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2014 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2014

Conference reiterates its belief that our members deserve fair pay, equal pay and that no member should earn less than the Living Wage. However we note that living standards for working people have now suffered the greatest fall since the Victorian era; wages are stagnant across the economy yet the price of essentials continues to rise. Conference notes that this is a direct consequence of government policy, attacking the incomes of working people while boardroom pay continues to rise beyond inflation with tax breaks for the wealthy. It is this that results in increasing levels of pay inequality across the economy.

Conference believes that the historic shift of resources from wages to profits over the past 35 years has impacted negatively on the economic performance of the UK as well as on social justice.

Conference notes with concern that between 1977 and 2008 the wage share fell from 59% of national income to 53% while the profit share increased from 25% to 29%. Where as wages translate into demand and economic activity, profits are often not put to productive use – as evidenced by the increase in UK companies’ reserves during the economic crisis.

Conference condemns the attitude of Government and employers alike towards public service pay settlements, specifically the public sector pay freeze and the ongoing pay cap. As a result of pay failing miserably to keep pace with inflation, Conference notes that some UNISON members have been subject to the pay freeze for up to five years, with some public sector staff suffering a 16% cut in the value of their pay packet since 2010, with the average worker losing £2,000 from the value of their wages. The proportion of UNISON members relying on benefits to make ends meet is steadily increasing. In addition, many private companies and community and voluntary sector providers of public services have mirrored the freeze and cap. Wage awards of 1% and thereabouts are not increases but wage cuts. The pay freeze has to be broken. Government as an employer should move to increase the wages paid to its own employees such that their real value is restored.

Also, in 1999 the bottom point on the Local Government NJC pay scales was 24% above the National Minimum Wage and in 2013 it was only 2.2% above. This means that UNISON members across our services and pay grades have seen their living standards plummet. To help address the historic fall in wages there is a need for sustained increases in the National Minimum Wage.

Conference notes, in particular, the number of workers earning less than a living wage has rocketed in recent years to more than five million, with one million of whom are public service workers. Conference further notes that with four-fifths of new jobs being low-paid, for the first time ever more working families are now in poverty than non-working ones, and two-thirds of children living in poverty now come from working families. It is increasingly apparent that, despite government rhetoric, work does not pay. Many of those seeking help from Food Banks are in work and they, or their families, are also facing increasing fees for access to further and higher education opportunities. Within the public sector and in public sector contracting, the rise of casualisation, zero-hours contracts, and unpaid travel time have been a means of restricting pay and allowing employers to circumvent minimum wage law, especially in areas such as social care: austerity and privatisation will intensify the zero-hours culture for both in-house and outsourced public services and that the quality of our public services will suffer.

A recent report by the New Economic Foundation entitled “Raising the Benchmark” usefully identifies the role that public sector employment has historically played in setting decent pay levels and labour standards and highlights that this role is no longer being adequately performed.

Conference further notes that the distribution of wages has become more polarised. Only the USA has a larger proportion of low paid workers than the UK amongst developed countries.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter as a means of addressing such issues in home care and seeking to benefit service users by clamping down on the use of rushed care visits. Conference also welcomes the work done within UNISON Scotland in achieving the living wage within NHS Scotland with the removal of point 1 on band 1 within Agenda for Change.

Conference asserts that improving living standards for our members is a key priority issue. Conference notes that there is an international consensus that wages led economic growth is needed now in our economy, while our belief in social justice means that we need policies for fair increase in workers’ wages to tackle income inequality while tackling the bonus culture at the opposite end of the scale.

The growing take-up of the Living Wage is to be welcomed. In the North West, 50 organisations have now signed-up and this has had a positive impact on the lives of many low-paid workers, some of whom work for public sector employers.

However, there are limits to what can be achieved through the voluntary Living Wage as the self-interest and enlightenment of employers cannot be relied upon. Conference therefore welcomes the significant findings of a report by senior economist Howard Reed which concluded that a statutory living wage would result in “an economic win-win on a number of levels”, by boosting demand and economic growth, reducing earnings inequality, increasing the share of wages in national income, raise Income Tax and employer National Insurance payments and reducing the extent to which the benefit and tax credit system has to prop up low wages.

