Saturday, February 06, 2010

Coronation or Election - the case of pay

In deciding whether or not to support the Oramist view that Dave Prentis should be the one and only duly nominated candidate for UNISON General Secretary it is worth reviewing the effectiveness of our trade union over the past decade against some of our key objectives.

Most trade union members expect the union to secure them more (rather than less) pay.

We haven't been doing too well in local government recently. A couple of years ago our General Secretary acknowledged that "Local government members' pay has slipped back against the private and other sectors." Since then things have not improved for the majority of UNISON members in the Local Government Service Group.

This is hardly a new problem - the Local Government Pay Commission noted that local government pay fell behind from 1998 to 2002 and long term readers of this blog will remember my complaining about this on more than one occasion a couple of years ago.

Of course local government members are also scarred by the experience of the implementation of Single Status and the cynical attempts of the employers to use equal pay as an excuse to cut the earnings of low paid workers.

The position in the health service isn't quite so bad - according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) the median gross hourly earnings for workers in "health and social work" increased (in cash terms) by 41% between 2000 and 2009, fractionally higher than the 39% increase for "all employees".

However the benefit of trade union membership seems to be declining (though still substantial) based on government data. The "trade union wage premium" in the public sector fell from 29.9% in autumn 2001 to 22.5% by the fourth quarter of 2006. Pay freezes and restraint in predominantly unionised areas could further erode the benefits of union membership. It will be the responsibility of our leadership to persuade members of a strategy to resist attacks on our earnings which will also undermine our Union.

Therefore, for those who favour a coronation of our General Secretary over an election in which ordinary workers can express our views with our votes need to ask themselves whether the mixed record of our Union on pay over the past decade really warrant the deification of our existing leadership.

Is the leadership that has at best managed to tread water under a (notionally) Labour Government the leadership we need to stand up to the attacks which public service workers will face in the coming years?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jon,
I enjoy reading your blog and think you make many good points often.
I'm almost persuaded to back Paul in the election, but where does it get us being so negative so publicly about our union? If we are going to get anywhere in the current climate surely its essential that we are seen to be as united as possible in the face of cuts and attacks on our pay?

Can't we put aside some of this stuff and keep it for internal dicussion? I don't see how its helping anyone except the employers and the Tories to be having a go at our own union in public?

Yours in solidarity
Mike King