15 May 2016
After a momentous decision at BECTU's 2016 annual conference, union members are to vote on a merger with Prospect, the union representing specialists in the public and private sectors across the UK.
The decision to take the long-running discussions about a merger to the next critical stage - the all-important vote amongst BECTU members - concluded a two-hour long debate at annual conference in Eastbourne on Saturday 14 May.
Standing orders were suspended to allow union representatives, who packed the conference hall, to hear from the union's senior officers, led by Gerry Morrissey, general secretary. A comprehensive statement on the reasons for the proposed merger, including a detailed explanation of how BECTU would be run post-merger, assuming a vote in favour, formed the centrepiece of a debate in which several representatives spoke both in opposition to, and in favour of, the change.
The right move
Gerry Morrissey, speaking on behalf of the NEC, explained that security for BECTU members' long term interests lay at the heart of the proposal for the merger. The continuing deficit in the staff pension scheme - a familar source of difficulty for organisations country-wide - would continue to hold the union back if no change was made, he said. The merger, at a time when BECTU was performing well, was considered to be the right move to secure the union for the longer term. Additional organising resources for BECTU would also result.
Several reps asked whether Prospect was the right union to merge with. Isn't it right-wing? Where's the industrial logic? Others encouraged their fellow reps not to fear amalgamation. BECTU, celebrating its 25th birthday in 2016, was itself the product of several mergers, each of which brought diverse cultures together.
It was made clear that in order for the merger to take place, BECTU would have to end its affilation to the Labour Party as well as its affiliation to CND. Prospect is not politically affiliated as its organisation in the Civil Service requires political neutrality. Prospect also organises members in the nuclear industry. Not surprisingly, these conditions were viewed as controversial, however, some reps were reassured that the loss of these affiliations would not prevent BECTU from being either politically active, or from engaging across the political spectrum, to press the case for members.
Concerns were expressed too about the rights of branches to mount campaigns for industrial action. Would Prospect's executive block moves by BECTU section branches? Gerry Morrissey explained that requests for industrial action ballots would need to go before the Prospect executive but that he did not believe that permission would be unreasonably witheld. Whilst the two unions may have different traditions, they are both trade unions, it was said, with a responsibility to support members in their struggle to improve terms and conditions.
If BECTU's negotiating team has had to concede to Prospect's red lines, the union will benefit from some vital undertakings. BECTU will retain its own identity in the merged union, becoming a sector of Prospect, with its own website as well as its own union journal, Stage Screen and Radio. The journal would be expanded to reflect the wider interests of the 'new BECTU' which will itself expand to incorporate 14,000 members employed in the communications and digital industry, the biggest employer being BT. The 'new BECTU' would be the biggest organising group within Prospect. It was also underlined that the merger would not lead to any forced reduction in BECTU staffing.
The extended debate was followed by formal consideration of the NEC's proposal backing acceptance of the proposed Transfer of Engagement agreement. The proposition was passed overwhelmingly. BECTU will now prepare materials for the members' ballot which will run from 27 June to 30 August. If members accept the union's recommendation, the new merged union would come into effect on 1 January 2017.
In another key development this weekend, conference endorsed the position taken by the NEC to endorse the Remain campaign in the upcoming referendum.
The union believes that the creatives industries will be better served by remaining as part of the EU; more generally BECTU is concerned that hard won workers' rights - which BECTU has led with our groundbreaking victory in the European Court of Justice over holiday entitlement for freelancers - would be diluted if the Brexit campaign were to win through. (To find our more about the case for the creative industries in Europe visit Creatives for Europe).
At the very least, BECTU will be urging all members to use their vote in the referendum on Thursday 23 June.
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