There is an urgent need for a shift in societal resources from profits to wages. Our experience of privatisation is that it always involves an effort to insert a profit layer through cutting and worsening jobs. Privatisation is part of the damaging trend of increasing profits at the expense of wages.

Against this backdrop, Conference welcomes UNISON’s Worth It campaign and its goal to place the pay and living standards of our members centre stage.

We note with concern Ed Balls and other leading Labour politicians have indicated that a Labour Government would continue with public sector pay restraint. The dangerous consensus of the major political parties on public sector pay restraint underscores the need for a coordinated industrial and political response on pay restraint.

Conference recognises that national industrial action, co-ordinated as far as is reasonably practicable across sectors, will be essential to halt and reverse the erosion of real pay. Whilst recognising that it is for the appropriate service and bargaining groups to determine their own pay strategies. In a period of government driven pay freezes it is essential however that we have an overall strategic view as a union of encouraging the maximum unity across the public sector of opposing the continuing driving down of our pay. Members are nervous about taking action over pay, and the different pay bargaining timetables tend to fragment a whole union approach. The Worth It campaign makes a valuable contribution in building up member confidence and forging a union wide strategy.

Conference is encouraged by the achievements of the union, working with our allies, over the past year in campaigning for a living wage. Conference recognises that there is a still a need to ensure that public bodies pay the living wage to contractors as well as direct employees. And Conference reiterates the importance of a living wage being used as a means of bringing pay up, not levelling it down.

However, at a time when the coalition are trying to persuade the public that the economy is improving, it is vital that we continue to ensure that the continuing struggles of working people for a fair wage is continually placed centre stage.

Conference agrees that pay must be a core priority for the union this year, and calls on the National Executive Council to work with branches, activists and members to build a pay campaign in accordance with national strategy. This campaign should include:

1) Encouraging union wide joint working between branches across Service Groups, including the ever growing number of members who are no longer covered by national pay bodies, for example by encouraging all regions to do all they can regularly to hold quorate meetings of their Regional Council;

2) Drawing on lessons learned from the 2011 pensions campaign, particularly the successful ways we communicated and educated members on why the issues were important and how they could get involved and make a difference and sharing the successes of those regions who engaged most effectively with building support for industrial action;

3) Recruiting and organising must be at the core. The campaign should motivate members to get active in the union and should be used as a recruitment tool to increase density wherever possible, maximising democratic engagement of all UNISON members, across all UNISON Service Groups in our campaign to secure real pay increases for all our members.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to use the Worth It campaign, and our key political campaigning to:

a) Campaign for an end to the public sector pay cap and call for a clear commitment to this from Ed Balls and Ed Miliband;

b) Continue to highlight falling living standards and the argument that higher wages are needed for the good of the economy;

c) To support UNISON’s sector-based activity around pay, in particular to ensure support where members democratically decide on lawful industrial action;

d) Use the Worth It Campaign to engage with UNISON membership is a key way of fighting back in conjunction with sector based campaigns;

e) Strongly encourage branches and regions to ensure a very substantial UNISON presence on the TUC-initiated ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ demonstration on Saturday 18 October;

f) Highlight, promote and facilitate the coordination of sector based campaigns, working with Service Groups to encourage and assist the coordination of action up to and including discontinuous industrial action taken by UNISON members, across sectors and Service Groups and to the maximum feasible degree with other trade unions, particularly in the public sector.

g) Promote wider uptake of a living wage as a means of ending the blight of in-work poverty and a substantially higher National Minimum Wage;

h) Campaign to defend public sector jobs, which provide decent pay and labour standards, and against privatisation, which impacts negatively on the economy through redistributing public money from wages to profits;

i) Campaign for an end to the use of zero-hours and other exploitative contracts;

j) Work with Labour Link and UNISON regions to encourage Councils and other providers to sign up to the union’s Ethical Care Charter;

k) Work with allies to make living standards a central part of the 2015 general election campaign;

l) Use the activity associated with the Worth it campaign to recruit new members and to reach out to the wider community;

m) Seek to coordinate across service groups and with unions across the public sector to organise united action against the pay freeze; and

n) To continue to highlight how outsourcing is driving down wages with private sector workers paid less for doing the same job as public sector staff and that the competitive tendering process can have a depressing effect on public sector pay as in-house teams compete on price with private providers to retain service provision.