In the run-up to Christmas, Unite and its members have celebrated many victories – in the last two weeks alone, workers at poultry producer Two Sisters, Gatwick Airport and housing charity Shelter all secured vastly improved pay offers after taking on their bosses with the support of their union.
But Unite membership is not just for Christmas. Unite is proud of its track record of fighting for its members across all sectors of the economy – all year round.
Today UniteLive reflects on Unite’s major successes over the year – wins that the union has secured using every avenue at its disposal, whether industrially, politically, or legally.
Show me the money
Securing better pay for working people is at the heart of what Unite does – it’s no coincidence, as the Bank of England reports, that trade union membership carries with it a pay premium of 10 to 15 per cent.
This year, Unite won big pay rises for many of its members. In August, for example, workers at Total’s Shetland gas plant accepted a whopping 15 per cent pay rise, plus a substantial bonus. Workers secured this win after almost unanimously voting in favour of industrial action in June on a 96 per cent turnout.
In November, Unite secured an historic pay package for members working at Peel Ports in the Port of Liverpool Container Terminal that will see their pay increase by 10 per cent over the next three years. This victory was won after 12 months of intense negotiations.
Mind your T&Cs
Although decent pay is a central concern for our members, Unite knows that it’s not only good wages that makes a good job – terms and conditions can be just as important. Liverpool’s Container Terminal dockworkers, for example, will in addition to their pay rise, see massive improvements to their terms and conditions.
For one, agency labour within the port has now ended, with workers now being employed directly by Peel Ports. The deal has seen the introduction of a five on, three off shift pattern, while offering an opportunity to those wanting to volunteer for extra shifts pay at the overtime rate.
The dockworkers also secured better holiday, sick and overtime night shift pay, along with the opportunity to join the Peel Ports’ pension scheme with the employer matching individual’s contributions up to 10 per cent by January 2021.
Unite officer Kenny Rowe called the outcome “a ground-breaking deal that recognises the hard work of Liverpool’s Container Terminal dock workers and their commitment to ensure the port goes from strength to strength in the coming years.
“The three year pay deal demonstrates that it pays to be a member of Unite and what can be achieved when employers and trade unions work together,” he said.
Decent, well-paid jobs aren’t only important for individuals and their families – they’re central to the well-being of communities which take enormous pride in the work they do.
Unite has been a staunch defender of local communities such as Shepton Mallet, where the area’s 250-year cider making tradition was under threat in 2016 as the Cider Mill there was poised for closure. The workforce plummeted to just 24 people and the future of cider-making in the area was uncertain.
But thanks to Unite working hard to support its members and Brothers Drinks purchasing the site from Irish drinks giant C&C, the Mill was saved this year. Through constructive and continuing partnership with Brothers Drinks, there are now more people working at the Mill than the C&C workforce of 120 in January 2016.
Unite’s regional secretary for the south west Steve Preddy called it “a genuine good news story in challenging economic times that heralds a renaissance in cider making in Shepton Mallet.”
The industrial is political
Unite knows that the union cannot limit its fight for members to individual workplaces – that’s why it lobbies on behalf of workers on the political stage as well.
This year, Unite secured a major victory for waiters when – after years of the union’s steadfast campaigning which saw tipping injustices receive widespread media attention – the government caved in and announced in October that it would “introduce new legislation to ensure that workers get to keep all their tips.”
This victory followed on from a 2015 campaign to end the then widespread practice of taking a percentage of staff card tips in so-called ‘administrative costs’. The campaign was largely successful, with many restaurants including Pizza Express and others dropping the practice after pressure from Unite.
Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull welcomed the government announcing this year that it will ban employers from making deductions on staff tips.
“This step in tackling tipping abuses has been a long time coming and is in no small part down to the determined campaigning of Unite and its members,” he said.
See you in court
The courts are another vital avenue for securing justice for working people, but all too often prohibitive costs exclude workers from taking legal action against bad bosses – that is, unless, they’re union members.
Unite’s legal team not only takes on individual legal cases but works to ensure that outcomes from such cases are applied across the board so that all workers benefit.
Unite celebrated a major legal victory this year in the long-running case of pipe fitter Russ Blakely. With Unite’s support, Russ took a case before a tribunal after his employer, a payroll company acting as a middleman for an NHS contractor and a recruitment agency, denied him holiday pay and unlawfully took employers national insurance contributions from his wages.
An Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) this year ruled in Russ’ favour, ruling that he was in fact a worker and not self-employed. Russ received compensation and the case now will have major implications for the future of rip-off umbrella and payroll companies which dominate the construction sector.
“This case absolutely underlines why workers need to be a member of a trade union,” said Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett. “A worker without first-class free legal support would have been denied employment justice in such a long-running and complicated case.”