Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One whole per cent? Just for me? Really?

At last the local government employers have made us an offer worth rejecting!

After all the to-ing and fro-ing about the 0.5% offer and the deadline and who said what to whom at a meeting in May we now have a pay offer for local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And it is...

* Pay

From 1 April 2009 an increase of 1.25% on SCPs 4 to 10 inclusive

From 1 April 2009 an increase of 1.00% on SCPs 11 to 49 inclusive

* Annual Leave

From 1 April 2009, an increase from 20 to 21 days in minimum annual leave for employees with less than five years’ service.

The National Agreement Part 2 Para 7.2 would therefore be amended to read as follows, with effect from 1 April 2009:

7.2 Annual Leave

The minimum paid annual leave entitlement is twenty one days with a further four days after five years of continuous service. The entitlement as expressed applies to five day working patterns. For alternative working patterns an equivalent leave entitlement should be calculated.

* Joint Statement on Best Practice in Handling Redundancies

By 1 December 2009, the NJC will produce joint guidance on best practice in handling redundancies.

The changes to annual leave are irrelevant to the many authorities who already allow more than the nationally agreed minimum (although we can all use this as an opportunity to ask to increase our local leave agreements!)

The offer of joint guidance on best practice in handling redundancies is about as appealing as the offers frequently made to me outside our branch office in Brixton from people marketing exotic pets (I think that's why they whisper "skunk" to me...?)

The pay offer is better than it was.

Twice as good in fact.

And more than the RPI.

It does now appear that the position of the employers' side is driven by parsimony rather than an outright desire to sabotage national pay bargaining.

This is all worth one and a half cheers. But not an outright welcome.

However I fully support the decision of the Lambeth Branch Committee to recommend rejection of this pay offer.

It is worth less than our employers have budgeted for – so if we take this we are giving them an underspend and inviting them to spend money which should be ours.

It comes nowhere near restoring the ground which local government workers have lost relative to average earnings since 2002.

This is not a good pay offer.

Clearly our members are not eager to strike.No one is.

We face threats to our job security and our pensions and the willing tools of reaction in the mass media have done a good job of trying to persuade us that working people should tighten our belts at this time.

However, the best way to strengthen our Union to defend our jobs and pensions is to take a strong stand on the one issue around which the great majority of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can unite – pay.

UNISON activists in local government should use the opportunity afforded by the national consultation exercise that will be kicked off by the National Joint Council Committee on Monday 27 July in two ways.

First, this is an opportunity to recruit non-members (who can only have a say about pay as members of the Union) and to organise the members we have. Calling workplace meetings to discuss this issue is also an opportunity to recruit shop stewards where we lack them.

Secondly, we should argue with our members that they should be prepared to reject this pay offer and take strike action for a better deal. This will be a hard argument (but anyone who got involved in union activity for easy popularity was ill advised!)

There will be those in the Union leadership who mistakenly believe that the role of leadership is to hold up a mirror to the membership and reflect back whatever we see, whether that is militancy, apathy or despair. Indeed they may be in a majority in our leadership (they usually are).

However the responsibility of leadership is to offer to our members a strategy that could work to defend our interests. Democracy means that our members - rightly - will choose to support or not to support the proposal put before us by our leadership.

I therefore think that we should recommend rejection of 1% and support for the very serious, difficult and costly strike action which would be necessary to secure a better offer.

Our negotiators have done well to secure an improvement in the original derisory offer, but that does not mean that we should accept the new slightly-less-derisory offer.

I won't. Will you?

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