Branch members attending this year’s aggregate AGMs again pledged to defend council services and the workers who provide them, as the council once again raises the spectre of cuts to jobs and services in their budget plans.
There was also overwhelming support for action to end period poverty in our schools and to improve awareness of disability, especially amongst managers, to ensure that disabled members are supported in the workplace and also to achieve promotion.
Heather shares her vision for UNISON into the future
Our guest speaker, Heather Wakefield has been UNISON’s Head of Local Government, Police and Justice since 2001 and oversees negotiations and policy in that role, linking in closely with the negotiating teams in the devolved nations.
Heather has a background in women’s rights and equality and has long campaigned for equal pay, equalities legislation and equal opportunities for women.
Heather gave a very interesting presentation outlining what she sees as the key areas for the union to consider if National Delegate Conference gives the go-ahead for a full review of our union as it reaches its 25th Birthday.
She called on UNISON to “speak out more than we have about the impact of austerity” and to protect members on the front-line – especially women and minority groups who have borne the brunt of the Tory led governments’ austerity agenda.
“UNISON must be the public services champion – for workers and services,” said Heather, urging members and branches to get involved in the review and to make their voice heard.
Be proud of our council services and council workers
The AGMs pledged to campaign locally to highlight the impact of council cuts and to lobby MPs, MSPs and councillors for an improved budget settlement, as Branch Secretary Inez Kirk called for a co-ordinated nationwide UNISON campaign to save local services and local authorities.
“We all need to be proud of the services that local government provides, and say that our services matter.
“We need to build a robust media campaign that promotes the work of local authorities and the essential nature of the wellbeing work carried out.”
The branch has begun this campaign by delivering a Valentine’s Day card to our SNP MSPs calling on them to “love their council workers” and give us decent funding and pay”.
End period poverty
The AGMs overwhelmingly supported a branch call for sanitary products to be made available in all Aberdeenshire schools to ensure all girls have ready access to sanitary wear.
They condemned the “shameful” decision of the council administration to reject this plan and will lobby the council to change their position and to make sanitary wear available in girls’ and unisex toilets.
As well as tampons and pads, the council will be urged to make menstrual cups more widely available as these are a one-off cost and better for the environment.
Moving the motion, Branch Communications Officer, Kate Ramsden warned that period poverty is a trade union issue and a health issue, with girls forced to use unsuitable materials at risk to their health or having to miss school.
“Girls that are already disadvantaged in so many ways by growing up in poverty end up missing school whenever they have their periods,” slammed Kate.
“For too long menstruation has been something we don’t talk about. Well no more! Let’s sing it from the rooftops and get all of society to wake up to women’s needs and make sure that every woman and girl has access to sanitary wear for their period.”
Branch calls for greater disability awareness in council
The AGMs backed measures to hold the council to account for meeting their commitments under their Equalities Statement and called on the employers to provide more specific training and awareness raising for managers in particular, on disability issues including reasonable adjustments.
Kathleen Kennedy, Branch Equalities’ Officer said that whilst we are pleased that Aberdeenshire Council has made the commitment to awareness raising as part of the Disability Confident Scheme, “we are asking for more – we are calling for employers to provide specific disability awareness training.
“We also want our council to monitor their progress honestly in relation to all staff with protected characteristics.
“When employers say they are committing to this we ask for evidence based on workers’ own experiences.”
Members at the AGM asked that mental health is given a higher profile in our discussions with the council, with proper supports and reasonable adjustments available to those who need it. This was agreed.
We also heard from a member about a family member’s experience at a council run event which was a clear breach of equalities, and the branch will take up this matter.
The AGMs also supported the branch in taking this motion to National Delegates Conference.
The accounts were approved with a vote of thanks to the treasurer, Ann Gray, and the motion approving an honorarium for the treasurer was overwhelmingly supported.
The annual report was agreed with a vote of thanks to Inez Kirk, Branch Secretary,
The uncontested branch officers’ and stewards’ posts were approved, and following a count of ballot papers returned, Inez Kirk was declared Branch Secretary with 104 votes to Kate Ramsden’s 79.
The meeting was closed by new Branch Chair, Steve Gray with a vote of thanks to our guest speaker, Heather Wakefield and to all members in attendance.
Kate Ramsden, Communications Office
Photos by Morag Lawrence, Magazine Editor