Archive | May, 2012

Learning for Success in RBS

25 May

The lifelong learning agenda has been gaining momentum for a while now, but it has been generating new interest recently due to a number of high-profile successes across several workplaces.  These represent not just success for organising, learning or membership numbers, but success for our members at the grass-roots level, with more and more accessing opportunities which previously they have never been able to.  The Royal Bank of Scotland Mortgage Centre at Greenock is a fantastic example of this.

In November 2010 the site had a very low density of members, and a number of industrial issues, with a need for a clear strategy to organise around.  With this in mind Unite decided to use learning as a tool to engage and educate members, and encourage non-members to join. The first step in this process was the recruitment of Union Learning Rep Sonya Cassidy, who is a passionate advocate of learning in the workplace and has become a driving force in the success of this programme.

Sonya’s motivation to improve life for her members, and to recruit new members was evident from the beginning, and activity began straight away when she completed her training as a ULR. It was clear that in order to get the project going the buy-in of the employer was essential, and working together with Workplace Rep Stephen McCauley, Sonya successfully achieved an agreement from the bank in February 2011 to organise a comprehensive workplace learning programme.

With the employer buy-in secured Sonya and Stephen met with Stow College to discuss their workplace learning programme and look at the courses which would be most relevant and interesting to staff at the bank.  Stow put together a bespoke offering of courses which would best meet the aims and needs of the RBS Greenock workforce.  Working to ensure there was a structure in place on site to support this course offering, Sonya and Stephen negotiated again with the employer to secure appropriate facilities for the courses to be run on-site at times which would best suit staff members.

Having been successful in securing courses and facilities, the next step was to engage the staff on-site, members and non-members alike.  A learning survey was put together to allow information to be gathered on people’s learning interests, and this was formally unveiled at the official programme launch at the site on 15 July 2011.  Sonya and Stephen set up a union stall where people could come and speak to them about learning, discuss their aspirations and find out more about what opportunities were available to them.  The launch itself was incredibly well attended, with 221 people completing the survey on the day and many people joining up because of the learning on offer.  This was a huge boost to the reps who had put so much work into the event, and a positive sign of things to come.

As a learning programme and facilities had already been secured, Sonya and Stephen were able to move quickly to analyse the survey results, select the most popular courses from Stow’s curriculum, and get the courses started.  This was a powerful demonstration of how Unite can quickly respond to its members’ needs, and how union-led learning is truly driven by the needs of the learners themselves.  The buzz created on-site was remarkable; the increased level of union activity resulted in a visible increase in the confidence of staff members in their ability to raise industrial issues and change things for the better in their workplace.  Not only this, but the increase in member density at this site surpassed expectations, rising from just 6% in November 2010 to 25% today.  This is hugely important as the Greenock site is a 100% Campaign target, and the success the reps have had through combining learning and organising is clear evidence this strategy work and could be a key path to increasing Unite’s membership in all sectors.

BSL learners receive their certificates at RBS Greenock

The first course run was Understanding Pensions which began in September 2011, and since then learners have completed Computing level 1, Communications and British Sign Language introductory and level 1 courses.  The momentum of the programme has continued, with courses currently running in Spanish and British Sign Language level 2, and a further Understanding Pensions intake, with learners due to complete these in June and August.  So far, 33 learners have completed the courses and there are a further 30 learners on the courses currently running.  The enthusiasm for the courses is evident in all those who attend, and alongside the excellent learning experiences which learners are having they are all achieving qualifications as all courses are accredited.

Sonya and Stephen are delighted with the benefits they are bringing to their colleagues, and the new members they are bringing into Unite.  At the beginning of 2012 they also recruited a new Workplace Rep, Yvonne Milloy, and the activity on site has benefited further from her positive attitude and enthusiasm in raising the profile of Unite and the lifelong learning agenda.  The team are already focused on the road ahead and plan to organise several new courses such as  Accounts, Computing, Spanish levels 1 & 2, Italian and an Employment Rights courses to run in the remainder of 2012.  Sonya told me how the programme is branching out:

“I now have a contact in one of our local branches in Greenock, so I see an opportunity for the learning programme to reach out beyond the Greenock Mortgage Centre. I believe that if we include the branches not only will it help with the numbers on the courses but it will also increase the attention and interest in Unite . We work closely with the branches here at the Greenock Mortgage Centre and a lot of our staff have family and friends working in different areas of the Bank.”

