Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Local Government Pay proposals ARE a good deal - for the employers...

It has been suggested to me that individual members of UNISON’s National Executive Council really ought not to go sticking our noses into “service group” issues such as the current local government pay dispute. So I'll consider that.

This observation has, however, given me pause for thought as I now realise I made a serious mistake in my assessment of the proposals made by the national employers. When I suggested that there was nothing good about them I was clearly wrong – and I’m not above owning up to a mistake.
The proposals are very good indeed – for the employers. As they put it themselves “this package would have increased the national pay bill by £151,798,061; a saving of £12,857,978 (or 7.81%) in the current financial year, compared to the existing pay offer that the Employers made on 20 March.”

That’s right.

GMB and UNITE national officials wanted to call off strike action and consult their members on a revised offer which they and the employers knew was cheaper for the employers than the 1% offer. Only the common sense of the majority of UNISON’s National Joint Council (NJC) Committee averted this disaster.

Because – make no mistake – every single person who says that their priority is to consult members on this (non) “offer” is either a fool or a liar. Everyone knows that if the industrial action is called off it won’t start again and we will be doomed to accept whatever remains on the table.

It’s similar to the lie that says that the proposals are complex (as if they were some twenty first century equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question) – that is just a  device to ensure that activists don’t look closely at these simple proposals and realise that they not only short change the workforce in the current year, but offer next to nothing in future.

Since I have already commented in relation to the GMB I would like to take this opportunity to call out comrades in the United Left in UNITE to justify the conduct of their officials – what are you playing at?

Two things will now happen. At one level, every faint-heart and charlatan in our movement will be hoping that a majority of delegates to the UNISON NJC Committee meeting on Thursday 9 October can be cajoled, bamboozled or intimidated into suspending strike action in order to consult on proposals to which we ought to be responding by placing the officials who helped develop them into a capability procedure.

Meanwhile at the grass roots we need to step up preparations for the strike action on 14 October – that is the second (and more important) thing that has to happen. Activists need to order more strike materials and get them into the hands of our members, organise picket lines and strike day activity and do all that we can to mobilise our members for the most effective action we can possibly deliver.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Taking the P/20/14

It appears that some mischievous soul with an adolescent sense of humour has produced a spoof local government bulletin apparently aimed at members of our sister union, the GMB. It’s dated 26 September and has the number P/20/14.

It’s quite a convincing spoof, particularly because the first page reports (factually) on the “proposals” given to the local government trade unions by the employers on 25 September (about which I have blogged before more than once).

However, the second page soon gives the game away!

“Some might see this as an attractive proposal,” it suggests, whilst conceding that “others might not.”

Apart from those who simply want to avoid further industrial action at all costs, there really isn’t anyone for whom these proposals could be described as “attractive” and there is no way that a respected and experienced union official would suggest any such thing.

The slapstick humour continues with the observation that there are “good points” as well as “bad points”. The “good points” may be visible from the point of view of the employers but it’s hard to see them from the point of view of the workers, bearing in mind that the proposals achieve;
  • Less money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £1,870.25 gross (i.e. before deductions) per month (£430.41 gross a week);
  • A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
  • Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
  • Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.
The first punchline is the real killer though, having concluded that “our members should be able to decide whether these new proposals would be acceptable or not” the author (posing, unconvincingly as a senior GMB official) goes on to say, of strike action on 14 October, “we would obviously want to suspend that strike while our members have the opportunity to vote by secret postal ballot to decide to accept or reject.”

What makes the humour almost elegant here is that this would be precisely what a decent negotiator would say if they had done a decent job and negotiated a new offer worthy of consideration – but of course, the employers’ “proposals” (which aren’t even yet a formal offer) fail in every way (and are arguably much worse than the bottom-loaded 1% one year deal we took strike action against – because it ties us in for eighteen months). In these circumstances, any experienced trade unionist would know only too well that suspending strike action to “consult” amounts to ending the dispute. No skilled negotiator would contemplate suggesting such a course of action knowing that what they had to offer was so far from what would be in the best interests of their members.

Although the comedian who posed as a trade union official to write this spoof says that the employers’ proposals are “completely new” that is only in the sense that someone who previously threatened to poke you in your right eye and now changes their mind and threatens to poke you in your left eye is making a “completely new” threat. GMB members didn’t strike for different reasons from the reasons that motivated members of UNISON (or UNITE) – all local government workers wanted a better deal, not a worse deal, which offers an insignificant increment to the lowest paid (taken not from the employers but from the rest of the membership) whilst tying us into a below inflation settlement for the next eighteen months.

Although much of the spoof bulletin is over the top and therefore unconvincing, there is a delicate irony to the way in which the author bemoans that the employers have withdrawn from the proposal because “one of the unions” wouldn’t call off the strike action in return for a such an appalling (non)”offer”. The author says he is “strongly supportive of trade union solidarity”. (That did make me laugh!)

