Thursday, 7 February 2013

Local Government Pay and Trade Union Facility Time - my letter in today's Weston Mercury

Here is my letter on Local Government Pay and Trade Union Facility Time published in today's Weston Mercury:

"I write to correct some of the misinformation, which was published in one of the letters to the Mercury last week, specifically regarding public sector pay and trade union facility time.

The letter writer seems to be unaware that since 1975 employers have been legally obliged to give union reps from recognised trade unions paid time off to undertake trade union duties. Public sector organisations, which tend to be larger employers, also tend to have the most trade union members and therefore recognised trade unions. In addition many larger employers – both public and private sector – find it both necessary and advantageous to cover the work of their trade union reps with a budget for facility time. The letter writer quoted some figures for the costs and numbers of employees involved in taking time off for trade union duties. I assume he has obtained these exaggerated figures from the Tax payers Alliance – a well known Conservative party off-shoot made up of people who don’t want to pay taxes, and are both anti-trade union and anti-public sector. A 2007 review of trade union reps and facility time, undertaken by the Department for Business, showed a very different picture, and found that trade union reps saved the tax payer millions, if not billions of pounds in reducing the number of cases going to employment tribunals, reducing workplace injuries and sickness, reducing dismissals and increasing productivity.

As far as comparing public sector and private sector pay goes it’s actually not that easy, because jobs in each sector are so different, and people working in the public sector tend to have higher levels of qualifications – it’s like comparing apples and pears. But it’s when we look at the top jobs that the difference is most pronounced – with Chief Executives in the private sector earning in some cases ten times as much as their public sector counterparts. In addition the lowest level of Local Government pay is now only a few pence above the minimum wage of £6.19 per hour. 20% of local government workers earn under the living wage of £7.45 an hour, while about half of all local government workers earn under the £21,000 annual salary defined by George Osborne as low paid, and as a result excluded from the pay freeze and promised an annual £250 increase. It should be noted that most local authorities, including North Somerset Council, have refused to pay this increase. Public sector workers have had their pay frozen – in the case of local government workers our pay has been frozen for 3 years, amounting to a real terms pay cut of 13%. Local government workers, along with other low paid groups, have taken more than their fair share of the cuts in terms of loss of pay, reduced hours and redundancies. The government’s public spending cuts have hit local authorities’ budgets harder and faster than other public sector organisations, hence this year councils have very little alternative but to increase council tax to protect vital public services.  The so-called non-jobs that the letter writer referred to, such as Equalities and Diversity officers, are absolutely essential in the current climate to ensure that groups such as older people, children and young people, and disabled people are protected from the severity of the cuts."

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