Synchronising Local Disputes

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2014 Local Government Service Group Conference
19 February 2014

Across the Service Group local terms and conditions and those underpinned by sector-wide agreements reside in the bargain basement of public sector employment. Even where a statutory basis exists they are rarely above the minimum entitlement.

Yet many employers, with overt encouragement from sector employer organisations, are choosing to use central government funding cuts to reduce local terms and conditions further. Research by the Service Group has shown widespread diminution of payments for overtime, weekend and evening work, unsocial hours, shift working and car allowances, plus the use of increment freezes and unpaid leave, to ease their financial pressures by placing additional financial pressures on our members.

If the wealthy faced losing 20% of the real value of their earnings through increasing tax rates, they and their mouthpieces would scream about unfairness and the impact of ‘negative confidence’ on entrepreneurial investment and the economy. But for local government workers to lose 20% of the real value of our earnings through falling pay levels and cuts to terms and conditions is apparently fair, acceptable and justifiable.

It is shameful that local employers resort to this approach. Activists are sick and tired of Councillors and Management Board Members wringing their hands and mouthing empathetic platitudes whilst signing Section 188 notification letters to rip up terms and conditions. Crocodile tears do not pay the bills. Fair pay and decent terms and conditions do.

Conference recognises that in such situations Branches and activists are placed in an extremely invidious position. There is clear pressure exerted to enter into concession bargaining under the threat of imposing something worse. However, the reality is that local government jobs and services are ultimately not being saved by a ‘trade’ for cuts in pay and conditions. Since this government came to office over 400,000 local government jobs have been lost, some 80,000 in the North West alone by the end of this year. And there is evidence that where Branches organise to resist we are, in many cases, able to defend the terms and conditions fought for by the generations we follow.

The scale of funding cuts in local government is intensifying over the next two years. In many areas the scope for voluntary workforce reductions is running out and it is inevitable that we will increasingly face compulsory redundancies. Concession bargaining, however well intentioned, is not going to prevent this or even make a noticeable dent in it. But continuing to accept reducing pay and reducing conditions actually makes it cheaper to get rid of jobs.

Conference agrees that proposals to cut local terms and conditions and make compulsory redundancies should be resisted wherever possible.

We recognise that due to statutory restrictions local employer proposals can only be met by local disputes and actions. Even where Branches receive the full organising support of their Region and widespread messages of solidarity the nature of local disputes can often lead to activists and members feeling isolated.

Conference instructs the Service Group Executive to:

1)Request that Regions work with Branches where official local disputes are in place to seek to synchronise the timing of any dispute actions across Branches wherever practicable and in accordance with UNISON’s industrial action procedures.

2)Ensure any necessary operational and legal guidance is issued to regions and branches.