Vaccination update

Jason Leitch​ joined the COSLA briefing last week. He emphasised the fact that double vaccination + booster remain the best protection against the spread of Covid-19, particularly given the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant. 

He made clear that they are still learning about the level of severity of Omicron.  Whatever the level of severity is though it’s certainly not so different that we’d see a sufficient enough reduction to hospital admissions to allow any relaxation of mitigations so all precautions should be followed.  

He said that the increased transmissibility and consequential isolations will have a significant impact on the number of people attending work. They are currently looking at absence (through people having Covid or isolating in line with government guidance) modelling in local government which is indicating that up to 25% of the LG workforce could be off work in the coming weeks.  They stated that they would be surprised if in a fortnights time local government will be able to provide anything but critical services. 

Exemptions

In light of this local authorities have been asked to draw up a list of critically important roles for consideration for isolation exemptions. These lists must be discussed with trade unions and local public health teams – they should not be blanket exemptions but focussed on roles specifically delivering critical services.  We will keep you updated regarding this.

Booster uptake​ 

amongst social care workers remains lower than other frontline workers so please ensure any local issues presenting difficulties in staff being able to get their booster are raised with management. 

Vaccine uptake

there continues to be concern about the low number of pregnant women taking their vaccine, such that they have been added to the list of clinically vulnerable.  Guidance has been updated for pregnant women and can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/pregnant-women-urged-to-come-forward-for-covid-19-vaccination

Risk assessments

​ should be actively reviewed by every employer – please check if this has been done and if not please ask that they are.  It is not enough for an employer simply to say that they drafted a generic risk assessment several months ago and that it remains relevant.  They need to go back over them all in light of changed and strengthened mitigations.  

We raised concerns about the impact of tightened mitigations, isolation, the continued uncertainty and concern on the mental health​ of workers.  It was agreed that there will be a refresh of the ‘Don’t stay on mute’ campaign that we worked on jointly with the employer earlier in the year.  We will share this when complete.

Ventilation Guidance​ 

CoSLA has put together some good practice on ventilation which you can find here:

Safer Workplaces Guidance 

The safer workplace guidance has been updated in line with the increased levels of protection required for Omicron.  All employers should be following this.  You can find the up to date guidance here:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-general-guidance-for-safer-workplaces/pages/travel-and-transport/

Long Covid – SJC Collective Agreement

Please see attached SJC-68 – the collective agreement reached on Long Covid.  It is important to stress that this outlines the bare minimum we would expect local authorities to be implementing in relation to this – they can and should be encouraged to do more. 

Review of Regional Improvement Collaboratives

The Scottish Government has published an evaluation of the operation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives which you can find here:  https://www.gov.scot/publications/review-regional-improvement-collaboratives/

Thank you

This, you will be pleased to read, will be the last LG update from us this year. It has been another challenging year in local government but, whilst we might not have been able to deliver everything we would have wished, we have made real progress in many areas and have protected members in ways they will never know.  Lives have been saved and members are better off because of the hard work all of you have done this year.  I know it has not been easy but it is appreciated. Thank you.  I hope you manage to get a bit of a rest over the festive season.

We hope this is helpful.

Best wishes for 2022

UNISON International Relations Newsletter

The UNISON International Relations Newsletter provides updates on UNISON’s international work, reports on international matters affecting workers and trade unionists, and keeps BIROs informed of related developments, publications of reports and briefing documents, as well as upcoming nationwide events relevant to the union’s international work.

Talking about Palestinian rights:

A UNISON guide for activists This new briefing aims to provide activists with a better understanding of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, with a particular emphasis on human and workers’ rights and public services. It provides a background to UNISON’s policy on Palestine and the key information activists need to discuss the situation and campaign from a public service trade union perspective.

Download the ‘Talking about Palestinian rights’ briefing  

Save the Date: UNISON International Seminar 2022

UNISON’s International Seminar will take place from Friday 25 March to Sunday 27 March 2022 at UNISON Croyde Bay in Devon. The seminar will help branch international relations officers (BIROs) gain a better understanding of UNISON’s international policies and how to implement them in the branches. They will also learn more about the role of the BIRO.

We will send you further details when registration for the seminar opens in January.  

Turkey: Send a solidarity message to Gonul Erden

Gonul Erden is the former president of the Turkish health workers union SES. She was arrested on 25 May along with seven other current and former leaders of the union for alleged membership and leadership of a terrorist organisation. The eight accused were initially released on bail, but Gonul was rearrested and returned to prison after the prosecutor appealed the decision. Trade unionists in Turkey are regularly arrested and accused of terrorist offences for defending workers’ rights.

