Working from home a key battlefield in Unite’s leadership race | Unite

By on August 22, 2021 0

With phrases such as “second-tier workers,” “keystroke monitoring,” and “presenteeism” bursting out of their tongues, it’s clear that the three candidates vying to become the leader of Unite are seeing the passage of the Great. – Britain to work from home as a key battleground.

Ahead of the election results announced on Thursday, the three candidates for the job told The Guardian how they would ensure the union protects workers’ rights during one of the biggest changes in the world of work in half a century. century.

Unite manufacturing manager Steve Turner has been named as the favorite for the contest, but it is expected to be a close result against rival Gerard Coyne, a former West Midlands regional organizer, and Sharon Graham, a Unite negotiator. .

All three have raised concerns about a permanent shift to hybrid or home-based work in a number of industries after the pandemic, while admitting that Unite – the UK’s second-largest union with more than one million members – faced an important task to secure an agreement for the workers.

“When did we ever accept that our homes become our workplaces? I think there are a lot of problems that are going to come from working from home, ”Turner said. “Everything from work-related musculoskeletal issues from sofas, kitchen tables and, in many cases, beds to extra expenses for things like the energy bills that come with it. “

He added: “We have seen the monitoring of strikes introduced by some employers. Some have even tried accessing webcams and people watching. If this is to become the norm, it must be done by agreement. “

Turner received the support of most of the union branches and got the endorsement of the current general secretary, Len McCluskey. But McCluskey himself won by far the most nominations in the 2017 leadership race, and has just beaten rival Coyne.

Coyne, widely regarded as the most centrist of the three candidates, said the alarm bells were already ringing that a “culture of presenteeism in a more male-dominated office environment” could hurt women’s career progression – and said childcare issues must be at the heart of the future. negotiations.

Graham was initially seen as the foreign candidate, but said she was well known in all workplaces for her record of negotiations, including helping to secure victory against the fires and rehiring tactics at British Airways l ‘last year.

“I don’t think a lot of people would call me the underdog at this point,” said Graham, who has previously spoken of the online abuse she suffered when she refused to step down to allow a single candidate. to the left unit. “I was abused from the start of the campaign. And when I refused to retire, it was odious. You can see why, especially women, but nobody puts themselves in that position. But that didn’t deter me.

She wants to give women a strong voice in homework negotiations, fearing they will be the most affected. “We want to make sure that people who work from home have equal access to promotion and opportunities, otherwise the people at home will be considered second-tier workers,” Graham said. “I don’t want women to face a double whammy where they pay the most for the Covid crisis, on top of the issues they have already faced. “

She added: “But we have to remember that a lot of workers cannot work from home, so it is important to remember that different workers have different problems.”

Unite is the Labor Party’s biggest donor (between January and March of this year the union donated £ 131,000) and generally has close ties to its leaders. McCluskey has wielded significant power over the party over the past decade, helping to push it to the left.

But Coyne thinks all of that needs to change, saying he doesn’t “think it’s healthy.” He added, “We have spent too much time obsessing over internal party politics and not enough time focusing on day-to-day work. It’s about bringing that back into the mainstream and making sure we focus on jobs, wages and conditions first and foremost.

Graham took a similar stance, saying “the obsession with Labor must end.” But she added that there had to be a balance and that she would not be afraid to speak out if the party did not work in the best interests of the union. “If we say we are not a backseat driver in the party, are we seriously suggesting that we are going to give our members’ money to Labor and not ask them what they are going to do with it?”

Turner, a former London bus driver, said he would “demand a seat at the table” with the Labor Party and that he wanted the party “to represent our values ​​and beliefs, and I want them to come out and meet our members “.

Coyne has also called for an independent investigation into the union’s £ 98million spending on a hotel and conference center in Birmingham, which is initially expected to cost £ 7million. “Every day it’s members’ money that we spend, so for me it’s really important to rebuild that relationship of trust and understanding.”

Turner backed the project, saying it is “a fantastic asset” to the union and that it would end the reservation of thousands of rooms in private accommodation.

All candidates are determined to tackle a 10-year drop in Unite membership, with Graham arguing the union must show its power by winning the negotiations. Turner, meanwhile, has emphasized the importance of attracting younger members while Coyne is keen to stress that becoming a growing and diverse union is key to staying politically relevant.

The election result could mark a critical turning point in relations between the Labor Party and its biggest supporter, but will also crucially determine who leads the course as the country heads into uncharted territory in the world of workers’ rights.

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