UNISON survey highlights low wage epidemic

Tim Lezard

unison-logo328,000 people in local government earn less than the National Minimum Wage, new research has shown.

The UNISON survey of 14,800 local government workers – the first annual Town Hall Poor List – also shows 26% report that their council has cut their pay on top of the pay freeze, and that the value of local government workers’ pay has been cut by 16% since the coalition came to power due to rising prices and three years of frozen pay

The report highlights the low wage epidemic in local government.

Figures for each of the lowest pay points spell out just how many people in local government are on rock bottom wages. Two-thirds of the entire workforce earns less than £21,000. This includes refuse collectors, teaching assistants, revenue and benefits officers and family support workers.

A whopping 28,000 people earn £6.30 per hour, including caterers, cleaners and care workers. This is now 1p below the new minimum wage rates, set to come into force in October 2013.

The value of these already low wages has been cut by 16% by the prolonged pay freeze and strong inflation. Not even those on the lowest wages have had a salary uplift – the employers refused to pay the £250 one off payment that George Osborne promised to low paid public sector workers in 2010 and 2011.

Thousands more council workers have faced additional wage and benefit cuts by their employers. In a recent UNISON survey 26% reported that their pay had been cut. In another UNISON survey, 13% say councils have asked them to take unpaid annual leave. 60% of councils have cut weekend enhancements, and 31% have cut redundancy pay. Unsocial hours payments – particularly important to low paid women in care jobs – are also disappearing.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON head of local government, said: “The low wage epidemic in local government is a disgrace. Family budgets for those on the Town Hall Poor List are at breaking point. They’ve cut back on spending on their children, holidays are a thing of the past and even food shopping is a struggle.

“We know it’s not easy but councils do have other choices; stop stuffing money into the pockets of expensive consultants, piling cash into reserves or wasting lots of public money on privatisation. This is our rainy day – for local government workers it’s pouring.

“A quarter of a million jobs losses in the sector mean those left behind are working harder than ever to keep local services running. After years of a pay drought, they deserve a decent pay rise this year.”

The union is calling for a substantial wage increase for all local government workers and is currently in talks with the local government employers.

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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