I hope that colleagues in the GMB will get to the bottom of who wrote the spoof circular – and will make sure that comprehensive information is available before GMB stewards gather to consider the dispute on Thursday.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Local Government Pay - look to the future?

In the previous post on this blog, I analysed the impact on local government workers’ pay in the current pay year of the “proposal” made by the employers’ side negotiators in the past week, and, comparing it with the previous pay offer (against we took strike action on 10 July), concluded that it offered the following;
·         Less money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £1,870.25 gross (i.e. before deductions) per month (£430.41 gross a week);
·         A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
·         Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
·         Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.

However, the “proposal” isn’t a single year pay offer, if it formed the basis of a settlement, we would be accepting that we would not receive a further pay increase until April 2016. Since we hadn’t made a pay claim for 2015/16, and hadn’t received any earlier offer, there is no benchmark against which to measure the post-April implications of the “proposal” in the same way as the implications up to 31 March can be compared with the previous (bottom loaded) 1% one year offer.

The most important question to ask about the “proposal” may be whether it could be said to “break” the Government’s 1% pay policy, given that the “headline” percentage increase appears to be 2.2%.

That question arises, of course, only because other questions do not arise.

There is no point asking “does this ‘proposal’ come anywhere near achieving the objectives of our claim?”

Because it doesn’t.

For the low paid, we sought to achieve the living wage of £7.65 per hour (£14,759 a year, for a full-time worker based upon a 37 hour week). The “proposal” leaves everyone on spine point 10 and below earning less than the living wage (set in October 2014) until at least April 2016.

There is no point asking “does this ‘proposal’ come anywhere near restoring the loss in real income which our members have suffered over the past five years?”

Because it doesn’t.

Look at the UNISON online pay calculator to see how much workers have lost at different points in the pay spine. A worker earning £12,435 (well below the living wage) is £2,248 a year worse off but is being offered only £1,065 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016. A worker earning £24,982 is £4,905 a year worse off but is being offered only £547.62 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016.

So, if there are people out there (perhaps some union officials, or employers’ representatives) who want to put a positive spin upon this entirely inadequate “proposal” their best bet will be to present this as a 2.2% pay rise rather than a 1% pay rise.

But it isn’t.

The previous blog post dealt with the fact that the new “proposal” is actually worth less than a 1% pay increase would have been in the current year to all workers above spine point 26, whilst offering a paltry few pounds extra to the lower paid over that period.

The appearance of a 2.2% increase in 2015/16 can only be achieved by sleight of hand, ignoring the fact that this is a two year deal and that the very worst we could have expected anyway, without any campaign or industrial action, would have been two successive 1% pay awards, which together would have been worth a combined 2.01% anyway.

Putting it at it its very best, a settlement on the basis of this “proposal” would be gambling away our opportunity to fight for a decent pay rise in 2015 (a year in which a General Election will be fought in large part on the issue of living standards) in return for an increase 0.19% larger than the worst we could otherwise have expected.

To put this into some sort of perspective, here is a comparison of the 2015/16 salaries at various points subject to the straightforward percentage increase element of the “proposal” with what those salaries would have been after two successive 1% increases;
Spine point
Annual salary in 2015/16 under the “proposal” £pa
Annual salary in 2015/16 based upon two 1% increases
Benefit of the “proposal” £pa
Monthly benefit of the “proposal”
Weekly benefit of the “proposal”

The worker on spine point 26 (who is, as readers of the last blog post will recollect, no better off in 2014/15 at all as a result of the “proposal” than they would have been if we had just meekly accepted 1% in the first place) is therefore being asked to forego the possibility of campaigning for fair pay in the year of a General Election in return for the princely sum of 82p a week before tax than they would have got from the Government’s 1% pay policy.
The benefit to the lower paid is even more pitiable, whilst the slightly larger (though still tiny) increases at higher pay rates have to be offset against the financial loss which they will have suffered in 2014/15 from accepting a “proposal” which (for them) will have been even less generous than the original 1% offer.

It is incredible that any serious trade unionist would contemplate accepting a settlement based upon the employers’ “proposal”. If this is what some people think amounts to “breaking” a pay freeze then I strongly urge they never try to shatter an ice sculpture.

It is not just that this is not something for which it would be worth calling off strike action on 14 October – if the real reason for considering that is that some are not optimistic about the response on the day then I seriously question whether we wouldn’t be better just settling for the previous offer and keeping our options open in 2015.

Any trade union official who recommends a settlement based upon the employers’ “proposal” because they say it is a significant improvement on the previous 1% offer, or because they claim it breaks the pay freeze is either a charlatan or a fool (or possibly both, and an inebriate).

