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Sleepwalking on pay negotiations

Emma Maier
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Unions have warned that joint pay bargaining could collapse after local government employers made no pay offer for the third year running

Unions have warned that joint pay bargaining could collapse after local government employers made no pay offer for the third year running, effectively freezing pay for the employees of those councils that are members of the National Joint Council (NJC).

LGC’s research on pay shows that 73% of non-NJC councils have budgeted for a rise, compared with 34% of those in the NJC

The potential implications of this are well worn: it is generally believed to cost more to be outside NJC, and ultimately the absence of national bargaining could widen the gap between salaries that councils offer for comparable roles, which could increase competition for the best staff and cause salary inflation.

Early results from LGC’s research on pay show that 73% of non-NJC councils have budgeted for a rise, compared with 34% of those in the NJC. But causation should not be assumed.

It could indeed be that non-NJC councils are feeling pressure from union branches. But this would seem to be at odds with the pragmatic approach many local branches have taken to issues such as redundancy and revision to terms and conditions, where they have often focused on maintaining jobs over and above other considerations. Given that not all of the non-NJC councils are heavily unionised, other factors will likely be at play.

Geography might be relevant - most non-NJC councils are in the south-east, where perhaps there is a greater focus on cost of living increases and rises, or where a more buoyant employment market may create greater competition for the right staff.

Or it could be that non-NJC councils are choosing to use a rise to achieve better morale and productivity, attract a higher-calibre of staff, or other benefits.

Understanding causation is important in assessing the true implications that a breakdown in national bargaining might have for existing members rather than existing non-members.

The unions have also argued that if a council has budgeted a rise then it can afford a rise. In fact, budgeting is a zero sum game. With competing demands, a council’s budget shows not what is affordable but on what the council has chosen to spend limited income.

That is the crux of the matter. It is a question for individual councils but also for the sector and unions - it would be a mistake to sleepwalk into the future without considering the merits and drawbacks of national bargaining.

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