Feargal Sharkey brings star quality – and rage – to conference

Feargal Sharkey with UNISON delegates. Photo: Steve Forrest/Workers’ Photos

UNISON’s national delegate conference (NDC) enjoyed a spot of real star quality earlier this week, when a fringe meeting on the climate crisis saw a special guest in singer and clean water campaigner Feargal Sharkey.

“My father would be cock-a-hoop that I was standing on a union platform,” he told those attending.

His dad was a trade union official who took him to his first union meeting at age eight – “I was traumatised!”

But his mother was “the real political leader” in the Sharkey home. She insisted that dad piled them all in the car on 21 April 1969 to join the People’s Democracy Civil Rights March.

“Normal people can achieve the most remarkable things,” he said.

“The school teachers, the housewives, the electricians, the bricklayers and the poets.”

Climate change is going on right now, he says, and talks of the catastrophic levels of rainfall being experienced – “33mm of rain in just 10 minutes” in a dry part of Spain recently.

“Why am I here? I like standing around in rivers and have since I was 11.” It was when fly fishing that Feargal realised what was happening to his beloved rivers. He tried to get the Environment Agency to tackle the issue.

He explains that chalk streams are incredibly rare and support a special ecology, yet the River Ver in St Albans has had sewage pumped into it by Thames Water.

Last year alone, English companies spent 4.6m hours last year spewing sewage into rivers and seas, while the Environment Agency has had its budget slashed by 57%.

“Share my rage, share my outrage,” he urged them.

The meeting also heard from Tony Wright, the chair of UNISON’s policy development and campaigns committee, who opened by noting the news earlier in the day that, in parts of the US and on mainland Europe, there have been warnings about how extreme temperatures could cause serious problems in the coming days and weeks.

He said that he was so frustrated that reports such as this routinely don’t mention climate change.

Why, he asked, is this a trade union issue? “It’s the most existential threat we face, as trade unionists and human beings,” said Tony.

National officer Donna Rowe-Merriman told those present: “Climate change affects us all.” She explained that UNISON members include those who work in energy, transport, water and the environment.

A “concerted effort by all sectors of society” to disinvest from fossil fuels is vital, and actions have to be “bold and decisive”.

She notes that mining communities were “decimated” in the transition away from coal in the 1980s; it was “not a just transition” and “we will not allow that to happen again”.

Michelle Singleton, UNISON policy lead on the environment, told the meeting the union was intending to enable more members to become active on the issue.

The article Feargal Sharkey brings star quality – and rage – to conference first appeared on the UNISON National site.

UNISON passes motion to recognise Palestine as a state

The third day of UNISON’s national delegate conference, chaired by UNISON president Libby Nolan, saw delegates pass a composite motion in solidarity with Palestine – but not before several impassioned speeches were heard.

The debate came shortly after Palestinian ambassador to the UK Dr Hussam Zomlot’s speech to the union.

Introducing the motion on behalf of UNISON Scotland, Tony Slaven said: “After the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, a ceasefire is needed urgently.

“We continue to call for a ceasefire, for the release of all hostages, and for the release of thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, often on trumped-up charges that render them political prisoners.”

He urged conference delegates to vote for the motion, which calls on the UK government to recognise Palestine as a state, to refuse to continue to supply arms to Israel and to support “a peace process that will outlive the politicians of today.”

Speaking in support of the motion, the chair of the NEC’s international committee Liz Wheatley said: “None of us will ever forget the sights and sounds coming out of Rafah. The sights of burning tents in a refugee camp where hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to flee as their homes across Gaza were destroyed.

“They were not displaced, they were driven there by a brutal bombing campaign that has seen over 37,000 killed, 85,000 injured and more than a million facing famine.”

Ms Wheatley’s speech focused on the second demand of the motion – to call on the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel.

“Sunak and the Tories don’t care about that poor man holding up the headless body of his child, Ahmad Al-Najar; they don’t care about people burned to death in tents. They don’t care there are no hospitals to treat them, that people are starving because aid isn’t allowed in, because food and clean water is scarce. All they care about are their friends in the arms industry, who make a profit out of death.

