Tower Hamlets Unison strike 2020. Photo: Hugo Pierre
Tower Hamlets Unison strike 2020. Photo: Hugo Pierre

Hugo Pierre, Unison NEC, personal capacity

Unison members in England and Wales working for schools and local government have been offered £1,925 and an extra day’s holiday to settle their 2022 pay claim, which was for RPI inflation or £2,000.

The offer could mean a 10.5% rise for those on the lowest grade. Given that pay rises for the last decade have tended to be 2% or less, the offer can seem better in comparison. But it starts to fall well below inflation (11.7% when the claim was submitted) to 8.5% for those on average pay levels, and to less than half the inflation rate for those earning £30,000.

This is the first time in memory that the employers have made a ‘flat rate’ pay offer to the Unison claim. However, local government and school workers will see this as a cynical move to play ‘divide and rule’.

Unison pay negotiation leaders – the NJC committee – were believed to be preparing to go straight to an official strike ballot before the offer was made. They had also agreed to look at a disaggregated ballot of individual branches, so that as many areas as possible could take strike action even if the Tory anti-union 50% threshold wasn’t met nationally as a whole.

Now the NJC committee has decided to organise a consultative ballot. But it has failed to make a recommendation to reject the offer and prepare members for strike action. Socialist Party members have campaigned in their Unison branches for an immediate official ballot.

The claim would leave members even further behind their pay levels of 2009. They have lost 25% since then and rapidly-rising inflation would put many more members into the low-pay trap.

The pay offer as it stands could put jobs at risk too, as there is no extra funding for it. The employers estimate the overall wage bill would increase by approximately 5%, but most councils have only allowed for 2% pay rises. Unless there is a fight for the funding, this could lead to job cuts in councils and schools.

Unison branches are now starting to consult their members. This is against the background of strike action starting in Unison branches in Scotland, which have rejected an offer from the Scottish councils.

Reject the offer. Campaign for strike action to get an RPI inflation-proof rise, and to demand full funding for the pay rise. Unison in local government should aim to coordinate with other unions and sectors.