Attacks on Terms and Conditions

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2011 Local Government Service Group Conference
10 June 2011

Conference deplores current attacks on hard-won NJC pay and conditions across local authorities and Boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and a pay freeze for a second year, without the £250 compensation promised by the Chancellor in his 2010 Budget.

Dorset County Council proposed that its entire staff should take 1 day each month as unpaid leave. Swindon Borough Council unilaterally removed unsocial hours payments. Many other Local Government employers are threatening to remove car allowances, refuse to pay professional subscriptions, reduce redundancy pay to the statutory minimum and freeze incremental pay progression in addition to the freeze in cost of living pay rises. This is causing real hardship for local Government workers, particularly low paid workers.

We are concerned to note that UNISON branches are reporting increasing numbers of dismissals through disciplinary and sickness processes. We cannot help but suspect this is a tactic being used by some employers to achieve reductions in staffing levels while minimising the cost of redundancies. Members are often reluctant to take action to protect their conditions of service because of the constant threat of job losses.

Many NJC conditions within the Green Book are mirrored in other local authority agreements. They are already less favourable than those elsewhere in the public sector, especially sick leave, annual leave and maternity rights. Pay is also lower than for equivalent groups of public sector workers, with the bottom rate of £6.30 an hour barely above the National Minimum Wage. NJC workers have also had below- inflation pay increases in five of the last seven years and an imposed pay freeze last year, with no compensation for the low paid. No wonder that 70% of NJC employees now earn less than the government’s ‘low pay’ threshold of £21,000. However, even this shameful statistic has not prevented the Local Government Employers (LGE) from attacking our bargain basement conditions through ‘Reducing Workforce Costs.’

Some local authorities are using dismissal (Section 188) notices to unilaterally impose changes to workers’ terms and conditions, on the basis that they will save jobs. Notices are being issued without examining the alternatives with UNISON. Some councils do not need to be making the attacks they are making. For them, this is just an opportunity to reduce the workforce and cut pay and conditions in line with Government ideology. This disrespect for our members and the vital work they do will only store up trouble for councils, local communities and services in the long term.

Conference notes that currently 40% of all women employed in the UK are working in the public sector, and that 65% of all public sector employees are women. The coalition government’s attacks on equalities legislation and the delayed implementation of the public sector equality duty will impact on the gains made in workplace equality for women, and it is therefore essential that equality is embedded in our negotiating and bargaining agenda.

Conference some contractual changes impact disproportionately on particular groups of workers, such as women, black, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender or disabled members and breach equality legislation. Employers should be ensuring that this doesn’t happen through equality impact assessments (EIA’s) required by the Public Sector Equality Duties. Although the Tory-led government has tried to remove the teeth from the specific duties for England, local authorities will not be able to comply with the general duty without taking steps like assessing equality impact, and it is still an important bargaining tool. Some are dragging their heels and others are carrying out inadequate EIA’s. Conference welcomes the bargaining advice on ‘Reducing Workforce Costs’ and the guide to Equality Impact Assessments which are providing important support to branches.

To make matters worse the coalition Government is rolling out a programme of continued attacks on employee protection. These include removal of the two-tier workforce code, threats to reduce the protection of TUPE and reform of the Employment Tribunal system to make it more difficult for employees to challenge the fairness of their employers’ actions.

The impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review will increase pressure at a local level. We know our members’ first priority is to keep their jobs. But if we allow NJC pay and conditions to be whittled away, we will also be allowing bargain basement conditions to set the standard not just for local government, but the whole of the public sector.

Conference therefore calls on SGE to:

1)Encourage branches to make use of the General Political Fund in local campaigns to raise awareness of the threats to workers in their communities;

2)Provide information to branches on how to access the political funds and mount their own campaigns to protect their Conditions of Service;

3)Send a strong message from the national Local Government leadership to

Eric Pickles, the Con-Dem Government, local Councillors and the Local Government Association that Local Government workers cannot be expected to pay for the mistakes of others, through pay freezes and removal of allowances which in combination represent a substantial cut in the value of their pay against the rises in the cost of living.

4)Resist reductions to members’ pay and conditions by all possible means, including lawful industrial action within UNISON’s rules

5)Produce further advice and campaign materials to support branches in local disputes and campaigns to protect pay and conditions, mainstreaming equalities considerations in all materials and including specific advice on the rights of part time workers

6)Ensure that advice and guidance issued to branches on fighting cuts includes the gender impact as part of the consultation process with employers, and that equality and work life balance issues are addressed as part of any cuts strategy.

7)Carry out research into the effect of job cuts on the working lives of our members who remain employed

8)Ensure all lay and paid officials are trained an