The ongoing activity around the learning programme continues to attract new members, with several new applications coming in on a weekly basis, and the positive interest generated among the staff will no doubt result in the density increasing even further.  The learning project in RBS shows us what an inclusive, supportive and active union Unite is, and is a wonderful example of how reps can make a real difference to their members, and to the membership of the union as a whole.









Livingston packaging workers to strike

23 May

Workers at packaging firm API Foils in Livingston, West Lothian will strike this Friday (25 May) over imposed changes to their terms and conditions and increasing attacks by management to their long-standing collective agreement.

A resounding 92.4% of Unite members voted to take industrial action in what will be the first in a series of 24-hour strikes.

A collective agreement has been in place for over 30 years at the Livingston plant, but management has imposed new contracts of employment without consulting local Unite representatives in a move which will impact all workers – from the shop floor to the back office.

Unite Regional Industrial Officer Gillian McKay said, “This is the culmination of six months of management hostility towards our members and now they have simply had enough of this draconian approach to employment relations.

In recent negotiations the employer refused to accept our members’ right to reject their offer and then proceeded to impose the new terms without any notice. These new contracts of employment will make employees work for longer with no salary increase and remove all flexible working arrangements.

It would seem API management are touting themselves as poster-boys for the botched Beecroft Report with this dictatorial agenda. They should now come back to us with their own Plan B that respects the existing collective agreement.”

Further 24 hour strikes have been planned for every Friday from a minute past midnight for the next 12 weeks.


For further information please contact Unite Regional Industrial Officer Gillian McKay on 0131 556 9676 or 07798531007.



MAHLE Engine Systems 1st Year of Learning Programme Successes

21 May

Pat Rafferty, Scottish Regional Secretary for Unite the Union signed a learning agreement between Unite – Scotland’s largest union & MAHLE Engine Systems on the 23rd May 2011 at the MAHLE Kilmarnock plant.

The agreement facilitated the training of 5 Unite Workplace Reps as Union Learning Reps (ULRs), the allocation of a Learning Centre for union lead learning, an office for a the lead ULR, the secondment of the lead ULR for 1 day a week to deal with learning and the set up of a joint union and management steering group to oversee the learning and training programme on site that meets on a fortnightly basis supported by a Unite Regional Learning Organiser.

The ULRs surveyed the learning and training needs of the workforce of the Kilmarnock plant. The Survey produced a total of 537 learning and training requests. This huge amount of learning requests demonstrates the progressive appetite for up-skilling on site from the Unite membership.

The aspiration of the workforce at MAHLE to build on their skills, knowledge and experience empirically demonstrates the desire of the membership at MAHLE engine systems to continue in up-skilling to be a viable skilled workforce for the German based employer.

Since the signing of the learning agreement in May 2011 Unite Union Learning Reps have delivered the following courses on site; Using Computers Stage 1, Literacy Support, Spanish, German, City & Guilds 17th Editions Wiring Regs, Understanding Pensions & Open University sessions. These courses have amounted to over 1,000 hours of learning being done on site since the signing of the learning agreement. All this in less than a year and most learning being delivered in members own time again displays the craving the workforce has for Lifelong Learning and up-skilling.

Please enjoy the short video we have compiled of comments from all involved in the learning programme this year. Special mention must also go to Claire McAvoy lead ULR for the MAHLE Kilmarnock site for her tireless dedication in bring opportunities to fellow workers at MAHLE

Theatre Review: King Lear

16 May

Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow 29th April 2012

Photo by Tim Morozzo

I arrived at the Citizen’s Theatre to a packed foyer.  Glasgow’s great and good quaffing Chenin Blanc (Chardonnay is so 90s), people parting to make way as a herd of teens from a prestigious private school file through, tossing their glossy manes and braying at one another enthusiastically.  It’s not often I go to the theatre, it makes me uncomfortable, and this reminded me why.  The segregation of society is still evident here: the theatre doesn’t do enough to make itself relevant and accessible to the working classes, and what a shame to miss a performance such as this.

