Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Local Government pay - contemplating the furtherance of a trade dispute
As confirmed yesterday in a bulletin to UNISON branches, there is now a trade dispute over pay between the trade unions representing the local government workforce in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the local government employers.
Any activist who has ever been cautioned that they should "wait for negotiations to break down" before declaring a dispute should take note that this is not the approach being adopted here - and quite right too.
The dispute has been declared because the employers have failed to make a pay offer in response to the pay claim put to them in October. Given that the settlement date is 1 April, an offer worth considering (by means of our long established machinery for consulting via branches) would already be too late to be implemented on time.
What explains the employers' tardiness I do not know - although, having lobbied the London employers regional pay consultation event I know that the majority of London boroughs couldn't even be bothered to turn up to discuss the largest item in their budget (though cheekily, Tory Bromley came along even though they have abandoned national pay bargaining!)
It's clear that the only hope we have of anything approaching a decent pay rise is if we can mobilise our members for national strike action - and that, of course, is why it is important that we have declared that there is a trade dispute.
The framework of (limited) legal protection for UK trade unions from civil liability for inducing breach of contract (by for example calling a strike) which was established by the 1906 Liberal Government is now to be found as section 219 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
In addition to all the legal restrictions around ballots and notification imposed in the 1980s (and retained by New Labour) the original restriction from 1906 also remains - in order for an act on behalf of a trade union to attract civil immunity (so no one can sue us) it has, first of all, to be carried out "in contemplation or furtherance" of a trade dispute.
Although there is no formal legal requirement to "declare" a trade dispute it is a sensible step, and - in this case - an important moment in the 2014 Local Government pay campaign.
We now need to contemplate how to further this dispute. The workforce covered by the National Joint Council is not only the largest bargaining unit within UNISON - it remains the largest single bargaining unit in the entire economy. This dispute is highly significant.
The Service Group Executive, and UNISON's National Joint Council Committee, need to take a leaf from the book of our sisters and brothers in Higher Education and give a bold lead.
The Union as a whole, at the very highest level and from the top down, then needs to apply the lesson of the period between the General Secretary's speech to the TUC in 2011 and the strike over pensions on 30 November of that year.
A satisfactory outcome to this dispute depends upon the single-minded mobilisation of all of the resources of our Union in order to inspire and empower members and activists on the ground.
Our membership in local government is falling as the sector is hammered with job losses, and defensive struggles played out locality by locality can only, at best, achieve some damage limitation.
This dispute is our opportunity to change things. This will require a clear and decisive lead from the top and dedicated and disciplined determination from every activist.
The first step taken by declaring a dispute is a step in the right direction.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.