Unions are urging local councils to reconsider a decision to impose a pay freeze on their 1.5 million workers, which they claim was made without negotiation.
The year-long freeze, which is due to come into force from April, flies in the face of the 2.5% or £500 increase – whichever was greater – that Unison, Unite and GMB unions had been seeking.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said that the decision had been reached following substantial discussions with work representatives and was a necessary response to the financial crisis.
The budget deficit meant that councils were under pressure to cut costs, it added, and the move would prevent further job losses and protect frontline services. The 2.5% pay increase requested would have cost local authorities £840 million, the LGA claimed.
The freeze follows warnings by both Labour and the Conservatives of low or zero pay rises over the next three years. The Chancellor Alistair Darling had told public sector bosses that they faced pay freezes this year, but that such a move for lower paid staff would be delayed until the 2011/2012 financial year, when a cap of 1%would apply across the board for two years.
The dispute comes against a backdrop of public sector wage rises outstripping those of the private sector. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, total weekly pay increased by 3.8% in the three months to November for public sector employees, while renumeration in the private sector dropped by 0.1%.
But the unions claimed that two out of three council staff currently earned less than £18,000 per annum, with many of them getting less than £13,000 each year. As a result, they would struggle to afford basic essentials. They also accused the Conservative-led LGA of going even further than George Osborne, the Tory shadow Chancellor, in its cost-cutting agenda.