Monthly Archives: September 2014

Branch Meeting on Pay – 30 September

Today’s lunch time branch meeting in the Council Chamber at Kensington Town hall was well attended, lively and concertrated on the issue of the 2014/15 pay claim.

A document detailing and analysing the employer’s latest proposal was circulated and you can downland and read it here. This report was written by Jon Rogers (member of the National Executive Council (NEC) of UNISON with additonal matrial by Sean Fox (Haringey Branch Secretary).

Steve Terry, UNISON Regional Organiser spoke on pay, the economic background and forthcoming dispute:Steve Terry

Steve thanked all the Branch officers for the hard work in organising the last strike on 10 July. This sent a clear signal to the employer that we were not willing to put up with poor conditions and low pay.

Since 2010 local government workers has suffered an 18% drop in the real value of their pay. This has been caused by the coalition government which has starved councils of cash by reducing the grant year on year. After 4 years austerity there is a modest sign of recovery being reported – but there was a modest recover occurring in 2010. This is more because of the resilience of the UK economy rather than an endorsement of their savage cuts and so-called austerity.

The TUC is asking all the members of the unions affiliated to it to march on 18 October to highlight that Britain needs a pay rise.

Our industrial action on July 10 did have an effect. It brought the employer back to the table. They have since made a new pay proposal. UNISON has decided that the new proposal does not meet the joint-unions pay claim of £1 per hour on all scales to implement the living wage and try and gain back some of the 18% drop in pay public sector workers have suffered.

Therefore the strike on 14 October is still on. UNITE and the GMB are still part of the action.

The issue is do we accept the employers low offer which entrenches the already suffered 18% pay cut? Or do we make a stand against what is a cost of living crisis we are all suffering?

Being a union member is not a lifestyle choice like shopping at Tesco or Salisbury – it is a living breathing thing which is reliant for its existence on the activity of its members. Members need to challenge colleagues if they are not going to strike and explain that for every member who does not join in it weakens us collectively.

The employer has made a revised proposal. There was no reason for them to make a new proposal except because of the strike action taken in July and the threatened action to come in October. This offer is basically the same offer as the 1% but re-packaged and so does not meet UNISON’s objectives.

Austerity has not worked. Reducing the pay of a large section of the working population has not helped the economy. When people have money in their pockets they spend it. When they spend it the economy improves which has a knock on effect for more jobs, more production and more income for the government from taxation.

All members are asked to take part in the strike on 10 October to make the employers understand that we will no longer settle for falling wages.”

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New Strike Date

UNISON’s National Joint Council (NJC) Committee met recently to re-consider its earlier decision to follow the strike in July with further action on 30 September.

The Committee agreed that maintaining unity between the three local government unions (GMB, Unite and UNISON)UNISON banner jpg as well as other sectors within UNISON and other public sector unions is crucial to achieving an improved pay offer for our members.

The NJC Committee therefore agreed not to proceed with the strike action on 30 September and to seek approval from the Industrial Action Committee for all-out strike action on 14 October. This has the agreement of the GMB and Unite and will coincide with the week of action planned by the NHS unions over pay.

So please put the 14th October put it in your diary, talk to colleagues about it and encourage non-members to join!

We will be organising further meetings and sending you more information in September and October.

 

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2014 NJC Pay Dispute – FAQ

UNISON is urging members in local government and schools to take strike action for improved NJC pay rates, following the refusal of employers to meet the union’s pay claim. The employer’s side of the NJC refuses to re-negotiate on their 1% final offer. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What’s happening, what does it mean — Why are we striking?

  1. Why are we striking?
  2. Is our claim affordable?
  3. What stage are negotiations at?
  4. Why strike action?
  5. Will the strike make the employers change their mind?
  6. Why is UNISON taking action on pay when we haven’t on cuts?
  7. How can I help get our message out better?

I want to strike but I’m worried about….

