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What does your branch committee do all day?

Most people only see the branch committee at meetings like the annual general meeting, and aren’t too sure what else it is we do.

You may be surprised to learn that the branch committee does a lot of work ‘behind the scenes’ on behalf of our members. Here’s a summary of some of the activities we participate in, just to give you some idea of the range of activities we are engaged in.

  • Staff Joint Committee: members of the branch committee attend a termly Staff Joint Committee with members of the Birkbeck Senior Management Team, where we discuss anything that might affect our members, including for example college policy on recruitment, development of the college estate (eg building work), the college’s financial position.
  • Health and safety: the BC Unison Health and Safety Officer is a member of the Birkbeck Safety Committee, where he reports any problems encountered by our members and gives Unison’s view on health and safety issues at the college. In addition, the Health and Safety Officer actively represents any members who have concerns about their health and safety at work. [Note: currently, this position is vacant.]
  • Policies and procedures: the college regularly updates its policies and procedures (eg flexible working; parental leave policies). Members of the branch committee check amendments and attend meetings with HR to feed back our views on these changes, to ensure they meet our requirements. Currently, we are negotiating over:
    • Sickness leave policy: following feedback from our reps that the sickness leave policy is being applied incorrectly and being mistaken for a disciplinary policy, we are renegotiating the sick leave policy.
  • Job evaluation: The Pay Framework Agreement is an enormous change to higher education pay and terms and conditions and was introduced in response to national negotiations between HE unions and the employers' association. Unlike the NHS Agenda for Change, actual implementation of this undertaking was devolved to the local level, requiring a huge amount of work on the part of your branch committee.
    • From 2004-2006, along with representatives of the other two unions at Birkbeck, two members of the branch committee were members of the Framework Negotiating Group, and negotiated the current single pay spine, job evaluation procedure, appeal procedure, contribution-related pay and various harmonised policies such as the policies on TOIL/overtime and sick leave.
    • Two members of the branch committee were also members of the JE panels. For this, they first had to be trained in Hay and then were required to sit on various panels, evaluating a number of jobs based on job descriptions.
  • Representing and advising members: Unison members ask for advice and guidance from the branch committee on all sorts of issues, many of which relate to terms and conditions and how they are interpreted. However, we also represent and advise members more specifically where, for example, there is some disagreement with colleagues or management, where members are made ill through work and where either the disciplinary or grievance procedure is invoked. All of these situations can be extremely upsetting, but our trained representatives can support and represent members.
  • Attend induction days: Recruitment is extremely important to Unison. Currently, our membership stands at about 30 per cent of potential members, which is relatively low. Therefore, we always attend induction days to tell new members of staff about what BCUnison has to offer. In addition to this, we send out recruitment packs to new members of staff.
  • Attend Unison conferences: Unison is a democratic organisation, and its policies and campaigns are decided by people like the members of the branch committee. BCUnison is entitled to send delegates to both the higher education conference (which decides the direction of Unison’s efforts in higher education) and national conference.
  • Ongoing training: we want to ensure that all of our representatives are equipped to fulfil their roles. That is why we have an education officer responsible for arranging appropriate training for our representatives.

As a member of the branch committee, there’s a lot to get involved with, and you get a lot of insight into the workings of the college, as well as having a say on policies and procedures. Although it is a lot of work, it is rewarding, and there are lots of opportunities to learn.

All members of the branch committee are volunteers, elected to their positions annually. Because of the amount there is to do, we are always looking at getting new people involved in the branch. If you would like more information on how to get involved, please speak to a member of the branch committee.