Despite zero concessions from employers and a vote in favour of strikes, public sector union UNISON have backed down from announcing strike action over an across the board pay cut (also known as a below inflation "pay rise").
Citing the low turnout and the close result of the ballot, the UNISON National joint council rejected industrial action by a large vote. The result stood at 51.6% in support of action, with a 24.4% turnout. However, many members did not recieve ballot papers in time - or indeed at all - as a result of the recent postal workers dispute. In many council offices (even those closest to UNISON HQ) it has been reported up to half of members have even now not recieved ballot papers - even those who went through the process to request a replacement. There were also unfortunate problems in timing, with many of the papers that arrived towards the final date for voting arriving during the half-term period, when many members would be away.
Of course, this is the exact result that the anti-union laws aim to achieve. The requirement to a slow and heavily regulated ballot acted to both remove momentum from the dispute, and give an excuse to the union to not act. In this situation, this was compounded by both the employers and UNISON allowing the dispute to drag out for 7 months.
The accepted offer of 2.475% is significantly below the increase in cost of living, and is the 4th consecutive year that UNISON has accepted a paycut for members without any serious action. UNISON have claimed it is now 'last chance saloon' on public sector pay, but given this record it would seem hard for anyone - the government - to take this seriously. When the next round of pay negotiations begins in 5 months UNISON's lack of resolve on this occassion will place them in an even worse position than this year.
One member we spoke to reacted angrily. "A lot of people in my office are pissed off about the deal and it dragging on so long with little result. And it's not just the employers people are angry at, it's the union - people are starting to wonder why they pay their dues, and why the hell the union are supporting the party in government that has cut our wages for 4 years in a row. The more cynical amongst us are starting to think that this support might have something to do with how spinelessly they've acted."
Why did almost half the
Why did almost half the people vote for a pay cut despite a campaign to the contrary? Why did three-quarters not even vote? Damn spineless working class!
A lot of ballot papers got
A lot of ballot papers got delayed due to the post strikes, that may partially explain the low turnout, although I'm not sure it's particularly unusual to have those numbers. A friend of mine who works in Local Government said that Unison's literature in favour of the strikes had the employer's arguments on the front page, and the union's on the back - not much of a campaign.