PUBLIC sector union UNISON finds itself in conflict with employers using equal opportunity legislation supposed to protect the most vulnerable workers, to oppress them instead.
Members of Coventry UNISON lobbied the National Delegate Conference on Tuesday for support in their struggle against pay cuts.
The branch is holding a Local Government Single Status Rally at Warwick Road United Reformed Church on Saturday, July 23.
Meanwhile, UNISON Scotland have announced an escalation of a 14-week-old dispute about performance related pay which could discriminate against women.
In Coventry the ruling Tory council have walked away from negotiations and imposed a set of terms and conditions that ‘effectively mean women have lost out on pay’, according to UNISON, Coventry District Branch.
Following the council’s inflexible imposition of Single Status, 625 cleaners are on pay protection and ‘the majority of people losing out are WOMEN!’ say the branch, the very group the legislation was designed to protect.
The branch gives as examples: a cleaner’s pay of only £4,009 a year facing a cut of 22 per cent; a receptionist’s pay of only £8,795 a year facing a cut of 12.7 per cent and a secretary earning only £17,111 losing over a quarter of the annual salary.
The reason for the savage cuts is the cost of implementing the Government’s equal opportunity legislation known as Single Status.
Coventry UNISON says it accepts ‘that it is not possible to fund Single Status from existing budgets; additional funding from central government is required.
It makes the point that ‘whereas Agenda for Change in the NHS received a significant funding from government, this has not happened in local government.’
Coventry UNISON have clearly tried to avoid a dispute with the local government employer to attack the main culprit, central government, instead.
‘We have asked that the council jointly lobby MPs for funding for Single Status, however they have consistently refused.’
They say: ‘It is not acceptable for individual local authorities to fund Single Status simply by increasing Council taxes or by cutting the wages of some employees . . . Central Government must provide the funding!’
Under the telling slogan ‘Equal Pay for Women, Fair Pay for Everyone’ Coventry UNISON explain that ‘out of 32 “job families”consisting of 20 or more employees taking a pay cut, 27 are traditional female jobs, three are mixed gender jobs and only two are traditional male jobs.’
Further examples of the drastic effects of the trumpeted ‘equal pay’ reform are school clerical assistants losing up to £4,978; £4,571 for refuse collectors, £2,678 for administrative assistants and £2,036 for unqualified social workers.
It is striking how important the jobs that lose out under the imposed settlement are to the community: night care assistants, senior care assistants, learning mentors, nursery nurses and key workers, not to mention secretaries, receptionist/telephonists, library assistants and accounting technicians.
Coventry UNISON point out: ‘ “Britain, Forward not Back” is the slogan the Labour Party used in their general election campaign.’
They call Coventry’s unnegotiated imposition an example of ‘Back not Forward’.
‘Single Status is being used to drive down wages. Our local authority made a decision to impose the current package on its workers and end talks for a negotiated settlement.
‘This followed a ballot of members which overwhelmingly rejected the package. This has had a major impact on the morale and welfare of dedicated workers that provide for the public.
‘Stress and sickness levels are up, lifestyles are threatened by pay cuts and working conditions have been worsened.
‘This will have a serious knock-on effect on the quality of service that local authorities provide.’
Meanwhile careers staff in Scotland are set to escalate a dispute over another refusal to negotiate – this time by Scottish Enterprise (SE)’s new chief executive Jack Perry.
SE met with UNISON and arbitration service ACAS at a Glasgow hotel last Friday at the union’s suggestion.
Staff at Careers Scotland business unit have been refusing to take part in performance management reviews and refusing to record client and customer details on the internal database since March this year.
They are ‘dismayed that SE are continuing to impose a consolidated performance related pay scheme which the union believes could discriminate against women.’
On the day before the meeting, SE made a compromise offer of 2.5 per cent pay increase, ‘well below’ other public sector pay awards.
UNISON rejected this offer because more than 80 per cent of the workforce would have been worse off financially.
After the meeting, ACAS reported that SE ‘were not prepared to move on their position as outlined at the meeting of June 16’.
Not much conciliation seems to have taken place, then.
UNISON described SE’s agreement to the ACAS meeting a ‘cynical exercise to enhance their public image’ with ‘no intention of actively participating in proper conciliation.
As a result, UNISON Scotland are left with no option but to consult their membership on the escalation of the dispute.
They say: ‘This will be done through a series of roadshows with members throughout Scotland during the week starting Monday June 27.’
‘Members are angry,’ says branch secretary (SE Careers and Development) James Corry, ‘not only about the derisory offer but also about the treatment of a group of our members during our lawful trade union dispute.
‘SE is insisting on reviewing the performance of team leaders in the Careers Service at the lowest possible benchmark.
‘This is because these team leaders have not been reviewing the performance of their staff as part of the industrial action.
‘Our membership feels that SE are penalising their colleagues at team leader level for taking part in the programme of industrial action.
‘This unfair assessment of team leaders takes no account of their performance in all other aspects of their job and could be viewed as victimisation of trade union members.’
Again, the union seems to be making every effort to resolve the dispute in the face of an employer’s intransigent will to win at any cost.
‘We are keen to see a resolution to this dispute and are available at any time should SE be prepared to enter meaningful discussions,’ concludes Corry.
Like the Coventry workers say: ‘Today it’s Coventry, tomorrow it will be your branch’.
The message is clear to thousands of public sector and other workers: learn from the progress of these disputes.