Although regional pay poses a fundamental threat it also allows the union a unique opportunity to mobilise members and move towards national pay.
Just to recap what regional pay is meant to be: if a Bargaining Unit (BU – e.g. DWP, HMRC etc) maxs are above those in the relevant zone (Britain will be divided into 3 to 5 zones) then the maxs will be frozen until the zone maxs catches up. To unfreeze the BU maxs so that they move up with the zone maxs the union has to accept regional pay in that BU. The same applies if the BU max is below the zone max; the unions have to accept regional pay in order for the BU max to move up.
Of course if the bulk of the jobs are in a zone where the so-called private sector equivalents are paid less, then the BU maxs are going to be frozen in any case even, if we did accept regional pay; though more non consolidated pay could be on offer if the BU signs up.
According to press reports, the public sector in Wales and the North East of England (just
as examples) are 10% and 18% respectively, paid more allegedly than their so-called private sector equivalents. If the government sets the zone maxs in those areas at 10% and 18% below public sector wages then it is hard to see, given current economic conditions, any increases in civil service maxs in Wales or the North East for this decade or even beyond.
That’s the danger – but it is also the opportunity. All civil servants, indeed all public sector workers in Wales and the North East will find themselves in the same (sinking) boat regardless of whether they are in the DWP, HMRC, Home Office etc. For members there the government has in essence abolished the bargaining units and imposed national pay rates. This opens up the possibility of a united industrial and political fight in Wales, the NE etc. This fight of course should go across the public sector but as the pension dispute has shown, it would be wrong to base our pay fight on there being an effective alliance with other unions. Whilst seeking such an alliance the union has to fight on its own if necessary.
Of course the tactics of that fight will have to be right. That is a discussion for another posting and another day.