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Unions fight three-year pay deals

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Prime minister claims restraint is necessary to keep inflation low.

Local government unions have slammed ministers’ plans to reintroduce three-year pay deals instead of the one-year agreements currently in place.

Unions said the proposals are unacceptable. The GMB was the most vocal in its opposition, suggesting the government could not be trusted to honour such a deal, even if the terms were right.

Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, said the three-year agreement for 2004-07 delivered a below-inflation return for workers and it would reject another such deal.

The government wants to limit public sector pay rises to two percent. Prime minister Gordon Brown said restraint is required in the fight to keep inflation low, and three-year budgets will bring councils in line with Whitehall departments.

But the move is a bitter pill to swallow for the unions who, just months ago, reluctantly accepted a 2.5% pay rise.

Brian Strutton, GMB national secretary for public service, said: “The argument that public sector pay has to be controlled to manage down inflation is economically flawed and socially unacceptable. The government has reneged on most recent pay review body awards and who’s to say it would honour a three-year deal?”

Ms Wakefield added: “The Local Government Employers (LGE) has not put an offer to us yet, but we have made it clear that we are only interested in talking about a one-year deal.”

The LGE fears that if a three-year deal is set too high, it could lead to cuts in services and jobs.

Brian Baldwin (Lab), chair of LGE’s negotiators, warned that any pay settlement had to be affordable to taxpayers and councils and ensure local government remains an attractive place to work.

Chancellor Alistair Darling said: “[The three-year deal offers] certainty as to what the pay increases will be, not just for this year but the next year and the year after. That is an absolutely huge step forward for public sector employees.”

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