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National pay deals 'under threat in local government'

By Richard Johnstone | 28 September 2012

A successful outcome to the negotiations over next year’s local government pay deal is vital to ensure the future of the currently ‘moribund’ national pay framework for council workers, a senior trade union official has said.

Unite demo, Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Brian Strutton, the GMB’s national secretary for public services, told Public Finance that the talks, set to start in October, are under ‘huge pressure’ to reach a deal for 2013/14.

In the past three years, no formal agreement has been reached between unions and the Local Government Association representing employers. Pay has then been frozen each year in response to the government’s public sector pay restraint policy.

As the unions prepare to submit their annual claim, Strutton warned that people on both sides will begin to ask: ‘What’s this national mechanism for if we can’t get an agreement on pay’? This could lead to breakaways from the system and into regional or local talks.

He added: ‘The system has been moribund for the last three years. It’s not just pay, the national machinery [the National Joint Council for Local Government Services] has done nothing of any sort for that time.’

However, successful negotiations between employers and unions over separate reforms to the Local Government Pension Scheme, which were agreed in August, demonstrate a deal could be reached, he added.

‘We have to learn the lessons from that and bring them to the pay talks, otherwise people on both sides will be asking what’s the point.’

Gail Cartmail, Unite’s assistant general secretary for the public sector, said they would enter into the negotiations ‘in good faith’.

But she added the union was now ‘getting evidence of real distress’ following the freeze, and a fourth successive year would be ‘almost unprecedented’.

‘We are now getting evidence of payday lenders being used by people unable to pay their bills, and I think that some employers are detached from the reality.

‘The issue isn’t that national bargaining is broken, it’s that we have a government that is implementing a pay policy that’s restricting the ability of employers [to reach agreements].’

Ahead of the negotiations, an LGA spokesman said informal discussions were already under way.

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