Striking council workers and other public sector employees have a point – enough is enough

Local government has borne the brunt of the coalition’s ‘austerity’ measures.

Local government has borne the brunt of the coalition’s ‘austerity’ measures

When hundreds of thousands of local government and school support workers down tools and strike today, they will do so with one clear aim in mind – to improve on a pay ‘offer’ from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents their fifth consecutive annual pay cut since 2010.

The J10 strike called by the local government unions – UNISON, GMB and Unite – will be joined by the NUT, PCS and FBU; all with different disputes, but all with a common characteristic and cause – the coalition’s ‘austerity’ agenda and its attack on public spending, public service workers and their pay, conditions of work and pensions.

Nonetheless, it is UNISON’s dispute over the 1 per cent pay offer to over 90 per cent of our members for 2014-2015, and its lifelong impact on their pensions, that has motivated the lowest paid group of public servants (77 per cent of them women, 60 per cent part-time workers) to lose much-needed cash and take to the picket lines.

Local government really has borne the brunt of the coalition’s ‘austerity’ measures. On average, councils will have lost 40 per cent of their funding by 2015, with some poor Labour councils losing even more.

Nonetheless, by the end of 2013 councils had increased their cash reserves by over 20 per cent in real terms from 2010-11 and by £2.6 billion alone between 2012 and 2013. So, whilst our members have struggled to do more with less, with 500,000 lost jobs, pay cuts and all-out war on their conditions of work, councils have been putting millions in the bank.

What has motivated our members to take strike action this year when they were reluctant last year and the one before that? Quite simply that ‘nothing to lose’ feeling.

* Basic pay fallen by 14 per cent since 1997

* Eight of the last 16 annual pay ‘awards’ below inflation

* Pay declined by 18 per cent since the coalition took office

* half a million employees paid below the Living Wage

* The lowest bottom pay rate in the public sector by some distance at £6.45 pence an hour

* NJC car allowances frozen and most users put on lower HMRC rates – leaving many to subsidise their employers for using their own cars for work

* Cuts by most councils to unsocial hours payments, annual leave, sick pay, parental rights, increments and sometimes basic pay too

* Part-time workers – 61 per cent of all employees – suffering drastic cuts to hours, while 20 per cent cover for redundant full-time posts

* 60 per cent of all NJC employees working routine unpaid overtime, just to get the job done

* Reduced pensions because of reduced earnings and pension contributions

The stats are bad. They tell the reason why the lid has finally blown off our members’ patience and they are about to strike. The unions’ claim is for £1.20 an hour for all, to bring the bottom rate of pay to £7.45 pence an hour, closer to the Living Wage of £7.65, and to restore some of the earnings lost by everyone else above that.

Research for UNISON by the New Policy Institute shows that the Treasury would re-coup 55 per cent of the cost of that claim through extra tax and NI take and cuts in benefit expenditure, money which could be re-cycled to councils.

As unions we have requested further negotiations with the current leader and leader-elect of the LGA, which has its annual conference in Bournemouth this week. We stand ready to engage in arbitration as provided for in the collective agreement covering the local government workforce (The NJC agreement).

The LGA has publicly refused to co-operate. We have written to every councillor and MP to seek support. If there is no response, strike action will be escalated in September.

Let’s hope that good sense and just a little recognition of our members’ contribution prevail.

Heather Wakefield is national secretary for local government at UNISON

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42 Responses to “Striking council workers and other public sector employees have a point – enough is enough”

  1. Kryten2k35

    My Facebook feed is full of people moaning about “teachers taking a day off” and saying “they have all these days off, but they tell me I can’t take my kids on holiday?”

    I try to calmly remind these people that an empowered workforce is important, and that striking is a fundamental right.

  2. rat man

    If they can find the money, they can have what they want.

    Increasing tax on high earners will only reduce the deficit by less than %1, there is very little to be raised further through corporation tax (all the big “avoidance” schemes are perfectly legal under EU law).

    The deficit is 7%, most left economists are happy with 3-4% being run indefinatly.

