Fair pay in local government: Local public servants are worth it
Tuesday, 4 February will be a Day of Protest by UNISON, GMB and Unite over poverty pay in local government and swingeing cuts to council jobs and services. It’s not a strike, but activists and members will be using lunch hours and out-of-work time to highlight the extent of the havoc being wreaked on local government workers, local communities and local economies by the Coalition.
Trade union imagination has been running high, with a colourful panoply of actions being planned across the UK…. joint union rallies in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, a ‘soup kitchen’ in Nottinghamshire, a march and campaign bus in Camden, a lunchtime demo in the Vale of Glamorgan, two weeks of highlighting the importance of local government workers in Sunderland, bacon sandwiches at a rally in Newcastle and protests in Scotland. Everywhere we will be talking to union members, getting them to send tens of thousands of campaign postcards to Local Government Association leaders calling for a decent pay rise and recruiting!
Local government has been the main target for the government’s ‘austerity’ regime. On average, English councils face a 40% cut in their budgets, with yet more threatened by the Chancellor. In Scotland and Wales, less drastic cuts to date are now intensifying. The cuts are skewed towards Labour councils, mostly in the North, many of which had never recovered from Thatcher’s de-industrialisation and the poverty that came in its wake. Meanwhile some Tory councils in the South East are almost unscathed.
The key aim of our Day of Protest is to draw attention to the 18% drop in basic pay faced by our members in local government in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 2010. That’s the consequence of a unique three-year pay freeze and below-inflation settlements in eight of the last sixteen years. It also reflects the fact that the Chancellor’s promised £250 to those earning less than £21,000 in 2010 and 2011 strangely failed to materialise for council workers – all 1 million of them!
The Local Government Employers will be meeting on 13 February to respond to our claim for an extra £1.20 pence an hour for everyone to make the Living Wage the bottom pay rate for all and to help restore lost earnings for everyone else. On top of falling basic pay, most councils have also cut local conditions, adding to our members’ hardship. We want them to see just how much it matters, with growing numbers of our members in significant debt, depending on food banks and our own welfare support to get by.
Although 103 councils now pay some version of the Living Wage to the lowest paid, over 500,000 council employees are still paid below it – many as little as £6.45 pence an hour. While the NHS has a small number of workers earning less than the Living Wage, no other public sector group has a starting rate below £7.65 pence. There is no justification for such different treatment for workers doing the same or similar jobs.
Our members are tired of being the public sector’s poor relations. Please support our Day of Protest on 4 February.