23 Feb 2012

Council workers face another pay freeze

Union leaders are threatening industrial action, after local authorities said 1.6 million council workers are to be hit by a pay freeze for the third year in a row.

Unison strike placard (Getty)

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils had been left with little choice, given the bleak financial outlook. They claimed more jobs and services would have to be cut unless the pay freeze was extended across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The LGA’s head of services, Sarah Messenger, said it had been a very difficult decision, “but it is the right one for council taxpayers and the workforce as a whole”.

Furious union leaders branded it a “disgrace”, and warned they could consult members over industrial action if employers refused to go to arbitration. Unison’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said more workers would be forced into poverty, many of them women. And the GMB’s Brian Strutton claimed council leaders’ pay and councillors’ allowances had shot up, while his members had seen their wages fall by more than 15 per cent in real terms.

The lowest paid workers, on less than £21,000 a year, were promised a £250 pay increase this year in the chancellor’s emergency budget of June 2010. But most councils, which actually negotiate pay awards, have not honoured it.

Earnings at 1990s levels

A report drawn up for Unison on local authority pay shows that earnings for many frontline staff have fallen to 1990s levels. More than a third of part time staff earn less than the £7.20-an-hour living wage, and hundreds of thousands of workers in the lowest quarter of earnings have to rely on benefits to get by.

The union claims some councils are cutting pay levels even further, while slashing payments for anti-social hours, and car allowances.

The LGA said employers were keen to return to talks with unions to reform pay and conditions in future, and help to prevent another pay freeze in 2013. Leaders of the main local government unions will meet next week to discuss their next steps.