Unison in Bournemouth

Submitted by Anon on 23 June, 2004 - 12:23

By Kate Ahrens

A key issue coming up on the agenda of Unison local government conference in Bournemouth on 21 June will be the Workforce Remodelling agreement in schools which Unison and most other education unions signed up to last year, but which the NUT has maintained opposition to.

The plan will replace teachers with less well-trained - and lower paid - support staff.

Many teaching assistants are finding that the implementation of the deal is developing as the NUT predicted - extra work with little or no extra reward and, in many areas, the prospect of support staff teaching whole classes.

After last month's fighting talk from the local government unions, rejecting as 'derisory' the employers' offer of 7% over three years with many strings attached, the employers have made a new 'offer' of 8.9% over three years.

The unions are now consulting on the offer - not yet recommending it, but stating clearly in their literature that "the proposed offer is the best achievable by negotiation and that all members would need to take decisive industrial action to secure any improvement."

The offer is for 2.75% this year, followed by rises of 2.95% next year and the year after, with a proviso allowing for the rise to be at the rate of inflation if it is higher than this. This is a virtual guarantee of no more than an inflation rate rise for the next three years.

The new deal still commits local councils (and therefore their unions and staff) to having completed local pay and grading reviews by 2007 but that the sanctions for failing are not set out.

There is proposed to be a joint national review of sick pay, holiday entitlement and maternity leave with no financial boundaries set out in the agreement, but still no guarantee that poorer conditions won't follow.

The revised offer still appears to be a pretty shoddy deal. But the shift from the initial offer following the unions' apparent baring of teeth, is evidence that more can be achieved. Local government workers should resoundingly reject this offer and press their unions to take up the fight in earnest - and win them a decent pay award.

City Hospitals Sunderland, one of the twelve sites in the NHS testing out the proposed new pay system Agenda for Change, has announced that they will not be fully implementing the changes in pay for their staff.

This is just the latest in a series of revelations about Agenda for Change that show the new system resulting in many thousands of health workers losing pay, and many, many thousands of others failing to get the improved financial rewards and working conditions they have been promised.

In Sunderland, even the Trust management could see that cutting health workers' wages was a bad idea, as they are concerned about their ability to recruit staff. But for many other cash-strapped hospital trusts up and down the country, Agenda for Change will be an attractive option for managers trying to keep staffing costs as low as possible.

Meanwhile, the national review of the Early Implementer experience of Agenda for Change has not even begun to talk about amendments to the deal, with their deadline of a completion of the review by the end of June looming very close. Unless some very dramatic and unexpected rabbits are going to get drawn out of the hat at the last minute, it is clear that Agenda for Change will be a very bad deal and health workers will have to reject it when five of the NHS unions ballot in the autumn.

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