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

Monday, 17 February 2014

Time to stand firm on local government pay

#njcpay2014 Last Friday, the Local Government Employers excelled themselves by cancelling a meeting with the Joint Secretaries to make this year’s pay offer for local government and school support workers. With 1 April as the date for a pay rise, they suggested a meeting on 1 May, after the announcement of the new National Minimum Wage (NMW), which takes effect from October! They also hinted at a 1% pay ‘envelope’, from which they would have to pay the NMW before thinking about a rise for anyone above the lowest pay point!

The Joint Secretaries met on Friday and moved swiftly to lodge a formal dispute over the failure to make an offer and the suggested link between NJC pay and the NMW. This year our claim is for £1.20 pence an hour for all local government and school support workers covered by the NJC. The figure was chosen deliberately – to give the lowest paid the Living Wage of £7.65 pence (not the National Minimum Wage!) and to start to restore the 18% of basic pay lost since the Coalition took power for everyone above the bottom pay point – currently £6.45 pence an hour.

When the National Minimum Wage began in 1999, NJC pay was 24% higher. By last year – after eight years of below inflation increases and a three-year pay freeze – it was just 1.8% above it. The employers had to remove the bottom pay point to make sure they weren’t breaking the law! As a result, NJC pay is just 2.2% higher now.

Lots of politics have been played around the NMW in recent months. Osborne and Cable have been vying to appear as champions of the low paid by suggesting that the Low Pay Commission (LPC) should increase the NMW to £7 an hour or restore its lost value in relation to inflation. The LPC will make its submission soon and we will see what emerges from the spat between Coalition rivals and whether they will over-rule the independent LPC. An announcement seems likely to be made earlier than usual this year.

Whatever the new rate of the NMW, it should not be a benchmark for NJC pay. It is designed to be a legal floor, below which basic pay in the economy cannot fall – not a suitable level of pay for our members whose jobs all contain high levels of responsibility for the public and children. What’s more, NJC pay is by far the lowest in the public sector – with only a small number of NHS workers below the Living Wage and none in any other public sector bargaining group. 460,000 jobs have also been lost from local government and our members are filling the gaps, many under enormous strain.

Coalition cuts of 43% in local government, combined with several years of below-inflation pay increases before 2010, have turned local government and schools into bargain basement employers. On top of the shameful decline in basic pay, car allowances have been frozen for three years and local councils have attacked most other conditions and hours of work at the invitation of the employers.

This cannot continue. Unless we take a firm stand this year, our members will find themselves with further real pay cuts and job losses to come. Cutting pay has not saved jobs. We need to take a firm stand and get ready to act swiftly this year against employers who have lost any sense of the immense value of our members’ work. UNISON’s NJC Committee meets tomorrow to plan the next steps in our campaign. Watch this space!

Heather Wakefield