Pay rows dominate union congress

Published: Sunday 7th September 2014 by The News Editor

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The Government has been warned that industrial action by public sector workers over pay could continue into the new year amid growing anger over the “double standards” in British society.

Pay will dominate the TUC Congress in Liverpool, which opened today with fresh attacks on the coalition and predictions of strikes and campaigns against Tory plans to clamp down on union activities.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said promised Conservative manifesto proposals raising the turnout threshold in ballots to 50% would “effectively ban strikes by the back door”.

Comments by the head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) that MPs should receive a 10% pay rise, inflamed the atmosphere further following a controversial decision by the Government not to accept a recommended 1% wage rise for all NHS staff.

Health unions are currently balloting hundreds of thousands of workers for industrial action, which could be held on October 13, a day before local government workers in England and Wales stage a 24-hour walkout in a separate row over pay.

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, said local government workers had been “betrayed” over pay by the government, while health staff were being denied a rise recommended by an independent review body.

“We are saying enough is enough. We will fight for our members and we will move to industrial action in public services.

“What has happened in the public sector is far worse than anything Thatcher ever did. It is done with a smile, but far more ruthless.

“We are moving to industrial action over everything that has happened to our members. We will take action through the winter and into the Spring of next year if necessary.”

Mr Prentis said he had been angered by talk of a 10% rise for MPs at a time when the government had “reneged” on a 1% increase for NHS workers.

He said: “It seems our society is completely out of balance.”

Ms O’Grady told a news conference that the Conservative proposals on industrial action were not an answer on how to increase turnout, adding: “They are an answer to those who want to stop strikes, intimidate staff and give more power to bad bosses.

“If a Conservative government is elected it would make strikes so difficult that there would be no effective right to strike in the UK.

“Yet the right to freedom of association is a fundamental human right, that includes the right to form independent trade unions and the right to collectively bargain.

“Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes routinely suppress trade unions and lock up strikers. Everyone who cares about civil liberties should be worried.

“Politicians often say that the alternative to strikes is talking, but there is a difference between talking and negotiating. It’s the difference between begging and bargaining. The truth is, you only get real negotiation when there is power on both sides of the table.

“Collective bargaining works because both sides understand what the other can deliver and there is an incentive to settle. This is why the vast majority of genuine negotiations do not result in strikes but in an agreement.

“But take away the right to official strike action and you place all the cards in the employer’s hands.

“Unions can ask the employer for more – but they have about as much power as Oliver Twist brought to the negotiating table.”

Ms O’Grady said she supported people being paid the rate for the job, but it would be “pretty hard to swallow” if MPs received a 10% wage rise when most workers were seeing their pay cut.

It would be “double standards” if the Ipsa recommendation was accepted after the health review body’s was ” unilaterally” rejected, she said.

In the first major debate of the conference, the delegates called on an incoming Labour government to repeal employment laws brought in by the coalition.

They also vowed to oppose any attempt to remove the right to take industrial action from any essential or emergency service workers.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said a fairer Britain couldn’t be achieved without strong trade unions, which represented “six and a half million decent men and women, the hard-working, tax-paying backbone of our society”.

He added: “Trade union rights are human rights, but we will not win them without a fight.”

Published: Sunday 7th September 2014 by The News Editor

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