CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown announced in his budget that he wants to move towards regional pay deals for public sector workers - a move which could smash up national pay agreements. He said, 'In future, remits for pay review bodies and for public sector workers will include a stronger local and regional dimension.'
A paper from the Treasury on public service flexibility said pay 'should be delegated as close as possible to the point of delivery, to ensure it is responsive to prevailing market conditions'. The drive to local pay is part of the government's agenda of bringing the market into the heart of our public services.
The government wants to ram through what it calls 'modernisation' and 'flexibility'. These are code words for increasing the pressures on hard-pressed staff by making them do longer, more unsociable shifts for less pay.
Regional pay would pit low paid workers in competition with each other for better deals, while the government uses such divisions to drive down pay across the board.
Trade union leaders rightly rejected the call for regional pay. Many of them are angry because they have been negotiating three-year national pay deals with the government. Any attempt to smash national pay and introduce divisive local pay bargaining should be opposed vigorously.
But attempts by the government to bring in local pay should not be the excuse for union leaders to rush to accept shoddy three-year deals. Nor should union leaders use the threat of local pay to try to scale down the fight over London weighting.
Many public sector workers, such as postal workers, teachers and others, living in high cost areas like London have been struggling for decent 'weighting allowances'.
There's all the difference in the world between pushing up existing allowances, as part of improving national pay, and accepting divisive regional pay rates.