Acas unlikely to negotiate local government pay dispute

Acas has admitted it is unlikely local government employers will seek to use the conciliation service to negotiate this year’s pay dispute with unions, after last year’s lengthy talks led to an increase in the award offered, Personnel Today has learned.

Acas chairman Ed Sweeney said he doubted the Local Government Association (LGA) would seek to use the service again after the 2008 pay award offer of 2.45% was raised to 2.75% after arbitration lasting nearly a year.

Last week unions rejected the 2009 pay award offer of 0.5%, labelling it “unreasonable” and claiming local authorities had already budgeted to pay staff as much as 2.2% this year.

But, Sweeney said, Acas was unlikely to get involved. “There may be a considerable reluctance on the part of local government employers to use the arbitration clause this time around because they are concerned there was an increase from the previous arbitration.

“Even though the last award was relatively small, it was still a cost to local government employers, so it’s understandable they would be hesitant to use Acas again.”

Acas was brought in to negotiate the 2008 pay negotiations between unions and employers after both sides failed to reach agreement. The talks only ended last month.Unions celebrated the decision as a victory, while the LGA said they were “extremely surprised and disappointed”.

The LGA has insisted it is working hard to avoid using Acas again by speeding up negotiations. A spokesman said: “We’re certainly not planning on going to Acas. Obviously we hope we can reach an agreement with trade unions.”

Heather Wakefield, head of local government at union Unison, said going to arbitration was still a possibility, but not a priority. “We certainly aren’t intending to go to Acas at this stage,” she said. “However we can’t rule it out.”

The next meeting between unions and employers is on 18 May.

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