Pay campaigning in local government

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
15 February 2023

Conference notes that UNISON members in local government are experiencing an ongoing cost of living crisis.

Despite the 2022 NJC and SJC pay settlements being higher than previous years’ settlements in monetary terms, they were still below inflation. Other sectors within the service group have also balloted for action in response to sub-inflation pay offers.

Low pay in local government has become structural. Pay at the bottom end is often near the government’s National Living Wage, and employers agree that this has led to a crisis in recruitment and retention. The professional status of local government workers has become devalued as a result of uncompetitive wages, a lack of political understanding of the work our members do, and the fact that the Conservative government do not care about local government workers.

Many local government branches continue to have to deal with a variety of problems relating to equality, job evaluation and pay and grading.

Conference believes that while the sectors within the service group have autonomy over the content of pay claims and the ensuing campaigns, there is a need for a service group wide strategy that brings the sectors together with some common broad objectives.

Conference notes the support given to a £15 an hour minimum wage within UNISON and the TUC, and believes this should form a part of our pay strategy.

Conference believes it is important that pay claims are submitted in good time before pay settlement dates, to ensure that we have time to campaign, consult, and pursue a potential industrial action strategy, in line with all legislation and the UNISON rule book, and still ensure that members receive the final pay increase on the settlement date.

Conference further believes that whenever any sector within the local government service group is balloting for or taking industrial action, supporting that work must be the service group’s top priority. Pay campaigns must be backed up by a range of resources which inspire members to vote and get involved, and which make clear the importance of voting with reference to legislation around thresholds.

It is also vital that we learn the lessons from consultations and industrial action ballots where we have passed the 50% turnout threshold, either locally or nationally. The ‘Organising to Win’ composite passed at Local Government Conference in 2022 tasked the Service Group Executive with learning and sharing these lessons, and this work must continue.

Conference also believes that equal pay, low pay and equality must be central to our pay campaigning and negotiating strategy. We must negotiate to ensure that employers work with us to:

1)Conduct a full equality impact assessment on any changes to pay and grading structures;

2)Review all job evaluation outcomes and conventions;

3)Provide ongoing training on job evaluation;

4)Make staff aware that they have a right to a new evaluation if job demands change;

5)Review workforce composition to monitor whether there are larger numbers of staff with protected characteristics in lower grades, and to take steps to remove any inequalities;

6)Conduct annual surveys of pay rates by gender, ethnicity, age and other protected characteristics to establish progress in eliminating pay gaps, and to ensure that the organisation’s pay rates do not fall below pay for comparable jobs in other councils and the locality.

This conference calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to:

a)Establish a model local government service group procedure for the timing of consultations on pay claims and the submission of claims, so that sectors can ensure that, as far as possible, claims are submitted a specific (to be determined) time before the settlement date, to ensure there is sufficient time for consultations and ballots before settlement dates; and to argue for the adoption of the same processes by the other recognised trade unions in relevant sectors;

b)Encourage the sector committees within the local government service group to include the call for a £15 an hour minimum wage in consultations with members on the contents of pay claims, and to include this target in model pay claims;

c)Continue to conduct reviews of local and sector-wide consultations and industrial action ballots, learning lessons where the 50% turnout threshold is met and developing guidance based on sharing those lessons;

d)Research a variety of local government roles with equivalent roles in the rest of the public sector and in the private and voluntary sectors, to establish benchmark rates which reflect the professional status of local government workers, and to produce bargaining advice based on this research;

e)Work with regions and branches to promote the role of pay contacts as a key part of improving member engagement and activism in pay campaigns conducted by the sectors within the local government service group, with a target of having a pay contact in every workplace;

f)Encourage sectors to continue to offer branches a wide range of inspiring campaign resources and materials, including offering a starter ‘action box’ of key materials;

g)Review the local government service group’s priorities and guidance on job evaluation and pay and grading, revise if necessary, and circulate to branches, regions, nations and sectors;

h)Carry out a freedom of information request to ascertain the extent of the use of market supplements, ask sectors to take the results into account in pay negotiations, and consider how to address any equalities implications;

i)Work with Learning and Organising Services to ensure that training on equality issues for members and activists continues to be a key priority.