UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Local Government - NJC Agreement under attack‏

Today’s Municipal Journal front page makes much of the employers not-so-guarded threat to rip up the terms and conditions of local government workers with at least three references to councils considering dismissal and re-engagement of staff on less favourable conditions. Presumably they think that if they holler loud enough council workers will roll over and have their tummies tickled by the Tory controlled employers (LGE)? http://www.localgov.co.uk/index.cfm?method=products.detail&product=theMj

The green book and national pay bargaining is something to defend. The issue has always been one of local implementation. Back in 1999 the Green Book was heralded as the terms and conditions for a new century – reflecting the advent on best value and the need for some local flexibilities through agreed ‘part three’ processes. Whilst launching this particular ship the then labour government (fronted by former GMB employee and then Labour Minister Phil Woolas) took great joy in throwing iron filings down by failing to fund equal pay.

Instead of improving local government services, by using a negotiated process around part three, employers and unions had little choice but to enter into one of the biggest bun fights in history. Neither side could concede territory because the stakes were too high. The employers pleased poverty and that they could not afford equal pay and rightly the unions decided that enough was enough. These women were not only entitled to equal pay but recompense for past misdemeanours from employers who had clearly paid them less than they were entitled.

For the employers at this juncture, when some of the equal pay issues are finally bedding down, to want to start throwing buns again is both a juvenile response and extremely short sighted. Part three allows for local negotiation already. If the local management in councils can’t reach agreement on local flexibilities there is something fundamentally wrong with the employers skills and capacity to improve services. Taking just one issue such as Overtime working.

Overtime is popular amongst employees because it bolsters earnings but it also reflects a lazy approach to managing staff and resources. The unions should not be defending overtime. We should be ensuring our members receiving a decent living wage , not having to rely on additional working hours. But managers within local councils have for too long relied on overtime because they have either failed to fight their corner on staff resources or have used it for a quiet life. Either way the cost of overtime equates to someones job.

Similar arguments could be made for how sickness absence is treated. How systems that are broken are never fixed and waste time and resources. How councils have failed to ‘invest to save’ in new technologies and new ways of working. We should be arguing we need to work smarter not harder and longer.

There are some win/win situations that can be gleaned from the austerity that we face. Progressive negotiations should enhance worker rights, enhance worklife balance, enhance pay and conditions. If we fail to negotiate it is easy to see the provocation from the employers becoming a reality – perhaps they will not be steely enough to do this at a national level but the signs are building at a local level.

If bargaining is fragmented it will be easy for the employers to start picking off the less organised branches and regions and we will have failed our members.

We need national responses to national issues but we need to also equip our branches with the skills, capacity and regional and sub-regional support to negotiate, defend and if needs be fight at a local level as well. Most of all we need an alternative narrative to the utter diatribe that says the answer to all problems is to attack workers pay and conditions and pensions.