Debate on the second day of UNISON’s police and justice conference in Brighton was dominated by emergency motions calling for a fair pay award and opposing the pay freeze for police and probation staff announced by the Westminster government.
As East Midlands delegate Paul Gurney put it, clapping for public service workers “does not pay my bills. [Home secretary] Priti Patel sends a letter – a letter doesn’t pay my bills.”
But there was acknowledgement too that more needs to be done to engage members in consultations to ensure that pressure can be brought on the employer.
Karen Pearl from Lancashire spoke about how her branch had “worked really hard and got a turn out of 70%. We cannot accept that there is no money – the forces have budgeted for a pay rise, so why are we sitting here?
Dave Bryant from West Mercia Police made the point that there is no “public sector pay freeze”, because some public services are being offered some sort of rise, even when it’s below the rate of inflation, whereas police and justice service staff are being offered 0%.
He called on activists to “empower our own members,” while other speakers said it’s vital that activists tackle that “apathy”, with suggestions that action short of a strike – particularly, working only to the letter of a contract – could be every bit as effective.
Michelle Brewster of Police Staff Scotland, says Scottish members have received an offer, but they are still in negotiations because the offer is “unacceptable” – but they’ve been able to do that because they “have a strength behind us” to support such negotiations.
For the service group executive, national officer Ben Priestley stressed that organising for industrial action is very hard, but he added: “Occasionally, we need to take strenuous action.”
Mr Priestley went on to stress that the route of a formal industrial action ballot doesn’t mean the union will inevitably take strike action.
“The most successful industrial action is the industrial action that we don’t have to take,” he said.
“It’s a question of escalating” a dispute in order to “persuade the employers that we’re serious about it”.
And he urged delegates to remember that 96% of members who voted in the recent consultative ballot rejected the pay freeze.
Elisa Vasquez-Walters said that she was there to “make the same case for probation as for the police staff.” Commenting that there’s “money to invest in the service”, she noted that the most important part of the service is the staff, of whom there is already a shortage in the service.
“We all work hard and we deserve to be paid properly,” she concluded.
In a busy final session, conference also discussed the need for the murder of Sarah Everard to “be the catalyst” for a public statutory inquiry into entrenched sexist behaviours within the police force.
Delegates voted to instruct the service group executive to write to the home secretary seeking to encourage such an inquiry. And conference also backed a call to tackle transphobia in policing, citing particular concerns over support on social media by police and crime commissioners for transphobic elements of an article in the Daily Mail.