Calling a Halt to Poverty Pay in Local Government

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2013 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2013

Conference condemns the shameful state of pay and conditions for local government workers across the UK. Conference notes that:

1) NJC and SJC pay has the lowest bottom rate of pay and the worst conditions of all public sector groups – for both full-time and part-time workers

2) NJC and SJC pay has fallen by 15% in real terms since the Coalition government took office

3) 26% of local government workers also report suffering a further cut to their basic pay- in addition to frozen pay

4) Over half a million council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – nearly a third of the workforce and mostly women – earned less than £15,000 in 2011–12

5) This put them in the bottom 10% of earners across the whole economy in 2011

6) A further 37% earn between £15,000 – £21,000 – that’s below the Coalition government’s £21.000 “low pay” threshold

7) This means 68% of NJC workers earn less than £21,000, but only a tiny handful have received the £250 promised by the Chancellor to the low paid facing pay freezes

8) While UNISON Scotland successfully negotiated an SJC Scottish Living Wage in 2013, many workers in Scotland have still lost earnings as a result of below-inflation pay increases in recent years

The long-term pay freeze and below-inflation pay awards since 1997 has left many local government workers battling to make ends meet and dependent on benefits and loans to survive. Conference notes that the majority of them are women and that black workers in local government continue to face discrimination. For our disabled members, this continuing attack on our jobs, terms and condition and pay, leaves many especially disabled women in low paid jobs struggling to maintain the most basic of living standards. Our members are now being forced into making choices between feeding their dependants, paying their rents or mortgages, heating their homes or affording to pay for their travel to work. Conference further notes that Black workers, disabled workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers are all more likely to work in local government than in the private sector. Local government pay is therefore an equality issue.

Conference applauds those branches which have successfully fought off further attacks to members’ living standards where employers have proposed to reduce terms and conditions, and those branches which have mitigated against the worst effects of imposed changes. Conference also recognises those branches which have successfully negotiated the local introduction of the Living Wage or other increases to pay levels at the bottom end of the pay spine. However, we note that in some instances employers have introduced the Living Wage as the ‘headline grabber’ in a wider package of detrimental cuts to terms and conditions. We recognise that pay levels at the bottom end are placing many of our members in working poverty but we reiterate our position that all local government workers are deserving of fair pay and a decent pay rise.

Conference recognises that local bargaining around sector-wide pay and grading frameworks is necessary to ensure that members receive equal pay for work of equal value within employers. However, Conference is concerned that local bargaining on pay in general, including for the Living Wage, will have an increasingly negative impact on NJC and SJC sector-wide collective bargaining and on our ability to pursue fair pay for all, including delivering sector-wide industrial action when necessary. Conference urges our sector negotiators to prioritise campaigning that seeks to restore sector-wide collective bargaining as an effective machinery to deliver a new fair deal on pay and conditions for all local government workers. This should include the Living Wage for all and be inclusive, avoiding situations where groups of members are ‘played off’ against each other by the sector employers.

Conference notes that despite prolonged pay restraint local government jobs have gone in their thousands and in some areas they are being decimated. A number of North West local authorities have already lost a third of non-schools jobs. It is a myth that repeatedly taking a hit on pay is maintaining job security. At the same time as the real value of our earnings is plummeting so too is the value of our future pensions.

Conference notes the Government, by its own estimates, has knowingly lost £3.75 billion in 2013/14 and £4.94 billion in 2014/15 through cuts in the rate of Corporation Tax in a vain attempt to attract inward investment. Reserves held by NJC local authorities now stand at £16 billion with some £4 billion unallocated. £1 billion invested in pay could provide every local government worker with a pay rise of around 4%. £560 million of that would immediately be recouped by the Government through Income Tax, National Insurance and VAT. More of it would be recovered by Government through reduced spending on in-work benefits and Tax Credits. The balance would be spent by workers in their local economy, thereby maintaining current private sector jobs and helping to create new jobs. This would see a further consequential increase in tax revenues to Government and a decrease in benefit costs. The money is available and the economics are viable.

Conference believes that our fight for fair pay and conditions is part of UNISON’s fight against austerity and for an alternative political economy which recognises the value of public services and public service workers. We must continue to demand and campaign for substantial pay increase that will return us to a position where our pay allows our members to have had a decent standard of living.

Conference therefore instructs the Service Group Executive in conjunction with branches, regions and self-organising groups to:

i) Continue to prioritise a high profile campaign across the four UK nations within the work of the Service Group throughout the next year for a new ‘fair deal’ for local government workers which recognises the value of the work we do for society and the economy

ii) Develop a ‘gender agenda’ within that campaign to recognise the high proportion of local government workers who are women

iii) Carry out research and work with the Black Members Committee to ensure that the position of black workers is reflected in that campaign

iv) Support appropriate research into the impact on LGBT workers and work with the National LGBT Committee to ensure that this is reflected in that campaign

v) Provide easy-to-understand materials on the impact of austerity on local government workers and the ‘alternative’

vi) Seek widespread coverage in the women’s LGBT and black press and other publications targeting equality groups, alongside the mainstream press and media

vii) Using the media to portray the types of jobs our low paid local government members perform, work on pay that your average MP would not get out of bed for

viii) Producing a standard letter about the current situation of low pay in local government that all our members can send to their local press as well as regional press.

ix) Work with the National Disabled Members Committee to encourage disabled members to come forward and speak up about their pay and how it is impacting their lives

x) Work with sympathetic councillors within the four UK local government associations to develop and win support for a new ‘fair deal’ for local government workers and to call on the Coalition to end its austerity assault on councils

xi) Work with the Shadow front bench in Westminster and sympathetic MP’s/AM’s/SMP’s in the devolved nations to develop support for a ‘fair deal’

xii) Call on regions and branches to carry out systematic lobbying of councillors throughout the year in support of our campaign

xiii) Produce further campaign materials

xiv) Continue to undertake research on the impact of low pay on our members

xv) Undertake further research on the impact of benefit changes on our members

xvi) Continue building an inclusive campaign to support our call for fair pay and conditions for local government workers, including lawful industrial action within UNISON’s rules where necessary

xviii) To continue to support branches and maintain the policy of not agreeing to reduce green book conditions at national level

xix) Ensure that regular communication with members and branches is central to the campaign, to include countering the myths and making the arguments why organising and preparing for an on-going industrial element is intrinsic to the campaign

xx) Seek to co-ordinate any such lawful industrial action ballots with other trade unions in dispute. Where possible to lawfully co-ordinate any subsequent action if the ballots vote for action.