Here's our letter, published in today's Weston Mercury:
I write on behalf of UNISON members working at North Somerset Council and Schools across the district, and in response to your hot topic - Public Sector Strikes. First, I want to clarify that the date for our next strike is 14th October, not the 10th as reported in your paper. Second, I want to make Mercury readers aware that for trade union members strike action is always a last resort. In this case UNISON, GMB, and UNITE negotiators asked the local government employers for a decent pay rise, which included bringing the lowest paid local government and schools workers up to the Living Wage of £7.65 an hour, with an equivalent increase for everyone else. The employers have offered a below inflation 1% pay increase, with a slightly higher increase for the lowest paid - but still that does not bring them up to the Living Wage. The employers have refused to negotiate any further and have also refused to go to ACAS for arbitration as our agreement states they should when neither side can agree. As a result UNISON and the other local government trade unions had no choice but to ballot members for industrial action - a ballot which came out in favour of taking strike action, which after all is workers using the only power we have - withdrawing our labour.
Our first day of strike action on 10th July failed to get the employers back to the negotiating table, so reluctantly we are taking another day of action. UNISON members do not do this lightly - apart from anything else, already low paid workers, loose a day's pay every time they strike. In addition many local government and schools workers worry about what happens to the services they deliver when they are on strike. But this year UNISON members have said enough is enough. We have borne more than our fair share of the public spending cuts. Hundreds of thousands of local government jobs have been cut across the country. Our pay was frozen for 3 years, with a below inflation pay rise last year. We estimate that we have lost about 20% of our pay as a result. We currently have a situation in local government and schools where 20% of workers earn less than the living wage, and where people doing jobs of real value to our communities have not had a decent pay rise in at least 4 years, and yet we have still kept services running. We recognise that many other workers in both the public and private sectors have also seen their wages decline, and we would urge them all to join a trade union and fight for their right to a decent pay rise, and a fair share of the economic recovery. After all we've seen that there is money there, particularly for those at the top - it's just not being fairly distributed.
UNISON, and some of the other Health Trade Unions are also balloting NHS workers for strike action, and action short of strike action, which could result in a work to rule where NHS workers actually take the breaks they are entitled to. This has been caused by Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health's decision to overrule the NHS Pay Review Body and give only those NHS staff at the top of their pay band a 1% cost of living increase - although it won't be consolidated into their pay, which means they'll be back to square one next year. This also means that 60% of NHS workers won't get a cost of living increase this year. I'm sure Mercury readers would agree that a pay rise for some in the NHS, but not for others is massively unfair, and I'm also sure Mercury readers would agree that staff working in the NHS deserve a decent pay increase, and do not deserve the kick in the teeth that Jeremy Hunt has given them, along with the emotional blackmail that services will suffer if they take a pay increase. Instead all Jeremy Hunt has to do is fund the NHS properly rather than continuing the £20 billion cuts that his predecessor imposed on the NHS. If NHS workers vote for action, then it is likely they will join local government workers in our strike on 14th October.
Finally I would urge Mercury readers to consider their own situation, which should enable them to empathise with those who are taking action in local government and the NHS. Our strike is not just about a pay increase, it's about protecting our services, because if workers start leaving local government and the NHS because of poor pay (and they are already doing so) then services will suffer. After four years of austerity we are being told the economy is recovering, but wages are still not keeping up with costs for the vast majority of people, and it is now time to say that enough is enough and demand a decent pay rise. This is also why the TUC has organised a mass demonstration in London on 18th October and called it Britain Needs A Pay Rise. North Somerset UNISON members will join thousands of other working people on a march through central London demanding a decent pay rise for all. If any Mercury readers would like to come along, we have coaches booked from Weston super Mare - details are on the False Economy website www.falseeconomy.org.uk