Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Dis-honoraria in UNISON

Why do some branches pay their reps a little bonus at the end of each year?

I just don't get it and I've never heard any explanation beyond "it's a historical hang up".

We do our work as trade union reps in the workplace as paid members of staff, and continue to get paid the same wage we would normally get in our 'substantive' jobs - at least that is how I get my salary.

And my facility time allows me to spend time focussing on working on behalf of members in their interests - and it's important I'm on the same terms and conditions as my members. So if I'm campaigning for a pay rise or to defend our pensions it affects my pension and my pay too.

It seems to me that all goes out of the window if I can top up my pay each year with a little 'thanks very much', a nod and a wink.

So at the London Regional AGM last week I noticed in the Finance report that there are branches who had paid their activists a little bonus to themselves even though they'd had an inquorate AGM: I don't get it - can someone explain?

And then I noticed that since UNISON now has new guidance on branches not paying more than 10 percent of their income in 'honoraria' - and that despite this guidance two branches had gone above 10 percent. However with 'good reason' so it was approved.

So I asked: which branches were they, and what were their 'good' reasons? I'm awaiting a written response but I got the impression from others it ought to be shared with all branches at the next (presumably inquorate) council meeting.

We're paying our members' subs on campaign materials, organisers, consultants/ research reports, room bookings, food and drink, photocopying, badges, leaflets, trips to the seaside, or even to the pub for a Christmas social ... we break even just about. And we account for every penny.

We should pay expenses obviously - that's different. Travel costs, childcare costs, loss of earnings or whatever to make sure you're not out of pocket for doing union work. Otherwise only the higher paid staff could afford to do union work.

However I could not justify to members at an AGM a payment (above expenses) to myself or to other reps. Maybe that's one reason why their AGMs were inquorate ... ?

I was once challenged by a union member about my 'stewards allowance'. I didn't know what he was talking about and I thought it was just an anti-union myth.

Then I came to find out actually some UNISON activists really are paying themselves each year - undermining those of us who don't do that and never have.

I think it has to stop; it is bringing our union into disrepute and somehow we need to find a way to cut ties with these past practices.

It should have no place in our union, it should be considered dis-honoraria.


  1. Couldn't agree more Max - I came across your blog when I was researching Honoraria in UNISON for our AGM today. I'm the Chair of a Local Government Branch formed from the merger of six smaller LG Branches. My original (now sub) Branch never paid Honoraria and were of the opinion that officers already got paid by their employer to represent their members through Facilities Time.

    Unfortunately there's a different culture in the other Branches which form the new merged entity and, despite the best efforts of some of us, we ended up paying over £5,000 in honoraria last year and look on course to pay over £2,000 this year. While the reduction is a victory of sorts I'm horrified that my colleagues in UNISON feel taking that much (or any) money for (essentially) fulfilling their role is justified.

    I was even more horrified when I did a websearch and discovered (from the notes of other Branch AGMs) that those figures are nowhere near as high as those for some other Branches - the highest individual award I came across was over £6,000. What's more, as far as I can see, these are almost invariable awarded to recognise people's efforts doing the day-to-day duties of a role, which surely can't be what it's for if it's to be awarded at all.

    Quickly doing the math I think millions of pounds of members money must be being spent rewarding people for doing what they ought to be doing anyway without any need of monetary reward.

  2. While I wouldn't argue that some honoraia are too high, what you need to recognise is that in many small branches there is very little or no facility time at all.Then honoraria is just a way of thanking all the pro bono work officers do and recognising all the time and effort they put in. Whats wrong with that? Do you work for free?

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