Surrey unison members protest= against the anti-trade union bill. Photo: Paul Couchman
Surrey unison members protest= against the anti-trade union bill. Photo: Paul Couchman

Paul Couchman, Unison branch secretary and lead negotiator (personal capacity)

Unison has entered into a formal dispute with Surrey County Council after 87% of staff represented by the union voted to reject the council’s 2023-24 pay offer. The council has offered a 5% average increase, meaning the lowest paid will receive around £1,300-£1,500 cash equivalent, and the directors between £8,000 and £10,000 per year.

We represent care workers, social workers, teaching assistants, librarians, trading standards, and many more at the council, and our members have signalled to Surrey County that we will move to a formal ballot for industrial action if an improved pay offer is not forthcoming.

Our next step is to hold a demonstration outside the next meeting of the council’s People, Performance, and Development Committee (PPDC), taking place on 2 May. I will be attending that meeting with members from our pay team, and workers will lobby outside calling for a significantly improved pay offer.

After years of below-inflation pay increases and the cost of living rising by well over 10% in the last year, staff are struggling to make ends meet. Many are skipping meals or using food banks to get by. With many bills set to rise further this month, the strength of feeling on this issue is clear.

The ball is now firmly in Surrey County Council’s court and the clock is ticking. They can avoid disruptive industrial action, but councillors need to get serious. Otherwise be in no doubt – we will be balloting for strike action. We refuse to be left behind!

  • Surrey Unison negotiates separately from the national negotiations, Surrey County Council being one of several South East councils that left the national negotiating body.