Pay Campaigning and Beating Industrial Action Thresholds

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2023

This conference notes that:

1) This Tory government is once again seeking to make public sector workers pay for the latest economic crisis by restricting public sector pay even further when the cost of living continues to rise;

2) Prior to the latest cost of living crisis, pay across local government had fallen in real terms by 25% since 2010; We now have ‘Pay Free Fridays’ where compared to 2010, we work a day a week for free, and now they’re coming for our Thursdays too

3) The pay crisis across local government means there is already a crisis in recruitment and retention of staff across many staff groups, resulting in greater pressures on remaining staff;

4) UNISON research has shown that the government receives around 50% of the cost of NJC local government pay awards back, through increased direct and indirect tax revenues and reduced spending on benefits and tax credits.

This conference believes that:

a) Imposing further real terms cuts in pay across local government and school support staff can only exacerbate the staffing crisis caused by underpay and overwork;

b) The current increase in inflation has largely been caused by an inflationary profit drive, most notably among energy companies;

c) It’s not just energy companies that are profiting though. Last year, Nat West bank recorded profits of £5.1bn and paid the CEO £5.25m. After the Tories ended the cap, city bonuses now average more than the annual pay of our teaching assistant members. The rich are getting richer at our expense.

d) It is a political choice to restrict local government pay further and such a choice will not resolve the inflationary pressures created by profit-led inflation;

e) Over the last year, we have seen a massive increase in workers beating the ballot threshold and taking strike action over pay, from the RMT, CWU, NEU, UCU, Aslef, TSSA, PCS, RCN and BMA. Some of our members in Health and Higher Education have also taken strike action, and Local Government members are balloting. This has been an inspiration, and has forced the Tories to improve pay offers.

f) This government will only be forced to give decent pay awards to local government workers if unions can demonstrate they can beat the ballot thresholds and call lawful industrial action, if necessary;

g) Each branch and region need to beat the ballot thresholds if UNISON is going to be as strong as possible to win better pay;

h) Each branch and region need to prioritise achieving the required turnout during any ballot period as their number 1 priority;

i) A political leverage campaign can enhance the impact and success of any industrial action.

Conference notes the successful pay campaigns run by UNISON Scotland in recent years. Conference notes that these campaigns have seen numerous consultative ballots being conducted, two statutory industrial action ballots taking place (with the number of branches meeting the required turnout thresholds increasing from the first to the second) and the first successful prosecution of industrial action in local government in over a decade.

Conference notes that as well as delivering better pay for members the impact of these campaigns on the union’s organisational strength has been significant, with 15,717 new local government members joining UNISON in Scotland in 2022 alone; a net increase of 7020 members across the year; an increase in activists being trained and better membership data.

Conference notes that whilst these campaigns have faced many challenges, they have succeeded, in part, because activity has been built up over time; education amongst activists of what is needed to win has improved; members have been given opportunities to engage throughout and the union’s public profile has increased.

Whilst it is recognised that the use of social media can be a positive way to communicate and interact with members. This conference condemns any online abuse, false allegations and attacks on negotiators.

Conference calls on the SGE to review the reasons behind this success and share the lessons that can be learned to local government branches across the whole of the UK.

This conference also resolves to request that the Local Government Service Group Executive works with the NJC Committee to:

i) Seek to ensure best practice on beating ballot thresholds, from across UNISON and the wider trade union movement, is shared with branches and regions;

ii) Seek to ensure each branch and region devise a plan of action to beat the ballot thresholds for employers under NJC pay, terms and conditions;

iii) Seek to ensure any industrial action across sectors in UNISON is coordinated wherever possible;

iv) Seek to ensure any industrial action over pay is coordinated, where possible, with other parts of the public sector and other unions fighting for better pay;

v) Seek to ensure a political leverage campaign is devised;

vi) Survey all appropriate branches to quantify how many are ballot and strike ready and identify gaps in resources, reporting back in full to the Local Government Service Group Executive and then to Local Government Conference in 2024.