  1. I can’t afford to strike. Money is tight at the moment
  2. What about the clients and pupils I work with? They are vulnerable — I can’t let them down
  3. I am facing redundancy. Won’t going on strike make it more likely I am made redundant?
  4. Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?
  5. My employer is saying that a one-day strike would be seen as a break in service and that my continuity of service would be broken — is this true?
  6. If I strike will that make my service be more (or less) likely to be outsourced?
  7. I’m in my first 12 months of employment — what are my rights?
  8. What if I’m part time?
  9. What if I’m on sick leave?
  10. What if I take annual leave?
  11. What about if I’m pregnant, in my last year of service or receiving state benefits?
  12. Are my pension contributions affected if I take strike action?
  13. Won’t more pay mean more jobs and services have to go?
  14. The government won’t change its pay policy, will it?

About the Strike

  1. What was the industrial action ballot result?
  2. Am I being called on to take strike action?
  3. Are other unions taking strike action?
  4. Do I have to tell my employer if I am going on strike?
  5. Will I lose pay and if so how much?
  6. Will I receive strike pay for striking on 14 October?
  7. What should I do during a strike?
  8. What if I have external work commitments?
  9. What is the law on picketing?
  10. What are the guidelines on picketing?
  11. Would I still have to strike if I voted ‘No’?
  12. I’m not a member yet – can I join now and still take part in the proposed action
  13. What should I do if I’m not involved in the ballot or any action?
  14. What happens after the day of action on the 14th — will there be more strikes?

What’s happening, what does it mean — Why are we striking?

 

  • Why are we striking

The Trade Union Side claim this year to the NJC was designed to call a halt to poverty pay in local government and schools.

The unions are seeking a minimum of £1 an hour for employees on NJC terms and conditions to make the Living Wage rate the bottom pay rate in local government and because everyone on NJC pay is low paid for the jobs they do – the same flat rate increase on all other pay points.

The Living Wage has increased by 20p since we submitted the claim. This means in effect our claim is now £1.20 an hour on all pay points.

The NJC employers have offered 1% to the 90% of the workforce on scp 11 and above. Those on scp 5-10 have been offered slightly more than 1% to keep their pay levels just above the National Minimum Wage. There is no sign that employers will be prepared to meet the union’s demand.

Local government workers have already endured three consecutive years of pay freezes, followed by a below inflation settlement in 2013. For most of the workforce this year’s offer will be a further pay cut, leaving their pay reduced by almost 20% since the Coalition came to power.

At the same time, local government reserves have risen to over £19 billion. That means that councils have chosen to bank money, rather than reward the very people who are keeping their council services going – our members.

  1. Is our claim affordable?

Local government and school pay is now so poor that many workers have to rely on tax credits and benefits. It makes far more sense to pay this money as wages. Extra taxes and National Insurance to the Treasury will fund over half our claim. Higher wages will lead to more local spending and boost local businesses. It will ensure a recovery that is fair and sustainable as the economy begins to grow again.

  1. What stage are NJC negotiations at?

The local government employers have said that their pay offer is ‘non negotiable.’ They have also refused to take part in any arbitration talks through ACAS as provided for in the NJC collective agreement. Despite the well-supported strike on 10 July, the NJC Employers refuse to reconsider their pay offer. UNISON, GMB and UNITE are therefore escalating our industrial action and holding a second strike on 14 October

  1. I don’t agree with the pay offer – but why strike action?

UNISON stands ready to enter further negotiations at any point, as do the other unions. However, the employers are in a very entrenched position and only strike action – or the threat of it – is likely to move them to make an improved offer. A huge display of strength will get the employers back to the negotiating table – with or without ACAS.

  1. Will the strike make the employers change their mind?

We certainly hope so and would not ask members to strike if we didn’t think so. We are not a posturing or strike happy union —far from it. Strike action has always been a last resort in trying to force employers to negotiate more seriously. On the rare occasions that we have gone on strike across the local government sector in the past we have made gains on previous proposals. Although there is never a guarantee of all our demands being met, demonstrating the strength of feeling about our pay is vital.

One of the most important things will be to get a very big turnout on 14 October. low turnout would allow the employers to suggest that even our own affected members aren’t that bothered by the attack on their pay. A strong turnout will give a message in itself about the strength of feeling over these attacks. This will strengthen our hand in negotiations with the employers and government ahead of any planned action. It puts members in a better position to defend attacks on jobs and conditions. A low turnout could make employers and government even bolder in their attacks on the workforce in future.

  1. Why is UNISON taking action on pay when we haven’t on cuts?

The cuts are being implemented locally and therefore disputes have had to be local disputes — there have been local strikes and industrial action around the effect on terms of employment as the cuts directly affect employees locally.

