Delegates from as far away as Cornwall, London, Scotland and Ulster joined with their brothers and sisters from nearer at hand on Saturday, 27th February for Solidarity’s Annual Conference in Carlisle.
The general secretary, Patrick Harrington reported on the union’s work in the past twelve months, particularly in the bread and butter work of representing members in grievance and disciplinary hearings and tribunals. Unfortunately, many successes cannot be publicised owing to confidentiality clauses. The union needs to train more regional representatives in order to spread the load and so as not to throw new reps in at the deep end.
Administration has improved and we now have a good working relationship with the Certification Officer and a clean bill of health from our auditors who demand high standards. Members will be sent more regular printed bulletins as these seem to get a more positive response than email bulletins.
Much has been done in the past year. There are people in work today who would not have been had the union not been working on their behalf. The new Equality Act in April will add to the protected classes including the disabled. This opens up huge potential for the union in the coming year.
Glen Nicklasson gave a short report on his work as the union’s Regional Organiser in the South-West of England and the campaign for low paid workers, especially in the field of private health care.
An upbeat report from the Publicity Consultant, Graham Williamson was read and accepted by delegates to be used as a basis for two workshops on Representation and Campaigns. These took place after the conclusion of formal business.
The following motions were discussed and passed by delegates. Motions one and six were taken as a composite motion.
- 1. This Conference believes elements of the Coalition's “Employer’s Charter” are a fundamental attack on employee rights. In particular, the proposal to increase the level of service before a worker can be protected from unfair dismissal from one to two years and the requirement to place a financial 'bond' into Court prior to initiating a tribunal claim is designed to and will lead to a reduction in claims, including many that would presently be judged as unfair to the employee. This Conference urges Solidarity to launch a campaign against these proposals.
- 2. The National Minimum Wage was introduced in 1999 and one of the best pieces of legislation the last Government introduced. This is presently £5.93/hour. The NMW was brought in to eliminate 'slave labour' in low-skilled jobs. Unfortunately, our investigations have revealed that a significant number of employers have avoided paying this wage. There is only around 100 staff to investigate and enforce the law. We urge the new Government to launch an advertising campaign to alert employers/employees of the rate and in particular those being paid fixed sums. This Conference urges the Executive Committee to promote the Union's 'Are you getting enough?' campaign nationwide.
- 3. The news that banks e.g. Barclay's are not contributing a fair proportion of profits in Corporation Tax and the paying of continued large bonuses by all is not only offensive to hard working members of Solidarity and taxpayers in general but is one reason why the Government are cutting the national debt by reducing their expenditure. This Conference urges the Government to think again by ensuring banks pay a fair contribution in taxation and a greater proportion of tax on bonuses. In the absence of such measures and a consequent reduction in cuts this Conference urges all Solidarity members to take part in demonstrations against such cuts.
- 4. The proposal by the new Education Secretary Michael Gove to ban members of a political party from being Teachers is unnecessary and quite wrong. Unnecessary, because the previous Government also mooted a political ban and instituted an independent review by Maurice Smith, former HM Chief Inspector of Schools, of the existing provisions which prevent the promotion of racism in schools. He found there was no evidence of a problem. Wrong, because we believe employers should not have the right to judge employees 'out of work' activities and that employees must only be disciplined upon their actions (as apart from personal views) at work. This Conference will campaign against any attempt at introducing any new bans in employment.
- 5. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said in response to youth unemployment figures, that whatever the Government does to force people back to work the fact is "that there are simply not enough jobs to go around.” Accepting this we urge the TUC to join with Solidarity in campaigning against any measures that will lead to more cheap migrant labour e.g. the Coalition's proposal to allow multinationals to 'import' workers without being capped and demanding such firms introduce 'apprenticeships' for UK workers to fill any alleged skill gaps.
- 6. This Conference notes with concern the government's scheme to restrict the right of British workers to seek redress for grievances through Industrial Tribunals and condemns the proposal to seek a non-refundable £500 advance penalty from such workers. This Conference calls on the Executive Committee to take all necessary steps to defend its members from this attack on their natural rights to justice.
Formal business was concluded with an address from the president, Adam Walker who told the meeting that Solidarity gives its members clout and protection. We are doing the job we were formed to do. Solidarity is a weapon against an establishment that would take away all our rights. He urged delegates to recruit more members as nobody else is fighting for their rights. Our message as a patriotic trade union remains the same as ever; Together we are strong! It’s important that we grow in power and influence as there is nothing else around that will do the same job.