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2013 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2013
Carried as Amended

Conference condemns the prolonged public sector pay freeze that has drastically reduced the amount workers have received in recent years and now the punitive pay cap of 1% for two years from 2013.

Conference also notes that many private companies and community/voluntary sector providers of public services have mirrored this freeze.

On top of the three year pay freeze there have been cuts in car allowances, weekend enhancements, overtime and mileage rates and redundancy pay. Large numbers of workers are also suffering cuts to contracted hours, shift and call out payments and bank holiday rates. Schools staff are being moved on to less favourable “term-time only” contracts.

Council workers are also seeing their terms and conditions of employment being slowly but surely chipped away. Many of those being hit hardest are the low paid working in home and residential care as well as sheltered housing and schools, where shift payments are a critical element of their incomes.

Conference notes that over this period inflation has often been up at 5% and rarely below 3%, as energy and food bills have soared.

Despite claims to the contrary, Conference notes that real protection for the lowest paid public sector workers has been non-existent, with many not even receiving the promised £250 pay rise.

Conference notes recent research by the TUC that shows the average worker will lose around £6,000 by 2014 as a result of wages failing to keep pace with rising prices. For public sector workers the picture is bleaker still.

Conference deplores the cumulative impact the pay freeze and cap has had on workers – effectively a 15% cut in the value of wages for those working in local government, for example.

Conference is particularly concerned about the political consensus that has developed amongst the main Westminster parties on holding down levels of public sector pay.

Given this backdrop, Conference is unsurprised that reports continue to point to rising levels of working people living in poverty. For example, the majority of those entitled to social security are now in work, and the number of working households forced to rely on housing benefit has doubled since 2008.

Conference is alarmed that this retrenchment is set to continue until the end of the decade with the Resolution Foundation pointing out that living standards for low- and middle-income households are expected to fall until 2020.

When combined with the vicious attacks on social security and benefits, Conference notes that many of those in work are increasingly forced to turn to food banks or to their wider families for assistance.

Conference highlights the particularly stark evidence of applications to the UNISON Welfare fund, “There for you”, where those applying for school uniform grants have jumped by more than a quarter in the past year, and applications for assistance with heating bills went up by a massive 388%.

Conference believes that not only are such policies grossly unfair and deliberately inequitable, they are also counter-productive in the wider context of the struggling UK economy. Depressing public sector workers’ pay and living standards sucks demand from local economies and contributes to economic stagnation.

Conference recognises the progress that UNISON and our allies have made in the past year in raising the profile of the Living Wage as a campaigning tool against poverty pay. In addition to the London Living Wage, there have been huge strides in Higher Education and Scotland and Wales. As of January 2013, there were 11 Labour-controlled local authorities fully accredited as living wage employers for both employees and contractors with more on the way.

But in Solihull UNISON has campaigned for a Living Wage of £7.45 an hour only to have this refused by the majority Tory council. At the same time the pay of Solihull’s top 47 managers has been scaled up.

Conference notes that many more public bodies are paying the Living Wage for direct employees but need to focus next on contractors. However, we believe that it is essential that the Living Wage is used as a means of bringing pay up and not levelling it down. We note for example that in Local Government the impact of pay erosion means that significantly more directly employed workers are now potentially covered by the Living Wage than when it was first conceived over a decade ago. Whilst providing essential underpinning the Living Wage is not a substitute for fighting for fair pay increases for all. We do not believe it is acceptable for employers to seek to offset the cost of implementing the Living Wage by further restraint of pay for other workers.

Conference asserts that the Living Wage also brings benefits for employers and government, with the IPPR think tank finding that turning the National Minimum Wage into the Living Wage could save government £2bn a year as result of paying out less in benefits and receiving more in income tax and national insurance.

Following the Chancellor’s autumn statement, Conference congratulates the union in fending off the prospect of regional or local pay in the majority of the public sector, with the damaging exception of teachers in schools, where progression will be discretionary. However, Conference remains concerned by the attempts of NHS employers, particularly in south west England, to break away from the national Agenda for Change system.

Conference deplores the Budget announcement on 20 March 2013 that the Coalition government’s 1% public sector pay restraint policy will extend to 2016 and condemns the Chancellor’s proposals to block incremental pay progression (which is a contractual right for hundreds of thousands of UNISON members).

This union demands fair pay now to restore pay levels and bring them back in line with inflation. It commits itself to campaign for pay justice and a more equal society.

Moreover, low pay is bad for local economies and reduces the consumer demand needed for economic recovery.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1) prioritise the campaign to end the punitive public sector pay cap;

2) promote a living wage as part of an overall strategy to put an end to the blight of in-work poverty and secure adequate living standards without a dependence on in-work benefits;

3) continue its policy of working through service groups to co-ordinate industrial action in accordance with the union’s industrial action procedures;

4) coordinate meetings of the Service Group Executives to plan legal industrial action across the sectors for the 2014/15 pay round;

5) campaign through Labour Link at all levels within the party to ensure that Labour support the right of public sector workers to fair pay rises rather than pay freezes. This should include co-ordinating an evidence based review, carried out in accordance with UNISON rules by service groups and sectors, of the fitness for purpose of all current pay bargaining and pay determination arrangements in which UNISON is involved;

6) work with the TUC, STUC, WTUC, ICTU to coordinate action and to ensure that public and private sectors cannot be turned against one another;

7) continue to resist regional and local pay in the public sector, whether enforced by central government or championed by groups of employers;

8) lead and co-ordinate a long-term bargaining strategy to retain national conditions and to reinforce the value of national pay, with a long term approach;

9) promote the argument that higher wages are needed for the good of the economy;

10) develop a longer term strategy across all service groups to reinvigorate collective bargaining and investigate ways of boosting pay levels across all the sectors where we organise;

11) identify and implement a strategy to enable the effective allocation and deployment of emergency resources to support branches on the frontline of such sustained attacks.