Saturday, September 27, 2014

Local Government Pay - look to the future?

In the previous post on this blog, I analysed the impact on local government workers’ pay in the current pay year of the “proposal” made by the employers’ side negotiators in the past week, and, comparing it with the previous pay offer (against we took strike action on 10 July), concluded that it offered the following;
·         Less money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £1,870.25 gross (i.e. before deductions) per month (£430.41 gross a week);
·         A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
·         Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
·         Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.

However, the “proposal” isn’t a single year pay offer, if it formed the basis of a settlement, we would be accepting that we would not receive a further pay increase until April 2016. Since we hadn’t made a pay claim for 2015/16, and hadn’t received any earlier offer, there is no benchmark against which to measure the post-April implications of the “proposal” in the same way as the implications up to 31 March can be compared with the previous (bottom loaded) 1% one year offer.

The most important question to ask about the “proposal” may be whether it could be said to “break” the Government’s 1% pay policy, given that the “headline” percentage increase appears to be 2.2%.

That question arises, of course, only because other questions do not arise.

There is no point asking “does this ‘proposal’ come anywhere near achieving the objectives of our claim?”

Because it doesn’t.

For the low paid, we sought to achieve the living wage of £7.65 per hour (£14,759 a year, for a full-time worker based upon a 37 hour week). The “proposal” leaves everyone on spine point 10 and below earning less than the living wage (set in October 2014) until at least April 2016.

There is no point asking “does this ‘proposal’ come anywhere near restoring the loss in real income which our members have suffered over the past five years?”

Because it doesn’t.

Look at the UNISON online pay calculator to see how much workers have lost at different points in the pay spine. A worker earning £12,435 (well below the living wage) is £2,248 a year worse off but is being offered only £1,065 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016. A worker earning £24,982 is £4,905 a year worse off but is being offered only £547.62 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016.

So, if there are people out there (perhaps some union officials, or employers’ representatives) who want to put a positive spin upon this entirely inadequate “proposal” their best bet will be to present this as a 2.2% pay rise rather than a 1% pay rise.

But it isn’t.

The previous blog post dealt with the fact that the new “proposal” is actually worth less than a 1% pay increase would have been in the current year to all workers above spine point 26, whilst offering a paltry few pounds extra to the lower paid over that period.

The appearance of a 2.2% increase in 2015/16 can only be achieved by sleight of hand, ignoring the fact that this is a two year deal and that the very worst we could have expected anyway, without any campaign or industrial action, would have been two successive 1% pay awards, which together would have been worth a combined 2.01% anyway.

Putting it at it its very best, a settlement on the basis of this “proposal” would be gambling away our opportunity to fight for a decent pay rise in 2015 (a year in which a General Election will be fought in large part on the issue of living standards) in return for an increase 0.19% larger than the worst we could otherwise have expected.

To put this into some sort of perspective, here is a comparison of the 2015/16 salaries at various points subject to the straightforward percentage increase element of the “proposal” with what those salaries would have been after two successive 1% increases;
Spine point
Annual salary in 2015/16 under the “proposal” £pa
Annual salary in 2015/16 based upon two 1% increases
Benefit of the “proposal” £pa
Monthly benefit of the “proposal”
Weekly benefit of the “proposal”

The worker on spine point 26 (who is, as readers of the last blog post will recollect, no better off in 2014/15 at all as a result of the “proposal” than they would have been if we had just meekly accepted 1% in the first place) is therefore being asked to forego the possibility of campaigning for fair pay in the year of a General Election in return for the princely sum of 82p a week before tax than they would have got from the Government’s 1% pay policy.
The benefit to the lower paid is even more pitiable, whilst the slightly larger (though still tiny) increases at higher pay rates have to be offset against the financial loss which they will have suffered in 2014/15 from accepting a “proposal” which (for them) will have been even less generous than the original 1% offer.

It is incredible that any serious trade unionist would contemplate accepting a settlement based upon the employers’ “proposal”. If this is what some people think amounts to “breaking” a pay freeze then I strongly urge they never try to shatter an ice sculpture.

It is not just that this is not something for which it would be worth calling off strike action on 14 October – if the real reason for considering that is that some are not optimistic about the response on the day then I seriously question whether we wouldn’t be better just settling for the previous offer and keeping our options open in 2015.

Any trade union official who recommends a settlement based upon the employers’ “proposal” because they say it is a significant improvement on the previous 1% offer, or because they claim it breaks the pay freeze is either a charlatan or a fool (or possibly both, and an inebriate).

If we fight for fair pay and fail, then the employers “proposal” shows the sort of unfair pay which our members will doubtless have to put up with into the future – just as we have put up with the largest decline in our living standards in our working lives over the last five years because we have not been able to mobilise members to fight for more.

Local government workers who want a better standard of living need to gear up for strike action on Tuesday 14 October.

No comments: