Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Update from the local government pay negotiations?

It is to be expected that reports from the early stages of negotiations will be like clothing designed to make the wearer alluring, vaguely encouraging but concealing rather more than is revealed.

Really all we know after yesterday’s negotiations is that there will be more negotiations on 22 August. As to “nothing ruled in and nothing ruled out” this is generally just the sort of meaningless formulation which enables both sides to offer hope to their respective constituencies. Except that if either side have revealed their longer term objectives you have some idea of what it is they don’t want “ruled out”…

Since we know that the employers have some unpalatable plans for the future, activists in branches need to prepare for the prospect that we do not get a satisfactory outcome from these negotiations. As things stand, in the light of the impact of the strike action on 16 and 17 July, which was not coordinated effectively with other public service unions to maximise its political impact, the employers are not likely to offer a significant increase unless this is linked either to changes in the national agreement or to agreement on pay increases for future years (and most probably to both).

We considered the employers’ plans for the national agreement at last year’s Local Government Conference and agreed our policy – we rightly thought “unrealistic the suggestion that major changes of the kind outlined in the employers reports can be achieved within the context of the 2008 pay negotiations”. This remains the case. This was in the context of clear policy agreed the previous year – to “take all steps necessary to avoid multi-year deals.” This continues to be UNISON policy.

With inflation on the increase the pressures on our cost of living are getting worse (we should of course continue to refer to the RPI and not only the CPI). The likelihood that we can get a satisfactory settlement from the current negotiations without further effective action is negligible. It is therefore important that we turn our attention to an honest discussion of how to take the dispute forward. There were those who were promising us a “Plan B” but they have failed to deliver on this, so I think we have to work out a strategy for the dispute which includes further national industrial action as part of a political plan to influence our employers and the Government.

I am sure that there are plenty of activists in UNISON with even better ideas that those of the Lambeth Branch – and hope that the national union will encourage branches to debate strategy so that these ideas can find expression. Getting a decent pay rise for the largest group of UNISON members (and the largest bargaining group in the economy) ought to be the very highest priority for our Union.

No comments: