Councils across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are braced for summer shutdowns as local authority worker strikes spread, Unite has warned.
Workers in Hackney, Rugby and across Northern Ireland are already taking strike actions over a 1.75 per cent pay offer set by the Local Government Association (LGA). Coventry council bin workers have also been striking over pay since January and Renfrewshire council workers are set to strike in May.
Thousands of local government workers in Scotland have indicated this week that they are willing to strike over the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ (COSLA) two per cent offer. Unite is now preparing to formally ballot targeted groups of Scottish local government workers in the coming weeks for strikes.
Exacerbating the nationwide swell for strikes is the real cost of living, RPI, which is at nine per cent and rising.
Council workers have experienced a 22 per cent drop in wages during 11 years of pay freezes and are now facing more real terms cuts in the form of the LGA’s and COSLA’s pay offers.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “What use is 1.75 or two per cent on pay after more than a decade of attacks of pay and in the face of rampant inflation? These offers are not pay rises, they are pay cuts and Unite members are right to reject them.
“Some local authority workers are now having to turn to food banks to feed their families. This is an absolutely shameful reflection on councils as employers,” she added. “Our members have families to feed and bills to pay, yet their wages are going backwards. They have Unite’s total backing in their fight for fair pay.”
The LGA and COSLA negotiate pay on behalf of local authorities in their respective nations with trade unions. The offers put forward by the employers’ associations have been roundly rejected by Unite’s members.
Councils in Scotland cannot set different rates from COSLA, meaning that Unite members there are fighting to have the two per cent offer improved across the board.
Local authority employers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, are falsely claiming that they are unable to improve on the offers set by the LGA, even though there is a clause within the terms of the negotiations to do just that.
Unite national lead officer for local authorities Onay Kasab added, “Our members are sick and tired of excuses by council leaders that their hands are tied by the LGA. This is simply not true. What is true is that councils are choosing to let their workers’ wages fall way behind the cost of living.
“Regardless of whether it is LGA’s or COSLA’s offer, Unite will be applying maximum pressure locally and nationally to ensure our local government members do not have to suffer another pay cut.
“Unite backs our members to the hilt. We will be facilitating countrywide coordination and leverage between workers through Unite’s local government combine.”
Earlier this year, Unite conducted nearly 400 separate ballots of 700,000 local authority workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the LGA’s offer, with more than 80 per cent of members voting for strike action. While strikes at a number of councils have been set, others are yet to be announced.
By Ryan Fletcher