Friday, April 29, 2016
Capitulation to pay cut signals end of national pay bargaining in local government?
It would not have been wise to have blogged immediately about the abysmal outcome of Wednesday's meeting of UNISON's National Joint Council (NJC) Committee.
Even your blogger can learn not to rush over hastily online when exceptionally angry. This can lead to one having to apologise (in which regard I should note that I make no criticism of our General Secretary in this blog post, although one of his prominent supporters certainly comes out of the reports of the meeting less well).
The NJC Committee is bound by the policy of our Service Group Conference to consult branches (who, in turn, are encouraged to consult widely with members) on any pay offer. This year they did that and the members rejected the offer (of 1% a year for the next two years to the majority with larger increases for the lowest paid in order to keep the bottom of the pay spine above the rising minimum wage).
However, the Committee was divided as to what to do about this - particularly after the GMB membership voted to accept the offer. Regions such as the North West and London understood that we should move to a strike ballot following rejection of a pay offer - but other Regions were less certain (the Welsh choosing this of all times to resurrect their demand to break away from pay bargaining alongside their English and Northern Irish colleagues).
The patchiness of support for action across the country (which is both a cause for and a symptom of the unwillingness/inability of some Regions to mobilise and motivate the membership) was reflected in the predictably confusing outcome of "multiple choice" consultation with the membership on different forms of industrial action.
When the Industrial Action Committee considered the request of the NJC Committee for a ballot for serious and sustained strike action it therefore referred the request back to the NJC Committee to consult Regions and branches afresh on a clear choice between accepting a real terms pay cut for the majority of our members on the one hand - and balloting for serious and sustained strike action on the other.
At Wednesday's NJC Committee the Chair permitted a member from the East Midlands Region to raise a proposal, of which prior notice had not been given, and which was plainly outside the policy of the Service Group Conference, that the pay cut be accepted without further consultation.
The presumed justification for this proposal was the "new information" of self-fulfilling prophecies from several Regions that there was no appetite for action amongst the membership. On this basis (and in a vote which your blogger understands the Chair refused formally to record) the Committee voted by 13 votes to 10 that UNISON should accept responsibility for a continuing failure to improve the living standards of local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland until at least 1 April 2018.
Activists need to ensure that those responsible for thus bringing our union into disrepute are held to account by means of Emergency Motions to Local Government Conference - but we also need to face the consequences of this catastrophe.
Since one element of the Trade Union Bill we have yet to defeat concerns the strike ballot thresholds, we would have a massive hurdle to leap to take national strike action in 2018 - but it is unlikely that national pay bargaining will still be particularly relevant by then.
It is ironic that some of the Regions who most depend upon national pay bargaining for their pay, conditions (and in some cases recognition) are those who have repeatedly refused to show leadership to defend national bargaining.
Local government workers in London now need to begin to address the need for a London Pay claim, which is quite possible within the context of the existing Gold Book arrangements.
We have waited long enough for the rest of the country.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.