National Community Service Group – Conference and Seminar 2024

Over the period of 8th until 9th March the Community Service Group Conference and Seminar took place at the Crown Plaza Chester.

The first meeting I attended was for members of the Community Service Group that work within the Community and Voluntary Sector. outlines various challenges and considerations related to payment conditions and labour issues within in particular social care sector.

The discussion encompasses concerns such as the National Living Wage, which sets a baseline for fair compensation, but may not adequately address the financial needs of workers. High staff turnover rates suggest potential dissatisfaction or instability within the workforce, which could be exacerbated by issues like low pay and unfavourable working conditions.

The mention of strike actions and intensive negotiation indicates that employees may be advocating for improved pay and working conditions through collective action. Additionally, the differential in payments for long-term staff suggests potential disparities that may contribute to feelings of inequality or injustice within the organization.

The cost of obtaining a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check was highlighted, which could be a financial burden for employees, particularly if they are required to cover this expense themselves. Introducing charges for employment tribunals could further deter employees from seeking recourse for workplace grievances, potentially eroding trust and fairness in the employment relationship.

The mention of pay increases and pay claims underscores ongoing efforts to address wage disparities and advocate for fair compensation. Finally, the mention of low wages for social workers highlights a specific sector where issues of pay equity and adequacy may be particularly acute, given the vital nature of their work and the responsibilities they bear.

During the lunch break I attended the Caucus meeting being held for Disabled and LGBT+ members, in which attendees where given the opportunity to discuss the appropriate Caucus motions and amendments they had submitted to the agenda, also highlight any other motions where the Caucus may want to contribute to the debate.

Friday afternoon seminar commenced with a warm welcome from Malcolm Gray, Chair of CSGE and was followed by a line-up of engaging speakers and discussions on pressing issues facing the community and voluntary sector from:

Gavin Edwards from UNISON addressed the audience on the national care service campaigns, emphasizing the need for comprehensive reform in the social care sector.

Rebecca Young from NCVO (virtually) discussed the campaign for better funding of public sector contracts within the charity sector, shedding light on the challenges faced by charities amidst financial constraints.

Anna Birley, Policy Officer at UNISON, presented insights into the cost of living campaign, highlighting the financial struggles experienced by workers and the necessity for fair compensation.

The last session of the seminar gave attendees the opportunity to attended a variety of workshops being held. I attended the section on the Year of the LGBT+ worker, as the branches LGBT+ officer and found the presentation from a member of the National LGBT+ committee and discussion with other colleagues very informative.

The last meeting of the day was the Regional meeting for attendees, which started with members taking a few minutes silence as a mark of respect of the passing of the Branches Assistant Branch Secretary Skip Bower, who had given over four decades of service to our union and then went on to have a discussion looking at way the region could look at organising its community member within the lay structures of the union.

Saturday saw delegates welcome its guest speakers, which included Jon Richard, UNISON’s Assistant General Secretary and the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner, the Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne

Jon highlighted within his speak several key international initiatives and domestic concerns. In discussions on the budget, he questioned how the UK, as one of the wealthiest countries, can tolerate homelessness and the struggles faced by charities. He emphasized the importance of addressing the cost of living crisis and outlined plans for a national care service to improve social care infrastructure.

Richard also mentioned strikes occurring across the union and the need to review approaches to industrial actions. UNISON’s focus on education through programs like the UNISON College was underscored, with an emphasis on encouraging broad member involvement. Additionally, there was recognition of the significance of the Year of LGBT+ Members and efforts to recruit new members, despite challenges posed by an aging workforce and high turnover rates.

Looking ahead, Richard emphasized the upcoming general election as an opportunity to elect a new government, indicating UNISON’s readiness to advocate for its members’ interests and push for positive change.

Angela within her speak includes her previous work as a care worker and her involvement with Unison, where she began as a young member and shared a personal journey of political awakening.

In her recent statements, she has emphasized the importance of Unison’s support in her political career and highlighted the impact of Conservative policies on public services, including crises in social care, housing, and the NHS. She criticized Boris Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing issues such as inadequate PPE supply and financial discrepancies. Rayner expressed mistrust in the Conservatives, accusing them of wanting to regress the country and advocating for Labour’s socialist agenda, focusing on better housing and workers’ rights.

Key points of her agenda include:

  • A new deal for working people, addressing issues like fire and rehire practices and advocating for stronger trade union laws.
  • Promoting internationalism and job creation.
  • Proposals for a national care service and devolving powers to local levels.
  • A green prosperity plan and Labour’s policy on social care and procurement, aiming for public services to be publicly owned.
  • Rayner’s support for a free Palestine and the establishment of a two-state solution.

Overall, her vision centres on addressing social and economic inequalities, strengthening public services, and advancing Labour’s progressive agenda. As Angele states ‘”We are at the crossroad where we could choose to invest in the economy and move forward, or look back and stagnate.

The Conference provided a platform for fruitful discussions and strategic planning to address the challenges facing the community and voluntary sector. With a focus on advocacy, organizing, and policy initiatives, attendees left with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to effect positive change in their communities and, it also gave me the chance to speak in support of the Motion Submitted on behalf of the National LGBT+ committee

Clive Streeter

Branch Community Member