If we fight for fair pay and fail, then the employers “proposal” shows the sort of unfair pay which our members will doubtless have to put up with into the future – just as we have put up with the largest decline in our living standards in our working lives over the last five years because we have not been able to mobilise members to fight for more.

Local government workers who want a better standard of living need to gear up for strike action on Tuesday 14 October.

Local Government Pay - "Please sir, can we have some less?"

We have the details of the “proposal” (not a formal offer) from the employers’ side in the national pay dispute covering local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This amounts to a two year pay settlement of 2.2%, paid nine months late (on 1 January 2015) with an unconsolidated lump sum paid in December 2014 (an unconsolidated lump sum is an amount of money paid separately from salary or wages which doesn’t increase your pay in the long run – it is taxable and would be paid pro rata for part time workers). The lump sum payments are more generous below spine point 10 (as was the original offer) - £325 from spine points 5 to 7, £150 on spine points 8 and 9, and £100 on spine points 10 and above.

This "proposal" isn't an offer - and UNISON's "National Joint Council" (NJC) Committee, representing the majority of all those trade unionists in dispute, has agreed that this is no basis to settle the dispute. However, there is a danger that other unions may find that their officials are trying to "sell" this dodgy deal to members - and that this may cause the fainthearted within UNISON to wobble. A brief look at this entirely unacceptable proposal indicates why no one who cares about the future of local government or its workforce would give this "proposal" any consideration whatsoever.

Since we started this dispute because we had made a single year pay claim (for a flat rate increase to bring the lowest paid outside London up to the rate of the living wage), and since the employers responded with a single year offer of a 1% pay rise, with an element of “bottom loading” to keep the lowest paid above the rate of the statutory minimum wage, it is worth looking, first of all, at what this “proposal” means for that single year (1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015).

The increase we would receive under this “proposal” in the period up to 31 March 2015 has two elements, the three months worth of a 2.2% pay rise from 1 January, plus the unconsolidated lump sum. It is somewhat disingenuous to add an unconsolidated lump sum to a delayed percentage increase (as they are incommensurable, it’s like adding apples to bananas). However since that is what the table which has been circulated to UNISON branches does, it’s worth looking at what these figures mean in practice for how much money we will be paid in the year from 1 April 2014 (which is the period over which we embarked upon an industrial dispute and took strike action).

At spine point 26, the value of a £100 lump sum (on the national pay spine) is equivalent to 0.45% of annual salary, which if added to the annualised value of a 2.2% offer paid nine months late (0.55%) gives a “cash value” to the increment in income over the twelve months from our settlement date of 1 April 2014 of 1% of salary.

So outside London, the employers’ “proposal” (when compared to their previous offer against which we took strike action) delivers nothing in the current pay year for someone on spine point 26, something for people below that point and worse than nothing for people above that point.

On the Inner London Pay spine the equivalent spine point (above which the employer’s “proposals” actually deliver less in cash terms in the current year than the 1% against which we have been taking strike action) falls between spine points 20 and 21 (in outer London the same point falls between spine points 23 and 24). Therefore everything I say here about how utterly inadequate the employers’ proposal is applies with added force in Greater London.

Outside London, in authorities which apply only the national pay spine, the following table shows, at various points on the pay spine, how much more or less the employers’ new “proposal” offers between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015 when compared to the 1% pay offer (with more for spine points 5 to 10) against which we took strike action;
Spine point
Value of previous offer £pa
Value of “proposal” £pa
Gain/(loss) £pa
Gain (loss) per month
Gain/(loss) per week

As you can see, the employers’ “proposal” offers an extra pittance to the lower paid at the expense of offering less to workers paid at or above spine point 26 (the bottom of scale 6). This is obfuscated to some extent in the documents circulated by the device of offering to settle next year’s pay claim at the same time – so it is worth stressing just how tiny the benefit to the lowest paid from this “proposal” really is. Across the whole year, the lowest paid benefit by a few pounds before tax – after tax perhaps enough to afford a small round of drinks to toast the skill of our negotiators?

Those who took strike action may also be interested in how the improvement (if there is one for them) in the money they will receive from their employer in the current pay year compares with the deduction they experienced for taking strike action on 10 July. There is no point making this comparison for those on spine points 26 and above – since they will all be worse off than if we had accepted the employer’s original offer.

This table compares the amount by which workers at various points on the bottom half of the pay spine benefit from the employers’ “proposal” (compared to the previous offer) with how much it will have cost them to have taken strike action for a day, depending upon whether their employers made deductions at the rate of 1/365th or 1/260th of annual salary;
Spine point
Deduction at 1/365th
Deduction at 1/260th

The skilled negotiators who have drawn this dramatic new “proposal” from the employers will therefore have achieved (if they could persuade members to accept a settlement on this basis);
·         Less money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £1,870.25 gross (i.e. before deductions) per month (£430.41 gross a week);
·         A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
·         Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
·         Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.

