UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea, urged delegates at the union’s local government conference to ”get the vote out” in its latest strike ballot, which ends on 4 July.
“We need you, talking to members, face to face in their workplaces, explaining why this vote matters,” she said. The National Joint Council, which covers council and school workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is calling for a pay increase of inflation plus 2%.
“The case for better pay is compelling and clear cut,” said Ms McAnea. “Staff vacancies are endemic. Recruiting and keeping social workers, care workers, planning officers, environmental health staff, HGV drivers and so many more, is becoming so difficult that services and communities are suffering.”
She added that the damage caused by this recruitment crisis “isn’t easily fixed – it endures through generations”.
The government says that it can’t afford to meet this pay claim, said McAnea, but in fact it could recoup about half the cost of the claim by raising more in tax and paying less in in-work benefits as people would earn more and go above the threshold for benefits.
What’s more, she added: “When money goes to public service workers, they’ll go and spend it in their local communities, driving economic prosperity.”
Christina acknowledged that there was “a mountain to climb” to achieve the 50% threshold needed for a strike when the previous turnout 18 months ago was disappointingly low. However, she says the mood has shifted since then.
“Inflation is now much higher than it was. And we’ve seen waves of strikes – sweeping across so many sectors – that have built public support, changed history, and delivered change.”
As well as calling for strike action, Ms McAnea thanked delegates for the work they do in UNISON branches across the UK: “Successful insourcing campaigns, negotiating reorganisations and putting millions on the pay bill, the huge graft that went into getting term time workers the right pay, the campaigns to stop car parking charges, and regrading claims, that all have a long-term impact – putting more money in people’s pay packets, and on to their pensions too.”
She also mentioned UNISON campaigns in Northern Ireland for free school meals for every child; in Cymru Wales, to get a social partnership model up and running, to give public service workers and unions a say in the key policies of the Welsh government; and in Scotland: “the brilliant campaign against the Scottish government’s flawed model for a national care service”.
Christina finished her speech by saying: “I look forward to coming out and seeing you on our picket lines when we take action.”