Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The real choice confronting local government workers about our pay

I didn't comment immediately on the miserly local government pay "offer" (summarised on UNISON's website - http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=8382) because I know that hasty and terse electronic communication can get the author into a spot of bother.

Essentially, the employers are offering 1% if we accept the slashing of mileage rates paid to car users, and will reduce that offer to 0.6% for all but the lowest paid if we don't.

The other elements of the first ("preferred") offer are less significant. An extra day's leave on the national agreement may not echo in automatic improvements for those already getting more.

The loss of the unilateral arbitration clause is, I would suggest, of questionable importance, since the London Weighting dispute showed almost ten years ago that this supposedly "unilateral" clause is inoperable without the cooperation of the employers. It's importance is symbolic because the employers remember having a few extra tenths of a per cent squeezed out of them last time they cooperated.

Really though this choice is no choice at all. Even a 1% pay rise is a 2% pay cut in real terms, coming after a three year pay freeze during which the spending power of the earnings of a worker stuck at the top of their grade has fallen by a sixth. Neither offer is worth even considering.

The cynical device of an "either/or" pay offer could be a cunning ruse to divide the trade unions and the workforce - but only if there's something worth having for a significant chunk of the workforce in at least one of the options on offer. Here there isn't.

The position of the local government employers amounts to offering us two different bowls of rancid horsemeat, with just a slight difference in seasoning.

Heather Wakefield is right to deride this false choice of paltry offers (http://opinion.publicfinance.co.uk/2013/02/council-pay-an-offer-they-can-refuse/) but the question which will face UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee tomorrow is not only what to say but what to do.

The choice which we should put to our members is not a choice between the employers' two options, but the honest choice between fighting for fair pay or swallowing what is offered.

I hope the NJC Committee finds the confidence, courage and common sense to give leadership by recommending rejection of both options and a campaign for industrial action to win a decent pay rise.

Until local government workers are prepared to stand together nationally, as teachers and civil servants are being asked to, we will not get a decent pay rise. Our members are entitled to a leadership which tells this truth.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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