Monday, August 20, 2007

Local Government Pay - what next?

Full marks to UNISON’s NJC Committee who today decided to continue preparations for a strike ballot of our local government members in opposition to the scandalous 2% pay offer (equivalent to a pay cut in “real terms” of more than 2% as the Retail Price Index stands above 4%). Whether we will see a serious fight for a decent pay rise or an attempt to railroad a dodgy compromise remains, of course, an open question.

[Note for those who are not anoraks - The NJC is the National Joint Council (the negotiating body for pay and conditions in English and Welsh local government) and the UNISON NJC Committee consists of UNISON’s members of that body (the majority of the trade union side).]

The NJC Committee decided to press ahead with preparations for the strike ballot in spite of indications that the employers’ side may be preparing to make an improved offer at Friday’s meeting of the NJC Executive – the Committee will meet again on 4 September to consider what to do in response to any improved offer.

The NJC was right on two counts. First, if there is any chance of a significantly improved offer then before that offer has been made is not the time to let up on pressure on the employers! Secondly, activists need to be confident that the leadership are serious about preparing to fight against this attack upon our members’ standard of living if we are to stand a chance of mobilising our members to take action.

The questions to which we need to turn our minds are what should be done if there is an improved offer – and what strike action should we be preparing for if a satisfactory improvement is not offered. It seems logical that there must be some improvement to be offered (or why meet? The trade union side cancelled the last meeting – rightly – when they were told nothing more was to be offered). But how much? And what then?

Obviously if a trivial improvement is offered (say £38 each for most members) then I hope the Committee will simply press ahead. If a more significant increase is made in the offer then the Committee will need to decide whether to repeat the consultation exercise that produced an 81% rejection of the 2% offer. I can’t see that this would be worth doing for any offer worth less than 3% on the pay bill, but that may not be the view of everyone.

There are those who say that our members will strike against an offer of 2% but would be less enthusiastic to strike against an offer of 2.5% (the amount many local authorities budgeted for). Since the employers hinted at making an offer worth 2.5% on the pay bill there is a risk that some on the NJC Committee and the Service Group Executive would wish to recommend acceptance of such an offer – in blatant contravention of Conference policy. Those who believe that our members will accept 2.5% were noticeable by their absence – and their silence – at Conference in June.

There is also always the risk that an elected lay Committee will refuse to make a recommendation to members in a further consultative ballot – an abdication of responsibility which could only possibly be made worse by a subsequent attempt to stifle debate. (This is of course what has happened in the Health Service Group, where I hope that activists will continue to encourage members to reflect upon their own interests when deciding whether or not to accept a very poor offer).

If you are a local government worker reading this you are not just a spectator. Join UNISON and you can have a say;

Local government members who want a pay rise closer to our claim (for 5% or £1,000) than to the employers’ lousy 2% offer need to be lobbying their elected members on the SGE and NJC Committees to express their views. The elected members of the SGE are listed online here.

If we don’t prevent a below inflation pay deal in the first year of the Brown premiership then things can only get worse from here on in – the employers are already planning ahead (as we were warned in June by the SGE) and we need to show strength and determination to defend national pay bargaining and our conditions of service.

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