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

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Why regional pay bargaining is bad for trade union organisation, bad for women and bad for employers

The drive to regional pay is nothing new as UNISONActive warned in 2010 in its critique of a report by think-tank CentreForum which claimed that national pay systems ‘ignore local differences; handicap struggling regional economies; and make it impossible for public sector managers and institutions to cope sensibly with economic difficulties'.

In their report 'More Than We Bargained For: The Social and Economic Costs of National Wage Bargaining', they argued that if regionally based employers want good employees, they must match high, nationally set and funded public sector rates damaging the local economy. They are not alone. Similar spurious arguments were put forward by both the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Public Sector People Managers’ Association.

It is not surprising that CIPD which of course runs profit making training for personnel professionals would support an extension to their business empire through generating greater need in pay bargaining skills, nor is it surprising the Public Sector People Managers Association (whose partners of course include CIPD and Tribal the private profiteer in public services) will try any new trick to justify their own organisation.

National pay bargaining does what it says on the tin. If you are public sector worker covered by national pay bargaining you can expect your employer to abide by the nationally agreed pay increases as well as a host of other terms and conditions issues. This is to ensure equity and fairness and reflect the common interest of public sector workers. We should not apologise for supporting these aims. Regional pay bargaining conversely doesn’t do what it says on the tin. It is simply a half way house to local pay bargaining and a means by which to break down union organisation, collective bargaining and remove in many cases a central reason for people belonging to a trade union in the first place.

Prof Wolf author of the Centre Forum report really should have done her homework. She is essentially arguing that employers are fettered from paying better rates in hard to attract post. This is a nonsense. Market rates supplements can be lawfully paid but only where it can be objectively justified on a legal basis.

This is why ‘pay to points’ relationships under job evaluation schemes have been so contentious. Because you can’t simply undermine equity in pay rates by using market rates supplements on a ad-hoc basis. So is Wolf really arguing that employers simply want the freedom to pay bargain basement wage rates in the poorest areas to exploit the local labour marketplace? If bargain basement wages is the end game then how can this then help local economies?

For every £1 spent by a local council at least £1.64 is returned to the local economy and 94% of this relates to the pay element of public sector workers. So why would paying poverty wages do anything other than destroy the economic bounce that the public sector, and public sector workers in particular, contribute to local economies. It also means local resources for employers being poured into protracted pay negotiations instead of getting on with the day job of ensuring the smooth delivery of local public services. A waste of resources when the public sector is being told to tighten its belt. So much for the shared services / efficiencies agenda. This is about as inefficient as idea as you could get!

Aside from national pay bargaining protecting the poorest workers it also protects women. We may not always have achieved what we have wanted from pay bargaining but we have had success through Heather Wakefield’s unstinting determination to weight pay settlements to the lowest earners. This would be much more difficult to achieve with a smaller pay envelope on a regional basis. Moreover regional and local pay bargaining always works in favour of the most mobile workers and that generally means men. Women still remain the primary carers of children and are odds on to end up the carers of elderly relatives. These responsibilities dictate the distance by which they can be mobile in the jobs market.

The tight ‘geographic elastic’ for women’s employment opportunities will simply not stretch to a mobile labour market on a regional basis. Who will drop the kids at school if I need to drive 25 miles to work instead of three or four? This will lead to women being subject to lower pay rates simply because the market will allow that. Let’s not be naive enough to think that this doesn’t already happen to some extent but if will be far worse under regional or local pay bargaining. (It is also a reason why the unions should have resolutely rejected local congestion charging – old bangers help many women juggle work and family!)

This article was first published in UNISONActive on 9 February 2010

See also See also http://unisonactive.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/myths-rally-to-attack-national.html