Socialist Worker

Unite union calls on members to reject the pay offer in local government

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2587

Saying no to the public sector pay cap

Saying no to the public sector pay cap (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The Unite union is calling on its members in English and Welsh local government to reject their pay offer in a consultative ballot.

Over a million council workers and schools staff have been offered a 2 percent “rise” for each of the next two years.

That’s still far less than the rate of inflation, and is therefore a pay cut in real terms. There is some extra money for the very lowest paid, but not nearly enough.

In addition the money will have to come from existing budgets—that means job and service cuts elsewhere.

Unite national officer for local authorities, Jim Kennedy, said, “Our members simply do not believe that the offer will result in enough of them receiving a pay increase which is at least in line with inflation.

“Local government has been decimated by the Conservative’s cuts and any pay settlement should be fully funded by central government.”

Meanwhile the GMB union is not recommending its members accept or reject the offer but says there is “no appetite” for industrial action “at this stage”.

The key decision will be made by members of Unison, which is by far the biggest local government union. It is holding a series of regional consultation meetings this month.

All the unions expect to finish their pay consultations by early March.

It is vital that activists, whichever union they are in, demand a fight against this pay-cutting deal—and prepare for strikes.

Welcome

Unite’s call for rejection is welcome, but it must be part of a sustained campaign.

Unions in other areas of the public sector such as the NHS and the civil service need to fight as well.

Meanwhile local government unions in Scotland are pushing for a 6.5 percent increase or £1,500 a year, whichever is greater.

Johanna Baxter, Unison head of local government bargaining, said, “This claim is both realistic and in line with the government’s stated objective of lifting the pay cap for public sector workers.”

Presumably a similar claim should be fought for south of the border then as well.

The Scottish National Party government says it wants the 1 percent pay cap to go. But it adds that it’s up to the councils to find the cash for a pay rise.

A Scottish government spokesperson said, “Pay and other employment issues for local government are matters for local authorities” and that councils could use their powers to raise council tax.

Council leaders in the Cosla employers’ body say the Scottish government won’t give them the funds they need.

Cosla’s resources spokesperson, councillor Gail Macgregor, said, “As employers, our pay awards have to be both sustainable and affordable.”

It will take a fight to win the rise above inflation that council workers need.


Facts that show there needs to be a real fight

  • Local government workers have undergone a 22 percent cut in real basic pay since 2010.
  • There have been eight years of government-imposed pay restraint, which has seen wages either frozen or held to a 1 percent increase.
  • Women make up almost four-fifths (78 percent) of the workforce, and tend to be on the very lowest pay scales.
  • The Tories will have cut local government budgets by around 75 percent by 2020.
  • Around 800,000 local government jobs have gone since 2010.
  • The TUC trade union federation has called a demonstration on 12 May for a “new deal for working people”.

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