Dickens pay body born amid great expectations

28 Nov 02
After months of delays, the much-heralded Local Government Pay Commission was finally unveiled this week amid claims by trade unions and councils that the 'other side' was expecting too much from the exercise.

29 November 2002

Following the announcement of the terms of reference for, and composition of, the commission on November 27, council employers fired the first warning shot.

Echoing the government's mantra in the ongoing fire service dispute, a representative of the Employers' Organisation told Public Finance that councils 'fully expected the commission to make vast progress on modernising pay awards and working practices'.

Councils expected 'nothing less' than a 'long, hard look' at established practices and remuneration deals that chief executives believe are 'out of date', the source said. 'Councils will want to see something more than a simple requirement to pay people more for just "staying around" in local government.'

Unison, the largest trade union involved, hit back, saying employers 'should expect to face up to the stark reality of low pay' across councils, a source said.

'This sector is woefully short of quality pay data – until now the employers have been the only side able to provide it. But the commission's remit will turn attention to the real problems.'

As reported in Public Finance back in September, the commission, set up in the wake of the protracted wage dispute in the sector this year, will consist of five members overseeing an ambitious remit for solving future disputes.

Membership was substantially reduced at the behest of the commission's chair – Linda Dickens, professor of industrial relations at Warwick Business School and deputy chair of the central arbitration committee at Acas.

Dickens is joined by council representatives Michael Greenwood, chief executive of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, and Dr Ian Kessler of Templeton College, Oxford University.

The unions will be represented by Frances O'Grady, head of organisational development at the Trades Union Congress, and Aileen McCouglan, professor of law at King's College, London.

Brian Baldwin, chair of the employers' side of the National Joint Council, said: 'It will be a learning experience for all concerned and one that should lay solid foundations for pay negotiations for years to come.'

Heather Wakefield, Unison's national secretary for local government, said: 'The time has come for the long-neglected local government workforce.'

Commission members will establish an agreed statistical basis for comparison between pay and rewards and make recommendations on how that information should be collected.

They will also advise on the distribution of pay awards, giving particular attention to low pay and unequal treatment – particularly of part-timers, women and ethnic minorities – and the supposedly 'excessive' pay awards of managers and chief executives.

Commenting on her remit, Dickens said: 'I recognise the importance of this inquiry in addressing a number of key issues relating to local government pay and will work hard to produce a useful outcome.'

Her team will begin work in January and is expected to report by September 2003. The findings will form the basis of pay settlements from 2004.


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