  1. How can I help get our message out better?

The media can be very biased sometimes and do not give the full picture. UNISON and other trade unions will be doing everything in their power to ensure that the public are told the real facts. You can help by writing to your local paper, phoning your local radio station any time there is a phone-in or a money programme, or setting up a stall in your local town centre and providing leaflets or talking to people. Remember to make sure your own family and friends know that our claim is affordable and political choices can be made.

I want to strike but I’m worried about….

  1. I can’t afford to strike. Money is so tight at the moment.

UNISON understands your concerns. Council and school workers have already had to put up with a great deal and we are well aware there may be other very pressing difficulties you are being faced with right now on a local or personal level. But it’s important to think about what you could gain and the money you need in retirement to support yourself.

Any pay gained through an increased offer may or may not offset what you lose in the immediate term through strike reductions. However, it will be ‘paid back’ quite quickly because:

  • it means that the starting point for ANY future pay rise is higher than it would otherwise be
  • the value of ANY future increment is higher than it would otherwise be
  • the value of the pension pot accumulating is higher than it would otherwise be

The employers are relying on workers and unions being too weak and too scared to put up enough of a fight against this attack on your pay. We have to show them that they are wrong. If we aren’t able to make them re-think their stance, the employers and government will continue to cut your pay and conditions and we may never be in a position to recover the ground we have lost. Falling pay also means loss of pension, which could affect you for the rest of your life.

That’s why getting a high turnout on 14 October matters!

  1. I’m a frontline worker – what about the clients and pupils I work with? They are vulnerable — I can’t let them down.

Of course, we understand this concern. Most people work in local government and schools because they care about the service users and pupils they work with and UNISON is committed to the best possible public services for everyone.

UNISON members provide essential services for the community. Therefore it is inevitable that any strike will cause the public inconvenience. This is unavoidable. However, UNISON in taking industrial action will always act in a responsible manner. There will be emergency cover available and the important thing is that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide this cover.

Formally, it is the employer’s responsibility to explain if services are to be cancelled on strike days. However, your branch and members may wish to talk to service users before the strike. You should explain why the union is taking this action and the implications of the squeeze in your living standards. There is a campaign leaflet to distribute to the public explaining our claim.

  1. I am facing redundancy. Won’t going on strike make it more likely I am made redundant?

Many members are in a similar position and will share your concerns. However, employees are protected from dismissal during the first 12 weeks of any lawful, balloted, official industrial action. This means you are protected up to and including 1 October. Any dismissal for taking part in industrial action in this 12 week period, regardless of how long the employee has worked, or their age, is automatically unfair unless a tribunal decides the dismissal was not to do with the industrial action.

By continuing the action beyond 12 weeks, there is no automatic guarantee that you would win an Employment Tribunal if your employer dismissed you for taking industrial action. We believe this risk is low as the employer would have to dismiss everyone if they wished to pursue this course of action.  However, it is a risk which you should be aware of.

However, management may attempt to isolate – or indeed intimidate – individuals or small groups with the view to encouraging strike breaking. There may be threats concerning your careers or of disciplinary action. If this does happen make sure you report this to your Branch officers in the first instance. They will take this very seriously and act upon it.

(Please note there are time limits for making a complaint – normally 3 months less one day -so let your branch know as soon as you receive a threat concerning your career or disciplinary action.)

  1. Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

Almost all effective industrial action is a breach of your contract of employment. However, UNISON has carried out a lawful statutory ballot. The law protects workers from dismissal whilst taking part in lawful industrial action at any time within 12 weeks of the start of action. This protection expires after 1 October. By ontinuing the action beyond 12 weeks, there is no automatic guarantee that you would win an Employment Tribunal if your employer dismissed you for taking industrial action.

We believe this risk is low as the employer would have to dismiss everyone if they wished to pursue this course of action.  However, it is a risk which you should be aware of.

  1. My employer is saying that a one day strike would be seen as a break in service and that my continuity of service would be broken — is this true?

No. During a strike your continuous employment is treated as ‘postponed’. This means that the period you were on strike for will not count towards your continuous employment, but it does not break the continuity of your period of employment.

