Cost of Living Crisis and Black Workers

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2023 National Delegate Conference
16 February 2023
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that everything is going up fast – 12 percent now but forecasts of upwards to 22 percent. However, the pay of many UNISON members has been effectively frozen for almost 12 years. We can’t make ends meet!

We have a cost of living crisis because of the decisions made by political leaders and their friends running big business and financial institutions. We note how much money the rich have, and that we live in the sixth richest country in the world, yet more and more people are reliant on food banks, and are forced to choose between heating and eating.

In recent months our costs have gone up – fuel prices, food prices, transport, national insurance – as have the profits made by BP and Shell, the energy companies, MPs wages and billionaires bank balances.

Everything but our wages. The news continues to report of people struggling to get by, doing without essentials, whilst according to an article in the Times on ten ways to save money, one rich family have given up their £40,000 a year live-in nanny for a £10,000 au pair to help with their financial struggle. It really is a world of them and us.

Conference rejects the propaganda being put forward that workers’ pay rises cause inflation. The inflation rises have many causes chief of which is the profiteering of many companies based on shortages of labour or supplies or the perversity of a market system artificially raising prices even when shortages do not apply in the UK such as energy.

The Governor of the Bank of England has been calling for wage restraint to protect the economy whilst continuing to amass a personal fortune with a salary of half a million pounds a year – making sure none of the wealth generated through inflation comes to our class!

This year we have seen shocking figures that show there is plenty of money for big pay outs for bosses and shareholders but nothing for our pay, funding our services and ensuring no one is left cold or hungry:

1)Rail Company Profits – Greater Anglia made £85 million profit from 2014-18 but chose not to reinvest it in services/infrastructure and instead paid out £61m to shareholders. There are similar stories from all the rail companies;

2)Energy Companies – EDF increased profits by three times those last year to £728 million, Scottish Power made £925 million profit, E.on increased their profits by two-thirds to £245 million – all in the first six months of this year;

3)Oil – BP profits £7 billion, Shell’s profits rose to £10 billion both again in just half a year;

4)BT boss Philip Jansen – his pay went up 32 percent this year, to £3.5 million. He is now paid 97 times more than the lowest paid BT worker, and 86 times the average paid BT worker. Earlier this year, BT opened a foodbank in one of its call centres – for its own staff. Members of the Communication Workers’ Union now call him Foodbank Phil. He was already grossly rich – before coming to BT, he was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Worldpay;

5)Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines –trousered almost £600,000 this year. The top 10 highest paid at Network Rail got a total of £3.68 million, at a time whilst they are advertising customer service assistant and station control assistant jobs for £20,000.

However, Conference notes the widening of the wealth gap between the richest and poorest. The gap between CEO income and workers’ pay rose to 63:1 in 69 companies surveyed in 2021/22 financial year, an increase from 44:1 during 2020/21. In some companies it has risen to 100:1. In the period to 2019/20 this had been reducing. Surveys also showed that the Ethnicity Pay Gap had also fallen in some workplaces but was now back on the rise again. Black Workers continue to be over-represented in the lowest paid grades.

There is no mandatory monitoring of the Ethnicity Pay Gap. However, it is most likely that an increase in wealth at the top would lead to a widening ethnicity pay gap. This conference notes with concern a trend where the ‘Cost of Living’ crisis would be most severely felt by black workers. There is plenty of money out there, our job is to be organised and make sure the money is used for decent homes, schools, hospitals, services and pay.

The National Black Members Conference supports UNISON policy of the nationalisation of the energy companies to nationalise rail, mail and transport and all other services that have been privatised, (with compensation to shareholders only based on proven need) to bring costs and prices down to an affordable level.

Conference believes the only way that our members, especially Black members, can stand up to the crisis is by taking action to win at or above inflation pay rises. TUC surveys have reported in the past that where there are proper collective bargaining arrangements covering workplaces, the ethnicity pay gap can be reduced completely. Conference believes that Black members will be at the forefront of the campaign to beat the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’.

Conference therefore resolves to call on the National Executive Committee to:

a)Work with Service Group Executives and Self Organised Groups to organise and fight against in-work poverty by supporting at or above inflation pay rises for all our members;

b)Continue to pursue mandatory ethnicity pay gap data is published by all employers and in the meantime agrees to work with SGEs and Self Organised Groups to call on all employers and sectors within which UNISON organises to produce ethnicity pay gap data;

c)Encourage all Black members to be involved in campaigning for at or above inflation pay rises and support Black Members to put themselves forward for activist positions at all levels of the union;

d)Collate data to show the impact of high inflation on Black Workers and their families to provide material for publication in activist and other UNISON media;

e)Support national and regional workshops for members to assist in raising the issues but also providing some help in dealing with household budgeting problems;

f)Support young Black members to become active in all aspects of this campaign.