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It is December - but there is no pay claim to submit. Instead there's the National Joint Council local government p...
It is December - but there is no pay claim to submit. Instead there's the National Joint Council local government pay commission, just announced and hungry for evidence.

The commission is, of course, one of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service proposals which ended this year's dispute. Endorsed by employers and unions alike, it is charged with investigating and reporting next September

on the tangled web of pay and funding problems which beset our members facing council 'modernisation'. Its findings are expected to inform future pay negotiations.

So, the respite from the annual pay round will produce no new festive freedoms for either side of the NJC, and no extra time for Christmas shopping. This month will find our noses to the grindstone, generating evidence for the commission on the problems which gave rise to this year's dispute.

Professor Linda Dickens and her team of commissioners are ready to start work. Frances O'Grady from the TUC and Aileen McColgan, professor of human rights law at Kings College, are the trade union nominees. They are joined by Dr Ian Kessler from Templeton Business School and Michael Greenwood, chief executive of Tameside MBC, for the employers.

The commission's wide terms of reference demonstrate the breadth and complexity of the problems our members face. Unison and the other unions will be taking a long, hard look at low pay levels right across local government. We will have lots to say about the yawning gender pay gap, recruitment and retention problems, the impact of devolved bargaining and about privatisation's impact on pay and conditions. Unsurprisingly, we shall also be describing the pressures faced by part-time and term-time only workers.

There may well be joint evidence too. But the employers have an agenda all of their own. In the Employers' Organisation's November journal, Charles Nolda tells us that it will prioritise a comparison of total private sector pay costs with NJC rates. He suggests that the unions' opposition to the private finance initiative and privatisation is simply to defend 'the cosy monopolies of public sector pay bargaining'. The employers will be highlighting regional pay differences and calling for greater bargaining flexibility.

The unions intend to show that privatisation hits the low paid and women hardest and that its contribution to service improvement is questionable.

But our arguments will focus on those broader, structural pay problems which Mr Nolda overlooks. As for those cosy monopolies, they have failed to deliver pay rates for council staff which match the rest of the public and private sectors. There is a yawning gender pay gap. But do councils seriously want local bargaining? Turkeys are voting for Christmas it seems.

Heather Wakefield

National secretary for local government, Unison

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