What’s a service group and why are they so important to the union?

UNISON national secretary Sara Gorton explains why this year’s service group elections are so critical

Who wins? You decide

What’s a service group?

Service groups are at the heart of UNISON. We’re the biggest union in the country, covering over a million members from a range of different sectors. Every single union member will belong to one of our seven service groups: health, local government, higher education, police and justice, community, water and environment, transport and energy.

What do they do?

Service groups are the union’s primary industrial structure, where members get to organise with other workers in the same sector. Each service group has an executive committee that is responsible for making strategic decisions on their sector’s priorities, both within the union and externally.

The service group executive (SGE) makes vital decisions on behalf of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, including you.

Why are they so important within UNISON?

Service group structures provide an information pipeline from the frontline of public services to the very top of the union’s decision-making. It’s the service groups that drive UNISON’s work to influence how work is organised and rewarded, setting out our position on a full range of issues from the content of annual pay claims to plans to reduce workplace discrimination.

Service group policy positions can change the law, like the new across-the-board legal rights to flexible working, which were put forward and secured first for NHS workers by our health service group.

During the pandemic, service group structures were essential in advocating for the safety of our members. For example, the dire state of PPE provision for health and care workers was documented and fed through our service groups, so we advocated for changes nationally. At the same time, key workers everywhere could only provide vital services during lockdown thanks to our education members keeping facilities open. When lockdowns were lifted, our contact with essential workers in schools meant we could respond quickly to keep members and pupils as safe as possible.

What’s a service group executive?

Every service group has a service group executive (SGE), which is a group of elected UNISON members that guides our campaigns, negotiations, political influencing and more. These are some of the most powerful activists in the union, determining the priorities of the union internally, and often participating in national bargaining. For instance, service group executive committee members sit on the NHS Staff Council, which is the governing body for Agenda for Change, making decisions that alter contractual terms for over a million people; and members of the police and justice committee participate in negotiating bodies for probation and police staff.

Are service groups unique to UNISON?

Yes, and they make us powerful as a union. Our service group executive committees bring all four parts of the UK together to make collective decisions that represent the best interests of thousands of members – hundreds of thousands for the largest.

Service group committee members know devolution legislation translates into differences in workforce policy, pay, terms and conditions, and they ensure that all members are considered and advocated for.

That includes people employed ‘indirectly’ through local or contracted arrangements, who can often feel left out by the way ‘public sector workers’ are portrayed.

What are the service group elections?

Taking place every two years, service group elections are the opportunity to choose who gets to represent you and your colleagues on the service group executive.

This is a critical decision that could impact your pay and conditions. It also affects how the union represents its membership externally. After all, we’re in a general election year, and we could have more opportunities to influence Westminster government policy than at any time since 2010. This is your vital opportunity to ensure your sector is well represented, inside our union, but also in the political landscape more broadly.

Who will be running in them?

Any member was eligible to put themselves forward for election to their own service group. Where there are more candidates than seats, there will be an election, and you will be asked to vote.

Why should I vote in the service group elections?

Voting is the only way to make sure our union is truly representative and democratic. Whoever ends up on your service group’s executive committee will have a direct influence on decisions that affect you and your work and what the union says publicly and prioritises in talks with government and employers. It’s in your best interests to make sure that’s somebody whose judgement you trust.

What should I be looking for when I’m voting?

Service group executives need people who will be able to consider a wide range of opinions, ask questions, provide constructive challenge and make tough decisions on behalf of thousands of people. They also need to be able to understand and represent the experiences of members on the ground and take responsibility for decisions made by the group. It’s a role that has a lot of responsibility and influence.

How do I vote?

All members will receive a ballot pack to their home address containing a photo and short address from each candidate, along with their ballot paper.

The ballot opens on 22 April and runs until 17 May. The results will be announced on 10 June.

19 thoughts on “What’s a service group and why are they so important to the union?

  1. John Evans says:

    Did it this morning 24/4/2024.

  2. Because unison are doing the best they can and is much appreciated

  3. Haddy Raman Njie says:

    Happy to vote

  4. Yes, great to fill among. Count me in to the voter. Thanks for your reminder. xx

  5. roland willows says:

    Every service group needs to be supported especially with voting, without this vital area the Union would struggle to run and be supported by our numbers.

  6. Hi I really like to recommend unison to my colleagues because they are the best

  7. Joy D Smitb says:

    Count me in.

  8. Richard Ofori says:

    Please count me into the voters

  9. Stephen Lenane says:

    I won’t be voting in the SGE elections as I do not find them deomcratic at all.
    Why is there a seat reserved purely for females? If it is because there are propotionally motr women members then why not give those women the chance to elect who they want to elect? Don’t you trust them to make the ‘right’ choice?
    Also, what is the ‘reserved seat’? How is electing someone unopposed democratic? It is bad enough that the last few Prime Ministers haven’t not faced a full election but I don’t want my union acting in a similar way.

  10. Vicky Kay says:

    Unison do there best and I appreciate there hard work. Yes you have my vote.

  11. Lisa Ninian says:

    I will be happy to vote.

  12. Mmadipula Dube says:

    Count me in

  13. Julie Frasca says:

    Happy to vote

  14. Sanita says:

    Please count me into the voters

  15. Susie Mitchell says:

    My unison ERA has been invaluable and I very much appreciate all that he has done for me . Count me in !

  16. Susan Lumb says:

    Have voted already

  17. I think it’s important for me to vote, so I’ll be casting a ballot in the SGE elections. I wish everyone the best of luck.

  18. Thabie says:

    I will be happy to vote.

  19. Rosaline Deborah Caesar-Scammell says:

    Unison does an amazing job overall. Happy to vote

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