“As a public-sector worker, I know that every penny, every pound that the government spends on death and destruction is a penny and a pound that could be spent on our hospitals, schools and our public services.”

Yvonne Green, speaking in support of the motion on behalf of Croydon local government branch, drew attention to the sixth part of the motion, affirming UNISON’s support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which she described as “a peaceful method to pressure Israel to uphold international law”.

In a similar vein, Glen Williams from the North West region urged local government workers to take action on pension funds. “Local government pension funds invest £4.5billion in companies complicit in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.”

The motion was passed by a majority vote.

The motion calls on UNISON’s national executive council to:

1)  Campaign for an immediate and permanent ceasefire; an end to the siege of Gaza including the full restoration of water, electricity and communications; immediate access to comprehensive humanitarian aid including food, water and medicines; and the safe release of both Israeli hostages, and Palestinians wrongfully held in Israeli prisons, including under administrative detention.

2)  Call on the UK government to take measures to uphold international law, including suspending the arms trade with Israel, banning trade with the illegal settlements and supporting the prosecution of violations of international law by the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice.

3)  Call on the UK government to recognise Palestine as a sovereign, independent state, put pressure on the UN to recognise Palestine as a full member state and implement credible measures and call for renewed talks to facilitate an internationally supported, just political solution, in line with successive UN resolutions, which provides for a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, alongside Israel;

4)  Work with Labour Link to secure a commitment from the next Labour government to recognise Palestine as an independent state.

5)  Encourage branches to support the work of Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Red Cross to support the right to health, and make a further donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians.

6)  Continue to oppose the UK government’s Economic Activities of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill and other attempts to restrict BDS, and continue to use targeted BDS to apply pressure to the Israeli government to end the occupation, respect the rights of Palestinians and bring about peace, including promoting UNISON’s campaign to divest from Local Government Pension Schemes to branches and regions.

7)  Continue providing practical solidarity in support of the rights to decent work and quality public services, including through work with trade unions and Palestinian and Israeli human rights and workers organisations;

8)  Encourage branches and members organising around Palestine in their workplaces and encourage them to mobilise for national and local peaceful protests.

9)  Promote educational initiatives within UNISON branches to raise awareness about the history and complexities of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

10)  Continue to support the work of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and encourage regions and branches to affiliate.

The article UNISON passes motion to recognise Palestine as a state first appeared on the UNISON National site.

‘Justice for the Palestinian people is justice for all’

The highlight of this year’s national delegate conference was a speech from Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom Dr Husam Zomlot (pictured), who was welcomed with a standing ovation.

Thanking the union for its warmth, he began with an acknowledgement of UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea’s recent trip to the West Bank. “I know Christina got a taste of what it means to live under Israel’s military occupation.

“You may think it’s the deadly military operations in Gaza that are the worst part,” he continued. “But since October, Israel has killed over 500 people, including over 100 children, in the occupied West Bank. Of course these killings, along with house demolitions, are part of the rampant settler terrorism that has displaced more than 1,000 people from their homes and villages in the last eight months.”

Dr Zomlot described life for Palestinians in the West Bank as “the constant denial of one’s humanity and dignity. The constant fear of arbitrary killings and detention, of roadblocks and checkpoints and never knowing if you can get to work or if your children can get to school. Never being able to plan a day, month or year because the Israeli military pays no attention to your rights of life. Constant daily humiliation is what military occupation is really about.

“But we, the Palestinian people, are hard to break.”

UNISON’s solidarity with Palestine

He went on to detail the history of trade union solidarity with Palestine. “Forty-four years ago, it was trade unions in Dundee that forged the first ever twinning agreement between a Palestinian city and a UK one. Dundee was twinned with Nablus. Union to union, solidarity has only been strengthened over these decades and we share values of justice for all.

“UNISON was one of the first unions to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and long demanded that international law be applied to Palestine. That is not a gift or favour, but a right. Our rights are our rights, and we have been denied these rights for 76 years.”

