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

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Driving a harder bargain against austerity

#undc13 A key debate on bargaining through austerity noted that UNISON members are faced with 'the most severe economic and political challenges for a decade' leading to widespread attacks on pay and conditions. Clare Williams of Northern region called for UNISON to be 'at the forefront of campaigning and challenging at local, regional and national level.' Full speech below.

'The age of austerity continues at a pace. Since last year’s Conference we have continued to see the devastating impact of the Government’s economic and political policies – resulting in some of the most pernicious attacks on ordinary people.

The gap between the rich and the poor is widening – “All in this together said Osborne as he cut benefits, and gave top earners a 5% tax bonus”.

Child poverty has increased – and for the first time in it 93 year history Save the Children have been forced to launch its first UK campaign.

It’s clear the Government is using the economic crisis to justify the imposition of blatant right wing free mark policies – key to which is the reduction of the state through competition; lack publicly funding services; and a race to the bottom on jobs, wages, terms and conditions.

It is predicted by 2018 1 million public sector jobs will have been lost. And of course this is underpinned by the hiving off of public services to profiteers such as ATOS, Capita, Virgin Healthcare – they can even deliver a train on time, let alone essential health services. Companies who get public services on the cheap, then attack workers terms and conditions to maximise their shareholder profits. This is why we are seeing an increase of in work poverty.

Interesting at the same time we are being told there is no alternative to austerity, and the attacks on wages, terms and conditions – the Treasury loses £5 billion a year through tax avoidance. It comes to something when even the IMF are telling Osborne and his coalition mates their policies are not working – and in fact are causing rising debt and further recession.

However of course, they have no Plan B and that’s why we are seeing

• Attacks on wages, terms and conditions

o 13% of local government staff have been asked to take unpaid leave

o 60% of councils cutting weekend enhancements

• Endemic low pay across all sectors

• Increase in part-time temporary contracts

• People being forced to work for nothing or lose benefits

• Introduction of zero hours contracts – zero hours contracts? Surely that is a contradiction in terms – how can you have a contract of nothing? It’s clearly just a cynical attempt to exploit workers.

A study in 2011 by Kings College London, estimated 150 – 200,000 care workers earning less that the minimum wage – in an industry where workers are tagged on average work around 6 hours a week unpaid.

It is in this context we need a clear bargaining agenda – one which promotes:

• Implementation of a living wage

• Investment in public sector – infrastructure projects – creating of jobs – lifting people out of poverty and off benefits

• investment in training and apprenticeships

• abolition of zero hours contracts, and the introduction of insecure, flexible jobs

We know we can win as we have heard examples already, such as in the Northern Region:

• Northumbria Healthcare – took strike action over attacks to their terms and conditions and won

• Northumberland Local Government – took strike action over attacks to their terms and conditions and won

• North Tees & Hartlepool – took action against 5000 redundancy notices being issued and won

That’s is why we in the Northern Region are supporting the TUC Austerity Uncovered events across the Region

That is why we will be sending thousands to Manchester in September to the rally and lobby of the Tory Party Conference

Tell this Government they have no mandate for their economic political policies.

UNISON needs to be at the forefront of campaigning and challenging at local, regional and national level to tell them we won’t let them get away with attacking workers terms and conditions until they are booted out of office.'