Friday, October 03, 2008

Scots get half a loaf as pay round stutters to a halt

Half a loaf being – quite clearly – better than none, an offer of half a per cent is clearly better than no offer and scurrying off to arbitration (well more dawdling than scurrying!). So to that extent well done to the Scottish comrades, who have been offered a 3% increase this year (up from 2.5%) but only if they accept 2.5% next year.

Forgetting foolish faith in reopener clauses (which clearly do not work) any multi-year pay deal is a significant risk. Going into a recession I suppose it is likely that inflation will now come down, although whether it will fall fast enough to stop 2.5% in 2009 being a real terms pay cut (just as 3% in 2008 is) remains to be seen.

As far as UNISON members are concerned we do seem to be coming to the end of a pay round in which, whilst we may have defeated the straw man of the 2% pay policy, we have failed to protect the living standards of our members, whose pay rises are falling behind inflation.

I think that the 2% pay policy is pretty irrelevant since I understand that whereas in previous years some efforts were made to induce the local government employers to abide by it, there is no evidence of any such pressure this year. I do therefore hope that we won’t – at next week’s UNISON NEC – be invited to pat ourselves on the back for defeating a pay policy which the Government did nothing to pursue.

If we are honest we need to recognise that the current approach of the Union leadership is not delivering pay increases for our members.

This failure to protect living standards in the most unionised sectors of the economy threatens to reduce the union wage differential. It certainly does nothing to build our Union.

Instead of complacency and silence I hope to hear an honest assessment of the weaknesses of our approach next week, and a serious attempt to consider what and how we need to change.

This is an example on my part of what is known as “optimism of the will” and it is counterposed, I think, to the view of the majority of my NEC colleagues which – when it comes to making judgements about the conduct of our Union in relation to pay (or privatisation, or our work in the Labour Party) is best characterised as Panglossianism.

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