NJC Pay: Turning anger into Yes votes

Portsmouth rally launches NJC strike ballot campaign

Like their colleagues working in the NHS and higher education, UNISON members working in local government and schools are unwilling to accept a real terms pay cut. With the majority of staff offered a 1.75% increase against the backdrop of 3% inflation, it’s not hard to understand why many members are angry. As UNISON head of local government Mike Short noted:

“Council and school workers have gone the extra mile throughout the pandemic, keeping schools open, ensuring communities are safe and providing essential services often at risk to their own health. This inadequate pay offer shows they’re undervalued, particularly with the cost of living being ramped up. They should be given the credit they’re due and rewarded properly.”

After months of negotiations and a request to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene, this reward for going the ‘extra mile’ still isn’t forthcoming. This is why between 1st December 2021 and 14th January 2022 a third of a million members across the sector are being balloted for industrial action.

UNISON Portsmouth City branch celebrated the launch of the ballot by holding a rally in Guildhall Square. The branch reps wanted to remind their colleagues to vote by sending a message that they could see from their office windows.

Since 2016, the UK has had restrictive laws that sets incredibly high barriers to taking industrial action. 50% of those balloted must vote – and if this threshold isn’t reached, then no matter the outcome, there can be no industrial action. Put another way, if 100 people are balloted, there are no votes against industrial action but only 49 votes cast for taking action, then the ballot is void.

The task then is to convert anger into votes and reach the 50% threshold. Portsmouth City branch chair Jon Woods explains:

“The most important thing is making sure people vote. I’m convinced the majority will vote for strikes. When you talk to people there’s a real mood around pay – especially when you point out that the UK loses billions in tax avoidance and fraud. The argument that there is no money for school and council workers simply doesn’t stack up.”

But no matter how angry members are, if they don’t show it by voting, then this energy won’t be turned to a better pay award. Jon continues:

“The key message we’re getting out to members is the importance of voting in the ballot so that we have the best chance of hitting the 50% turnout imposed by the Tories’ anti-trade union laws.”

Of course, as Mike concludes, there’s still time to offer a fair pay increase:

“It’s still not too late for the employers to do the right thing by making a decent offer to avoid strike action. The government should also play its part by providing the necessary funds.”

No union takes industrial action lightly – particularly not one whose members deliver crucial public services. But after so much talk, a ‘yes’ vote in this ballot might be what’s needed to make the ‘right thing’ a reality.

Find out more about the ballot and the pay campaign