From the TUC

Living on the Edge: A tale of local government workers

22 Feb 2012, by Guest in Public services

Annual talks take place tomorrow between UNISON, GMB and Unite and the Local Government Employers over pay for 1.7 million local authority NJC employees. Today, UNISON releases ‘Living on the Edge’, a report on local government pay written for us by the New Policy Institute. Its findings are shocking and should make every elected member, Council Leader and Mayor think very carefully indeed about  imposing a pay freeze on our members for a third year tomorrow.

The key findings of ‘Living on the Edge’ are as follows:

  • The value of NJC earnings adjusted for inflation is now at a shocking 10% below its 1996 level
  • This is the result of a combination of low or below inflation increases since 1996, a pay freeze since April 2010 and the employers’ failure to pay up on the Chancellor’s promised £250 for those earning below £21,000
  • The value of earnings has fallen by 13% since 2010 alone
  • 38% of part-time and 8% of full-time workers earned less than the Living Wage of £7.20 in 2011
  • 280,000 part-time workers earn less than £6.63 pence an hour
  • 160,000 full-time workers earn below £8.72 an hour
  • Hourly earnings for all full-time and part-time workers throughout the pay scale are lower than the rest of the public sector
  • Three quarters of full-time workers earn less than their private sector equivalents too
  • In contrast, mid-point basic pay for chief executives of district councils rose by 50% between 1998 and 2007 and by 75% for upper and single tier councils
  •  A further 6% increase in 2008 saw CE’s of districts enjoy a rise of 27% over 10 years and those in upper  and single tier councils a pay increase of more than 50%
  • Outside of London 84% of the lowest paid council workers live in the council area in which they work and 50% in London – a much higher proportion than for the rest of the public or private sectors
  • More of the highest paid live and work in the same council area than in other sectors too
  • 440,000 workers are in the lowest quarter of earnings and many are dependent on in-work benefits to survive
  • The only ‘local government’ households on  lowest quartile pay where net earnings are above the poverty line are those with a single adult working full-time and a couple household with two earners
  • For all equivalent households with a dependant, net earnings are at or below the poverty line

Presented with the above findings, few would guess that they depict the pay profile of local government workers – except perhaps for Chief Executives. In contrast to the popular image of the over-paid and over-pensioned pen pusher, ‘Living on the Edge’ tells a tale of the real poverty faced by many UNISON members working on the front-line . The same people – mostly women – who are increasingly covering posts left vacant by the myriad redundancies falling on councils. The same people who regularly work unpaid overtime to finish the job. The same people who told us in a 2011 survey that they are reducing spending on food shopping, home maintenance, holidays and going out. The same people who once kept local economies going with their spending power.

Even more shocking is the fact that the findings in ‘Living on the Edge’ describe only part of the squeeze on our members’ pay and conditions. Encouraged by the NJC employers, some councils are cutting pay even further at local level. Others are halting pay progression and many are stopping unsocial hours payments to already poorly paid care workers and others. Car allowances for social workers, home care workers and environmental health officers have been slashed in a majority of councils and others are also charging for parking at work.

Living on the Edge’ also issues a challenge to the Coalition’s misplaced belief that public sector pay exceeds private sector pay and needs to be brought down to its level. It also shows that earnings cannot be ‘regionalised’   – ie reduced further in the North – without central government incurring the costs of increased in-work benefits as more of our members are pushed into poverty.

What will it take to win some respect for our members? The ‘hands off’ approach taken by CLG to all matters of pay and remuneration (other –of course – than wanting to increase LGPS contributions) has to end. Government needs to recognise that further cuts of the kind inflicted so far cannot be passed on any longer to a workforce stretched beyond belief and decency. The Local Government Employers need to know that loyalty and motivation are fast disappearing  and working for the council is no longer a positive choice but is becoming an act of last resort. And without our members’ earnings, local economies will sink further into crisis.

It’s all been said before of course and so far no-one has listened. If there is no pay offer on the table tomorrow and the LGPS becomes more expensive with worse benefits, who knows what will happen? One thing is certain, it won’t be pleasant – for anyone.

GUEST POST: Heather Wakefield is National Secretary for UNISON’s Local Government Police and Justice Service Group and Trade Union Side Secretary of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services covering 1.5 million employees. Heather is responsible for the Local Government Service Group’s policy and campaigning activities.

One Response to Living on the Edge: A tale of local government workers

  1. John
    Feb 23rd 2012, 4:04 am

    Thankyou for this article Heather. All the indoctrination that we get from this coalition government beggars belief. They look after themselves & the so called 1%. Well they can only go so far before the stack of cards [the public state] collapse, then those people who have not yet been convinced will wake up to the fact that there is now no oil left in the machinery and everything will grind to a halt either by design or default…………….. Of course then there will be the major distraction of yet another war to divert public interest from the very serious domestic events at home!