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

Monday, 4 February 2013

Time to end the scandal of Local Government pay and mobilise to break the freeze

On Wednesday 6 February UNISON's Local Government NJC committee will meet to consider progress on the 2013/14 pay claim. The situation with pay and living standards for local government workers is now nothing short of a disgrace. Three years of a total pay freeze has reduced the value of their earnings by 13% just since 2009.

Following a succession of (in the main) below inflation rises going back over the last decade the real value of local government pay is now more than 10% below where it was in 1996. IDS/TUC forecast the rate of average earnings growth will not return to 2008 levels until 2021 - that's for the economy as a whole and local government has always been lower.

So we face the stark picture – now - that local government workers, current and future, will have at least 25 years of earnings value detriment ‘consolidated’ into their pay levels. Permanently. And it’s not just the monthly pay cheque that gets smaller and smaller. Pension values for all members retiring during and after this period will be reduced FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES as a result.

The Government cap of 1% on pay for this year and next will not even start to scratch the grime. The NJC national employers have yet to make a formal offer this year but nobody expects it to be other than somewhere close to 1%, with or without some strings attached, with or without it being part of a multi-year offer but still in the same overall region.

UNISON’s NJC Committee will clearly need to respond when a formal offer is made, but given it’s likely predictability responses can begin to be formulated now and Wednesday's meeting provides that opportunity.

The sharp facts about tumbling living standards above should be uppermost in the thoughts. And the obvious response is that any such offer is completely unacceptable and must be rejected.

Which raises the thorny question of what to do about it. The inescapable conclusion, unfortunate but true, is that mobilising for industrial action seems unavoidable if we are really serious about the pay and living standards of local government workers. Simply taking a view that “members aren’t up for it” to avoid a genuine, prioritised and resourced mobilisation is the soft option. Simply saying we start building now for next year is not enough. That was said last year.

Nobody expects an industrial mobilisation will be easy. Job security is important – but 250,000 jobs were lost in local government from 2010 to summer 2012. And that’s rising, and will continue to rise beyond 2015 and in all probability to the end of the decade. Sticking heads in the sand may be a natural defensive instinct, but those heads will still be chopped off at the neck.

Let’s remember this as well. There was no ringing clamour to the barricades at the start of the LGPS dispute. That action was built on a platform of hard work in branches and regions. But it started with a clear and decisive national call to mobilise and the commitment to throw the weight and energy of the union into a sustained campaign to deliver. And more members and non members in local government are affected by declining living standards than are in the LGPS.

In the face of an onslaught against jobs and the seeming inability to protect members’ living standards, the future of national bargaining and the credibility, even relevance, of the union in local government is under question. Leadership is a difficult responsibility, even more so in tough times. But that’s when it’s needed the most – and facing difficulty is preferable to surrender or abdication. Doing nothing on pay this year, or just chewing the fudge into a different shape, is not an option.