Falling living standards for working people are the pay freezes and pay cuts we’re seeing across public services. This problem is being felt particularly acutely in the community and voluntary sector. UNISON has 60 thousand members in that sector, who provide essential services to vulnerable people and groups. For years they have been under pressure, as the commissioning and procurement system forces organisations to cut costs to a bare minimum in order to survive. Pay is forced down, the quality of services suffers, and much of our sector’s expertise is being wasted.
It is years since most of our members in the community and voluntary sector have had any sort of pay increase. Indeed, many charities are now cutting pay. UNISON members in Quarriers, a charity which supports young people, were forced to take industrial action last week, in response to pay cuts of between 10 and 23 percent, and the employer’s complete refusal to engage in constructive dialogue. Members in the Ekaya Housing Association have been hit with pay cuts, and other reductions in terms and conditions, which equate to between 35 and 58 per cent loss in pay.
Other employers are using these tough times as cover for cutting a range of conditions and freezing pay. Employers are reducing redundancy arrangements – to make it cheaper to cut jobs. And many are cutting maternity, paternity pay and annual leave. The effects on individual workers and their families are profoundly worrying. UNISON recently researched the affect of the cuts to our members and their families and worryingly it shows that people’s health is suffering. One person who was interviewed said that she felt suicidal as a result of the impact the cuts were having on her ability to provide a service. Bullying is an increasing problem and pressure is mounting on many middle managers to produce results with half the numbers of staff. Our members reported struggling to afford the basics for their family – food, energy, petrol and transport. So the cuts, and many employers’ response to them, is causing a real fall in living standards. Low paid workers, providing essential services in our communities, will be made poorer by having their pay cut. And unemployment is rising, as employers cut jobs so as to retain contracts. Society is becoming less equal.
We all know this was created by the financial institutions and we know that there needs to be tighter control, regulation that protects the tax payer with more transparency and reporting mechanisms. We need to focus on opportunities for young people, but we also need to ensure that’s not at the cost of our other members.
Many apprentice schemes are being used in restructures to backfill permanent positions after staff are made redundant - the purpose of apprentices is to give them the universal access to education and on the job training not to absorb the work of redundant staff. Congress, we need to promote this alternative economic strategy in the workplace with business, public services and the grass roots of our communities.
Support the composite and let’s makesure that government and their opposition produce active industrial policies not like the recent employers charter but something which will stimulate economic growth and safeguard and develop jobs and skills for the future.