Right to strike over low pay

Since 2004 local government workers have had below inflation awards. Their vote in favour of strike

Next month (July) 600,000 UNISON local government members will take strike action over a 2.45 per cent below inflation pay offer. This is not a decision they take lightly - our members are there to serve the public - but they are facing an unjust pay policy and feel pushed into a corner.

Labour inherited a recruitment and retention crisis in our public services. Morale was low and services were suffering. A lot has been achieved, but we cannot afford to undo this good work. We all want quality public services, but they do not come cheap and workers deserve fair pay and good conditions.

Councils are already struggling to compete for staff with other public and private sector employers – even in low wage areas. If they fall further behind, local authorities will not have the staff to deliver services – let alone work towards making improvements and delivering change.

Local government workers continue to be the poor relations of the public sector. Since 2004 they have had below inflation awards, but the vote in favour of strike action this week underlines the message that you can push people only so far before they say enough is enough.

It is crunch time for our members who provide the every-day services that people rely on - teaching assistants, social workers, care workers, librarians, dinner ladies, lollipop ladies, leisure and parks and garden staff as well as refuse collectors and street cleaners. It cannot be right that 250,000 staff still earn less than £6.50 an hour and they have said clearly they cannot afford to accept another below inflation offer.

Three quarters of council workers are women, who, far from fuelling today’s inflation, are victims of the rising prices of everyday essentials. They are being hit hard by the cost of putting food on the table, spiraling gas and electricity bills and the recent hikes in fuel.

There is not an economist in the country who agrees with Government claims that public sector pay fuels inflation. If the government is serious about tackling inflation they need look no further than the boardroom bonanzas and big city bonuses. They should tackle the corporate greed of the energy
companies BP and Shell making £7 billion profit in just three months.

In the meantime local government workers, who have to use their cars for work, are effectively subsidising their employers – they are left out of pocket because fuel prices have overtaken their mileage rates.

It is a disgrace that tens of thousands of public sector workers cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. I said at our conference last week that we reject Brown’s pay policy. We didn’t elect a Labour
government to watch its core supporters suffer this way. We don’t want Gordon to feel our pain we want him to stand up and heal it.

Dave Prentis is general secretary of Unison

Dave Prentis is the general secretary of UNISON.