Dominic Hill’s masterful production of King Lear focuses on that which makes Shakespeare’s narratives wholly relevant, regardless of the age in which they are being performed, or indeed the audience receiving them.  Greed, betrayal, anger, vulgarity, financial transactions gone wrong with grievous consequences; all these are instantly recognisable in today’s society.

The stark stage set of bare wooden boards, with the flotsam and jetsam of city life littering the sidelines, was a perfect backdrop to this play, and the nails-on-a-blackboard piano soundtrack was a move of absolute genius.  The barren setting was echoed in the actors’ portrayals, with Shauna MacDonald’s Regan particularly devoid of humanity.  Another standout performance was that of Paul Higgins, bringing (much to my delight) elements of ‘the crossest man in Scotland’ to Kent’s more enraged moments.

David Hayman gives a unique, compelling and harrowingly human performance in the lead role of this well-loved play.  His King Lear is full of bravado, which he diminishes with enviable subtlety in the face of his daughters’ betrayal, until he is reduced to a trembling and broken man who we’re still not quite sure we should feel sorry for.  The interplay of the Fool and Kent, pushing and pulling Lear, echoes the instability of Lear’s own inner self, and I can’t help but wonder if the support they seek to provide the King carries an undertone of revenge, even from these, his most loyal companions.

Lear’s kingdom dissolves around him, and the unrest of his own mind is played out in the increasing agitation of the actors of the company, prowling the boundaries of the stage like animals waiting for the kill.  The inference of dementia, as a dressing-gowned Lear is brought onto the stage in a wheelchair, is nicely done, and carries real significance; however I was disappointed the poignancy of Cordelia’s return was blunted by a slightly inexperienced performance.  As the players fall prey to their own greed, one by one, they shunt us sorrowfully to a climactic scene both bleak and outrageous, with the fate of all ruined.

Kind of like what the Government is doing now.

Unite calls for grounding of all North Sea Super Puma helicopters

15 May

Unite today (Tuesday15 May) called on the North Sea helicopter operators, Bristows and CHC to follow the lead of Bond Aviation Group and ground their Super Puma helicopters.

Bond Aviation grounded their fleet of Super Pumas, which serve rigs in the North Sea after last Thursday’s ditching off the coast of Aberdeen. Unite’s call followed yesterday’s meeting of the helicopter steering group involving unions, companies from the offshore oil industry and helicopter operators. At the meeting it emerged that Bond Aviation were waiting for answers to six areas of concern from the maker of the Super Puma, Eurocopter.

Commenting, Unite regional officer, John Taylor, said: “Bond has rightly grounded its fleet of Super Pumas while it waits for answers from Eurocopter. We would urge Bristows and CHC to follow suit and suspend their Super Puma flights as well. We cannot gamble with people’s lives while questions remain unanswered by Eurocopter.”


For further information contact John Taylor, regional officer on 0781 015 7919, the Unite Aberdeen Office 01224 645271, or Alex Flynn, Unite head of media and campaigns on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665 869.

Shattering ‘gold-plated’ pension myths in the health service

14 May

By James Ito

You could be forgiven for thinking that the only issue facing staff in the NHS in Scotland was an attack on their so-called ‘gold-plated’ pensions.  Unfortunately, not only is the ‘gold-plated’ description wrong, there are numerous other concerns, both local and national, facing our NHS members.  Here’s a insight for readers to consider…

Local – Perhaps the biggest impact on NHS staff are the day-to-day issues at local level.  Services are being ‘modernised’. Usually this means doing more work with fewer staff and changing the skill mix ratio to have more unqualified or unregistered staff.

Governments at UK and Scottish level have boasted that the health service budget has been protected and given increases equal to inflation. Whilst this is superficially true, it ignores the fact that ‘NHS inflation’ is higher than RPI. This is partly due to the increasing cost of drugs (new drugs for serious conditions like cancer tend to be very expensive) and partly due to the increase in life expectancy (older people need more health care for more complex conditions on average).

