Public sector pay: Unions reject 1.5% pay offer for council workers amid Whitehall freeze

Sector’s 2021-22 proposals came after Rishi Sunak announced pay restraint following coronavirus
GMB national secretary Rehana Azam: 1.5% is a "poor offer" Credit: Twitter

By Jim Dunton

25 May 2021

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of local government workers have rejected a 1.5% pay offer, describing it as “insulting” to staff who worked hard to keep vital services running throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The offer came despite the 2021-2022 public-sector pay freeze set out by chancellor Rishi Sunak in November’s spending review, which has meant no annual increase for all but the lowest-paid civil servants. The offer for council staff was tabled by the local government employers, rather than the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government.

Unison, the GMB and Unite – which represent 750,000 council and school-support staff across England, Wales and Northern Ireland – said the Local Government Association’s 1.5% offer was “disappointing” when it was made earlier this month. Each has now turned down the offer on behalf of members.

Jon Richards, head of local government at Unison – which is the largest union force among council staff –  said 1.5% “simply isn’t good enough”.

“Council and school staff have done so much this past year. They’re understandably feeling more than taken for granted. It’s insulting,” he said.

“Negotiations with the employers are now essential if council and school staff are to get a better deal. More resources from Westminster would help relieve the financial pressure on councils and schools and fund a more substantial increase for staff.”

Richards said putting extra cash in the pockets of cleaners, drivers and social workers would also “fit well with the government’s levelling up agenda” and  help the workforce feel much more valued than it currently did.

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said the union was now keen discuss a settlement that members could consider to be fair.

“GMB rejected the poor offer and have now been asked by senior reps to seek urgent talks with the employers to assess if there is scope for proper negotiations,” she said.

Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said the Retail Price Index measure of inflation was 2.9% in April, meaning the proposed “rise” was essentially a pay cut. He added that the proposed increase would be worth £1.03 a day to the lowest paid staff.

“Local government workers are sick and tired of the employers’ failure to properly value them,” Kennedy said.

“We mistakenly believed that after the last year,  where local government workers have supported, protected and sustained our communities, that the employers would finally offer a fair pay increase. 

“Local government workers are increasingly voting with their feet and leaving the sector, this trickle of resignations will turn into a torrent unless low pay is addressed.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pay freeze for civil servants means no across-the-board 2021-2022 rise for staff earning more than £24,000. However bespoke deals, such as HM Revenue and Customs’ terms-and-conditions consolidation reset, worth 13% over three years for many staff, are still permissible.

When the public sector pay freeze was confirmed in March’s 2021 Budget,  Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham noted that rising RPI projections meant that the impact on civil servants earning the median wage of £28,180 would be real-terms cut of £700 a year.

He added that the combined effect of pay freezes and pay caps introduced since 2010 was a real-terms pay cut of “almost £7,000” over the period.

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