Thursday, 29 November 2012

Why I Joined UNISON : Sam Cerovich

This summer I was offered a position at Middlesex University as an International Student Liasion Administrator, my first job. The stressful application and interview process were over and I looked forward to contributing to the University and learning new skills.

I found myself having joined a workplace that was undergoing a lot of restructuring and I had a lot of questions. 

Being my first job I wanted to speak to someone about what I should expect with these changes and if the uneasiness I was feeling was normal.

In my office, UNISON members are the majority. They spoke positively about their experience as being part of UNISON and offered me advice about the lingering questions that I had. Being a UNISON member, and training to be a steward, is not just about having strength in numbers. It allows me to be there for my co-workers and vice versa. Having joined UNISON I am now a part of a group that I feel comfortable talking about employment and changes in the workplace.

I heard that UNISON is Britain’s largest trade union. At first this did not resonate with me until I heard from colleagues who had lost members from their team and feel over worked and under valued. UNISON has a seat at the negotiation table to help its members in cases such as this.

Coming into the role of UNISON steward I am eager to learn as much as possible. A big part of why I joined UNISON was the amount of training UNISON offers its reps and its members through the Life Long Learning (Maggie Walkowska)  and Education Officer (Helen Hayward). 

In November I begin my steward training so that I can help others get the most out of their UNISON membership.

Samantha Cerovich
UNISON Steward 

To Be in Redeployment Pool : Helen Hayward

In May the University announced that it would be shifting resources away from Support Staff towards academics. As a result of the restructuring my permanent IT Advisor post in LR did not appear in the new structure, and on the 8th May 2012 I was given notice, along with others that I was at risk of redundancy.

I was put in the redeployment pool. In the weeks that followed I began the stressful and anxious process of applying for jobs and going for interviews. Many other staff were in the same position and as the weeks went on I was unsuccessful in securing a position and stayed on the at risk list and in the redeployment pool. I became increasingly demoralised and was left feeling like a spare part.

Whilst at Middlesex I have built up ten years of skills and experience in the area of IT that I felt confident these would be transferable to other areas. Despite feeling increasingly demoralised many colleagues and UNISON members urged me to hang on in there, to keep applying and not to give up. The University sent me my voluntary redundancy figures and increasingly I felt as if I was being edged out of employment and my options were limited.

I was anxious and worried as my personal circumstances meant I couldn’t be without work or consider the VR as a practical alternative. I was determined to stay in employment. As a UNISON member I went to see Trevor Alexander, the UNISON Branch Secretary on several occasions. He offered advice and support, and recommended I apply for any position I was eligible for, even temporary fixed term contract jobs as a ‘bridging’ contract. I really did not want to do this as I wanted a permanent post, but beggars can’t be choosers.

During this period I had a pre booked holiday in June - slap bang in the middle of the redeployment interview! I was placed in the slightly ridiculous situation of being interviewed for positions whilst on holiday in Cyprus on Skype. Which involved slow internet connections, internet crashes and the cost, along with more anxiety and stress. With hindsight it was probably not the best decision to have scheduled 3 interviews whilst on holiday, but I wanted to demonstrate to the University that I was determined to gain a job and work. As you can imagine it wasn’t my best holiday!

I applied for a temporary job at Archway even though the campus is closing next July (2013). I was successful, and I am now at the Library, learning new skills and gradually regaining my confidence and self esteem. I have made lots of friends at Archway and everyone is supportive, helpful and very pleasant. I have been encouraged by the UNISON Branch Secretary to expect that suitable alternative work is likely to emerge over the coming months.

I am particularly thankful for the support I received from the UNISON Branch - I was pointed in the right direction for help and given support and advice. I feel that UNISON’s negotiations with the University helped me immeasurably in securing alternative work at the University. It should be noted that not a single Union member who wanted to remain with the University was made compulsorily redundant this year, and that is, without question, a massive achievement.

I would urge all UNISON members to tell non-union colleagues that with the economic situation as it is, and with further attacks on our jobs and Higher Education, they cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand, the support UNISON can provide individually and collectively is invaluable.

Being in UNISON cannot guarantee you a job, but it can provide support and expert advice when you most need it. Ultimately you have to help yourself but it is good to know what to do, when you feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

The experience has shown me the value of having UNISON representing and advising its members and negotiating on our behalf  

let’s not forget that “Together We Are Stronger”

Helen Hayward October 2012

Edited by MDXBranchlines : 2012