This year’s Local Government Conference rightly had a major focus on pay, with UNISON in England and Wales balloting members for strike action on pay, and a consultative ballot in Scotland.
Delegates were reminded that pay freezes and paltry rises over the past few years have led to a 13-17% pay cut for most of our members. With rises in food and energy prices, this has had a big impact on many as they have seen the money in their pockets more and more squeezed.
However, for our low paid members, it has forced many into a choice of eating or heating, reliance on foodbanks to feed their kids and the need to work more than one job.
This has been exacerbated by a steep rise in zero hours contracts, especially (though not exclusively) in the private and voluntary sector, and a failure by many employers to pay the living wage, with more than 5 million out of only 38 million people of working age earning below this level.
And all this at a time when the rich have seen their wealth rise by £190 billion and the levels of income inequality are almost as high as they were in Victorian times.
UNISON’s Local Government leaders pledged to continue to vigorously campaign for an end to zero hours contracts and a living wage for all.
None of the Branch motions were prioritised and none of the Scottish Local Government motions were debated, through lack of time, so Regional Delegate, Inez Teece and Service Group Executive delegate Susan Kennedy had no opportunity to move or speak to their motions.
Kate Ramsden, Branch Chair was the only delegate to speak this year, speaking in both the pay debate and again in the City of Edinburgh motion on Contempt of Court Proceedings against council staff involved in Child Care and Child Protection.
Kate also chaired a Fringe Meeting, “Challenges for Social Workers and the art of radical social work today,” organised by UNISON Scotland’s Social Work Issues Group (SWIG).
Speakers John Stevenson and Colin Turbett from SWIG and Helga Pyle, the National Officer for Social Care gave presentations on the challenges facing social work today.