Dr Zomlot praised UNISON’s work over the years to support Palestinian rights. “I know how dedicated you were in opposing the government’s boycott ban, a very clear attempt to interfere with British democracy and to shield Israeli settlements from accountability. 

“UNISON over the years has worked closely with Palestinian NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations. UNISON works for Medical Aid for Palestinians in the UK, with the Red Cross, with Defense for Children, to boost emergency appeals.

“UNISON works with the global and European trade union movement to build support for Palestine. Your efforts to ensure accountability, to spread solidarity and stand with justice and the Palestinian people are working. Your efforts are working.”

Dr Zomlot then went on to describe the difference between working people in the UK and successive governments that have refused to recognise Palestine as a state.

“We have suffered ethnic cleansing and we are now suffering genocide. Yet we have had successive British governments say they will recognise a Palestinian state when the time is right, when it will aid the peace process.

“What peace process? Should we wait for the Israeli military to come to its own senses? Should we wait for colonial Israel to settle in all the territory? Shall we wait for apartheid Israel to force everyone out of Gaza and the West Bank?

“This is a question of international law, resolutions and rights. It is a question of humanity.

“Why should we live a minute longer under Israel’s illegal, immoral and violent occupation? We call on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine immediately and join the 146 countries in the world that have done so.”

Dr Husam Zomlot addresses national delegate conference

Dr Husam Zomlot addresses UNISON conference. Credit: Marcus Rose

The UK’s responsibility to Palestinians

Dr Zomlot turned his focus to Britain’s role in establishing and perpetuating the occupation of Palestine. Referring to the Balfour declaration, a public statement issued in 1917 by the British government that declared Palestine should become ‘a national home for Jewish people’, Dr Zumlot said, “Britain, in 1917, directly contributed to our agony. Britain promised our land without any consultation with the native population that had lived there for millenia.”

He called for the UK to recognise Palestine as a state and expressed his dismay at the UK’s abstention on a 2012 UN general assembly vote that saw the majority of the world vote recognise a Palestinian state.

“This isn’t about Palestinian people. This is about the United Kingdom’s historical role and moral, legal and political responsibility. But whether the United Kingdom will recognise the state of Palestine or not, Palestine will be free. Palestine will be independent. We will be sovereign. So it’s better for the UK to do the right thing, not to drag its feet, and recognise our right to return and equality.”

Gaza: famine, destruction and mass killings

Dr Zomlot gave a grim overview of the current situation in Gaza, where over 50% of all buildings have been destroyed along with 70% of homes, 80% of schools and all universities. 

“Just four of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are only partially operating. Factories, industries, ministries, libraries, mosques, churches, bakeries and Gaza’s central archive containing over 150 years of historical documents all died. The destruction has been total and the killings have been unconscionable: over 37,000 dead and the majority are women and children, with thousands more buried under rubble and thousands more projected to die from famine and disease.”

“Are we no longer shocked that Israel has imposed a famine on 2.3 million people? Have we normalised industrial scale killings? Have we normalised mass destruction?”

Hope

However, he also spoke of the hope that Palestinians have. “There is hope in the incredible resilience and heroism of our people in Gaza. And the people like the Palestinian trainee lawyer, Noor Nassar, who has started a mobile school to provide some education to the 625,000 school age children who have received no education at all this year.”

“There is hope in our people returning to pray for Eid at the historic Omari mosque in Gaza City.

“There is hope in our courageous and brave doctors and nurses who, despite the threat of being targeted, killed, kidnapped; despite the threat of detention and torture, and despite the lack of electricity, fuel and medicine, continue to perform medical miracles. Over 300 doctors and nurses have been abducted, and at least two doctors have been killed in detention.”

Dr Zomlot said he was not surprised that the Israeli military had targeted the medical and education sectors. “One is necessary for life, and one is necessary for a better future. When you target health and education, you target a people’s means of survival. The Palestinian people are an educated people. Education has been our foremost means of resistance. Palestinians have some of the highest literacy rates and highest per capita PhD rates in the world.”