The end result is health boards faced with a shortfall in money compared to the service demands. They solve that problem by employing fewer staff on lower grades – resulting in staff that at best are under pressure and stressed, and at worst are bullied into lowering standards.

Pay – NHS staff have had three years of significant pay cuts compared to inflation. In 2010 most received a 2.25% pay increase when the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation was 5.3%. The following year, they were subject to a pay freeze when inflation was 5.2% and in 2012 yet another pay freeze (March RPI = 3.6%).

In 2011, the standard rate of national insurance was increased by 1% and most Unite members in the NHS have had to pay an extra 1.5% towards their pension this year (with another 1.3% average still to come). Added together this means the equivalent of a 15% pay cut for most.

For some members the position is even worse. The removal of the National Recruitment and Retention Premium (NRRP) for Estates craft workers, healthcare chaplains and perfusionists is another pay cut equating to another 15% or so for these groups.

Terms and conditions – At the Joint NHS Staff Council the Management Side have brought forward a series of proposals to reduce staff terms and conditions.

The latest proposals would reduce sick pay to basic pay only and introduce performance related pay with incremental progression being dependent on staff exceeding certain locally determined criteria. The top points would be ‘non-consolidated’ so staff on the higher pay band points could have these removed and they would not contribute towards pension benefits.

Pensions – Prior to the April 2012 increase, NHS staff contributed about £8 billion to the UK Treasury and the Treasury paid out about £6 billion. The Treasury retains the £2 billion surplus – and yet the NHS scheme is described as ‘unfunded’ as though the taxpayer was paying out instead of receiving a massive excess sum of money over expenditure.

The UK government’s current proposals are to increase most Unite members’ contributions from the previous 6.5% to 9.3% with some paying 14.5%. None of this extra money is being used to pay today’s NHS pensioners or being invested for the future.

Public sector workers are being asked to pay what is effectively an extra tax as a deficit reduction measure and nothing to do with the affordability of pensions.  As well as the increase in contributions, the government proposes to reduce pension scheme benefits by making the age at which the pension can be drawn equal to the state pension age (age 66 in 2020; age 67 in 2026) and basing the pension on average earnings throughout your career rather than final salary.

Put simply: pay more for longer; get less.

James Ito is the Vice Chair of the Glasgow Health Service Branch, currently serving Unite members in the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde and Forth Valley Health Boards and the Golden Jubilee National Hospital.

For the latest local and sector updated, please visit the Branch website at

Unite urges politicians to ‘listen to the people’ on Scottish constitutional future

11 May

Unite has urged politicians to ‘listen to the people’ on Scotland’s constitutional future after nearly two-thirds of members stated their desire for a second question on further devolved powers to be included in the referendum.

In a specially commissioned poll to coincide with Unite’s response to the Scottish Government’s referendum consultation, members were asked: ‘Would you like the option of further powers to the Scottish Parliament on the ballot paper?’ 62 per cent replied ‘yes’ and 38 per cent replied ‘no’.

Some 64 per cent of the members who opted for the inclusion of a second question on the ballot paper did so because they wanted more powers for Holyrood and that they believed all options should be available to the electorate. Over 1,700 members across Scotland participated in the poll conducted in March.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “The poll results come as no surprise as our membership has reflected what other opinion polls have been telling us for months: that the increasing will of the Scottish people is for all options to be on the table in this referendum.

Since the starting pistol was fired on our constitutional future we’ve heard a lot of political bluster and squabble.  That’s not good enough because this referendum has significant transformative potential for our democracy whether you are pro-devolution, pro-independence or pro-union.

This process is a marathon, not a sprint, and as the Scottish Government consultation closes politicians must now listen to the people to ensure that all views are incorporated into this referendum.”


Notes to Editors:

Find attached a copy of the Unite Scotland response to the Scottish Government consultation ‘Your Scotland, Your Referendum’ and link to Mass 1 poll conducted on behalf of Unite Scotland.

Your Scotland your referendum response-2

Unite Scotland poll

i)                   The poll was conducted by text service in late February / early March 2012.

ii)                  1,739 Scottish-based members registered on the Uniteyou service responded.

For further information please contact Peter Welsh in the Unite Scotland Campaigns Unit on 07810157931 /