Friday, July 20, 2007

Pay - let's be clear about 2.5%

Now pay talks in Health have failed to produce any significant progress with the English employers still refusing even to follow the example of the devolved administrations and remove the staging of the miserly 2.5% awarded by the Pay Review Body (and offered to non-PRB staff).

This follows on from the stalling of talks for Local Government workers last week, as the employers refused, despite repeated hints, to increase their 2% offer – even to 2.5%. The position of the Local Government Conference was clearly to reject 2% and also to oppose 2.5% should it be offered. I understand that this is also the position of the Health Service Group.

These clear policy positions adopted by elected lay representatives need to be borne in mind when considering the occasionally ambiguous comments on the UNISON website.

Yesterday’s story on health says, for example that;

“The government's decision to stage the 2.5% awarded by the independent pay review body has provoked anger amongst nurses, paramedics, therapists and other health workers."The retail price index is currently running at 4.4% so a 2.5% rise is already well below the level of inflation," said Mr Jackson. "Staging it has reduced its value still further to just 1.9%."Our health workers deserve better and need more to just to keep up with the rising cost of living." The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided not to stage the pay award.”

The lead comment from our General Secretary this week, is;

“The threat of local government strike action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland moved a step closer this week with all three unions formally registering a dispute over this year’s miserly 2% pay offer.Pay talks have dragged on. We know that employers have budgeted for a rise of at least 2.5% - it’s time for them to act responsibly and come up with a better offer or face a ballot for strike action.”

All of this is true, but our opposition to 2.5% could also be mentioned. The Local Government Conference put it fairly well;

“We believe that a settlement based on a 2.5% total "envelope" would not be acceptable to our members, however it was packaged. With inflation at an eight year high of 4.8% and further rises in interest rates predicted this would amount to a real and substantial further cut in living standards for Local Government Workers.”

Also, in Scotland and Wales where health workers have been offered the full 2.5% backdated to 1 April UNISON is rejecting this and continuing – rightly – to demand a proper pay rise (not a pay cut).

Two weeks ago the Chair of UNISON's Scottish Health Group said: "The 2.5% award imposed by the Scottish Executive does not address the aspirations of UNISON workers who sustain vital health services. Problems of low pay and identified and acknowledged in the NHS, but this settlement does nothing to address this. A pay increase of less than £6 per week is an insult to our low paid members"

We have an opportunity to stand together with our brothers and sisters in other public service Unions. This is an opportunity to do more than push up pay awards worth 1.9% and 2% to 2.5% when inflation is well above 4%.

I think I agree with Gregor Gall writing in today’s Morning Star; “the unions need to recognise that, by acting together industrially they can punch well above their weight politically.”

Gall goes on to tell us (the unions) to be “surefooted enough” to know that we can wring better deals out of this Government – and force Labour leftwards to reconnect with people’s social democratic aspirations. (Or – as Dave Prentis put it to the Labour Link Forum; “steering our party back to its true values, firmly grounded in policies that resonate with ordinary working people.”)

As to the last bit, well I hope so – but I think our members would settle with a pay rise that at least keeps pace with rising prices (which would of course mean breaking Brown’s pay policy).

There are (at least) two ways this could go. We should recognise that we need to unite and take on the public sector pay policy right now – campaigning vigorously amongst our members to reject 2.5% as much as 2% and whether or not it is staged, and work towards united public sector strike action on the widest basis and earliest date practicable.

The alternative is to find reasons for foot dragging and obfuscation, delaying action by round after round of consultation and claiming an unnecessarily modest increase to the current offers as a victory achieved by patient dialogue with our friends in Government.

Guess which one I prefer?

1 comment:

Leslie (Cambridge) said...

what happened to the pensions ballot report you posted on this blog last night Jon?? The 2020 lobbying information was helpful.