Dr Zomlot defiantly said, “We are not going anywhere. We have recovered before and we will recover again. But this time must be the last time that we see our children being slain in mass killings; the last time to see our mothers murdered, our homes destroyed, our schools bombed. This should be the last time we allow a mass murder of our people. For that, we must not just recover. We must secure our freedom and with it, a sustainable peace.

“I see hope in the International Court of Justice, which has officially put Israel on trial for genocide following South Africa’s case against Israel. I see hope in the International Criminal Court, who have levelled charges of war crimes against senior Israeli leaders for the first time in history. We’re waiting for the arrest warrants to be issued by the end of this week.

“We see hope in the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, putting Israel on a blacklist of countries for its harsh treatment of children.

“The UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory said Israel is one of the most criminal armies in the world.” 

He also said he found hope in the mass demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine, particularly in the student movement in the US and UK. “They call them students but I think we should call them teachers: teachers of humanity.

“History tells us that if you have the student movement and the labour movement, then you’re in the right direction; it’s those two movements that always press for change and always succeed.

“I truly believe that the eyes of the world will not be diverted any longer. Once you have seen what is happening, you cannot unsee this. You will not forget. We will not forget.”

“There has to be equality for every Palestinian wherever they live; and non-Palestinian for that matter. I assure you, the Palestinian people are ready and able.”

‘Justice for the Palestinian people is justice for all’

Dr Zomlot closed his speech in honour of the memories of the dead children who have featured in shocking footage witnessed by millions around the world: “Sidra, the girl whose body was left dangling from a wall. She was my wife’s cousin.

“Hind Rajab, the six-year-old who was left alone calling for help. Ahmed Al-Najar, the 18-month old beheaded baby.

“We must not waver in our efforts to ensure a future for those they left behind. This is how we honour the slain children of Gaza and innocent people all over the world.

“Justice for the Palestinian people is justice for all. Thank you for your solidarity.”

Dr Zomlot’s speech was met with a standing ovation from conference delegates, who joined for a group photo with ‘ceasefire now’ placards’.

The article ‘Justice for the Palestinian people is justice for all’ first appeared on the UNISON National site.

‘System change, not climate change’

“This is a crisis that all trade unionists and every person should be angry about.” That was how Tony Wright introduced a motion on climate change for the NEC and UNISON’s national delegate conference in Brighton this week.

“Climate change is already affecting every aspect of what our members do. Public services are huge carbon emitters,” he continued.

“We use the full might of public funding to ensure that our public-sector contracts are used to commit to a just transition.

“We cannot continue to let the most disadvantaged countries and communities bear the brunt of this crisis.”

Mr Wright asserted the importance of trade unions in tackling the crisis.

“We are at a tipping point: trade unions and our members have a vital role to play in ensuring a just transition to net zero.”

The debate saw delegates highlight the health and safety implications of working in ever-higher temperatures, while the country is seeing more and more rain every year.

The need for the union to look at its own carbon footprint was also raised, while speakers observed how young people understand that the world needs “system change, not climate change”, and that retired people have “retired from the workplace, but not from the fight,” emphasising that the issue engages the entire population, irrespective of age.

The article ‘System change, not climate change’ first appeared on the UNISON National site.

‘System change, not climate change’

“This is a crisis that all trade unionists and every person should be angry about.” That was how Tony Wright introduced a motion on climate change for the NEC and UNISON’s national delegate conference in Brighton this week.

“Climate change is already affecting every aspect of what our members do. Public services are huge carbon emitters,” he continued.

“We use the full might of public funding to ensure that our public-sector contracts are used to commit to a just transition.

“We cannot continue to let the most disadvantaged countries and communities bear the brunt of this crisis.”

Mr Wright asserted the importance of trade unions in tackling the crisis.

“We are at a tipping point: trade unions and our members have a vital role to play in ensuring a just transition to net zero.”

