Pay bulletin – Unison rejects local government employers’ low offer

UNISON’S NJC COMMITTEE REJECTS PAY OFFER AND AGREES WAY FORWARD ON UNISON’S CAMPAIGN

UNISON’s NJC Committee met on 27 February to consider our response to the two ‘options’ in the Local Government Employers’ (LGE) ‘offer’ on pay for 2013-2014, which are attached. After a detailed and very considered debate, the Committee decided to:

• Reject both options

• Inform the LGE of UNISON’s decision and get them back into negotiations on an improved offer

• Consult members on both options through branches

• Ask members in the consultation whether they are prepared to be formally balloted to take industrial action – including all-out strike action and/or action short of strike action – such as working to contracted hours and lunchtime protests

• Get the support of GMB and Unite for UNISON’s position in the NJC Trade Union Side

• Put immediate pressure on the significant number of councils which have indicated that they are willing to pay at least 1% or are committed to paying the Living Wage, to make the LGE see sense and make a decent offer.
• Build on our Pay Matters campaign to create immediate and longer-term pressure on councils and the LGE to recognise that local government workers can no longer hold council services together on poverty pay and bargain basement conditions

• Make UNISON’s strong case for a real alternative to cuts more forcefully

• Make sure that NJC pay and our consultation is integrated into UNISON’s recruitment drive in March

WHY ARE THE ‘OPTIONS’ NOT ACCEPTABLE?

In reaching its decision to reject the LGE offer, the Committee made the following points:

NJC pay and conditions already the worst in the public sector

• NJC pay has fallen by 15% since 2010 once inflation is taken into account

• Since 1997, pay rises were below inflation in seven of those 15 years and just at inflation levels or barely above in the rest – at times when councils could have afforded more. This has just made the current situation worse

• NJC pay is by far the lowest in the public sector and the conditions are also the worst. We cannot see them cut further

Government pay policy is for 1% without strings

• The government’s public sector pay policy is for a 1% increase. 1% does not meet our claim, but is the minimum NJC workers should get- without strings!

• Some groups in the civil service and elsewhere have got higher increases this year. Local government workers should not be treated worse again!

• NJC workers earning less than £21,000 – over 70% of the workforce – did not receive the £250 promised by the Chancellor in the last two years. Other public sector groups did

More cuts to come…and no real improvements to the Green Book

• The LGE’s agenda for the future is clearly to cut other conditions – especially sick pay. The ‘list’ in Option 1 is a hostage to fortune

• The employers have made it clear that any improvements would have to be paid for by cuts elsewhere and would not be applied to councils which have already cut those conditions or be incorporated into the Green Book

• Many of our members are already subsidising employers with the shift to HMRC mileage rates and have had parking charges imposed. In negotiations we asked the LGE to consider a new, ‘green’ transport policy that rewarded our members properly for use of their cars and other vehicles. They would only do so if any new agreement was voluntary and not part of the Green Book. It would not apply to councils which have already cut mileage rates!

• The one day extra leave offered would only apply to those on the basic 21-day entitlement – a small minority of the workforce.  And some councils have been cutting leave and proposing or enforcing unpaid annual leave

Option 2 is a ‘punishment’ option

• The LGE’s Option 2 is a ‘punishment’ option. Our members above scale point 10 are not well paid and have also had their pay frozen for three years. They should not be punished for our refusal to dismantle the Green Book and give up sector-wide collective bargaining

• The 1% is only being offered to those on scale points 4-10 because the employers know that the National Minimum Wage is likely to overtake the bottom NJC scale point this year – a fact that should cause them shame

Cuts to pay and conditions have NOT saved jobs

• Employers’ promises to save jobs by keeping pay low and cutting conditions have proved hollow. Around one third of posts have still gone in many councils, saving large amounts of money on councils’ pay bills, while pay and conditions are under constant attack

• Our members are covering those vacant posts through goodwill, dedication and unpaid overtime, but are receiving no recognition for doing so

• A small ‘thank you’ for going that extra mile to keep council services going would be nice!

Cuts are real but…

• Councils are under real financial pressure because of Coalition cuts, but are still spending huge amounts of money on external consultants and privatisation initiatives, as well as agency staff. Reserves have been growing in many councils, while our members are on the breadline and huge savings have been made through job losses

• In some councils, a third of jobs have been lost since 2010. There’s been a huge saving in pay, pensions and other employer ‘on costs’ across local government as a result

• At local level, many branches have agreed cuts to conditions, frozen increments and reduced redundancy pay in exchange for keeping jobs. Yet 260,000 jobs have gone and in many councils those agreements have meant nothing. Jobs have still gone!

• Councils have made political decisions to pay the Living Wage or make settlements like Oxford City’s (below). Paying a greatly reduced workforce what they deserve is a political choice which councils can make

• The Conservative-led LGA is taking advantage of the cuts to attack pay and conditions, in the same way as the Coalition government has used the banking crisis to attack public services and the welfare state

• The Chair of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association which represents senior human resource staff has said in print that any cuts to conditions in the pay deal would be ‘more symbolic than anything’ and would mean the trade unions are prepared to be flexible – not have any meaningful financial impact. We are very prepared to be flexible, but not prepared for one-way flexibility

Many councils are unhappy about the employers offer….

• Councils can afford a decent pay rise for a much-reduced workforce and many are unhappy with the LGE’s approach…

• Several Regional employer groups have already said that they are happy to pay 1% without strings, some councils have budgeted for a pay increase above 1%, 24 councils are paying the Living Wage and the same number are considering it, councils which have opted out of the NJC have so far all offered 1% or above this year

• The employers’ mandate for the offer seems to come from a minority of ‘hard nosed’ councils who are not representative

• Councils want certainty over pay for the next few years when Coalition cuts will bite – not the uncertainty created by the LGE’s annual tinkering. Oxford City will pay 1.5% for the next five years, ‘defrost’ increments and pay a Living Wage underpin in order to have that certainty (but has unfortunately withdrawn from the NJC)

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

• Unite’s Local Government Committee met on 29 February to consider the employers’ offer and rejected it. They too are seeking further negotiations alongside UNISON. GMB will meet on Monday, 5 March

• The NJC Trade Union Side will meet on Friday, 15 March to consider its joint response. UNISON will be arguing for all three unions to reject the offer, get the employers back into negotiations and consult members over industrial action

• The Local Government section will be producing further campaign materials and resources for branches and Regions to use to explain the offer and our alternative

• These will include a members’ leaflet, a powerpoint and speakers’ notes

• We will be e-mailing all councillors directly early next week to get them to put pressure on the LGE to re-think its offer

• We will be working closely with Regions to ensure that branches have the materials and support they need to consult members fully on the offer and whether there should be a formal industrial action ballot

WHAT MUST YOU AND YOUR BRANCH DO?

• The NJC Committee is asking all branches to approach Council Leaders and councillors as soon as possible to make the case for an improved offer and get the employers back to the bargaining table. It is vital that we do small things like this – alongside high level campaigning – to show the strength of feeling about the pay offer

• This is particularly important if your council has budgeted for an above-1% increase or if you know that your council is unhappy with the employers’ offer and their approach to negotiations

• Talk to other members! Let as many members as possible know about the offer and the NJC Committee’s decision

• Tell members of GMB and Unite in your workplace what UNISON is doing and work with them to campaign against the offer

• Make it clear that UNISON is leading the way in protecting pay and conditions in local government

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