UNISON’S BALLOT of local government workers in England and Wales opens on 10 June. The other unions involved, TGWU and GMB are balloting their local government membership separately around the same time. This follows the overwhelming rejection of a 3% “final offer” from the local government employers.
Roger Bannister, UNISON national executive council, personal capacity
The unions have submitted a 6% claim, or £1,750, whichever is the greater. This is to underpin the wages of the lowest paid local government workers. It is called the “Catch Up and Match Up” claim, because it aims to restore local government pay to its 1992 position.
The justification for this approach is demonstrated by the fact that over 20% of local authority employees earn less than £5 per hour, and whilst the national average wage is £19,406, two-thirds of council workers earn less than £13,000 per year.
After years of poor pay settlements, anger in the workplaces is widespread, especially when it is known that the government increased grants to councils by 7.5% last year.
Many councils have actually budgeted for a settlement in excess of 3%, but are resisting any increase in pay at this stage. Apparently it is the employers’ organisations in the North West, North East and Yorkshire that are pressing the hardest position within the employers’ side.
These largely New Labour councils can still take advantage of the depressed local economies to recruit and have no major recruitment problems, whereas in the South and South East it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit on the comparatively low wages paid.
The last time there was a national pay dispute in local government was in 1989, when the white collar workers took a total of six days strike over the summer. This ended in victory for Nalgo, (subsequently merged into UNISON).
This year’s dispute will be stronger, since it will bring together workers in three unions and will involve former manual as well as former white collar workers, now united under the Single Status Agreement.
UNISON members employed by the Greater London authorities are already taking strike action over their London Weighting allowances, London teachers are doing the same thing.
Further Education teachers took two days strike last week. If they are joined by over 600,000 local government workers in UNISON and thousands more in TGWU and GMB, it will create the biggest strike wave in Britain for years.
For too long council workers have put up with low pay, cuts and privatisation in local government. Now is the time to fight back, and in particular to record a massive YES vote in the strike ballot.