Rewiring Public Services and the Local Government Workforce

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2014 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2014

Conference believes UNISON must have a vision for the future of local government services as well as pay and conditions and that achieving workforce involvement and buy in to the development of that vision will be crucial.

Conference is concerned that there is no real mention of the workforce in the Local Government Association (LGA) policy document and campaign “Rewiring Public Services’. These set out the LGA’s vision for the future of local government and local public services and are designed to influence political manifestos in the run-up to the general election.

Rewiring Public Services can only be realised through employees who are valued, given opportunities to up-skill and motivated by a real sense of identification with their employers. As pay and conditions are slashed further, our members are less and less likely to act as advocates for them.

Conference notes the local government reorganisations and changes to service delivery occurring across all four UK nations. In Scotland the Christie Commission Report outlines principles for public sector reform. The recently published Williams Commission sets out proposals for restructuring Welsh councils. The Review of Public Administration exercise underway in Northern Ireland will reconfigure 26 councils into 11 new councils. Education and Library Boards will also need to be reconfigured to realign with the new councils.

Conference re-asserts the importance of sector wide collective bargaining and agrees with the National Joint Committee (NJC) employers that the NJC is the body best placed to deal with the employment issues arising from the huge change local government is undergoing. This is also true for our members in Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA.)

Local government workers fare worse than other public sector groups, in terms of pay, conditions and training. However, they are increasingly required to co-operate with other groups on more favourable pay and conditions though shared services, integrated working and marketisation. Conference believes NJC and SJC pay and conditions need to be harmonised upwards so that our members are no longer the poor relations of the public sector.

Conference therefore deplores the Local Government Employers’ (LGE) decision that from this year they will only negotiate nationally on pay and not on Green Book conditions. Further, that they will assist and encourage councils to achieve further cuts to terms and conditions locally. Weakening the NJC negotiating structure will not benefit local authorities or the communities they serve. Further discretion will result in further pay discrimination and vastly increased negotiating and resource burden on councils. Conference believes that councils do not have the capacity for organisational development and change management.

The NJC and SJC workforce is a highly gendered one, with the consequent need to have appropriate pay and bargaining systems. This must reflect employers’ legal obligations to tackle gender segregation, ensure pay equality and provide for family friendly working practices, access to training and career enhancement for part time workers.

Conference supports the idea of bringing the smaller bargaining groups into the NJC. There is no longer an objective rationale for maintaining separate bargaining structures for craft, youth and community, chief officers and soulbury employees when there is a common employer. Where this happens single table bargaining is the logical consequence.

Conference instructs the Service Group Executive to:

1)Approach the LGA and COSLA chairs and political groups for discussions on the role of the NJC and SJC in the changing local government landscape and for a more joined up approach to workforce issues across the LGA and COSLA including a strategy that:

a)Places high quality services, making the best possible use of public money at the heart of a new approach to pay, conditions and workforce development.

b)Confronts the reality of the NJC/SJC’s bargain basement conditions and pays urgent attention to the deterioration in conditions for NJC/SJC staff relative to other public sector groups and the economy as a whole.

c)Recognises the highly gendered composition of the workforce and focuses on equality and workforce development.

d)Reflects the legal obligations placed on councils by equality and employment legislation and good employment practice generally.

e)Seeks to bring opted out councils back into the NJC.

f)Makes more resources available in the LGE to support negotiations and local employers.

g)Ensures these principles carry through to discussions within the Welsh and Northern Ireland LGAs.

2) To provide guidance on job evaluation and harmonisation issues for bargaining groups brought into the NJC.