    If they want the public to support them, they need to either set out why increasing the deficit is OK, or find the money, good luck with the latter.

    Really what needs to happen is big wage cuts on the high earners in the public sector, a culling of some jobs, and then using the money saved to pay low paid public sector workers more.

  3. swatnan

    Just realised that our bins won’t be collected this morning.
    Could this be the start of the Summer of Discontent for the Heir to Blair?

  4. Kryten2k35

    Or, instead of wasting money on high speed railway lines that a fraction of the population can use, uninvited and wasteful changes to the benefits system, we could carry on paying public sector workers as they are for at least a few more years.

    And, public sector and low-paid workers in the public sector are some of the people who form the backbone of this country. taking money away from them is taking money directly from the economy.

    Maybe the 11% pay increases MP’s get each year (there abouts) should be frozen, nay, cut, and we could bankrole a few more minimum wage support employees in the public sector? most MP’s are millionaires, and supposedly in it to help the country, so they shouldn’t mind a pay cut.

  5. Selohesra

    Another futile strike – do they really think it will achieve anything other than loss of a days pay. Reminiscent of brave soldiers going over the top in WWI – lions lead by donkeys

  6. swatnan

    Apologies to my Council!. The Bin Men have just this minute came quite unexpectedly, and taken away black bin bags; however being a staunch Trade Unionists myself, I hadn’t left ours out anyway, in true solidarity. So we’ll be stuck smelly rubbish in this summer heat for another week. The lengths we have to go to to stick to our principles.

  7. rat man

    Except MP’s havent had an 11% pay increase (why is everyone repeating this, when it is not true?)

    And HS2, however much of a waste of money it is, is not part of the deficit, and this on a blog the other day arguing government should nationalise the railways.

    Whats your point about benefits changes, makes no sense.


    Point to it, and they can have it.

    Otherwise its cuts time, cull the top, and pay the bottom more, certainly don’t need 6000k civil servants earning over 100k.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    Of course you need to start slashing pay left and right, start firing nurse and teachers and do some token rises…as the economy falls again, sharply.

    You’re using a typical diversion tactic again, not talking about taxing capital, and using laugher curve handwaving, ignoring the fact that EU can can and is being looked at, etc.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Cull the doctors, head teachers, skilled advisor, officers in the armed forces..

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Keep calling basic rights futile.

  11. Selohesra

    OK its futile – I never claimed it was not their right – simply that they will achieve nothing other than a lost days pay. And its raining too so they wont even enjoy their day off. Even God must hate lefties 🙂

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah yes, I’m sure you think Satan does. (Erm….)

    Anyway, keep demanding that people accept falling pay, every single year. As the government manage to find the ONE thing which can actually increase the public sector pension bills…getting new staff to not pay into the schemes, because they can’t afford to and still live on the wages on offer.

    If there is a recovery, there *should* be a fat pay rise, thanks to the years of low pay raises. Is there a recovery?

  13. Selohesra

    A recovery may have started – but there is a long way to go to get back to the situation before the economy was trashed in Labour’s recession. Until we get back to there it will be tightened belts for most of us. Unless you know where Gordon hid the magic money tree before leaving office.

  14. Leon Wolfeson

    So no recovery. Thanks for that.

    That you deny a fiat currency exists (while claiming that a mythical jobs one does, usually), that you blame Labour for the Coalition’s austerity, that you keep hitting the poor with your belt….as you rake it in…

  15. Selohesra

    Do you struggle with the English language? “A recovery may have started” is not the same as “No recovery”

  16. blarg1987

    Where is your proof 6 ,million civil servents are on over 100,000?

    You can obtain money from abolishing PFI and outsourcing jobs, which profits instead could go back to staff creating a more productive workforce.

    Those are two things that are easy and given further thought many other people will come up with other ways :).

  17. blarg1987

    Correction, all major parties agreed with banking deregulation and bailing them out once the crash happened. The recession would have happened under an alternative government also as the opposition did not call for a cap on lending during the good years did they? This is what caused the financial crisis.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    No, I am not you, but thanks for the confession.

