Socialist Worker

Three largest unions demand pay rise for local government workers

Issue No. 2559

Public sector workers in the Unison union fighting against the pay cap in 2014

Public sector workers in the Unison union fighting against the pay cap in 2014 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Unions representing more than 1.6 million local government workers are calling for a pay rise to break the Tory public sector pay cap.

The unions, which represent workers in schools and councils across England and Wales and Northern Ireland, are demanding a 5 percent increase for all workers. And they want the living wage for the lowest paid.

They submitted the claim yesterday, Wednesday—and it’s not a moment too soon.

The demand follows eight years of government-imposed pay curbs. These mean wages have been frozen or held to a one per cent increase.

Unison, Unite and the GMB say that school and council employees’ living standards have plummeted as their wages have fallen way behind inflation.

Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield said, “Many council employees and their families are struggling to keep afloat. With every price increase, their standard of living gets worse.

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services, said,“Last week’s election result was a clear vote for a new approach and against the running down of public services. It’s time for local government employers and Theresa May to listen.”

In all, there are 2.15 million local government workers, down from 2.91 million in June 2010. Almost four-fifths of them are women, who tend to be on the very lowest pay scales.

This is part of a much bigger fight because wages are falling across great swathes of the working class.

Figures out yesterday, Wednesday, showed average regular pay growth slowed from 1.8 to 1.7 per cent in the year to April. Total pay growth, which includes bonuses, slowed from 2.3 to 2.1 per cent.

These are the figures before inflation is taken into account.


In fact inflation outstripped both regular and total pay growth in the three months to April. As a result, regular pay fell 0.6 per cent in real terms while total pay fell 0.4 per cent.

The figures are likely to worsen next month because inflation reached a four-year high of 2.9 per cent in May.

Matthew Whittaker, chief economist of the Resolution Foundation, writes, “In the five decades leading up the financial crisis in 2008, growth in real weekly earnings turned negative in just 51 months.

Yet new figures mark the 72nd month of negative growth in the nine years since, with more on the cards throughout 2017.

“Today’s figures leave average pay—in annualised terms—more than £800 below its 2008 peak.

“We’re on course for the weakest decade of pay growth since the Napoleonic era.”

It’s good that the unions have put in a serious claim. There needs to be a strategy to win it as the first step towards reversing the years of pay cuts. A victory for a big group of workers would inspire others.

To win 5 percent will require campaigning and strikes. If unions are to meet the ballot requirements of the new anti-union laws that means strengthening union representatives (shop stewards) networks and union organisation everywhere.

Talks must not be allowed to drag on. There is a feeling of momentum after the election, it has to be grasped.

Labour’s manifesto called for an end to the public sector pay cap. Labour at every level should fully support a big pay rise for local government workers, health workers and others—and encourage strikes to win it.

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