Aberdeenshire UNISON

Annual Delegate Conference
16th - 19th June 2009 in Brighton

A high profile for the branch at this year's conference

Click here for a conference overview.

Conference delegationYour delegation was very active at this year's conference as one of our motions and two of our amendments were on the agenda. Both Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair and Susan Kennedy, our first time delegate, spoke at conference.

Unfortunately Tricia Morrison was unable to attend for health reasons. We send Tricia our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Kate was also on the Newssheet Team which provided briefings and reports throughout conference.


Defend our public sector pensions

Our pensions motion, approved for submission to conference at this year's AGM in February, was composited (merged) with motions from Newcastle and Edinburgh, and was heard on the Friday morning.

Kate RamsdenConference supported the composite and condemned attacks on public sector pensions by press and politicians. It recognized that this threat will only grow if a Tory government get into power at the next general election and threw its weight behind a range of measures to defend our members pensions.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair and conference delegate told conference that it has been open season on our pensions with the press referring to them as "gold plated" and a "luxury the country can't afford.

But an average local government pensioner gets just £74 per week. "Not a huge amount, said Kate, but without it they would be forced onto full state pension and would face poverty in old age.

She slammed the Tories plans to "reform" our pension. "We should be clear that by this they mean the destruction of public sector pensions," said Kate, rejecting accusations that our pensions are unsustainable and unaffordable.

She called on the NEC to provide information to all our members on the plans for public sector pensions of all the parties standing for election to enable members to make an informed choice about who they vote for, and she urged delegates to campaign in their branches to defend pensions.

"This fight belongs to all of us. These are our pensions which are under threat and we all must take responsibility for defending them - not just for ourselves but for all those who may yet work in public services."


Time to address mileage rates 'disgrace'

Susan KennedyAnother issue close to the hearts of our members is the thorny issue of mileage allowances, and our amendment was incorporated into a composite motion.

As a result, UNISON will seek urgent negotiations with the Inland Revenue for an increase in the seven year old 40p 'approved' mileage rate. Conference also called for regular reviews of the rate.

The 40p is the figure set by the Inland Revenue and any additional payment from an employer is taxed, leaving staff no better off.

Our first time delegate, Susan Kennedy, spoke to our amendment and highlighted the particular case of low paid members in rural areas who pay a larger proportion of their salary on mileage costs and can end up subsidising the council due the large distances travelled and low mileage rate.

"Let us be clear. This is not a green issue. We applaud the reduction in non-essential car use that the rising fuel costs have brought about. But our members, especially those in rural areas, need their cars to do their jobs. They don't have a choice.

"They need their cars to make sure that vital services are provided to the most vulnerable in our society. Services like home care for the elderly and disabled - a lifeline in rural communities, but provided by some of our lowest paid members", said Susan.

"Whilst prices have come down since the fuel crisis last year they are still high, and running a car for work eats into our members' incomes and for low paid members risks becoming a pay cut. "The mileage allowance paid by most authorities in Scotland is 40p per mile. This has not been increased since 2002 and that is a disgrace", she added as she called for the union to put pressure on the government for an immediate rise in the mileage rate determined by the Inland Revenue and an agreement for regular reviews.


Domestic violence/abuse underlined as a workplace issue
But debate on perpetrators continues

Conference backed a strategy to negotiate workplace agreements on domestic abuse, giving better support to victims, but failed to grasp the nettle of what to do about perpetrators. The National Women's Committee failed to support Aberdeenshire's amendment which made it clear that perpetrators of abuse would be in our membership as well as victims. and called for action to encourage perpetrators to address their behaviour. We also called on the union to ‘publicise its zero tolerance of domestic violence alongside services that are in place to manage perpetrators and help them address their behaviour.

The National Executive Council (NEC) asked the branch to remit the amendment, that is, to withdraw it from the conference agenda. In return, they agreed to consider the terms of the amendment when acting on the motion.Your delegation reluctantly agreed to remit our amendment to the NEC.

City of Edinburgh had a similar amendment but refused to remit. This was heard and debated but defeated on a vote.

Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair, speaking to the Aberdeenshire amendment before agreeing to remit, said,“ We are puzzled by the National Women’s Committee’s opposition but have accepted their assurance that the new model guidance will include the union’s commitment to enabling perpetrators of domestic violence to address their behaviour, whatever their gender may be, and will publicise the programmes available to them.”

Kate had earlier said,“We should remember that the victims of domestic abuse are not just those who experience it directly”, pointing out that children living in households where abuse takes place can also be significantly affected.

“We must give a clear message that we have zero tolerance of domestic violence”, added Kate. “However, we must also recognise that those who perpetrate abuse do so often as a result of their own life experiences... they need support to confront and address their behaviour”.

The Edinburgh amendment added unpaid time off for such services, although there was not enough clarity here for the National Women's Committee who said it would be a dangerous precedent.


Who's who?

Every UNISON branch elects a delegation to attend annual conference and to vote on behalf of their local branch members. Scotland has about 200 delegates. This branch has three. Two must be women and one of these must be a low paid woman, to reflect the make-up of the branch.

The Branch delegation to this year's Conference in Brighton is:

Kate Ramsden   Susan Kennedy   Ian McDonald   Tricia Morrison
Kate Ramsden
Branch Chair (sharer)
  Susan Kennedy Steward (sharer)   Ian McDonald
Branch Treasurer
  Tricia Morrison Branch Officer

Bob Revie We are very proud that Bob Revie, our Branch Secretary, is once again Scotland's delegate to the The Standing Orders Committee (SOC). He was nominated by a range of Scottish branches, including our's and elected unopposed. This is Bob's second year on the SOC. He took over from Robin Hunter who was our excellent Scottish delegate for many years before, and who stood down for personal reasons. Bob is doing a great job filling his boots.

The SOC is responsible for the business of National Delegate Conference and for making sure that everyone at conference abides by the rules.


What's what?

UNISON's annual national conference is the union's ruling body. Every year delegates from all over the country take part in debates to choose our campaigning priorities and policies.

Conference is chaired by the UNISON National President, who this year is Sue Highton, or by one of her Vice-Presidents. This year there are 133 motions on the conference agenda and 21 proposed amendments to the UNISON rules. Only a proportion of motions will actually be debated at Conference because there is not time to hear them all. Motions are therefore "prioritised".

Branch motions and amendments
Our branch has two motions and three amendments on the Conference Agenda this year. This is an all time high for us, as it is only in the last few years that we have submitted motions to Conference. The motions were passed at the Branch AGM in February and are on Pensions and the UNISON response to Baby P.

Each branch is also allowed to submit "amendments" to motions, to add to the motion or to change a part we don't agree with. Our amendments were approved at a Branch Committee and amend motions on the mileage allowance; on asylum seeker children and on domestic violence/abuse. They all add to the motions rather than changing them in any way.

The motions we have put to conference before have not made it onto the actual conference agenda, but we are hoping that at least one of our motions will be prioritised and debated in conference this year. However, because there are other motions on the same topics it is likely that our motions will be "composited" which means they will be merged with the others into a larger motion. If this happens, we will, as a branch, have a right to speak to the composite, and perhaps even to move it.

One or two of our amendments might get "composited" too, and if this happens we will again get the right to speak. If they are not merged into a bigger motion, and the motion we have amended is called, we will get a chance to present our amendment and conference will vote on it.

Motions are passed by a straight majority of the conference delegates on a hand vote. If it is close, conference delegates or the chair of conference can call for a card vote. The number of card votes per delegation is based on the number of members in the branch.

Amendments to rule need to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the voting delegates. Card votes can also be called for (and often are) in rule changes. Thursday afternoon is traditionally the time that the rule changes are debated. Many delegates find this session really boring, but in recent years it has produced some of the best debates, and often the funniest speeches.

As delegates we will vote on the motions and the rule changes in line with branch policy, where we have that in place and we can speak for or against any of the motions, amendments and rule changes.

Kate, as a member of UNISON Scotland's Communications and Campaigns Committee, is also one of the three person team, that makes up the UNISON Scotland Conference Briefing Team.The team issues briefings throughout conference which keep Scottish delegates up to date with UNISON Scotland's position on the debates and reports on the week's business. The briefings have also been known to be quite amusing and are sought after by many outwith the Scottish delegations.