The debate saw delegates highlight the health and safety implications of working in ever-higher temperatures, while the country is seeing more and more rain every year.

The need for the union to look at its own carbon footprint was also raised, while speakers observed how young people understand that the world needs “system change, not climate change”, and that retired people have “retired from the workplace, but not from the fight,” emphasising that the issue engages the entire population, irrespective of age.

The article ‘System change, not climate change’ first appeared on the UNISON National site.

NHS employers need to pay staff fairly or face strike action

NHS managers must ensure health workers are on the correct salary bands for the jobs they do and avoid the need for further strike action this year, says UNISON today (Friday).

Since 2021, the union has taken an employer-by-employer approach to help healthcare assistants across the UK win wage rises, including around £80m in back pay, to make up for years of being paid significantly less than they should have been.

UNISON’s Fair Pay for Patient Care campaign has prompted salary boosts for nearly 36,000 healthcare assistants and other clinical support workers, because their salaries have increasingly failed to reflect their more complex job responsibilities.

According to NHS guidance, healthcare assistants on the lowest agenda for change salaries (band 2) should only be providing personal care like bathing and feeding patients.

But support staff have been routinely undertaking more involved clinical tasks, says UNISON, including taking and monitoring blood, and performing electrocardiogram tests. This should have pushed their roles into a higher (band 3) bracket, which is worth almost £2,000 a year more.

Some NHS employers have acted to end this unfair wage discrepancy, says UNISON. They’ve lifted support staff on to the next band up and awarded back pay as compensation for when they’ve been doing more complicated tasks but without the appropriate salary.

Elsewhere, it’s taken weeks of industrial action to secure the correct wages and back pay for support staff, says UNISON.

More than 40 deals have now been secured by the Fair Pay for Patient Care campaign. Successes include Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge Community Services NHS Trust and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.

UNISON, which is holding its annual national conference in Brighton this week, is now urging other NHS employers to do the right thing and pay healthcare assistants the money they’re rightfully owed.

Talks are currently ongoing to try to resolve a dispute involving support staff at two trusts on Teesside, says UNISON. And at the start of the week, hundreds of workers at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth walked out for the first time in their rebanding dispute. Elsewhere, healthcare assistants employed by Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust are due to strike in the coming weeks.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Years of tight financial settlements have left the NHS in a precarious state. But that’s no reason not to pay staff the correct wages for the important jobs they do.

“Keeping healthcare assistants on the lowest NHS pay band, when the complex jobs they do call for a higher rate, is a false economy.

“If staff don’t feel valued and believe they’re being taken advantage of, they’re much less likely to stay working in the NHS. And with more handsome salaries on offer elsewhere, experienced health employees are being needlessly lost from the NHS.

“All trusts should do the right thing and ensure they’re paying their entire workforce fairly. Managers shouldn’t leave it until a strike is called before deciding to act.

“No one wants to take action, lose a day’s wages and create disruption for patients. But if that’s what it takes, then that’s what staff will do to win fair pay for patient care.”

Notes to editors:
– Click here for full details of the Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign.
Case studies
–”Staff have been working over and above their band 2 duties every day, performing tasks that aren’t supposed to be part of their role.” Hollie, healthcare assistant, Neath Port Talbot
“I have five children so the back pay and wage rise will be a massive help. The whole pay campaign has made me feel more valued for the work I do.” Danielle, healthcare assistant, East Cheshire
“We’d been left with no option but to strike. Staff just want to be banded correctly and paid fairly for the work they do. For years, people have worked beyond their band without the correct wage. Failure to resolve this issue is not an option.” Max, theatre assistant, Plymouth
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk

The article NHS employers need to pay staff fairly or face strike action first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Weapon and drug use ‘widespread’ among students on college premises

Violence, crime and substance misuse are now widespread across colleges, with students regularly carrying weapons and drugs or arriving intoxicated, according to new data released by UNISON today (Thursday).

Seven in ten (70%) support staff said drug abuse among students is a problem in their college, a survey conducted by the union found.

