UNISON regains recognition at staunch Tory council

A UNISON local government branch has won recognition by a Tory-controlled council, it was announced today.

The success at South Bucks District Council has come more than a decade after the union was derecognised, in the late 1990s, and was a result of a “great team effort” between two branches, assisted by the South East region.

Recruitment played a key role in persuading councillors to do the right thing.
The opportunity came when two Conservative-run district councils, South Bucks and Chiltern, made a proposal for shared management of services, which would involve restructuring and a harmonisation of terms and condition between the two authorities.
Only one of the UNISON branches, Chiltern, was recognised.

South East regional organiser Ruth Smith said that the union immediately saw a renewed need – and an opportunity – to win recognition for the other.

“We had a meeting with the leader of the council and put forward the view that recognising the South Bucks branch was the best thing for both councils, because it would create a joint forum for the negotiations,” she said.

Although the council was resistant, that recognition was granted this week. Ms Smith identified a number of key factors in their success:

  • the Chiltern branch refused to work alongside a non-union staff side team in any harmonisation process;
  • for their part, the South Bucks non-union staff side reps told the council they were not qualified to conduction such negotiations – three of the team promptly joined UNISON;
  • the South Bucks branch doubled its membership in two months – proving the staff desire for recognition;
  • the branch submitted ‘pledge cards’ to the council, on which both members and non-members stated that if there was a formal ballot for recognition they would vote for it.

“You have to do these things at the right time,” said Ms Smith. “And once we decided to go for it, it really was a team effort.”

“Both branches played their role, as did the non-union staff side reps at South Bucks, members and non-members alike.”

“We’ve now got to get on with consulting everybody in both councils about the massive challenges ahead.”

Added South East regional manager Tony Jones: “This is a great example of how we can turn an adverse situation into an organising opportunity, and something that will now provide a long-term benefit for our members.”

The South Bucks branch’s recruitment efforts – way beyond its recruitment target at the time – has been recognised with an award from the local government conference.

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