We’ll be glad to see the back of 2020, but we can’t take it easy in 2021

Public service workers have earned their applause this year, says Tim Roberts, but the fight for real recognition goes onc

I imagine we are all glad to see the end of 2020 – a year that has tested us all. We will all be feeling Covid-19 in our own different ways depending on how the virus has affected us personally.

Despite the recent increase in restrictions across most of the our region, the beginning of the vaccination programme gives me hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

Public services and the workers that deliver them are our focus as a trade union. This year has reminded everyone how vital public services are to sustain our communities and tackle inequality.

Even in the most severe of lockdowns, hundreds of thousands of UNISON members – in the NHS, social care, environmental protection, police staff, energy and water – were still in their workplaces. Others had to quickly adapt to home working so their vital duties could still be carried out.

For months, people across the country stood on their doorsteps to applaud the contribution of key workers. We were pleased that these workers were receiving public recognition but it’s impossible to miss the irony that so many of those being applauded were among the lowest paid in the country.

Everyone in UNISON knows the best way to reward them is to pay them a decent wage. Sadly the government’s proposals to give the vast majority of public service workers a real-terms pay cut in 2021 shows just how much they are actually valued by the Conservatives.

Our members have needed us more than ever this year. Across the region all our activists quickly adapted to the pressures of the pandemic and ensured they were able to support our members during the crisis.

I want to put on record my sincere thanks to the great job they have all done to ensure we can keep going and meet the needs of our members. Their flexibility, commitment and dedication has been truly impressive.

Our union has grown this year. We will have 25,000 more members than we had in January across the union. Eastern region has again had one of the strongest growth rates despite being one of the smaller regions, rising by 2,900 in the year.

For us to grow as a union we have to do everything we can to recruit new members and keep the ones we already have. Recruitment and retention are two sides of the same coin. Members join UNISON when they see us fighting and winning on issues that are important to them.

In this time when money is tight, public service workers are more likely to stay in the union and keep paying their subs when they see they are part of a collective movement that fights and wins on issues that are important to them. This year we have not only increased the number of new joiners, we have had far fewer leavers than in previous years.

2021 is going to challenge us as a union. The public-sector pay freeze, the return of full-blooded austerity, systemic racism, an uncaring immigration system and more are all going to test us in many different ways.

UNISON is not just the biggest, we are the best trade union. I have total confidence that we will meet these challenges – and many more- and be an even a stronger union because of it.

I wish you all a very happy new year and I look forward to working shoulder to shoulder with you to defend public services and those who deliver them throughout 2021.