It was a strange day, the first day at Congress after lunch usually considers rules and internal issues which is what happened today, also the CEC has the right to produce special reports. One of its papers this year, was called, “GMB Taskforce for Positive Change Final Progress Report to Annual Congress 2023”. The Task Force was set up after the Monaghan Inquiry which found the GMB to be institutionally sexist. The Inquiry had been set up after sexual harassment complaints were made against the then incumbent General Secretary, Tim Roache.

As one might guess from the title, the report proposed winding-up the task force. Despite being only able to report completion of 11/27 recommendations with five yet to be started.

The rest of this article, below/overleaf looks at the arguments for and against winding up the task force, and reports on the debate to backtrack on Monaghan’s recommendation 3.

Recommendation one stated that it was necessary for the CEC to take back oversight and scrutiny powers over all officers and other bodies of the union. They rightly assess this to be a recommendation in progress. It is difficult for a committee consisting of part timers to be able to perform this function. It is a sad fact that robust controls need to be built to control and measure the performance of the senior officers in the union. The practice, also seen at Congress, of late and long papers, circulated with insufficient notice, also happens at the CEC. Honorarium payments to CEC members seem to have been eliminated. The research, organisation and industrial & equality departments all work for and are accountable to the general secretary. We rely exclusively on part-timers many of whom have full time jobs. CEC members need more support. The fact is that it struggles to effectively control the Union and its staff.

The report states that a governance structure for the change programme needs to be implemented, it makes no proposals as to how this would work. Given the incomplete programme recommendations, in my mind, it’s unclear that the task force should have been wound up this year.

After debates on the paper, which was to be carried. we moved to rule amendments, two of which contradicted recommendation 3 of the Monaghan report which states that regional secretaries should not attend the CEC. The Monaghan report makes it clear why this recommendation was made. The CEC have adopted what they call a protocol about regional secretary attendance; they may attend at the invitation of the CEC and this allows the CEC to discuss any matters they choose without the presence of the regional secretaries. The obvious agenda matters that they may wish to exclude the regional secretaries from is the matter of regional secretary performance. They were excluded for a reason, and I’m unsure the union needs to change its mind so soon. Certainly, the proposers of the rule change did not address this issue and it would seem that I have a disagreement with the proposals, I do not believe the regional secretaries should be part of the leadership of this union, the leadership should sit with the elected members of the CEC.

Additionally, the roles of the Head of HR and Director of Legal need to be clarified. They probably need to be rules based positions with their controlling functions written into the rules and their ability to enforce their controls through access to the CEC defined. i.e. if we are changing the rules to permit Regional Secretaries on the CEC, then we need to do the same for the Head of HR and the Director of Legal. It’s a sad fact that the big unions, well everyone, need a compliance department & whistleblowing function.

The vote was not well conducted, for some reason, much of the floor felt that the chair’s instruction that “the CEC opposed, all those in favour” was unclear and there was a lot of bad behaviour. This might be a side effect of having such a high proportion of new delegates except I saw some very experienced delegates shouting at the Chair. A point of order was moved asking for the vote to be taken again, which the Chair refused; he might have permitted a count if it had been asked for, but refused a re-vote. Anyway the rule change on the CEC composition was defeated but the change in the Regional Secretary’s job description was carried. Someone’s going to have to sort it out. This is an obvious negative side effect of the GMB’s practice of insisting that a rule amendment only changes one rule, (unless proposed in a CEC special paper) and sometimes the rules repeat stuff and so two changes are required.

If you want to look these up in the Agenda document, then you need Rule Amendment RA 274 amending Rule 10.2 established the right of regional secretaries to attend the CEC and Rule Amendment RA  292 amended Rule 23, adding a new clause 4 established the right of regional secretaries to attend the CEC in the rule describing the role of the Regional Secretary.

On reading these rule changes with care, they both have an “if necessary/as required” caveat. Let’s see what happens.  

All the conference papers are published on the GMB’s Congress page on the  web site. This was the exciting part of today’s debate.

A hole in the wall?
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