Story updated 27 May 2021
The country’s two largest unions have rejected an “insulting” 1.5% pay offer for council practitioners that falls well short of its 10% claim and is likely to amount to a real-terms pay cut.
Representatives of councils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland made the offer to 1.5 million local authority employees – including social workers – earlier this month, saying it would increase the pay bill by £279m in 2021-22.
The news prompted an angry response from the three unions who negotiate with employers through the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, UNISON, the GMB and Unite.
UNISON, which represents 40,000 social workers across the UK, has now formally rejected the offer – following a meeting of its local government committee – and demanded talks with employers to negotiate an improved settlement. Unite has also rejected the offer.
“This offer simply isn’t good enough,” said UNISON head of local government Jon Richards. “Council and school staff have done so much this past year. They’re understandably feeling more than taken for granted. It’s insulting.”
“Negotiations with the employers are now essential if council and school staff are to get a better deal,” he added. “More resources from Westminster would help relieve the financial pressure on councils and schools and fund a more substantial increase for staff.”
Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said: “Local government workers are sick and tired of the employers’ failure to properly value them. We mistakenly believed that after the last year, where local government workers have supported, protected and sustained our communities, that the employers would finally offer a fair pay increase.
“Local government workers are increasingly voting with their feet and leaving the sector, this trickle of resignations will turn into a torrent unless low pay is addressed.
“Unite will now work with the other local government unions and their members to ensure that a pay award which meets workers’ true worth is made.”
GMB is due to respond formally shortly.
Successive pay freezes and caps
The unions’ 10% claim was based on the cumulative impact of a series of pay freezes and caps since 2010 which they said had seen council staff’s salaries – including those of social workers – lose a quarter of their value in real terms, using the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation.
In relation to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure – which tends to be lower than RPI – median adult social worker wages in England were no higher in 2020 than in 2013.
This means a 1.5% pay deal would most likely amount to a pay cut for council social workers.