Now it might be objected, by one of these skilled negotiators (let’s perhaps refer to him as BS?) that this analysis of just how pathetic it would be to recommend settling our pay dispute for this miserable “proposal” because of its impact in the current pay year, fails to take account of the longer term impact of the 2.2% pay increase from 1 January into the future.

I’ll look further at that argument in the next blog post, but it is entirely reasonable to look at the impact of a pay proposal over one year, because if we had accepted the employers’ original offer (against which we took strike action) we could have lodged a new claim for a further increase from 1 April 2015.

The most important conclusion to draw from all this analysis is that we need to step up preparations for strike action on 14 October 2014!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dodgy pay proposal from the local government employers - what would Eric Morecambe say?

Imagine if we received an “improved” pay offer? (not that we have, you understand, but what if we were to be made, if not an “offer” then a “proposal”?)

What if we were to be offered an unconsolidated lump sum of between £250 and £100 to be paid in December, and a 2.2% pay increase on all pay points from 1 January 2015 with no further increase until 1 April 2016?

What should we make of that?

What was it that Eric Morecambe used to say?

If I were a local government worker (as I am!) I would go and look to see how much I was losing as a result of the five year long pay freeze.

Then I would think how much such a pathetic offer would make up of that loss.

Then I would reject the offer.

If you’ll indulge my hypothesising, dear reader, you’ll permit me to hypothesise that UNISON’s National Joint Council (NJC) Committee would not consider such an “offer” (or “proposal”) worth consulting our members upon (a view with which, albeit it may be hypothetical, I wholeheartedly concur).

It is important to understand that the point at which UNISON’s NJC Committee says that they wish to embark upon formal consultation upon any offer from the employer’s side is the point at which they know that they are announcing a de facto acceptance.

Should officials keen to avert the trouble of continuing a dispute have cajoled the NJC Committee into taking soundings from Regional Local Government Committees it would surely be important that activists in branches ensured that our members were empowered to respond assertively.

Let us assert that we want a decent pay rise effective 1 April 2014 which delivers the living wage for all our members and gives at least the same monetary increase up the pay spine.

And let us do all we can to get our members out on strike on 14 October!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Council and school workers – Are you losing out? (Yes)


Here's a link to UNISON's handy guide to how much worse off you are (if you are a local government or school support worker in England, Wales or Northern Ireland) as a result of five years of pay freeze (topped with a paltry 1% last year).

Branches need to find imaginative ways to get this message to our members - alongside the message that we can do something about this by taking strike action on Tuesday 14 October.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Going back to our roots

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis went back to his roots at Labour Party Conference today with a Conference speech that pledged support for Ed Miliband but demanded support in turn for our members, whom Dave referred to as “our roots, our betrayed base.”

Reminding the Conference that we are planning strike action in health and local government in the coming month, Dave said; “we expect our Labour movement, our Labour party, our political leadership to support us when our members take action.”

That is a message which UNISON branches need to take to every Labour MP and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.

We should focus our energies in the run up to the election on supporting candidates who march with us in London and Glasgow on Saturday 18 October, and make a special effort for those who join our picket lines outside hospitals on Monday 13 October, and Council offices on Tuesday 14 October.

Labour politicians should support the Party’s “betrayed base” by coming back to the roots of our movement and supporting workers in struggle this autumn.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

UNISON's election challenge

Labour has announced that we’ll increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2020 if we can get Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street.

The Trades Union Congress agreed Motion 25 (which you can read online here) which called for an increase to £10 an hour (and now, not in 2020).

UNISON is without doubt right to welcome this announcement nevertheless.

The difference which will matter to working class voters in next year’s General Election will not be that between the policy of the TUC and that of the Labour Party, but that between the Labour and Conservative parties.

We need a Labour Government (with apologies to those pursuing other political dreams).

We also need a trade union movement which will make better use of the link with the Labour Party which we (partially) defended.

We cannot afford to repeat the mistake of foolish timidity which meant that we failed effectively to oppose New Labour’s plans for foundation hospitals and tuition fees (thereby helping them to build the bridges over which the Tories have since marched).

This is part of the debate which we need to have, along with a debate about how we mobilise members to fight for our collective interests as workers and how we build our movement in these times.

UNISON has a unique opportunity to engage our members and activists in a debate about how we achieve all our objectives – because we have to have a General Secretary election which must start in the next few months.

The collective challenge which therefore confronts the members of UNISON’s National Executive Council (all of whom have, after all, chosen to put ourselves in this position) is to set out how we will enable this unavoidable election to help us achieve our objectives.

Those of us on the left will then face the challenge of what we do...