Health members energised on the first day of Health Conference and inspired by Christina McAnea
The first day of health conference started with a real buzz, health workers together in the real world for the first time in 3 years. Whatever else happens in this conference this week, I’m sure activists will go back to the branches with a bit more energy for the work ahead.
The morning session was ably chaired by Wilma Brown, Vice Chair of the service group executive, with this afternoon chaired by Roz Normal, Chair of the SGE. This is the first time our conference hasn’t been chaired by the president or vice president. With the current president embroiled in controversy, with feelings running high, it was fear that their chairing of the conference risked being divisive at a time that it’s vital that we come together.
Health, safety and wellbeing
The first motion of the conference from the Health Executive was on protecting health workers from the staffing and workload crisis. In moving the motion, Eddie Woolley, one of the West Midlands reps on the SGE, made it clear that the crisis started before the pandemic which has in many ways exposed long established issues. Instead, he put the blame firmly on the Government.
The debates following focused on the health and wellbeing of health staff. Pat Heron spoke with her usual passion both about mental health, and the importance of health and safety reps in making departments safe from a mental wellbeing perspective.
The ambulance sector’s motion highlighted the particular struggle they are facing, both from understaffing and underfunding of the service and ambulances backing up outside accident and emergency departments.
‘Long COVID’ is going to be with us for years to come. The motion from the disabled promotes the current range of resources for branches to bargain for the right reasonable adjustments and support is given to those with post COVID19 syndrome.
A speaker from the private sector highlighted the importance of health and wellbeing in the private sector, where lack of trade union recognition leaves staff more vulnerable. Vital that we have a focus on organising in these workplaces.
Finishing the morning was a vital debate about organising young workers, particularly how we get more young members active in our health branches and the wider SGE. An excellent speech from Elliot from the National Young Members Forum highlighting what young members identified they need, such as training and buddying/mentoring systems.
General Secretaries address
This afternoon was somewhat of a homecoming for Christina McAnea, as she addressed conference and had a standing ovation before she even spoke. Christina is well known and liked here, having spent many years as Head of Health.
Her speech covered a wide range of issues starting off with our opposition to Putin’s war in Ukraine, and how we stand in solidarity with Ukraine and particularly Ukrainian health workers and their unions. She paid tribute to the health workers struggle during COVID, but also our branches and activists who have gone above and beyond to support members in these difficult times. She took aim at the Prime Minister and Chancellor for taking NHS workers for granted, when the NI increase, not doing anything about soring utility bills, and failing to increase our pay is their political choice. Pointing out that the cost of delivering a decent pay rise for all of the public sector is the same as the billions wasted on unusable PPE and fraudulently claimed by often fake companies for COVID grants. It was a fantastic speech and really inspiring for delegates.
Next, we went on to key equality motions. The first motion from the women’s committee was strong motion on domestic violence as a workplace issue. UNISON’s promoted amendment in the domestic abuse bill following work we did with Jess Phillips MP. Need for cultural shift to tackle misogyny, patriarchy and violence against women and girls.
Shockingly a survey done by the UNISON Nursing committee and the Nursing Times found that 60% of nurses had experienced sexual harassment at work. The debate included some terrible examples on this but also practical ways we can work with employers to tackle this.
Motions were than debated on racism in the NHS and specifically on the disproportionate impact of COVID on Black NHS staff. COVID certainly highlighted that racism is a life and death issue and shows why our anti-racism work is so important. There are a lot of tools available to branches and employers, but we all need to do more to use these to rid our employers of racism.
Shockingly 40% of NHS Trusts don’t have a reasonable adjustment policy, so the motion on the workplace disability equality standard is really important. 2 years after the WDES has been introduce, too little has been changed and more progress is needed.
Wrapping up the equality section was a motion from LGBT+ on equality training. This is so important to take forward the equality agenda. During COVID this training has all moved online and become a tick box exercise, the motion called for the return of interactive training whether that’s in person or online.
We heard that the NHS is a major contributor to climate change (5% of UK emissions), and we have a key responsibility to make sure as the NHS de-carbonises that we play our part. Delegates talked about the importance of tackling climate change, but also making sure we are actively involved to ensure that changes don’t hit our members the hardest.
The delegate from the Science, Therapies and Technical staff group talked about the key report UNISON published at COP26 last year which highlighted the investment that public services need in order to decarbonise. Sandra from the Northern Region highlighted the size of the NHS work force and the emissions caused by getting to work alone (20million tonnes of carbon emissions in the English NHS alone). Their motion on green travel plans covered not only commuting but driving for work and look at lower emissions options and pool cars.
James Anthony (Hat tip photo Katrina Murray)