Union News (23rd of April 2023)

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Welcome to Union News the podcast that brings you news of the UK labour and trade union movement. In this edition: NHS workers in Wales to vote on pay offer, Firefighters donate engine to Palestinians, University workers begin marking boycott, and, Posties to vote on pay offfer. Music is by Tim Bragg.

NHS workers in Wales to vote on pay offer

Health workers in Wales are being balloted on an improved pay offer from the Welsh government, aimed at ending a long-running dispute over salaries. Unite is not recommending acceptance of the offer, but strike action will be paused while voting is held over the next month. Unison, however, is recommending that its members accept the offer, which includes commitments to reductions in the qualifying period for unsocial hours and enhancements on sick pay.

For 2022-23, a collective agreement was reached earlier this year which provided 3 per cent, half of which was a non-consolidated cash payment, on top of the average 4.7 per cent increase already made following the Pay Review Body recommendations.

The offer for 2022-23 is a one-off NHS Recovery Payment of an average 3 per cent non-consolidated payment.

For 2023-24, the offer is for a consolidated across-the-board increase of 5 per cent with effect from April 1 2023 to Agenda for Change pay scales.

If the offer is accepted, this means that NHS staff in Wales will have received an average award of over 15.7 per cent, of which 11.2 per cent is consolidated into pay permanently, said the Welsh government.

Firefighters donate engine to Palestinians

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has donated a fire engine to Palestinian firefighters for the third time in a year as part of its ongoing solidarity efforts. The FBU has also trained hundreds of Palestinian firefighters in Scotland and sent firefighting equipment to several cities in Palestine. Ian Morris of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said surplus or reusable assets and equipment should be shared to support firefighters around the world. Jim Malone of the FBU said the latest donation would help Palestinian firefighters provide better coverage in communities under “illegal apartheid occupation”.

University workers begin marking boycott

Workers at 145 universities in the UK have started a marking and assessment boycott in their ongoing fight over pay, equalities, and pensions. Despite attempts by the general secretary of UCU union, Jo Grady, to delay the boycott, members voted to keep up and escalate action at a higher education special sector conference. The conference also passed a motion calling for greater democracy and organisation among rank and file members, including fortnightly branch delegates’ meetings or national strike committees.

Posties to vote on pay offer

Postal workers are being recommended to accept a new pay deal that would end the long-running dispute with the Royal Mail. CWU members will be balloted on the offer in the coming weeks. Leaders of the Communications Workers Union are supporting a ‘Yes’ vote.

The deal includes a real-terms pay cut over three years.

There would be no improvement on the 2 percent that was forced on workers last year—and which they voted to strike against. Starting from April this year, there would be a 6 percent increment, along with a lump-sum payment of £500 that would not be included in workers’ regular wages. However, the following year, they would have to settle for a paltry 2 percent rise.

On a more positive note the deal includes a profit-sharing scheme dependent on profits, where the first 20 percent of profits are shared out among workers as an annual bonus. Of course, this is dependent on the business making profits and cannot be relied on in the same way as a wage increase. Nonetheless offering profit sharing as part of a bundle of incentives and rewards is something to be generally welcomed.

But make no mistake this is a deal which even leaving aside the low pay offer has parts which should worry workers.

The deal assures that there will be no mandatory layoffs, but only until April 2025. Beyond that date, there will be a reassessment where the management will likely push for more job cuts. Some positions, particularly in airport locations, are already at risk as the management plans to decrease mail flights. Affected workers will need to either take up positions in other areas or opt for voluntary redundancy.

Another disturbing aspect of the proposed agreement leaves suspended or sacked reps at the mercy of a right-wing Labour lord, Lord Falconera. He is a personal friend of Tony Blair and advised the coal bosses against the NUM union during the 1984-5 strike.

There are also concerns that the deal pushes workers’ conditions closer to a gig-economy model, with seasonal hours, late shifts, and potential rewards schemes for parcel deliveries. The deal also creates a two-tier workforce, with new workers on worse terms and conditions, and incentivizes bosses to replace existing workers with them.

Postal workers need to take a long hard look at the proposed deal before voting.

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