|Volume 50 Number 23, June 20, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Around 100,000 council workers will take part from July 3 in a consultative ballot over a £1.83 a day pay offer. The ballot closes on August 14. Workers in England, Wales and the north of Ireland are understandably angry over the derisory 2.75% pay offer made by the Local Government Employers (LGE). It has to be asked, how do they expect to get away with this clear and shameful injustice? Workers are saying, "Enough is enough! We are worth more!"
Public sector workers have been consistently fighting for their rights and interests. Ever since the 2011 public sector workers' strike, where two million took action over their conditions, including pensions and job cuts, the workers in local and regional authorities have continued their struggle against government-imposed pay restraint and austerity. Further strike action was taken again in 2014.
The Cameron-led government implemented a pay freeze from 2010-12 and then imposed a 1% cap, meaning some of the lowest paid workers saw their pay cut in real terms. The workers were told then that they would bear the brunt of austerity and that the pay cap would last until 2018. Austerity has in fact continued to this day. The current "offer" rewards essential workers with yet another pay cut!
The Local Government Employers (LGE) offer, made during the coronavirus crisis, has added insult to injury. The disastrous effects of the cuts made during this pandemic have been thoroughly exposed. Cuts in services and jobs and the logistical problems in allocation of Personal Protection Equipment to care homes and hospitals have shown that there is a lack of respect and regard shown to essential workers who have been supporting our communities throughout the crisis.
Many workers have made enormous sacrifices, endangering themselves, still making every effort to speak out and act in their own name and authority, so that proper decisions are made.
Even with the problems of testing, tracking and tracing, workers have soldiered on despite hardly being able to make ends meet and look after their own disregarded health and safety.
Workers know full well that there would have been adequate experienced staff, looking after the community and the capital expenditure to support the local authority, if such vast cuts in government funding had not previously taken place under austerity. Recruitment and retention would be in a far better position if the pay had been right all along.
Coming out of lockdown for the government is simply based on carrying on "business as usual". Are the workers, and society in general, simply to go back to the pre-Covid-19 situation with the "balancing of budgets" and public services handed over to private interests? How can things be the same when what is obvious to the public, who applauded health workers, care home workers and essential workers, is being denied? The public have stopped their applause on Thursday nights and are demanding, alongside the workers, that they should be paid!
Waste has needed to be collected and taken to the refuse dumps, even though there is a dangerous virus out there. Effluent must be treated, frontline local authority workers have protected our communities and vital services, caring for our young and our vulnerable elderly, cleaned our streets, and worked in our crematoria to ensure dignity for all as well as the community. Far from having their worth recognised by the LGE, these public service workers are being insulted with a pay offer which amounts to no more than a pay cut.
The onus for getting education up and running has been put on the shoulders of local authorities and schools. The government has left society to fend for itself and has abdicated its responsibility for the security of citizens.
Local authorities have been both centralised and rundown so much that many councils have merely become commissioning groups without any real or credible authority. It has made the whole situation political, even a pay claim. It is also a situation where the workers who work for local authorities have taken responsibility for tackling the conditions created by the pandemic, often working long hours and dangerously to keep the situation functioning. It includes workers in finance departments and office staff who have had to respond to the demands under difficult conditions.
Commenting on the role of public service workers, Unite national officer for local government, Jim Kennedy, said, "The pandemic had brought into sharp relief the important, but severely undervalued, role of local authority workers."
He stressed: "A pay offer of £1.83 a day is a totally unrealistic and insulting offer, especially given the current crisis where it is our frontline local authority workers who have protected our communities and vital services, caring for our young and our vulnerable elderly, collecting our rubbish, cleaning our streets, and working in our crematoria to ensure dignity for those who have, sadly, fallen victim to Covid-19.
"We know the public are appreciative and supportive of our frontline workforce. Unfortunately, the local government employers are not mirroring public opinion. The employers and central government can no longer keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to fair pay for local authority workers - they need to recognise the new national mood that is in favour of enhanced pay for those in the public sector frontline. Paying a pittance is tantamount to withholding the pay of the frontline troops. Battles cannot be won like this."