Deputation statement to Cabinet from Camden Unison on Pay “modernisation”

This is the text of a speech made by George Binette, the Branch Secretary, to the Council’s Cabinet on 18th April on the ‘pay modernisation’ issue:

There has been a serious, sustained commitment on the part of both UNISON and GMB representatives to achieve a collective bargaining agreement in response to the proposals management first unveiled last September. While both unions are prepared to continue negotiations, we also recognise that we may well be approaching an impasse with an unbridgeable gap around crucial issues. Our strong sense is that a large proportion of union members hold the justifiable perception that the essence of the ‘pay modernisation’ proposals is still another example of the public sector workforce being asked to pay for a crisis most certainly not of its making.

Time constraints do not allow for a detailed explanation of our objections, both philosophical and practical, to the introduction of Performance-Related Pay for those who feature among the better remunerated sections of the workforce. I will instead hone in on three key areas: the length of the working week, the disproportionately detrimental impact of these proposals for lower-paid staff and relationship between these proposals and the possible introduction of the London Living Wage.

First, however, Cabinet members must be aware of the overarching context in which management’s proposals have emerged. We have just entered the third year of an absolute pay freeze across most English and Welsh local authorities, which has already since spring 2009 meant a 13% erosion in real pay for the vast majority of the local authority workforce. And despite these cuts in real pay we have still witnessed tens of thousands of job losses across councils including hundreds of compulsory redundancies here in Camden. While the immediate attack on the Local Government Pension Scheme may be in abeyance, an underlying threat to it is still very much alive.

Needless to say, we welcome management’s retreat from the original proposal for a 37-hour contractual working week for both new and existing staff, but we are both disappointed and puzzled that the revised proposals continue to push for a 37-hour week for new starters, effectively creating a two-tier workforce, doing nothing to enhance productivity; running contrary to the supposed commitment to minimising redundancies; and putting Camden in the same league as one – and only one – other London local authority, the Tory-controlled flagship of Hammersmith & Fulham.

Both unions are particularly concerned about the implications of these proposals for a substantial minority of lower-paid staff, whose overall earnings are more reliant on allowances for working anti-social hours and, to a lesser degree, overtime. Partly with this group in mind, UNISON has been pressing for a consolidated £250 pay award to those staff whose (full-time equivalent) basic pay (including London Weighting Allowance) is at or below £25,000. At least eight London authorities have actually agreed £250 and at least two of those have consolidated the award for those on salaries at or below £21,000 a year. None of these are currently pursuing changes to pay structures, terms and conditions as radical as those advanced by Camden management.

Finally, there have been suggestions that the savings accrued from the implementation of these proposals would serve to fund the implementation of the London Living Wage (LLW) on current and future outsourced contracts. Cabinet members will be aware that UNISON has campaigned for a number of years for the adoption of LLW on all contracts for which this authority has ultimate responsibility. Our argument has, however, consistently been that the introduction of the Living Wage should not be on the backs of relatively low-paid staff still in direct Council employment, but instead come from the profit margins of large private contractors such as NSL and ISS, the Council’s new cleaning and building maintenance contractor, which is a huge multinational with more than half a million employees globally.

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