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made and how members are involved in this process.
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The Service Conditions
A team of trained and experienced lay officers
represent members alongside a network of shop
stewards. They are backed up by a full time
officer allocated to the branch and have access
to specialist officers (eg legal, pensions etc)
at Scottish and UK level.
The team comprises Service Conditions Co-ordinator,
Convenors and five Service Conditions Officers.
The Chair, Secretary, Equalities and Health
and safety officers are also part of the team.
Much of the departmental or sector (like the
voluntary sector) work will be done by Shop
Steward Conveners elected at local level, but
always with the availability of officer support.
Grievances and Disciplinaries
Grievances: A procedure for settling
staff grievances are usually agreed between
the union and employer, and all employers should
A member, or group of members, can raise a
grievance which may be anything from application
of a pay scale or being given an unreasonable
instruction, to issues like bullying or harassment.
Disciplinaries: Procedures for dealing
with disciplinary matters are also usually agreed
between union and employer. They typically include
investigation, disciplinary hearing and appeal
stages. The employer should have an outline
list of acts which would constitute 'gross misconduct',
or a sacking offence.
It is important to note that the level of proof
is not "beyond reasonable doubt" but
is based on a "reasonable" conclusion
in light of the facts.
In most cases a member will be represented
by his/her shop steward. However, in more complicated
cases, or where appeals are necessary, one of
the Service Conditions Team will provide support
or actual representation. In exceptional cases,
the full time officer may be involved.The trade
union rep will interview the member (or group
of members in a 'collective' grievance) and
agree a course of action. The statements of
witnesses will be scrutinised and witnesses
can and will be cross-examined during the hearing.
Conditions and Agreements
Conditions and agreements are negotiated at
national level for groups of employers, at local
level across an employer and sometimes at departmental
level. The branch is committed to national bargaining
being the main structure.
The branch's rules make it clear that no officer
or steward has the power to enter into agreements
without direct consultation and approval from
the members concerned.
Talks on conditions or agreements will be initiated
by the employer, or by a claim from the branch.
A specific officer will usually be allocated
to specific issues, with the lead negotiators
becoming directly involved in corporate issues,
rather than local ones. However a close overview
of local activity is needed to ensure that corporate
agreements are not being undermined by unhelpful
precedents being set.
Contrary to common opinion, most negotiations
tend to be business like and low key with a
great deal of detailed, as well as general discussion.
The negotiation process often involves a good
deal of research and fact finding. Most agreements
are reached by negotiation and a position is
arrived at that satisfies both the union and
If this is the case, the union will recommend
the position to its members. If they reject
the recommendation, the talks have to start
again, or in some circumstances the employer
will impose the new arrangement. That is where
industrial action comes in.
Industrial action is the last resort when all
other ways of resolving a situation have been
exhausted. Industrial action hits the employer
but it also hits the members taking action.
They lose their wages and they risk losing their
That is why the branch only ever considers
industrial action after a consultative ballot
of members. Approval then has to come from senior
full time officers (and a national committee
of lay and full time officers) for an official
ballot and strike pay.
Industrial action can take many forms from
banning certain aspects of work, to selective
stoppages and all out indefinite action. The
tactics have to be worked out very carefully
that there is no other way of achieving
the desired outcome
that there is maximum effect on the employer
and minimum effect on members
that any life and limb emergency cover
that there is a plan for escalation if
that there is an accountable strike committee
with clear procedures for contacting and
Legal advice is available to UNISON members
on work related issues but also on a range of
other issues like criminal matters arising from
work, compensation claims, road traffic incidents,
conveyancing etc etc. Forms can be obtained
from the branch office, see home
page for address. There is also an intial
30 minutes free advice line and a free wills
service. Click here for
In addition, legal advice is available to officers
in the course of negotiations or representing
There is often a major misconception that lawyers
need to be involved whenever there appears to
be a complex case. The union uses lawyers when
it needs to, but most of the time lay and full-time
officers will have the training and the skills,
and most of all a level of specific knowledge
and experience that a lawyer may not have, to
deal with the majority of issues, including