On the day that Gordon Brown put the national minimum wage up by 3.8%, spare a thought for those whose day job is to resolve other people’s pay disputes. Staff at ACAS, who are all members of the Public and Commercial Services union, have voted by almost two-to-one for a series of one-hour walk-outs.
The PCS claims that the government, which funds ACAS, didn’t make a proper pay offer last year and has made no effort to negotiate ever since. Which seems like a fairly big oversight, given that you’d expect ACAS to be pretty hot on this sort of detail. According to the union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka: ‘Pay across the civil service is creating anger and frustration as the government presses ahead with its discredited policy of below inflation pay resulting in pay cuts in real terms... The government can avoid embarrassing and damaging strike action in ACAS and elsewhere in the civil service by addressing low pay and paying a fair wage.’
The government's latest minimum wage hike has also gone down like a lead balloon in some quarters. It says the 21p raise, to £5.73 an hour, will benefit one million people (including 600,000 women). And it's certainly pleased the business groups – the CBI welcomed the government's ‘moderate approach’. But the unions are unhappy because the 3.8% rise is still below some measures of inflation – so it basically amounts to a pay cut. ‘In view of the rising prices of food, energy, water, transport and travel this increase is not enough to meet the additional bills’, said GMB general secretary Paul Kenny. ‘The living standards of the lowest paid will fall behind again.’
It’d never happen in France, of course, where the workers tend to take a slightly more 'forceful' approach to negotiation. Last month a group of workers at Michelin were so unhappy about the imminent closure of their factory that they blockaded the plant with burning tyres and locked two executives in a room for four days to negotiate a pay-off. Not surprisingly, Michelin soon came round to their way of thinking.
Gordon Brown and co will be hoping that none of their union opponents decide to follow suit...