The UK’s biggest union took a step closer to continental-style collective
industrial action, after its members voted in favour of changes to its national
Unison, which represents more than 1.3 million workers, overwhelmingly
passed the amendments, which could lead to local government, NHS and teaching
staff striking simultaneously.
The vote, at its annual conference in Brighton last week, means the union will
now be able to co-ordinate action across different parts of the public sector,
with a more harmonised approach to pay bargaining and strike action.
A Unison spokesperson said the motion would mean a more consistent and
coherent approach to agreements and industrial action.
"It will ensure one sector doesn’t get left behind, but will also allow
us to make the most of our broad base. If we weren’t getting any movement on
pay claims in different sectors, we could then have action across them,"
Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, warned the Government that it must
start to back public sector reforms with more investment, or face the
"If the local government pay commission is not funded, if the reforms
in schools are not funded, if Agenda for Change is not funded, then we will
take strike action again," he said.
However, the union’s stance was criticised by the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development for being too antagonistic and potentially damaging.
Mike Emmott, the institute’s employee relations expert, said it raised the
stakes and could cause serious divisions. "Assuming they get co-ordinated
action, it would precipitate further gaps between the Government and the
"It’s born from a loss of patience and would be bad for the general
public and the unions because, as we saw in the fire dispute, no government
wanting to be re-elected could back down," he said.
By Ross Wigham