    If there is a recovery, there should be pay rises. Simple as – you GET there in large part through pay rises! Hence, you’re working against the concept.

    That you can’t challenge anything else I said…heh.

  19. Selohesra

    So if you fell in the sea & went 6 foot underwater you would start breathing once you had come up 4 foot but were still 2 foot under?

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    You just said that we’re still underwater – no recovery.
    Thanks for that!

    We are, of course, in a bubble – the underlying figures have got worse, not better. In good part because of wage cuts.

  21. Selohesra

    Still struggling with English are you – if we are recovering we are in recovery – when process is complete we have recovered. We have not recovered – hence still underwater – but we are recovering so are in recovery.

  22. Leon Wolfeson

    No, I am NOT YOU. This is really not a hard concept.

    And either we are above water – recovering – or we are below. It’s not hard. Your excuses remain excuses, the take-away from what you are saying is there is no recovery, because if there was then pay rises would be in order.

  23. Selohesra

    Are Leon Wolfeson you have now edited your replies to that of Guest user – admission of defeat! However futile effort as the banality of your argument is a bit of a give away. One last try recovering means getting better – it does not mean the recovery is complete

  24. Guest

    No, it’s because I don’t want arguing with fanatics like you showing up in my feed constantly (blame disqus).

    Keep saying over and over you’re trying to reverse any change upwards (which we don’t have anyway, it’s a bubble) with pay cuts. If there was any sign of recovery, then we’d see pay rises – again, they are largely which FUEL most of a recovery.

  25. rat man

    Yes, good spot on my mistake.

    I meant to type 6 thousand, though I should have said 9 thousand in the public service earn more than 100k.

    Also would like to see figures how cutting PFI will save much money (unless you mean to defult on existing deals), and outsourcing jobs saves money.

    I’m quite supportive of the lower paid getting more money, but only if we HAVE that money, borrowing constantly just to tick things over is not a plan, borrowing for HS2 (which I still disagree with) should in theory give a return, or growth.

  26. rat man

    Try making more sense?

    Who said cull the doctors and high ups, just their pay.

  27. Leon Wolfeson

    “cull the top”, you said.

    And if you think professionals will stay after you’ve slashed their pay, when when you’ve…
    …Ah, that’s the point of course. Drive the doctors out the NHS, etc.

    HS2 has a strongly negative projected return in most figures, unlike your pay cuts for older professionals.

  28. KeyboardMan

    The private sector generates the wealth to pay for the public sector.

    The public sector burden is getting too great for the private sector to support.

    20% of the workforce now work for the government with better pay and pensions than most people in the private sector. This is unsustainable.

    Taxing the private sector further will simply crush it even more. There is plenty of empirical, unbiased, real life evidence to show that high tax rates start to result in a reduced total tax rate.

    The public sector needs to recognise the reality of the state of our public finances.

  29. keybaordman

    The private sector generates the wealth to pay for the public sector.

    The public sector burden is getting too great for the private sector to support.

    20% of the workforce now work for the government with better pay and pensions than most people in the private sector. This is unsustainable.

    Taxing the private sector further will simply crush it even more. There is plenty of empirical, unbiased, real life evidence to show that high tax rates start to result in a reduced total tax rate.

    The public sector needs to recognize the reality of the state of our public finances.

  30. blarg1987

    PFI scandal has always been a big one, its always in private eye, The Scottish parliament building is making a return of several hundred percent for its investors. Hospital trusts accounts shown PFI payments are a large contribution to trusts going into administration.

    The government can abolish all new PFI projects and renegotiate existing ones.

    Just to clarify I meant not to outsource service provision, you can look at the government increasing the tender prices it pays for the new ATOS replacement (easily available by Googleing it) as well as the governments plan to do the same on outsourcing its MOD procurement. If they are going to increase the tender price to attract bidders then that raises the obvious question if it was cheaper why do they have to increase the price they pay?

    Also many of these contracts were based on the winning tender paying UK taxes, however again you can look at Private Eye, many companies offshore their profits avoiding UK tax thus not actually working out cheaper.