And more than a third (34%) said crime involving weapons is a concern, while almost a fifth (19%) believed gang culture is a problem at their institution.

Three in ten (31%) staff surveyed have had to deal with students who brought drugs into college and two fifths (40%) have had dealings with students who are under the influence of drugs.

Staff described routinely finding weapons such as knives and guns – real and fake – as well as machetes and hammers. Other college workers reported youngsters in possession of crossbows, blades, knuckledusters, screwdrivers, air rifles, ball-bearing (BB) guns, high-powered laser pointers and homemade weapons.

Injuries reported included a member of staff being stabbed in the back with a screwdriver and a student suffering multiple fractures and concussion, as well as bruising all over their body.

Drugs regularly found inside colleges included cannabis, cocaine, ketamine, MDMA and the so-called “zombie” drug Black Mamba, which is a synthetic cannabis.

UNISON’s research – released to coincide with the union’s annual national conference in Brighton – reveals a disturbing picture of violence and substance misuse by young people in colleges across education settings. It also reveals a wide range of weapons and drugs are being brought into colleges.

The survey is based on responses from 780 support staff – including canteen workers, learning-support assistants and librarians – working in both further education and sixth form colleges across the UK.

The data revealed half (50%) of the staff who responded were unaware of their employer’s policy on dealing with students in possession of weapons. And more than seven in ten (73%) said they had no training on how to deal with students who bring weapons or drugs into college. As a result, more than half (53%) thought incidents were not resolved appropriately.

Despite the evident risks, fewer than one in ten (9%) of survey respondents reported that their college used metal detectors, says UNISON.

College workers who said they’d had to deal with students under the influence of drugs and alcohol described young people overdosing, being too high to get through their lessons, or having seizures and hallucinations.

More than a quarter (26%) of respondents said they don’t feel physically safe at work.

Fourteen of years of underfunding have left further education colleges and sixth forms struggling to provide the education and opportunities young people deserve and need, says UNISON.

UNISON wants to see more training, and better security with searches and metal detectors to reduce violence and substance abuse in colleges.

Stricter punishments for students breaking college rules and increased staffing levels are also important ways to deal with the problems, adds the union.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Dangerous behaviour needs to be tackled to ensure students and staff are safe and colleges remain secure environments for young people to learn and thrive.

“Students who think they need to carry weapons for protection or come to college intoxicated are putting their own futures at risk.

“The tremendous strain placed on college staff means they’re forced to put safety and discipline over students’ academic development.

“College leaders must do more to ensure colleges are inspiring, safe places for all.”

Notes to editors:
– Data was gathered from 780 respondents in an online survey conducted by UNISON from 14 May to 7 June 2024.
– Experiences of survey respondents included the following:
When asked to describe incidents involving weapons:
“The most recent incident was earlier this week, where a member of support staff had a knife pulled on them.”
“A student brought in a replica gun, but when police arrived they treated it like it was a real gun. It was terrifying.”

“Staff have been threatened at knifepoint.”
“One student pulled out a machete. Another was attacked and had to be taken to hospital.”
“Knives, slingshots, and imitation guns have all been brought on site.”
“Someone brought weights from a weightlifting bench in their bag, and then used them to smash up a computer keyboard in the library.”

“Two students were fighting over an issue that started outside college and one was stabbed with a pair of scissors.”
“A learner had been carrying a five-inch blade down his sock for weeks.”
“Due to the gang culture where I work, certain places within the college have become no-go areas.”
“Our college is having to employ outside security guards on the front entrance turnstiles.”
“A student was found carrying a large kitchen knife in his bag. He told the tutor it was for protection.”
“A learner brought a sharp blade she used to self-harm on site and ‘lost’ it. It then got into the hands of someone else on campus who threatened to use it on another student.”

When asked to describe incidents involving drugs:
“A student took ketamine during a Monday morning class. They had to be taken away by ambulance and spent a few days in hospital. It was absolutely awful to witness and horrendous for the staff to deal with.”
“I regularly smell cannabis on students. But don’t feel able to confront the smokers.”

