Saturday, August 17, 2013

Fight for a flat rate pay increase - support Option Two in the NJC consultation

I was unimpressed last year by the decision of the UNISON National Joint Council (NJC) Committee to make a pay claim which was not for a definite amount but rather for a “substantial increase.”

I think it is clear that neither the employers nor trade union members are encouraged to take seriously a campaign for a pay rise which dare not speak its name.

I am therefore encouraged that both of the two options on which the NJC Committee are now consulting UNISON branches do at least have the merit of naming an amount for the pay rise which they seek.

So far so good.

This is an important year for local government pay negotiations. The UNISON branch circular makes clear the fears of our officials that, if we don’t deliver a decent increase in NJC pay, more and more authorities may abandon national bargaining – and also that, if community campaigners prove themselves more effective than trade union negotiators in delivering a living wage then trade unions could be marginalised in relation to future pay settlements.

 Whilst these fears come from the same Jeremiahs who have been prophesying widespread derecognition for years, they are not entirely without foundation. By the time of next year’s pay settlement it will be twelve years since we secured anything approaching a satisfactory outcome from a pay round – and twenty five years since anything that could honestly be called any sort of victory.

The setting of a pay claim is only the first tentative step in trying to put this situation to rights, but it is not an unimportant one. Therefore it seems to me vital that UNISON activists engage with the consultation process – and that we secure the support of the NJC Committee for the option which sets us on the path to a successful pay campaign.

Both options adopt the application of the Living Wage to the lowest point on the pay spine as their starting point. This is not an unreasonable attempt to attach to our cause the public support which the idea of a “living wage” has won.

Option One starts with the observation that this would require an increase of 15.5% to the lowest pay point, and therefore calls for a 15.5% increase to the whole pay spine. This means calling for progressively greater hourly increases up to £3.29 an hour at the top of the pay spine.

Option Two starts with the observation that this would require an increase of £1 an hour to the lowest pay point, and therefore calls for an increase of £1 an hour to the whole pay spine. This means calling for progressively smaller percentage pay increases, falling to 4.6% at the top of the pay spine.

Option One appears to have a significant drawback from the point of view of London branches , since we have a higher London Living Wage, which has been adopted by a far higher proportion of our employers. There is a risk that Option One would not offer any increase for those already earning the London Living Wage (where this exceeds the relevant pay spine point).

A national pay claim which had significant drawbacks for London would inevitably give rise to pressure for London pay bargaining, which would not be in the interests of any of us in the long term – and would not be in the interests of those outside London in the short term.

There is, however, a more substantial objection to Option One, which is that – even though it proposes a percentage increase across the pay spine which would not even restore our real pay to the level it was at in 2009 it proposes an increase of almost one sixth in the pay budget simply in order to maintain the differentials for the higher pay points.

Option Two is the progressive option, precisely because, as it is a claim for a flat rate pay increase, it would squeeze differentials. At present someone on the top of the pay spine earns 3.38 times as much as someone on the lowest point. Whereas Option One would leave that unchanged, Option Two reduces that differential to just over 3 times as much.

Squeezing differentials gives rise to no Equal Pay problems – and given that it is well documented that the lower paid face higher price inflation than those of us who are less low paid there is a social justice argument for a flat rate increase – as well as a compelling equality argument (since the gender – and race – pay gaps in local government are a product of the proportion of workers, by race and gender, on each pay point, reducing the differentials generally will reduce the pay gaps).

A simple claim for at least one pound an hour more for all local government workers (bearing in mind that the Living Wage will be uprated in the autumn), which would deliver the Living Wage for the lowest paid and still offer an above inflation pay rise to the highest paid is a good starting point for the campaign which now needs to be started.

Branches have until 4 October to let their Regional Heads of Local Government have a response to the consultation. Let’s go for Option Two and begin to prepare now for the sustained strike action that will be necessary to defend our living standards and our trade union.


Anonymous said...

You could mention the splendid result in Scotland.

Anonymous said...

That was irony, Jon.

Anonymous said...

UNISON, by not going for flat rate increases over the years, has helped to increase the wage inequality it continually condemns.On my dreadful salary of less than £16k I will always get, under the current across-the-board percentage deal, only half the pay rise that my line manager (£30k) gets.Over the years the salary gap widens and low-paid front-line workers drop further and further behind and relative and actual poverty become more acute. On challenging our branch secretary on this matter he told me "You'll never change that. They're all greedy bastards at the top."