George Binette, Branch Secretary of Camden UNISON, was guest speaker at last week’s Branch Meeting. He spoke on the background to the pay freeze, the effects of the austerity measures on the local government workforce, and the need to reject the 1% pay offer and make a stand now:
“Camden UNISON is one of only 3 branches in London with over 3,000 members.
Public sector workers in Scotland are balloted separately from those in England and Wales. They have rejected the 1% pay offer and the process of initialling industrial action in now underway. England and Wales are still considered under consultation.
From October this year the National Minimum Wage will rise to £6.31 per hour (for those 21 and over) which means that scale point 4 will fall below this leaving the local government employers little choice but to scrap it. About 25,000 to 30,000 of local government workers are currently on just £6.30 per hour, which illustrates how far public pay has been eroded since the introduction of the pay freeze.
Real pay in the public service between 2009 and 2013 has fallen by more than 15% – where as living costs have grown at a high level: Rents in the private sector in London have risen by 8%; public transport fares have increased by 4%; the average cost of a basket of goods in a supermarket has gone up by a massive 40% in the last 6 years. Therefore all public sector workers have been hit twice with a reduction in pay and an increase in living expenses.
With inflation currently running at between 2.4% – 2.9% the 1% pay increase will actually be a 1.4% – 1.9% pay reduction in real terms.
Under the Labour administration the pay freeze was implemented for local government workers only. In May 2010 when the coalition government came into power the pay freeze became extended across the whole public sector becoming the norm. The Chancellor of the Exchequer held out an olive branch of £250 pay increase for the lowest paid workers but most local authorities did not implement it (only about 1/5 did).
On 7 May the NJC (National Joint Council for Local Government Services) with representatives from all regions, met to discuss the employer’s side final pay offer. They narrowly rejected a motion to reject the 1% pay offer and go for industrial action by 14 to 13 votes.
The wider union membership will be consulted in the next four weeks to ascertain if members will accept the 1% offer. If rejected the unions will have to move towards a ballot for industrial action. This will of course not guarantee success and is costly for members.
However it must be borne in mind that the 30 November 2011 strike over the pension changes to the local government scheme did result in better conditions and outcome (though it did not deliver everything the unions were asking for).
The situation outside local government is that the two biggest teaching unions – the NUT and NASUWT – have announced that they intend to have a programme of regional industrial action. The first set of action will take place on 27 June in the North West.
Furthermore the PCS and the fire brigade unions are also in contention with the government and are about to launch more industrial action to fight for their jobs and pay.
So we would not be isolated if we took action.
As all local government workers are very well aware, the pay freeze has not saved any jobs: Between 350,000 and 400,000 jobs have been lost so far. In Camden alone there have been 550 redundancies.
If local government does not stand up this year to fight for pay then next year the government will continue to repress wages and it is important that members draw a line under pay.”