“A student left a bottle of methadone in our office.”
“It’s typically cannabis. At times in large quantities. At other times, cocaine, a bag of pills, cannabis vapes. Some keep coke or ketamine in the back of their phones.”
“One student overdosed on ketamine and had a seizure.”

– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk

The article Weapon and drug use ‘widespread’ among students on college premises first appeared on the UNISON National site.

UNISON renews its support for domestic abuse refuges

Delegates at UNISON’s national delegate conference have unanimously passed a motion that commits the union to take action on domestic abuse service provision and ensure ‘access for all’ in refuges.

The motion was supported by several emotive speeches from members who had personally experienced domestic abuse.

Introducing the motion, Farida Gullam (pictured) from the national women’s committee said: “Every week, two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner and one in four women in the UK will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.”

Ms Gullam drew attention to the high cost of refuge places, which makes fleeing domestic abuse an unaffordable choice for many women and children in abusive situations. She explained, “while housing benefit covers some of the cost, if you are working, this can still leave a large sum of rent for the refuge space to be paid.”

She explained that some women have no other option but to give up their job and rely on benefits to access a refuge space. “A woman should not have to give up her home or her employment because of abuse,” she concluded.

Ms Gullam made an open plea to conference delegates to support any family and friends who are experiencing domestic abuse.

The motion was amended to include specific provision for disabled people, who experience higher rates of domestic abuse compared to non-disabled people.

Lola Oyewusi addresses conference

Lola Oyewusi addresses conference. Credit: Marcus Rose

Introducing the amendment, Lola Oyewusi (pictured above) from the national disabled members committee said, “People with disabilities who are trapped in abusive relationships have their dignity taken away from them. We want action, not a tick-box exercise.”

Over a dozen members spoke out in support of the motion as amended, including Pat Heron from the disabled members committee, who said it was UNISON that gave her the strength to speak out about her experiences of domestic abuse. “A doctor had told me that if I didn’t leave my ex-partner, the only way I’d be leaving him was in a wooden box.

“We can all suffer from domestic abuse. Every single one of us has a right to be safe where we are and not to be harmed.”

A delegate from Bristol explained that local government cuts in the area had removed funding for a local charity, One25, that supports sex workers. “When you hear about council cuts, what it really means is grievous bodily harm and death. We, as a union, have to fight to ensure victims can leave their homes and get away from dangerous situations.”

Another delegate, speaking on behalf of Devonshire county council branch, spoke about the scarcity of specialist support for Black LGBT+ people.

This was echoed by another Black member who shared her disappointment after reporting her abuse to the police, who did not take it seriously. “Because of the experience I had, I don’t trust policemen,” she said.

“Institutional racism extends to domestic abuse and social services and it prevents Black women accessing services. Perpetrators use immigration status against Black women and threaten deportation so that people don’t access services. Let’s challenge the government on domestic abuse issues and push for access to all.”

After the supportive speeches, Ms Gullam used her right of reply to affirm the union’s support for domestic abuse survivors and the services they rely on, declaring “the abuser is a loser.”

The motion was passed unanimously. 

The article UNISON renews its support for domestic abuse refuges first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Cementing the legacy of the Year of Black Workers

Images: Marcus Rose

Debate continued Wednesday morning at national delegate conference with a group of motions concerning Black members.

The motions came on the same morning as the High Court ruling that the government’s decision to scrap key recommendations from the independent review into the Windrush scandal was unlawful.

The first motion, supporting Black members experiencing racism, focused on training and education as an effective way to combat racism.

Moving the motion, Annette Heslop of the national Black members’ committee said: “Racism is real, we need to stop it and stamp it out.”

The motion called on the NEC to work with UNISON College and learning and organising services to create specific training resources on the issue and promote them to stewards and branch officers.

Gloria Hansen (pictured above) said: “The Year of Black Workers was an extraordinary campaign celebrating UNISON’s proud history – and we owe it to the efforts of members across unison” to continue the struggle.

