Senior figures close to the local government pay row have hit out at Unison’s decision to stage a two-day strike later this month.
Local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last week voted by 55% to 45% for strike action following a 2.45% pay offer. However, turnout for the ballot was only 27% – meaning just one in seven members actually voted for a walkout.
Jim Savege, HR director at Cumbria County Council and lead on pay for the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, said the vote was not a convincing endorsement of strike action.
He pointed to the fact that the union abandoned plans for strikes over a similar pay offer last year when just 52% voted for action.
“This vote doesn’t feel like the strongest mandate, but union leaders feel strike action is needed to make a point,” he told Personnel Today.
Savege was part of the national body negotiating this year’s pay deal with Unison and other local government unions. He claimed there had been a “relatively small” amount of dialogue between employers and union chiefs over the offer before the decision to ballot members was made.
He hinted that more councils might look to return to local bargaining arrangements, which had the flexibility to award higher pay deals, in order to avoid future disputes.
Phil White, head of negotiations at Local Government Employers, said other unions such as the GMB had recognised the reality of the tough economic situation.
White said: “This offer is the absolute limit of affordability and there is no scope to increase it.”
Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield insisted the unions were willing to meet employers, but said members had shown they were willing to fight for fair pay.
“Employers must know that we mean business and they must know that our members cannot afford to take another pay cut this year,” she said.