‘Single status’ in the West Midlands

Union branches in the West Midlands region are at various stages in the implementation of single status. Some smaller branches have agreements in place but larger authorities are having major problems. This is mainly as the core of single status is job evaluation and any job evaluation involves winners and losers. In some authorities as many as 20% would lose money.

Dave Auger, Wolverhampton Unison, personal capacity

This could be avoided if the government gave councils more money to cover the cost of implementation.

Instead councils are borrowing money, which they will have to pay back. To do this they will make cuts in services and redundancies – up to 1,000 in Staffordshire.

In addition, under single status, employers can determine “enhancements” (shift pay, weekend working payments etc) locally, undermining national agreements. In many authorities workers, especially low-paid women (who are more likely to work shifts and weekends) are gaining from single status with one hand, only to lose it when their enhancements are taken away.

The main worry now is the attitude the union’s national leaders take. When the leadership recommended the single status agreement to the members, Socialist Party members in Unison warned that these attacks on pay and conditions would happen.

It seems now the leadership want to put it behind them by getting agreements, no matter what.

All proposed agreements have to be assessed by the Unison equal pay unit to ensure they are ‘equal pay proofed’. Unless they are, branches cannot even put the proposals to the membership.

Now activists are being told that if the equal pay unit ‘pass’ a proposal, the branch has to recommend it to the membership, regardless of how many losers there are.

This is the case in Staffordshire, with 9% losers, where members are being balloted with a recommendation to accept.

In my branch, Wolverhampton, which is not far behind Staffs, we are waiting for our proposal to come back from the national office. But there is no way we will recommend any deal in which members lose pay.

We will hopefully recommend rejection and we expect to be following in Birmingham’s footsteps sooner rather than later.

Behind us are a number of authorities like Sandwell, Walsall, Dudley and Telford, who will face exactly the same problems later in the year.

Unison’s regional local government committee have called for national co-ordination of branches taking industrial action. The suggestion that this be done regionally has been rejected by full-time officers as impracticable.

Coventry branch, which underwent this struggle sometime before most other branches in the region, also tried to organise co-ordinated action.

But it is clear from the response from our ‘leaders’ that they have no real wish to oppose single status.

Co-ordinated action is the only way we are going to protect members’ pay and conditions.