Headlines: June 13th, 2003

Local government has been accused of being reluctant to accept responsibility or take the lead in shaping good employment policies, by the country’s largest union, UNISON. It says local government employers are arguing instead for a leveling down to the worst practices operating in the private sector which will see no end to problems of staff recruitment and retention.UNISON’s criticisms come in response to the employers’ submission to the Local Government Pay Commission. Local government unions, said UNISON were committed to modernisation but employers were wedded to “old-school thinking”, particularly on the issue of pay and bargaining. The joint trade union response says the employers’ submission indicates that, far from modernising its approach to pay and bargaining, local government is heading in the opposite direction.

It accuses the employers’ side of indifference to achieving harmonised pay and conditions and showing a preference for fragmented, locally determined, market-based pay, regardless of whether that would meet the requirements of  Equal Pay legislation. It also cites a short-term, cost cutting approach to staffing which is dependent on high turnover and the increasing use of casual staff and only a vague commitment to training and career development.

UNISON says, too, that it is concerned that the employers have  misrepresented the unions’ positions on both job redesign and flexibility.  The employers, it says, have also claimed the unions advocate ‘time  serving’ and are unwilling to negotiate around premium payments. UNISON  says it has issued guidance recommending 3-5 point scales, an end to service related increments, and that it constantly negotiates locally on flexible ways of dealing with premium payments.

The union’s National Secretary for Local Government, Heather Wakefield, said, “It is startling how out of step local government employers are with human resource practices in other sectors such as the NHS and Civil Service, ” and she added, “Their lack of leadership and reluctance to invest in their workforce dooms the sector to ongoing retention and recruitment problems.”