Friday, 5 September 2008

Unions co-ordinate pay fight

by Caroline Colebrook

THE LEADERS of Britain’s major public sector unions have been meeting and discussing plans to co-ordinate their battle against a Government pay cap of around two per cent – well below inflation – on all public sector pay rises in the run-up to next week’s annual TUC conference in Brighton.
The unions will set new strike dates as this pay battle intensifies that will bring out civil servants, local government employees, teachers and health workers at the same time.
Four key unions have tabled motions to the conference demanding the TUC’s ruling council co-ordinate strike plans, including Unison; PCS, which represents civil servants; the National Union of Teachers; and the University and College Union, representing lecturers.
One TUC officer said: “Public sector workers feel they’re languishing around the two per cent mark when inflation is at four to five per cent, and by any standards that is a pay cut. There is a political price to be paid for those people who feel the Government is punishing them.”
A Unison spokeswoman said that the major unions had already discussed how to co-ordinate strikes, adding: “It’s not easy to do, but it is something we have on our radar in terms of what might make action more effective.”
There have already been some coordinated strikes against the pay caps involving civil servants teachers, NHS workers and local government workers but they have never yet all taken strike action together at one time.
The unions are angry that the Brown government is expecting them to carry the can for the current deepening economic crisis that has been brought about by capitalist greed and speculation.
The workers, especially the masses of them on very modest wages, are being disproportionately hit by steeply rising food and fuel prices – basic necessities they cannot choose to do without. Meanwhile the inflation figures are misleading because they are kept low by stable prices for goods and services that are not essentials. The lower the wage, the bigger slice of it that has to be spent on essentials and so the poorest workers are hit hardest.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, said: “It’s time to stand up against pay cuts and pushes the message ‘public services not private profit’.”
He commented on the recently-published Deanne Julius report on privatisation, saying it made clear “something that I have been arguing for years – that New Labour has privatised more than the last two Tory governments combined.”
He said the report revealed that the privatisation industry has grown by 130 per cent since 1995. “Senior executives in the industry, like Serco chief executive Christopher Hyman with his seven figure salary, have clearly done well from this rapid expansion. What is far less clear is the benefit to the population as a whole,” said Serwotka.
“There is very little evidence to support the argument that services have improved – as the Julius report concedes.
Indeed, if one was to consider some of the areas most likely to have been privatised (or outsourced), a few questions might reasonably be posed. For example: catering operations – has school food improved? Security – are Government facilities and staff safer? Cleaning – are hospitals cleaner?
“We do know that outsourced cleaning and security is up to 17 per cent worse paid than when in-house. It is very hard to see how that ensures a better service.
“But there is a fundamental contradiction in public sector outsourcing. For those running public services the key question should be whether outsourcing improves the services provided to the public and society as a whole.
“For the outsourcing industry, though, the key is whether all opportunities to extract a profit have been fully exploited. There are those who would argue that these are not contradictory, but they seem to find it hard to locate the evidence to support them.”
Meanwhile in Scotland public sector workers are planning to build on their successful strike last month by announcing further strike dates in local government.
The unions say that Scottish local government employers have failed to improve their pay offer. Last week officers of the giant union Unite met with representatives of Cosla (the Council of Scottish Local Authorities) to try to resolve the outstanding issues of low pay and a below inflation pay offer which resulted in the recent strike across Scotland. Jimmy Farrelly, Unite regional official said: “Initially the employers indicated that they would offer a one year deal which would take the recent rises in inflation into account.
However, today they came back with a one-year deal of just 2.5 per cent which is exactly the same as their previous offer.
“This is a total misjudgement of local government workers’ commitment to fight for a decent living wage. We are extremely disappointed with their decision which will lead to an escalation of strike action.”
Unite, the GMB and Unison will be meeting within the next week to coordinate further strike dates.