, is warning that after a hard year, families face a bleak 2013 across the UK as they struggle to cope with the on-going recession.

The union’s welfare fund has seen a massive rise in the number of applications for grants in 2012 that fund basic essentials such as school uniforms and heating bills. Applications for help with heating bills went up by a massive 388%, and calls for help with the cost of school uniforms by more than a quarter. In the past year, the charity has paid out more than £750,000 - a rise of 11% on the previous year.

Union organisers are increasingly reporting that public sector workers are being forced to rely on food banks to feed their families. The Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s largest network of food banks, estimates that the number of people turning to them for help has risen by 100% in the past year.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said:

“It’s not just the unemployed who are struggling; the number of working people in poverty is on the rise in Tory Britain. The Coalition Government is hitting working families and it is hitting them hard.

“Our welfare fund used to pay for wellbeing breaks, but the recession means that holidays are a thing of the past for low paid families. What people need now is help with the basics of life, such as food and fuel.

“Parents say they dread the bill for school uniforms when the new school year begins – in some cases the cost runs to hundreds of pounds and they just can’t afford it.

“It is heartbreaking to read their applications where they spell out the struggles they face and how difficult things have become. The stress of the struggle to make ends meet is making many sick, they’ve lost working tax credits and it has pushed them over the edge. Some can’t even afford the weekly shop and have to rely on their family for help with groceries.

“The government needs to get real about the depth of the crisis. Until consumer spending picks up, our economy won’t grow and until people have money in their pockets and jobs they can rely on, they won’t spend.

“The Government urgently needs a plan for growth and jobs in 2013 – not simply to be ploughing ahead regardless with an economic plan that is not working.”

The union is calling on the government to help families in the New Year by ending the public sector pay freeze which has hit millions of workers for two years, and local government workers for three. A new plan to fuel growth and long term employment is urgently needed to get the UK back on the road to recovery said the union.

UNISON’s school uniforms grant

The number of applications to UNISON’s school uniforms grant scheme jumped by more than a quarter (27%) last year. This year, more than £30,000 was paid out to nearly 450 UNISON members who earn less than £18,000 and are struggling with the cost of their children’s school uniforms.

60% of those who applied said they faced a bill between £100 - £300 for their child’s school uniform.

76% said there was no other help available towards the cost.

71% were worried that their children would be disciplined because they do not have the right uniform.

73% said it was quite or very difficult to meet the cost of their child’s school uniform.

71% say they have to turn to their family as a result of rising living costs.

UNISON’s winter fuel allowance scheme

771 people have applied for help with their heating bills this year, compared to 158 people in 2011 – an increase of 388%.

Food Banks

According to the Trussell Trust, 128,687 people used food banks in 2011/2012, an increase of 100% on the last year.

MPs need to "get real" on pay demands

At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32% increase is “living in cloud cuckoo land” said UNISON chief, Dave Prentis today (10 January).

“MPs should get real about pay, this shows they are totally out of touch with working people. How can they think that they deserve a 32% increase when the rest of the country is being told to tighten their belts?

“Across the country public sector workers such as teaching assistants, school dinner ladies, nurses, paramedics and care workers are struggling because they have had their pay frozen for years. It would be good to hear them backing calls for a decent rise for these workers – instead of thinking about themselves.

“And what about those on benefits will get just a 1% increase – a real terms cut in the face of higher inflation?

“No wonder this research is anonymous, it shows real contempt for the plight of families across the country struggling to make ends meet.”

Nominations open for NEC elections

 Elections will be held this year for all seats on the national executive council (NEC).

UNISON's most senior lay body, the NEC consists of members from all regions and service groups. It decides on issues and campaigns between conferences, and works with UNISON staff to support members.

NEC members also represent UNISON and its membership to the wider world.

At least two thirds of the seats are held by women and 13 seats are reserved for low-paid women.

The nomination period for the 2013 NEC election opens on Wednesday 9 January and closes at 5pm on Friday 22 February. The results will be published on 10 June.

The election procedures and forms can be downloaded from the NEC elections page, Link to another page on this sitehere.

Further guidance for members, prospective candidates and nominating bodies is also available Link to another page on this sitehere.

For any other election enquiries, contact the member liaison unit at UNISON centre. Telephone 020 7121 5312, email

Pension reform: £144 still well below poverty line

UNISON warned today that many workers will still face poverty in retirement, despite the government’s claims that its proposed overhaul of the state pension system will improve pensions.

Millions of workers will also be clobbered with higher national insurance payments under the plans.

As the government today issues its long-awaited white paper on state pension reform, UNISON said that radical action was needed to halt the decline in pension provision in the UK, which stands to leave many people in financial misery in retirement.

Many employers that sponsor defined benefit pension schemes are facing an increase in national insurance contributions – which from April 2017 could be as high as 3.4%. The union said it feared this would have a knock-on effect that passed cuts onto employees, including the low paid.

Commenting on the paper, Karen Jennings, UNISON assistant general secretary said:
“These changes are being lauded as a good deal for pensioners, but it is worth remembering that £144 is still well below the poverty line, and more will need to be done to prevent workers finding themselves desperately poor in retirement.

“Who will be worse or better off following these changes will depend on salary growth, which remains stagnant for many workers, including millions in the public sector, and inflation, which continues to eat at the income of low earners.

“What is clear is that the real winner is likely to be the Treasury, who will receive a national insurance boost from pension scheme members and employers. This windfall must go back to employers otherwise there is a real risk that many will look to dumb down their current pension offerings even further.

“The government must not hide behind this as a ‘good news story’: It is their duty to guarantee that workers – and in particular the lowest paid – are not left worse off as a result of these proposals either now, or in their retirement.”

While the union welcomed the intention to simplify the confusing existing pensions system, it said it would be looking at the implications of the proposals in the white paper in detail, and would respond to the consultation in full.

The new flat-rate is designed to combine the basic state pension with the second state pension. The union pointed out that this will not affect those who already receive, or will begin receiving their state pension before the next Parliament.