‘Time has come for trade union to hit reset button over its political positions’

The controversy engulfing Unison over military medics working in Covid wards shows that the time has come for the union to hit the “reset button” on its political stances.

Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 7:04 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd January 2021, 10:10 am
Image from the website of giant public sector union Unison

That is the view of DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, as the leader of the Northern Irish arm of the vast union issued an “unreserved” apology for its handling of the affair.

In a video broadcast online late on Thursday night, regional secretary Patricia McKeown said: “We posted a badly-worded response to the minister’s announcement that he was deploying military personnel into the health service.

“That response had precisely the reverse effect of what we intended.”

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Patricia McKeown

The badly-worded statement she was referring to was issued on Wednesday night after it was revealed 110 medics from the Armed Forces are set to join civilian doctors on the Province’s coronavirus wards.

The statement had said Unison was “urgently seeking detailed reasons” for their deployment – and many people interpreted it as meaning the union was hostile to military help (something which Ms McKeown said it not true).

Among the first people to react was Mr Buckley, who issued a press release saying Unison should support “assistance from any quarter” when it comes to fighting Covid-19.

Now he has gone further, telling the News Letter that the union should “re-evaluate” its positions on a host of issues.

Unison, with about 45,000 members (mainly in health and education) is the biggest single union in the Province.

Stances the NI branch has taken include backing abortion liberalisation, championing gay marriage, and supporting “a full boycott of Israeli goods”.

Mr Buckley said: “In terms of Unison’s stance on entering the political arena in so many sensitive areas, I think it’s wrong for them to do so.

“They should focus on the rights and working conditionsof the healthcare population.

“Where a representative body such as Unison try to present these positions on politically-sensitive issues as the universal position of their membership, it’s wrong.

“There must be an opportunity now to re-evaluate where Unison are going on these issues.”

He said the time has now come for union members “to reset the button in relation to representing genuine concerns of healthcare professionals”.

In addition to the above stances, the union also runs training courses in “LGBT+” matters, including the proper way to deal with “trans children” in schools.

It has also previously stated that Unison “stands in solidarity with the moving tributes and Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Belfast City Hall” which took place in June 2020 (when large numbers of demonstrators gathered in defiance of Covid law) – dubbing George Floyd’s death a “cold-blooded murder”.

Four ex-policemen have yet to go on trial over the death of Mr Floyd, who was under the effects of fentanyl and methamphetamine when pinned to the ground by his neck by police in Minnesota last May.

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