Frequently asked questions about the industrial action ballot on the NJC pay award this year.
- I’m on the new contract. Does this affect me?
Yes, it definitely does! Despite the introduction of PRP, Camden insists it is an NJC employer. And following our indicative ballot last year the council also agreed in writing to give at least NJC pay rises to everyone in the SP grades (old scale 6 and below), and everyone on the P&M grades (old SO1 and above) who gets a 2 or above (they also agreed this verbally for those who get a 1 rating). For anyone at the top of their pay band on the new contract, the only pay rise you can get is based on the NJC. For everyone else, the pay band will only move up by the NJC increase.
More than that, the pay matrix for PRP increases only exists up to the end of this year. After 2014, the only guaranteed pay rise is the NJC, and the NJC award will be critical in determining any future pay matrix (as Camden could not really have an award for a 4 or 5 rating falling below an NJC award!).
- When will the action be? Would it be for one day?
- other workers be taking action with us?
The first day of action was on 10 July. The second day of proposed action is on 14 October.
In addition to UNISON’s 600,000 members in local government, Unite and GMB, the other two NJC unions, will be taking action. We may also be joined by teachers in the NUT, health workers in UNISON and civil servants.
- Where can I find out more?
Have a look at our website: http://camdenunison.org.uk/tag/pay or talk to your local rep or convenor for more information.
- Is there anything I can do to help the campaign?
Yes, definitely! You can do any of the following things. Please try to do at least two:
o Check that your details held by the union are up-to-date at http://camdenunison.org.uk/update
o Vote and vote “yes” in the ballot
o If you are not yet in UNISON, join today!
o If you are in UNISON, encourage a colleague to join
o Print and distribute our leaflet here to colleagues
o Volunteer to be a shop steward or to distribute union information in your team. Talk to your convenor on the branch office for more information
- I need a decent pay increase, but I can’t afford to strike, what can I do?
If you are in genuine financial need, the UNISON branch has a hardship fund to which you can apply. We know things are tough, but we believe you can’t afford not to strike. We have lost nearly 20% of the value of our pay since 2010, and if we do not take a stand now we will continue to see our pay eroded indefinitely.
- Does striking ever really achieve anything?
Each time we have taken strike action in recent years we have won far more than the days’ pay we have lost: in 2008 we won an additional 0.35% pay increase, and in 2011 we stopped a 50% increase in pension contributions. In 2013 our local indicative ballot for action, which got a large ‘yes’ vote, secured improvements to the new contract. Even the one-day action in November 2011 over the pension scheme resulted in a better deal than the Government had previously been willing to offer.
Historically, strikes have won huge improvements for workers, including the weekend, much shorter working days, holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay, pensions and more. Of course, they don’t always win, but strikes have achieved more for working people than any other form of protest.
- What about the children/service users? I don’t think it’s right they should miss out on education/their services
Ultimately, it is in service users’ interest to have quality, committed staff. This is only possible if we are paid adequately. Cutting our real pay certainly hasn’t saved jobs and in the long run will lead to worse service provision.
- I don’t want to look like a troublemaker, could I get in trouble from taking strike action?
You will not be alone, if there is a ‘yes’ vote nationally then thousands of workers in Camden and hundreds of thousands across the country will be on strike. So we cannot all be victimised! Also, if there is a ‘yes’ vote, it’s expected that union members will follow the democratic decision of their co-workers, so joining the action won’t even mean you voted for it necessarily. Finally, taking official strike action is legally protected, and any punitive action taken against you for it is unlawful.
- I support you, but I’m leaving soon, so surely this won’t affect me?
It will. And don’t call me Shirley! But seriously, firstly you can still vote before you go, so please do. Secondly, this dispute is about national pay and conditions, so if you are moving to any other local authority, or plan to at any point in the future then this will affect your future pay. If you are in the pension scheme, then the pay of still-employed local authority workers will ultimately determine much of your pension pay-out. And even if you’re leaving the public sector for good, a pay increase for one set of workers, especially one as large as local government workers, helps all workers by putting upward pressure on pay levels generally since private sector employers have to compete with the public sector for employees in a number of fields.
