Local government unions have said that they may not be able to meet the deadline imposed by employers to respond to the 2009-10 0.5% pay offer for staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Last week, the National Employers for Local Government Services told Unison, Unite and GMB warning that the offer would be withdrawn, leaving staff with a pay freeze, if a settlement had not been reached by 1 June.
Deadline may not be met
But after a meeting between the unions on 7 April employers were told that it may not be possible to meet the strict deadline.
Unite national officer Peter Allenson said: “All three unions have extensive membership and to consult them properly about any outcome of negotiations would take us, we believe, beyond the date which the employers are indicating.”
Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield said: “We haven’t said that we definitely won’t be able to meet it. We may not, but it depends how we get on with the negotiations – it’s really down to the employers. The deadline makes it very difficult for us to consult our members properly.”
Wakefield said that the unions had told employers that the deadline was “unreasonable”, particularly given the four bank holidays between 6 April, when the offer was made, and the 1 June deadline.
Industrial action not ruled out
Allenson also said that union members had been “enraged” by the 0.5% pay offer and that industrial action could not be ruled out. He added: “It doesn’t compare favourably at all with teachers, NHS staff and other public sector settlements. Local authority workers will slip down the ladder. When you’re talking about social services, which often enters into joint working arrangements with health, these things come into stark contrast.”
Nurses have been awarded 2.4%, teachers 2.3% and police officers 2.6% for 2009-10, while senior civil servants have received 1.5%. Council staff in Scotland have gained a 2.5% rise.
“Employers may be taking a hard line, but all it’s doing is angering the staff in local government and making dispute much more likely.”
A Local Government Association spokesperson defended the 1 June cut-off tactic as a way of avoiding the protracted negotiations over the 2008-09 pay deal, which eventually had to be settled by arbitration body Acas last month.
Delay ‘not fair on staff’
He said: “Last year council workers should have got their pay increase on 1 April 2008 and it wasn’t resolved until March 2009. That’s not fair on our staff. We cannot have negotiations over pay dragging on over 11 months again, it’s just ridiculous.”
He added that the pay offer was a direct result of the current financial climate and the additional 0.3% increase in last year’s settlement imposed by Acas. “Ultimately we seen a massive squeeze on council budgets and a lot of revenue streams have dried up. 0.5% is what we can afford,” he said.
However, Wakefield added: “If you add the increase from Acas over last year’s settlement, you’d still only get 0.8%. I think they’re very cross that they lost the argument at Acas. They’re really reacting very childishly in trying to get their own back.”
The next meeting of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, the pay negotiation body including both employers and trade unions, is scheduled for 22 April.