UNISON needs to Fight for Decent Wages

30th July 2013

In yesterday's (29 July) Guardian, Heather Wakefield, UNISON's head of local government, argues that the living wage (currently  £7.45/hour) should be the minimum pay in local government.

Such has been the decline in wages in local government that this figure, which is supposed to be what is needed to enjoy a decent minimum lifestyle, would represent a significant advance for many local government UNISON members. Wakefield says there are 500,000 local government workers earning less than that amount and that local government workers have suffered an 18% decline in real wages since 2010.

What is missing from her article is any strategy to achieve either the Living Wage or a reversal of the decline in our members' wages. She makes a case for councils introducing the Living Wage but has to admit that only a handful have made the necessary commitment to be accredited as living wage employers.

No council in the country has stood up and refused to implement Con-Dem cuts. Most see making savings from their employees as less unpopular than cuts to services affecting the whole of their electorate. There has been little if no difference between Labour and Tory or Liberal councils in this respect and Labour councils are just as unlikely to implement the living wage, while they have used job evaluation as a cover to implement attacks on terms and conditions which have further reduced incomes. So if UNISON local government members are to reverse our decline in real wages then we have to be prepared to fight for it.

Unfortunately Wakefield is part of a UNISON leadership that refused to put out a recommendation on the employers' 1% pay offer. It was UNISON's failure to offer members any lead, even though they recognised that 1% was totally inadequate, that resulted in UNISON members accepting the pay deal. Some of the material put out by the union even implied that 1% was breaking the pay freeze because we'd had nothing in the previous 3 years.

UNISON members could have been won to taking action in support of a pay claim if the union's leadership had given a clear lead on the sort of rise members need and demonstrated that they had a strategy to achieve it. This was shown by the vote to reject the employers' offer in the two regions where the regional leadership recommended rejection.

It is not good enough to wait for councils to end low pay or for central government to legislate it away. Improvements in pay will only be won through militant, fighting action. The handling of future pay claims, including recommendations, has to be the responsibility of democratic decisions of lay members instead of unelected, overpaid, officials who have neither the will or confidence in members to fight for what we need.

End low pay. For a 24 hour general strike.

UNISON local government member
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