Strikes averted after breakthrough in local government pay talks

Local government unions have called off a national strike
planned for 14 August after a breakthrough in pay talks.

But employers are warning that the package on offer could mean
job cuts, a reduction in services and higher council tax bills.

The arbitration service Acas has proposed a two-year deal under
which staff will receive increases ranging from 7.7 per cent to
10.9 per cent for the lowest paid.

Representatives of the employers and the three unions involved,
Unison, GMBand the TGWU, have agreed to recommend their members
accept the package, which includes a minimum rate of £5 an
hour backdated to April this year.

The proposal also includes the setting up of a local government
pay commission, which will report within 12 months on measures to
end low pay and promote equal earnings for men and women in a bid
to find a long-term solution to the issue of salaries.

But Jeremy Beecham, chairperson of the Local Government
Association, has voiced concern about the affordability of the
offer, which is more than the 3 per cent that employers had
initially said was their final offer.

“We have gained a two-year deal and a measure of stability so
councils can plan accordingly. But the downside is that it is more
than some authorities can pay with comfort. I suspect they will
look at generating savings to meet this, which might involve
reductions in jobs and services and a rise in council tax.”

Beecham added:”The fact is a high proportion of council spending
goes on staff costs, so I believe this must have some impact on

The Employers Organisation’s lead negotiator, councillor Brian
Baldwin, added: “There’s no doubt that these proposals present a
challenge to councils to ensure that services are maintained.
Councils have to find a balance between pay, the need to protect
services and jobs, and the demands on council tax payers. The
proposals are right at the limit of affordability.”

But a spokesperson for Unison insisted there was money
available. “In local government in general, and in social care
particularly, the vacancy rate is so high that authorities are
making savings on the wage bill.

“So we would strongly resist any suggestion that cuts in
services are needed in order to fund the deal.”

The deal includes:a 3 per cent increase from 1 April this year
(or 4.1 per cent for the lowest paid workers); a further 1 per cent
in October (or 2 per cent for those on the lowest two grades); and
a 3.5 per cent rise from April 2003 (plus an extra 1 per cent for
those on the lowest two grades).


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