UNISON’s campaign for fair pay continues with full force today as we open our industrial action ballot of over 360,000 local government workers in England and Wales. The ballot of members in Northern Ireland will open in August.
Once again, we’re up against restrictive anti-trade union laws that mean we need a big turnout and a big ‘yes’ vote to take strike action. So we’re doing all we can to get out the vote and beat those ballot thresholds.
Pay in councils and schools has fallen by 25% in real terms since 2010. And the employer’s below-inflation pay offer for 2023, goes nowhere near to making up for it, or to dealing with the rising cost of living. In fact, it represents another attempt at managed decline of the pay and standards in local government.
Workers are dedicated to supporting their communities, but they’re overworked and undervalued. For school support staff, half are actively looking for better paid work, many are in debt, and it’s common for people to work second or third jobs to make ends meet.
Low pay is a problem for employers too – they simply cannot recruit the staff they need, or hold onto them, when there are better paid and less stressful jobs elsewhere.
But giving a decent pay rise is affordable for the government. Tax cuts for big businesses and huge profits for gas and oil companies could be dealt with to raise money for local government pay. That would be a political choice that puts communities and workers first – a choice the current government has refused to make over the past 13 years.
We all know by now that common sense arguments don’t work with the Tories in Westminster. They live in a different world and are out of touch with millions of working people in the UK. So we must make every effort to take effective action, to force their hand.
Our members, activists and staff are taking on this challenge together. From today, all our collective efforts will be focused on this ballot, to get a ‘yes’ vote in as many councils as possible.
I know it’s a difficult decision to vote to take action and be prepared to lose a day’s pay, but we’ve won through strike action before in other public services, and I have every confidence we can do it again.