- To be honest pay is not the biggest issue for me, I’m more worried about job security
Aren’t we all? Job cuts are real concern for all of us; however it would be very difficult to have a lawful national industrial action ballot around this issue (or other issues like service closures). However, as has been demonstrated by years of pay freezes and huge job cuts, pay freezes do not save jobs. And the best way to deter further attacks on jobs, conditions and services is by showing the employers (nationally as well as the local council) that we are prepared to take action to defend ourselves. That means delivering a solid vote for action.
- I don’t like striking, why can’t the union negotiate something better?
The unions have been trying to negotiate pay rises since 2010. However, short of any industrial action, they have been unsuccessful. If we want more than 1% we will have to be prepared to take action.
- But I’m not in the union, does this mean I can’t strike?
Firstly, we would urge you to join the union now! Secondly, even if you don’t you can still strike with us and be legally protected for doing so from any negative repercussions, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
- I’m an agency worker, this doesn’t affect me, and even if it did I don’t think I could strike anyway, could I?
Under the Agency Worker Regulations, which were introduced with union backing, you are entitled to equal pay with permanent employees. So this means that you will be entitled to any pay increase won by industrial action, so this does affect you. As you are not employed by the council directly, you will not be balloted. Technically you would also not be protected from dismissal for striking, although we could make an argument that you should be protected under the Equality Act 2010 on the basis of “philosophical belief”, if for example you hold the belief that it is wrong to cross picket lines.
You can refuse to cross picket lines, which some have done in Camden, where so far no agency workers have been disciplined or dismissed for this reason in recent years. One former agency worker told us: “I joined the strike over pensions in 2006, and did not suffer any negative consequences. In fact I got praised by my colleagues, then later got appointed to a permanent post in the council. Now I benefit from the pension that strike helped defend.”
- I’m not against striking, but I don’t think now is the best time. Shouldn’t we wait till the public/the media is behind us?
Unfortunately, the bulk of the media will never support workers taking industrial action, because the bulk of the media is owned and funded by employers, who of course don’t want their own employees taking industrial action.
Public support is nice, but ultimately public support rarely if ever wins disputes. What wins disputes is solid industrial action. And in any case, when workers do take action despite media disinformation normally the majority of the public supports us in any case: over 60% thought we were justified in striking over pensions in 2011, and a majority supported the recent tube workers’ strikes as well.
- I know the pay offer is bad, but everyone has had to tighten their belts. Isn’t it only fair that we should as well?
Has everyone had to tighten their belts?!? MPs just awarded themselves an 11% pay rise. Corporations have had their tax bills slashed, and the superrich have never had it so good with London now being the city of choice for global billionaires. Meanwhile, in the last year the economy has grown by 3.1%, and has now surpassed the pre-recession peak so is at its highest level ever. So why should our pay ‘rise’ again be a real pay cut of 1%, well below the increase in the cost of living?
- I think my pay is fair, taking into account my pension and holidays I earn more than many of my friends in the private sector, so is it really fair for me to demand more?
Even if you believe your pay is OK, half a million local government workers earn less than the living wage (£7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital). We need a solid vote for action to try to lift these workers out of poverty pay.
The reality of low pay and poor conditions in much of the private sector is terrible, but in no small measure that reflects trade union weakness. For us to compete in a race to the bottom will not help the private sector workforce. In fact, it will just accelerate the downward trend. We support workers in the private sector organising and taking action to defend and improve their own conditions (indeed, many UNISON members, including in Camden, are now on outsourced private sector contracts).
- I support you, but I’m in my probation period and I don’t want to risk my job
As outlined above, you are legally protected from any negative repercussions when taking official industrial action. Also UNISON is not aware of any probationary employees suffering negative consequences for joining official action.
- But I’m on pay protection/marking time, does this still affect me?
Yes! If you are in a period of pay protection (following a restructure) you will still get any NJC pay award. If you are on marking time (either after signing the new contract or following a restructure), then the only way you can get a future pay increase is if the pay scale of your substantive post surpasses your current pay level. And the only way this can happen is by NJC pay awards so please make sure you vote!