Somerset County Council workers hold pay protest on minimum wage anniversary
Somerset County Council staff joined UNISON's 600,000 local government members across the country in their campaign for fair pay today (1 April) with a protest outside County Hall in Taunton.
The formal day of protest, which takes place during the TUC's Fair Pay Fortnight, is intended to highlight the dire state of local government pay and the disastrous impact the current Government's austerity agenda has had on Somerset’s jobs and services.
1 April marks the fifteenth anniversary of the introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999. UNISON was a driving force behind the minimum wage, which was intended to act as a safety net to protect vulnerable workers. In 1999, the lowest pay scale in local government was 24% above the level of the minimum wage, which was set at £3.60 an hour for adult workers.
Fast forward 15 years and the lowest paid local government workers earn just 14 pence per hour - or 2.2% - above the minimum wage. This represents a fall in pay of 18% in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s. Last month the Local Government Association was forced to offer a pay rise to the lowest paid staff to prevent some workers falling below the minimum wage when it rises to £6.50 in October.
Belinda Burton, Branch Secretary of UNISON Somerset County Branch, said:
"Local government workers in the County have faced four years of devastating cuts to jobs but also to the vital services they provide – and today our members are saying enough is enough.
"The National Minimum Wage was introduced to protect workers who are most vulnerable to low pay. It was not intended as a tool to benchmark the pay of skilled workers delivering essential public services. It is apparent to all that neither the minimum wage or public sector pay has kept pace with the true cost of living in the UK. We know that workers in the South West are already amongst the hardest pressed in the country due to the high cost of living in the region and the relatively low pay; that situation is being compounded for our members over the past five years due to pay freezes and below inflation pay rises of 1%.
"75% of the local government workforce in Somerset are women, who are increasingly undervalued and who are not prepared to sit back and let their families slide further into poverty. Rather than the race-to-the-bottom approach favoured by this Government what we desperately need is a commitment to implement a Living Wage."
Nationally UNISON is consulting its members over last month's pay offer which will see the vast majority of staff receive a pay rise of just 1%. The unions had sought a £1.20 an hour minimum increase to bring the bottom rate of pay in local government to the level of the Living Wage and restore some of the pay lost by higher earners.
More than half a million local government workers earn less than the current Living Wage and a million earn less than the Coalition's 'low pay' threshold of £21,000 a year.