This year has been like no other in our lifetime. The full force of the global coronavirus pandemic has changed our working lives, our family life and our social life. The scale of the challenge to working lives, families and communities is unprecedented. As well as the immediate health and economic effects, the long-term impacts will be deep and long lasting.
This year my report is in two parts, what we have been doing in response to the pandemic and how we are performing against our strategy.
Covid 19 Response
The Aegis full time team very quickly adapted the way we work and established a COVID response team. We have worked collaboratively with all our recognised employers. Initially discussing the health and safety of our members as the virus started to have impact, then pressing for best practice regarding the set up for the vast majority to work from home.
As employers launched themselves into disaster recovery mode, trying their best to survive through a government imposed lockdown, and frantically setting up their working from home facilities,
Aegis have been right there, working together to ensure everything is achieved in the fairest possible way for our members and with their best interests in mind.
As government policies and updates to policies became available, again, we have worked with employers to achieve the best possible outcome for our members.
We have been working on company policy changes where our input has helped influence how changes are applied during this period.
We are having conversations with employers on how this period has impacted their businesses financially and what the future holds regarding job security and sustainability and we’re putting members jobs and welfare at the forefront of every conversation.
We have worked extremely hard, actively helping members who have had to continue working at Head Office locations and Branches throughout the UK, dealing with hundreds of issues as they arise and we continue to do so, working with the business’s and H&S teams to ensure those colleagues are working in a safe environment and one which follows Government Guidelines.
The full time officers have quickly adapted to lockdown, using Teams, Zoom and other communication channels to keep in contact with Aegis reps who have been busy feeding back members queries and concerns and we have been active in finding solutions to these for our members.
Each Aegis division has been keeping our members up to speed on the Aegis members area of our website and using Facebook. We will continue do this and we will continue to provide wider updates with useful links on the public page of our website.
The Aegis full time officials have been in constant contact throughout, with Teams video meetings taking place for all at least twice a week, so everyone is fully aware of constant changes and has input into finding solutions to the challenges we are all facing.
We took the decision on 12 March 2020 to cancel all travel and to work from home with immediate effect. This decision also applied to our Union Learning Project Managers and the full time Project Workers.
I am immensely proud of the way the team has worked together throughout this difficult period. To date we are all still safe and well and working from home. We will of course continue to do this for however long it takes.
A special thank you has to be made to Kevin Hall, our IT Officer, who quickly set us all up with Microsoft Teams and training at the start of the pandemic. This has been an immeasurable benefit to us all.
At this point nobody can predict what happens next but what we can do is continue to do all of the above and more throughout this period of uncertainty.
A couple of positives outcomes from this crisis that will without doubt benefit our members going forward:
The past 3 years our strategy has focused on reducing our annual deficit and returning Aegis to a position of profit. Our annual accounts for 2019-2020 show that we will achieve a profitable position by the end of this financial year, 30 June 2021. We have done this by introducing a number of measures that have successfully brought our costs down whilst increasing our income.
These are as follows:
For the sustainability and financial security of Aegis going forward these are monumental achievements and must be recognized as such.
As a result of a complaint about our rules last year, the Government Certification Officer requested that Aegis change its rules and ensure that our National Council elections are held under the new rules before 1 June 2020. This action was achieved swiftly in the first half of this year with the full co-operation of the previous National Council and to the satisfaction of the Certification Officer.
An employment tribunal case was lodged against Aegis, which we were successful in ensuring the case was dismissed at the preliminary stages, possibly saving the union tens of thousands in solicitors fees and court awards.
On the 6th October we received some devastating news confirming that it is the government's intention to cease funding completely for the Union Learning Fund in England at the end of the current financial year, i.e. the end of March 2021.
This news has come completely out of the blue and is, in my view, completely unjustifiable. It can be no reflection on the performance of union-led projects or the Unionlearn programmes, ULF delivery has continued to be exemplary and we have continued to receive very positive feedback from officials in the department for education among others.
As you would expect, the TUC, ULF and all affiliated unions have all put their shoulder to the #SaveUnionLearning campaign.
This campaign will continue to grow until we force the government to do a u-turn on this disgraceful decision. A decision that flies in the face of the governments own policy to increase the skills of the workforce and a decision that ultimately puts hundreds of jobs ‘at risk’ unnecessarily.
At the time of writing, 15 December, the uncertainty that has been a constant of 2020 has continued to throw curve balls that impact us all.
The promise of an oven ready deal by the PM only a year ago has been broken and the UK is now facing a catastrophic no deal Brexit.
There are reports today of a new strain of Coronavirus that spreads faster than the current one. One of these would be bad enough but facing both together? I think we will find further unprecedented challenges in 2021.
Whatever happens I would like to assure you that the Aegis team and our representatives will face every challenge with the same determination and tenacity, to support our members, ensuring that they are working in a safe, healthy and hopefully prosperous working environment.
I would like to wish everyone a wonderful festive season and every success and good health in 2021.
Aegis General Secretary