  31. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah yes, “the poverty premium is too low” – the problem’s always that we have public schools, that we have the NHS…the whole myth that there’s no value in those things, never mind that our spending is far from exceptional.

    And people in the public sector are grossly underpaid for their qualifications, in fact, and have suffered massive pay cuts and redundancies, far more than the private sector.

    That you want even less Pensions, rather than making sure people will be able to retire (ever)…

  32. Leon Wolfeson

    edit: You’re a copy/paste spammer, Rat Man, I see. Well, no need to go into details then.

    You’re just posting more more “workers are evil” andanti-school, anti-NHS propaganda.

    Pay tax!

  33. Guest

    Ah, you’re copy/paste spamming the same nonsense, rat man. Keep talking about how you’re crushing the poor, personally, and have a magical right to do so.

  34. Guesty McGuesterson

    Maybe making a start on the 70-120billion pounds worth of corporate and super-rich tax evasion and avoidance would be a start. Given that the UK spends only 35billion servicing the national debt each year you can see what even a fraction of that would mean if it was actually collected.

  35. Leon Wolfeson


  36. rat man

    70-120 billion pounds of avoided tax! LOL, and *if* that figure was true, its all done under EU law, so you can’t do sod all about it. Studies have proven that 90% of high earners pay their tax, the figure for avoided tax is nearer 20 billion, do you want to pull out of the EU to recover that?

    @Leon Wolfeson Yes, you can cut their pay and many will stay. If you think they won’t, AND you want more pay for the rest, well then find the money??

    @blarg1987 Yes the PFI scandal is just that, but unless you have figures to show otherwise, we are talking a few billion, we need to find 50+ billion just to reduce the deficit to a more healthy approx 3%

  37. crizz1066

    Nicely put but you won’t find many agreeing with you here. They have a very interesting idea of what happens in the world, or history!

  38. crizz1066

    He did the same with me too, hides but still comes back without reading or understanding what you’ve actually written. I’d I’d my idea if I was that stupid.

  39. Leon Wolfeson

    And yes, you’re that stupid you can’t read English. Keep hiding!

  40. treborc1

    Yes but when the people at the bottom have to take time off from work or give the child(s) the door keys to look after the baby because mother father has to work to put food on the table of course they are angry. Believe it or not it was labour that ended mothers staying at home or fathers for that matter.

    I will back any strike because as a Union member but with a labour party so close to the Tories these day why did they not strike when labour was in power. Yes I know labour are not in power but if they were they do the same thing so why are we funding the Tory Lite party.

  41. Wageslave

    I have only one contribution to make to this conversation. I work in Local Government. I am not one of the very lowest earners nor am I anywhere near the top but I have had to endure several years of increasing hardship due to pay freezes and below inflation pay increases. I feel that all the pilosophical arguments about bubbles, drowning, recovery and non recovery are merely a trivialisation of the constant struggle we have just to keep paying the mortgage and other bills month after month. It’s also not a battle between public/private sector. That is merely a cynical Government propaganda device to turn public opinion against workers who feel that striking is their last defence against the continuing erosion of their living standards. It is a myth that public sector workers are set to receive large pensions if and when they eventually retire. As most Local Government workers are women and are working part-time and earning low/modest wages, their pensions will also be low/modest. Local Government workers are also tax-payers and any decent pay rise will be largely (55%) funded by increased tax take and reduced reliance on in work benefits. It’s a disgrace that some of our lowest paid workers have to claim Working Tax Credits just to make ends meet. The LGA are continuing to refuse to negotiate and take part in mediation, which the unions have agreed to. Let me also explode another popular myth, Local Government workers have also been refused the flat rate £250.00 pa pay rises that the rest of the public sector received from George Osborne as compensation for the prolonged pay freeze. So, basically, enough is enough, we are tired of being the whipping boys of not only the working poor as a whole , but also of the public sector. It seems that we are being singled out even from the public sector itself.

  42. Guest

    So if the truth is the truth, you still won’t allow tax collection, because.

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