Employers on Friday made an improved pay offer in a bid to head off threatened strike action by more than 1m local government workers.
The move comes just three weeks after Alan Johnson, health secretary, announced an improved pay offer for low-paid National Health Service workers and nurses.
Unions representing more than 2.5m health workers, local government staff, civil servants, postal workers and teachers had threatened to co-ordinate industrial action over pay, job cuts and privatisation of services.
The possibility of a public sector shutdown had threatened to embarrass Gordon Brown next month when he faced his first TUC and Labour party conferences as prime minister. This threat now appears to have been largely removed, with local government and health workers widely expected to back the improved pay deals.
Local government unions on Friday welcomed the offer by employers to increase salaries of the lowest-paid workers by 3.4 per cent and by 2.475 per cent for all other workers. Workers had previously rejected a 2 per cent rise.
The increased offer would mean that those on the bottom pay rate would receive £6 an hour for the first time and would appear to breach Treasury guidelines that public sector pay rises should be kept in line with the government’s inflation target of 2 per cent as measured against the consumer price index, said unions.
Heather Wakefield, responsible for local government at Unison, the largest public sector union, said: “This is a welcome breakthrough for the lowest paid and only came about as a result of very tough negotiations. We recognise that local government bosses have surpassed the national government’s own stated pay limit of 2 per cent and unions will now meet to consider this improvement.”
The improved offer was still below the annual retail price inflation rate of 3.8 per cent, said unions, which are due to meet on September 4 to discuss their recommendation to members. Unison previously declined to recommend the improved offer to health workers but told members that it was the best deal it could achieve through negotiation.
A spokesman for Local Government Employers said that the latest offer was “fair to staff and affordable for the council tax payer”. The increase reflected the contribution the workforce had made in generating substantial efficiency savings. Unison had also agreed to a comprehensive review into the way that local government rewards staff.