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End for national pay bargaining?

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End for national pay

Local government facing “a
real calamity”, says union as signs that national-level pay bargaining is
coming under increasing pressure in some parts of the public and private
sectors. One senior trade union official warning that the local government
sector faces “a real calamity” if national bargaining fails to operate as it
should. But are employers who refuse to negotiate shooting themselves in the

The latest issue of Labour Research, the UK magazine
for trade unionists, finds frustration and mounting concern among local
authority unions over the status of the National Joint Council (NJC) “Green
Book” agreement for local government, particularly given the lack of a pay rise
this year and the unwillingness of the Tory-controlled employers’ side to

Heather Wakefield, head of
local government at the UNISON public services union, warned a recent TUC
seminar that “very serious and systematic” questions are now being asked about
how the NJC agreement delivers for union members. And national secretary for
public services at the GMB general union Brian Strutton has voiced his members’
dissatisfaction with current arrangements, describing the NJC as
“dysfunctional” and of doing “absolutely nothing” for union members.

He told Labour Research that
it was as if the leadership of local government was happy “to have a mechanism
to keep pay levels down without doing any of the other work you’d expect in a
national bargaining arrangement”.

Strutton told this year’s
GMB congress that some councils are looking to change Green Book terms and
conditions and are pressuring trade union reps to break away from the national
structure. And he told the conference: “I’m aware of a number of authorities
that are trying to coerce not just union reps [but] their whole workforces to
accept conditions to take them away from the Green Book.” He cited Nottingham
City Council which is offering its workforce a cash payment to accept new
conditions outwith the Green Book, involving a vastly inferior sick pay scheme.

Peter Allenson, national
officer for local government at the Unite general union, told Labour Research
that employer behaviour meant local government was facing “a real calamity”. He
said: “We’d oppose a break-up of national bargaining but our members are
beginning to question its value. Pressure is building up like a volcano and if
the employers continue to behave badly, sooner or later something will erupt.
Once it does it will be hard to stop it. There is a real calamity facing the

Some local government
employers may well have been emboldened by the approach to national bargaining indicated
by the government in its coalition agreement, which says that the government wants
to “reform the existing rigid national pay and conditions rules …” for schools.
However, national bargaining is more immediately at risk in this area from
government policy to accelerate the academies programme and encourage “free”
schools. Neither will be bound by national agreements. In the private sector,
and in contrast to claims by national bargaining’s critics that it is “rigid”,
its defenders such as Andy Brown, corporate affairs director at the British
Printing Industries Federation, argue in favour of its stabilising influence.

Brown said: “Most member
companies still support the idea of a national agreement, seeing it as a force
for stability.” National bargaining at company level remains the norm in some
parts of the private sector, and has recently been demanded by the Unite union
at Coca Cola Enterprises. National multi-employer bargaining still plays a role
in parts of the private sector (e.g. construction) and has a big role in the
public sector where it operates in some cases alongside independent pay review

5 July 2010

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