Blog: Why this insult to council and school staff can’t be allowed to stand

The government must do the right thing by the people who have kept us going during the pandemic

Portrait of Jon Richards

For a moment, imagine you’re a cleaner at your local primary school…

Throughout the pandemic you were asked by your employer to go into work. You were told, ‘You’re essential – without you, the school couldn’t open to look after key workers’ children’.

You left the house and travelled through the eerie, deserted streets. You waited for the bus for an extra hour, because they only ran a skeleton service at the height of lockdown.

At the start, you weren’t given any proper protective equipment – there was a national shortage. But that didn’t stop you going to work, worrying that you were then taking the virus back home to your family.

You had to adapt to new regulations and make sure you were socially distanced. It was quite stressful.

You don’t even earn £10 an hour. And over the last 10 years, it’s been harder and harder to make it stretch.

Despite everything, in a way, you felt proud – your job is vital and you were helping to keep the country going.

But after all the sacrifice, stress and strain, you’ve just been told you’re only getting a pay increase of 1.5% – and because inflation stands at 2.9%, that is effectively a pay cut.

Imagine. How would you feel?

This is what is happening to UNISON members working in councils and schools. School support staff, care workers, refuse collectors, social workers, crematorium workers, library staff, housing officers, environmental health workers, food standards and many more. An army of workers who deliver our most essential services, cast aside.

While the media focussed on the crisis in hospitals – and rightly drew attention to the fantastic work done by the NHS – thousands of local government workers went out to work, day in and day out, putting themselves in harms’ way to keep the country going.

These workers are not well paid – 16% don’t even earn £10 an hour.

That’s why UNISON is clear: 1.5% is an insult.

And that’s why we are ramping up the campaign for fair pay.

Like last year, we’ve been told the funding crisis in local government is too stark to afford fair pay. The old, ‘there’s no magic money tree’, is being rolled out again.

UNISON, more than anyone, knows that the crisis faced by council bank balances is catastrophic. We’ve been campaigning to protect services, calling on the government to urgently pay councils back for the lost income and extra expenditure incurred due to COVID.

We know local services urgently need funding. But local service workers urgently need fair pay too.

With £37 billion wasted on track and trace, £849 million spent on ‘eat out to help out’ and £2 billion in COVID contracts to Tory donors, it might be time for the government to recognise vital workers and make sure local government doesn’t become a bargain basement employer.

We are calling on the Local Government Association of England, Wales and Northern Ireland to stand with us and demand that the Prime Minister do the right thing.

We will keep you updated on their response. And in the meantime, you can help by joining the campaign for fair pay.

Find out more at our campaign page. Here, you can ask your MPs to show their support for council and school workers – it only takes a minute

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