Gonul is a great friend of UNISON and was a guest at our national delegate conference in 2018. We know that messages of solidarity from UNISON branches to Gonul will mean a great deal to her whilst she is in prison. Please send your message to i.relations@unison.co.uk and we will forward it on to our colleagues in Turkey.  

Palestine Webinar Solidarity with MAAN members at Ta’aman Foods

Monday, 20 December 2021, 4.30pm Hear from MAAN leaders and members of the Ta’aman workers committee about the  struggle of Palestinian workers at Ta’aman Foods, located in the industrial zone of the Mishor Adumim in the occupied West Bank.

Join the webinar at 4.30pm on Monday, 20 December.

Read more about the recent strike and MAAN’s work to organise Palestinian workers in the settlements, which is supported by the UNISON International Development Fund.  

Electronics Watch Webinars

Electronics Watch, with the influence and support of UNISON, has committed to do much more to focus on and build its capacity to support electronics workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing and to collectively bargain better pay, terms and conditions with their employers.  And with their innovative public sector affiliation model that uses the power of public buying to influence anti-union employers you really can make a difference through your workplace by encouraging your employer to affiliate to Electronics Watch. 

Between all the seasonal (hopeful) celebrations, why not listen to these excellent Electronics Watch webinars to understand more about the power of public procurement.  We recommend them in this order: Freedom of Association, Climate Justice and Modern Slavery What is Freedom of Association, challenges to organising in global supply chains How to remedy violations of Freedom of Association For those who really find this fascinating, two other webinars exist on the YouTube site focused on these issues, along with many others. 

We really hope this inspires you to encourage your branch to raise this with your employer. For support to do this, please contact i.relations@unison.co.uk.    

UNISON’s International Affiliations: Palestine Solidarity Campaign  

PSC is the largest movement in the UK campaigning for Palestinian rights.  For many years PSC has worked closely with UNISON to further our work.

UNISON’s NEC international committee encourages all branches to affiliate to PSC and support their vital work, campaigning for Palestinian rights and an end to the occupation. Affiliation costs just £25 and you will receive campaign information, resources and can have a say in the direction of the organisation at the PSC AGM.  

Scottish Government Budget 2022/23

The Scottish Government announced their proposed budget on 9th Dec. This briefing outlines some of its key features as the impact on UNISON Scotland members based on currently available information. Further briefings will be produced as the Budget process continues.

Introduction

The core block grant received by the Scottish Government for this budget was larger than any pre-pandemic budget ( 8% higher in real terms than 2019/20)  but lower than in either of the past two years. They, therefore, have more money to spend but the picture is complicated as there are still ongoing Covid challenges to be met. This was “a budget of choices” as Kate Forbes put it. The choice was made to prioritise Scottish Government’s favoured policies and initiatives, where spending increases, sometimes considerably. Other services received either standstill funding, or real terms – or in the case of local government actual – cuts in cash available. Improving public service pay does not seem a priority. Due to their deal with the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government does not have to negotiate with other parties to ensure the budget will pass.

Personal Taxation

Income tax rates and bands are unchanged. The Scottish Government imposed Council Tax freeze is lifted. Given councils are facing massive shortfalls (see below) increases are likely..

Pay policy

Scottish Government pay policy applies directly to members in NDPB’s but will also provide the backdrop to other negotiations. The proposal is for a £10.50ph minimum wage rate. Other increases are to be lump sums rather than %ages: £775 for those earning up to £25k. £700 for those between £25-£40k. £500 for those on £40k+. This is below inflation for the bulk of UNISON members. RPI is currently at 3.3%) on the year – and OBR prediction is for inflation to reach 4.4% next year. Work towards a 35hr week is to continue but no targets are set or finance promised

Local Government

The local Government faces an almost 9% cut in revenue budget which will make service delivery challenges. The Scottish Government argue that this is compensated for by the money councils get to carry out Scottish Govt policies from other budgets eg education and social care. Cosla disagrees estimating this budget means a £264m (2.5%) cut, rather than the significant increase needed following years of poor settlements. Councils have a free hand to raise Council Tax for the first time since 2008/9 – to replace lost revenue funding would though involve eye-watering increases.

Health

Health Board spending goes above £14bn. Overall this is a 5.6% increase with most territorial boards getting ~4.5%, with the ambulance service (7.8%) and national waiting times centre (11.8%) doing better).  Many services receive a flat rate or no increases but there are big increases in social care and mental health improvement. Some training budgets are increased significantly. 

Further and Higher Education

There is a below-inflation increase in HE resource funding of 2.7%. Specific priorities & projects (eg counselling, climate action) receive earmarked funding. Resource funding for Further Education remains at this year’s level. Scot Gov estimates that other sources of funding will deliver £190m. There is a doubling to ~£70m in capital expenditure budget for colleges. The headline budget for Skills Development Scotland declines by £5.8m claim is that this is compensated for by funding presented through programmes attached to the Finance and Economy portfolio.

Police and Fire

Scottish Police Authority budget increases by 3.2% which the Scottish Government claims will involve a real-terms resource increase. The police budget includes £29m for reform.   SFRS budget increases by 3.1%. £73.7m is allocated for funding the UK-wide Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) for the three Scottish Emergencies Services.

Economic recovery

The Scottish Government continues to see economic recovery from covid as being business-led rather than driven by investment in services. emphasis is on infrastructure projects, with learning and skills policies tailored to fit. Community wealth-building ideas through an empowered public sector despite ministerial rhetoric, don’t feature much.

Conclusion.

The difference in treatment between the government’s favoured initiatives and other services (and those who provide them) is clear favoured programmes get significant spending boosts, others get flat funding. Pay policy reflects this. More than ever local government is treated as being merely a delivery arm for Scottish Government policies. 

First Minister Statement today

The First Minister made a statement on the impact of the Omicron variant today. Key points were:

  • Omicron is significantly more transmissible than other variants of Covid-19.
  • We still do not yet know for certain whether it is any milder than other variants.
  • We are now in a race between the virus and the vaccine – additional resources will be put into vaccine and booster roll-out in the coming weeks.
  • Those between 18-29yrs will be able to book their booster from tomorrow.  Those above that age should either have already their booster or already be able to book.
  • Further protective measures to slow the spread of the virus will be brought in incl extending the workplace testing scheme, measures to avoid crowding, emphasis on social distancing, collection of data by businesses for the purpose of tract and trace, ensuring all who can work from home do so, reinforcing the rules around the use of face coverings and additional guidance on minimising contact with others.
  • There is an additional £100 million to ensure the Self Isolation Support Grant is available for those who need it, given the expected increase in the number of eligible people who will be asked to isolate.
  • New guidance for Schools for the return after the Christmas break is being looked at now and they expect to be able to issue by the end of this week.
  • They will limit the number of people who can visit those in care homes and advise the use of testing prior to visits being undertaken.

For full details of the First Minister’s announcement see here:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-update-first-ministers-statement-14-december-2021

Omicron Evidence Paper

For more information on the rise and implications of the Omicron variant please see the Scottish Government Evidence Paper.

New Guidance on Isolation for those working in Social Care

The Scottish Government has updated the above guidance, through correspondence sent to Health Boards, HSCPs and Councils.  

We have attached the relevant letter sent by Donna Bell.  The change relates to the Covid booster status of workers that would allow them to be exempted from self-isolation requirements.

We also attach a similar letter that has been issued today to local authorities re school staff.

Budget Rally at Scottish Parliament

We held the budget rally on Wednesday 8th December 2021 at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh at 12:00 with speakers

  • Budget Rally Wed 8 December 2021

Public service workers have carried Scotland through the Covid-19 pandemic. Public services, especially those delivered through councils, are vital to Scotland’s resilience at a time of crisis. They are also the key to Scotland’s recovery. We need public service investment, not cuts.

The rally is to increase the pressure on the Scottish Government and call for all political parties to support increased funding for public services. Public service workers are facing wage cuts, rising prices and job losses. We need above-inflation rises for public service workers and a fair deal for local councils.

Budget Day Rally

Wednesday 8th December 2021

Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

Assemble 11:30

Rally with speakers 12:00

Read our budget briefing for MSPs

Public service workers have carried Scotland through the Covid-19 pandemic. Public services, especially those delivered through councils, are vital to Scotland’s resilience at a time of crisis. They are also the key to Scotland’s recovery. We need public service investment, not cuts.

The rally will increase the pressure on the Scottish Government and call for all political parties to support increased funding for public services. Public service workers are facing wage cuts, rising prices and job losses. We need above-inflation rises for public service workers and a fair deal for local councils.