  1. If I strike will that make my service be more (or less) likely to be outsourced?

It is difficult to anticipate the actions of all employers and there is unfortunately a lot of outsourcing going on anyway. UNISON has members working on outsourced contracts and has recognition with most large contractors. Potential bidders for services may not find a strong staff group that is willing to stand up for their rights so appealing to bid for either!

  1. I’m in my first 12 months of employment — what are my rights?

Employees are protected from dismissal during the first 12 weeks of any lawful, balloted, official industrial action. Any dismissal for taking part in industrial action in the 12 week period, regardless of how long the employee has worked, or their age, is automatically unfair unless a tribunal decides the dismissal was not to do with the industrial action. This protection expires after 1 October. By continuing the action beyond 12 weeks, there is no automatic guarantee that you would win an Employment Tribunal if your employer dismissed you for taking industrial action.

We believe this risk is low as the employer would have to dismiss everyone if they wished to pursue this course of action.  However, it is a risk which you should be aware of.

  1. What if I’m part time?

UNISON believes that any deduction of pay must be pro rata for part time staff. The deduction must be only for your contracted hours.

  1. What if I’m on sick leave?

Workers who are absent on sick leave when a stoppage of work starts retain their right to statutory sick pay during the period of industrial action. If an employee reports sick on the day the action starts, the employer can be expected to make their own judgment as to whether they should be regarded as on sick leave or on strike.

For the purposes of statutory sick pay payable in the eight weeks after a period of strike action, average earnings will reflect the lower earnings during the period leading up to the illness.

  1. What if I take annual leave?

UNISON does not regard anyone who takes annual leave on strike days to be participating in the strike action. If you can, we would like you to postpone your leave so that you can take part in any strike action.

  1. What if I’m pregnant, in my last year of service or receiving state benefits?

It is common practice for these categories of staff to be exempted if they will suffer longer term financial loss. Speak to your branch.

  • Are my pension contributions affected if I take strike action?

In some strikes (particularly short ones) employers may not withhold pension contributions and therefore participation in strike action has not generally affected pensions. Nonetheless, it is a possibility.

If your employer decides to dock your pay for the day of action, the employers do not have to pay pension contributions during that period and you will not have paid your portion of contribution for that day. The impact on your final pension would be extremely small but you might want to consider replacing the lost contribution.

If you are a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme you can buy back the amount of pension ‘lost’ by electing to pay Additional Pension Contributions (APCs) You can make this payment at any time. However, the cost of buying back the lost pension via an APC will increase as each birthday passes.

Members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme are not able to restore their entitlement.

  1. Won’t more pay mean more jobs and services have to go?

Keeping you pay low will not protect jobs and services. You are doing far more for far less – and working unpaid overtime. But your job is still threatened and less secure than private-sector jobs. Councils say they cut pay to save jobs, but while your pay is held down year after year, jobs still disappear and services continue to be stripped to the bone, privatised or stopped altogether.

  1. The Government won’t change its pay policy –will it?

The UK is the world’s 7th richest economy. We can afford to pay the lowest paid in councils and schools the Living Wage and start restoring the 18% lost pay for everyone else.

The bigger agenda is that we are not all in it together. The government is controlling local government expenditure and driving down pay. The government has cut council funding more than any other sector. You have borne the brunt of these cuts. If the economy is now growing, it’s only right that you have your fair share. Pressure can change Government policy. Remember the government’s response to the outcry they were not protecting people from the floods? Pickles said ‘we’ve a very rich country’ and Cameron added ‘money is no object.’

About the strike

  1. What was the ballot result?

UNISON members voted by 59% to take strike action. The results were:

Number of votes cast: 85,020

Number answering “yes” to the question: 49,836

Number answering “no” to the question: 35,062

Number of spoiled voting papers: 122

  1. Who is being called on to strike on 14 October?

A national ballot where there are thousands of different employers, is extremely complex to organise. We have to make sure that our own internal processes are correct and always have an eye on the very stringent anti-trade union laws that are put in place precisely and solely to make things hard for unions and members. Therefore we have had to make decisions on where to concentrate our industrial action. Some types of employers are not involved..

