Regional Pay – Lib Dems Oppose, Unions Fight On

c/o CSP website

Lesley Mercer: ‘I challenge the coalition to carry out and publish a thorough equality impact assessment before taking any decisions’

CSP director of employment relations and union services, Unions21 steering committee member and new TUC president, Lesley Mercer, criticised proposals for regional NHS pay and mounted a robust defence of Agenda for Change, at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Brighton.


Speaking at a fringe meeting arranged by Unions21, Ms Mercer said previous experiments in local NHS pay bargaining had resulted in local disputes that destabilised ‘poorer’ trusts. They also produced time-consuming local negotiations that took union reps away from treating patients, she said. For the full story read the Unions21 news blog.



Union member Janice Turner blogs on her day:



The motion opposing regional pay, put forward by Welsh and Cornish Lib Dem party members  who were horrified at what regional pay bargaining would do to their areas, had no serious opposition. North Devon MP Nick Harvey, until recently defence minister, told delegates how appalled the private sector in Devon would be at the ending of national pay bargaining in the public sector. He pointed out that outside of the tourist season the public sector workers are  depended on by the private sector for the income to keep their businesses afloat.
Unions 21 had helped to rally support for the motion, organising a fringe meeting on the Sunday of conference. I spoke at the meeting which was chaired by the Guardian’s Seamus Milne, speakers were new TUC President Lesley Mercer, Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT and John Pugh MP.


I spoke in the regional pay debate, this is my speech in full:


“You’ve heard other speakers tell you what would happen if George Osborne gets his way and national pay bargaining is abolished. I agree with them. I think it would lead to permanent damage to our society.

Let’s look at this issue by going back to first principles. What do we stand for?

Preamble to the Lib Dem constitution talks about public services of the highest quality. It talks about a just distribution of the rewards of success.

But we can all probably recite the part we hold closest to our hearts: The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

We believe that the role of the state is to enable ALL citizens to attain these ideals.”

And that’s the point here. President Obama has been saying that governments have to govern for all the people. Not just some of them.

George Osborne seems to care about nothing other than cutting spending no matter what the damage – oh and of course cutting taxes for the rich. The government has to have a bigger vision. A government has to say “this is the kind of society we want Britain to become” and then work out a way to get there.

The role of the government as an employer is therefore to set an example to the private sector of how you should treat your employees, how you should treat our people.

If we abolished national pay bargaining in the public sector, the result would be that in the poorest areas of the country with the highest unemployment, wages would sink. Already in this recession in these areas whole communities are relying on public sector workers’ wages to keep the communities functioning.  These workers may well be the only wage earner in their family and quite possibly their extended family. Their money has to stretch further in these areas of high unemployment than those workers living in more prosperous parts of the country. There is too much of a divide between the prosperous southeast and the rest of the country already, and abolition of national pay bargaining will make this worse. Some people may argue that there are areas of poverty in the south east and pockets of affluence in other otherwise depressed areas. True. But don’t think for a second that regional pay bargaining will help this. The whole point of abolishing national pay bargaining is to pay you less.

There has to be a line drawn below which no-one falls. And that’s what national pay bargaining does.

It would also have wider repercussions across the whole of industry across the country: if public sector pay fell, then private sector employers could also reduce pay particularly in transferable jobs. So even if you work in the private sector, regional pay bargaining could end up hitting your wages as well.

I have to correct the previous speaker who said that the private sector doesn’t do national collective bargaining. He is factually wrong. If you work for one of the big private sector employers you’ll know that the best national companies in the private sector do have national pay bargaining. They do this because they agree it’s the most efficient way to do it and because it’s fair. Marks and Spencers, Greggs, British Telecom, Waterstones, British Gas – they all do it.

Public sector workers are the backbone that supports this country. And where pay is concerned, this government has to establish the baseline below which no-one will fall and that baseline is reached through national collective bargaining.

Liberal Democrats right now are the only political party that can stop this nonsense. And stop it we must. Liberal Democrats believe in governing for all the people. Support this motion.”


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One Response to “Regional Pay – Lib Dems Oppose, Unions Fight On”

  1. [...] conference season has so far been highly successful for unions: from the defeat of regional pay in a vote by Liberal Democrat democrats, to coalition building motions on housing, child poverty and a national investment bank – and [...]

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