Sue Silva spoke about acknowledging “the slow pace of change and the exclusion of Black workers from discussions” on the issue.

Adding: “UNISON has made progress but further development is necessary enhanced training for branch officers will help them support members effectively.”

Chris Akaluka (above) from Newham Healthcare followed saying: “Racism is a disease that thrives on ignorance, the only thing that can cure this disease is knowledge.

“A union like ours, 1.3m strong, if we all pledge to be allies and fight racism in our workplaces our homes and our streets.”

He asked conference to commit, with him, to pointing out racism in all different aspects of their lives. “We shall point it out,” conference repeated.

After the motion exploring the experience of racism, debate turned to the UNION’s work embedding the legacy of the Year of the Black Worker in 2023.

Joseph Ogundemuren of the Black members’ committee (pictured top), speaking for the motion asked conference to “sustain momentum and cement the legacy of the year,” saying, “our activism must resonate beyond our union.”

Manjula Kumari of the NEC said to achieve the aims of the motion the union: “must start where all good unions start – training and development. So, throughout the year we facilitated workshops, development programmes and mentorship training.”

She told delegates: “We still have a long way to go,” and urged delegates to go back to their employers and start the conversation with employer to sign up to UNISON’s anti-racism charter.

She finished: “Conference, remember the 190,00 Black members that UNISON has. Work with us, be our allies and continue to increase our numbers.”

The motion gave a five-point action plan to evaluate the year’s successes, develop an ongoing programme of training and campaigning and report back to NDC in 2025.

The article Cementing the legacy of the Year of Black Workers first appeared on the UNISON National site.

Cementing the legacy of the Year of Black Workers

Images: Marcus Rose

Debate continued Wednesday morning at national delegate conference with a group of motions concerning Black members.

The motions came on the same morning as the High Court ruling that the government’s decision to scrap key recommendations from the independent review into the Windrush scandal was unlawful.

The first motion, supporting Black members experiencing racism, focused on training and education as an effective way to combat racism.

Moving the motion, Anette Heslop of the national black members’ committee said: “Racism is real, we need to stop it and stamp it out.”

The motion called on the NEC to work with UNISON College and learning and organising services to create specific training resources on the issue and promote them to stewards and branch officers.

Gloria Hansen (pictured above) said: “The Year of Black Workers was an extraordinary campaign celebrating UNISON’s proud history – and we owe it to the efforts of members across unison” to continue the struggle.

Sue Silva spoke about acknowledging “the slow pace of change and the exclusion of Black workers from discussions” on the issue.

Adding: “UNISON has made progress but further development is necessary enhanced training for branch officers will help them support members effectively.”

Chris Akaluka (above) from Newham Healthcare followed saying: “Racism is a disease that thrives on ignorance, the only thing that can cure this disease is knowledge.

“A union like ours, 1.3m strong, if we all pledge to be allies and fight racism in our workplaces our homes and our streets.”

He asked conference to commit, with him, to pointing out racism in all different aspects of their lives. “We shall point it out,” conference repeated.

After the motion exploring the experience of racism, debate turned to the UNION’s work embedding the legacy of the Year of the Black Worker in 2023.

Joseph Ogundemuren of the Black members’ committee (pictured top), speaking for the motion asked conference to “sustain momentum and cement the legacy of the year,” saying, “our activism must resonate beyond our union.”

Manjula Kumari of the NEC said to achieve the aims of the motion the union: “must start where all good unions start – training and development. So, throughout the year we facilitated workshops, development programmes and mentorship training.”

She told delegates: “We still have a long way to go,” and urged delegates to go back to their employers and start the conversation with employer to sign up to UNISON’s anti-racism charter.

She finished: “Conference, remember the 190,00 Black members that UNISON has. Work with us, be our allies and continue to increase our numbers.”

The motion gave a five-point action plan to evaluate the year’s successes, develop an ongoing programme of training and campaigning and report back to NDC in 2025.

The article Cementing the legacy of the Year of Black Workers first appeared on the UNISON National site.