For 14 October we are:

  • calling out members in employers previously balloted for the 10 July strike action, namely;
  • Members employed by councils, including craft workers, youth and community workers, chief officers, public health and Soulbury staff. Although some members in the above groups will be covered by separate bargaining arrangements, it is clearly the case that they work for councils and will be affected by the outcome of the dispute. Their negotiations always take account of the position in the NJC.
  • Members who are contractually conditioned to the National Joint Council for Local Government Services pay and conditions. This will include some staff in the Fire and Emergency Planning Services and National Parks, voluntary controlled, voluntary aided, foundation and non academy trust schools.
  • Holding industrial action ballots of members in strategic academy schools so that, if we get a yes vote, they can join the strike action
  1. Are other unions taking strike action?

Yes – GMB and UNITE are both taking strike action on 14 October.

  1. Do I have to tell my employer if I am going on strike?

No, your employer has been officially informed about the action and they should assume that all members will be striking. It is up to them to ask for any exemptions and to provide emergency cover (see questions on exemptions and emergency cover).

Your employer might send you a formal sounding letter asking you to declare in advance whether you will be taking industrial action. You are under no obligation to inform your employer in advance as to whether you will be taking part in strike action. UNISON is legally required to give employers some statistical information about UNISON members taking industrial action but we do not give individual names.

As always, UNISON will work with your employer to make sure there is emergency cover for essential services where necessary. However, it is for your employer to arrange the necessary cover – if you are needed to provide emergency cover the branch will be in contact

  1. Will I lose pay and if so how much?

Yes, we can expect employers to refuse to pay staff taking industrial action. The law makes it clear that employers can deduct pay when staff are on strike. However, where pay deductions are made these should at all times be reasonable.

If employers decide to deduct pay from those taking strike action, your branch will seek agreement at local level for deductions of no more than 1/7th of weekly income (i.e. 365th of annual income) for a single whole day of strike action. Also that deductions are pro rata’d for people who work part-time or term-time.

  1. Will I receive strike pay for striking on 14 October?

We offer a hardship payement to all members taking part – we will send out full details of how to claim this to you by email or post.

  1. What should I do during a strike?

When UNISON calls a strike we ask that you do not go to work, but instead contact your local representative and volunteer to help out on the picket lines. This isn’t dangerous and it can be fun, as everyone shows that they are serious and united in taking action.

  1. What if I have external work commitments, on the day of the strike?

If your commitments are part of your normal work for your employer, you should not attend them.

  1. What is the law on picketing?

Peaceful picketing is entirely legal. Picketing should be carried out at or near an entrance or exit from a site at which the picket works. When others who are not in dispute come into work or use these entrances or exits, pickets must not interfere with them

  1. What are the guidelines on picketing?

Picketing is a legal activity to peacefully persuade members not to go in to work. Pickets should wear an armband indicating they are on duty. Placards and posters should be displayed stating ‘OFFICIAL PICKET.’

UNISON’s industrial handbook sets out guidelines on picketing. Members registered for My UNISON can see the handbook online at www.unison.org.uk/catalogue/18193

  1. Do I have to strike if I voted no?

The majority of members balloted voted ‘yes’ to strike action and so we would hope you would join your trade union colleagues by participating fully in the industrial action, in line with UNISON’s democratic decision-making process.

You cannot be forced to do so, but it is part of belonging to a democratic union in which decisions are made collectively. We recognise that taking strike action is very serious, which is why UNISON asks you and every other member to observe the strike. Every member who does not undermines our bargaining power and makes it harder for us to protect all our members.

  1. I’m not a member yet – can I join now and still take part in the proposed action?

New members can join UNISON, and join the strike (provided that their employer is one of the employers involved in the ballot), right up to and including on the day of action. So if this is the case, the answer is very much YES you can join the strike – you just need to fill in an application form first and hand it to your local steward.

  1. What should I do if I’m not involved in the strike action?

If you’re not taking part in the strike because you’re not part of the dispute (or employees at your employer are not being balloted) you can still support your colleagues who are. Show your support by talking to friends and colleagues about the campaign, writing to your local MP and councillors and your local paper and wearing a sticker on 14 October. Attend rallies held out of working hours. sk your branch what’s going on in your area!

  1. What happens after the day of action on 14 October — will there be more strikes

The strike action on 14 October will be reviewed to decide what happens next.

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