Local Government NJC Pay Dispute 2008 and Future Pay Strategy

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Conference
2009 Local Government Service Group Conference
Date
13 June 2009
Decision

Government policy to hold down pay for Council workers as outlined in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review for 2007-2011 is set to continue beyond this period. The pre budget report in November 2008 calls for “continued discipline” and multi year pay deals. This is part of the Government’s objective to control local government spending to help meet the costs of tax cuts and bailing out the banks.

The impact of the economic crisis and the failure of the pay campaign over the past two years to deliver any real improvements and which resulted in criticism from members about the tactics adopted.

Conference applauds members who answered the call to take national strike action in July 2008 in support of the Local Government NJC pay claim. The commitment and effort put in demonstrated UNISON at its best. However, turnout and effectiveness of the action on a national level was inconsistent and not as marked as the 2002 NJC Pay Strike and 2006 LGPS Strike. There are a number of reasons for this including the economic downturn, density levels, the impact of pay and grading in some areas and the effects of efficiency savings and reorganisations on job security. UNISON members do not take strike action lightly and many Branches reported members were saying they would strike only out of a sense of loyalty to the union, the Branch, or even to individual activists. This is not because members don’t care about their pay it is a reflection that members no longer see an annual pay round in isolation from the other factors they face in the workplace.

Pay is simply one of the concerns of members in local government as they face –

1)Major cuts, job loss and privatisation as a result of an increased emphasis on commissioning and procurement.

2)The likelihood of major attacks on the LGPS

Members want to see a strategy which acknowledges and responds to their concerns in a co-ordinated manner. As a mature Service Group we should be able to learn from experiences and objectively examine our processes to become better organised and more reflective of our members. This places a responsibility on Branches and Regions to encourage and facilitate the maximum engagement of members in deciding the union’s position on their pay. This is consistent with an organising approach and promotes democratic accountability.

Conference recognises our national bargaining committees are placed in an extremely difficult situation when consultation has a low return combined with an unclear mandate and Regional variations. This situation arose on the NJC offer in 2008. Overall return was less than 20% of membership, but with a clear majority of Branches not favouring a formal ballot. The formal ballot produced an almost identical outcome in the return rate and the split for and against strike action and, with hindsight, this may have suggested some of the problems ahead. We accept that strict minimum turnout figures would reduce flexibility but it may be appropriate to consider guidelines that take account of the size and spread of indicated support before a ballot can be triggered and in determining a recommendation to proceed to action.

Externalisation and local bargaining has resulted in many members no longer being conditioned to the NJC. It is critical that bargaining procedures are as rigorous, accurate and accountable as possible to protect the integrity of our procedures from external challenge and ensure representative accountability to aid organising and campaigning.

Conference reaffirms The Service Group Pay Consultation Procedures as the basis for involving members in determining their pay. Conference believes an objective assessment and review of the principles underpinning our Service Group’s national bargaining will lead to greater democratic accountability, more informed decision making and more effective organising and campaigning.

Conference instructs the Service Group Executive to work with the Service Group’s bargaining committees to;

a)liaise with National Office, Regions and Branches on developing and implementing – as a matter of urgency – an accurate system of ‘tagging’ members to their appropriate bargaining group as well as Service Group.

b)consider, with Regions and Branches, how we improve participation in pay consultations and ballots and use these as an organising opportunity.

c)develop guidance to support The Service Group Pay Consultation Procedures on how turnout and voting splits should be considered as part of the recommendation on how to proceed – including Regional weighting of votes at the Service Group’s national bargaining committees where appropriate.

d)revise our Service Group’s bargaining committees such that all seats are representing only members who are part of that bargaining group and are eligible to be filled only by members who are part of that bargaining group.


e)revise our Service Group’s bargaining committees such that any Regional seats are based on the number of members conditioned to that bargaining group rather than the wider Service Group, and are eligible to be filled only by members who are part of that bargaining group.

f)To recognise the cynicism and lack of confidence that arises when settlements are not reached by the agreed settlement date. To seek to conclude pay negotiations at least 1 month before the settlement date and timetable our consultative process accordingly.

Councils have a key role in supporting families and communities through recession, as well as being the major employer in most localities, in maintaining employment and increasing demand to get out of recession. Consequently, it is a nonsense to hold down and cut council workers pay particularly for the low paid. An increase in council workers pay, particularly weighted to the lower paid, can maintain local economies and help to kickstart demand.

Conference agrees our future pay strategy should represent a new social settlement and consideration given to incorporating:-

i)pay;

ii)funding for local government which minimises job loss, increases apprenticeship and training places and maintains services;

iii)review of procurement and commissioning to minimise the threat of privatisation;