New single-status deal for council workers

A new collective agreement, signed in March 1997, harmonises the conditions of employment of UK local government workers. It seeks to provide equal opportunities for all and a minimum wage for the lowest-paid workers.

On 10 March, after 11 hours of talks, a "historic deal" was reached for public sector council workers. The agreement, covering 1.5 million workers, will harmonise conditions for manual worker s and white collar worker s in local government for the first time.

The agreement will give a pay rise of at least 2.5% to all employees and may be worth up to 5% for the lowest-paid workers. It will provide a new minimum wage of GBP 4.00 per hour for the lowest-paid, which is an increase of GBP 0.18 per hour on current rates. Manual workers' conditions of employment will be brought into line with those of white-collar workers, initially with a cut in the working week of two hours to give them a 37-hour week by 1999. Other feature of the package are:

  • equal treatment for part-time and temporary workers;
  • training and development for all;
  • a commitment to equal pay and equal opportunities in all aspects of grading, pay and conditions of employment; and
  • a new national negotiating body covering all employees.

The employers made it clear to the unions that they would not be prepared to consider any further changes to the package. The unions are recommending acceptance of the offer and hope to complete the consultation process among their members with an individual postal ballot by the end of June 1997. The unions, which have offered to drop hundreds of equal pay industrial tribunal cases in return for the deal, said that: "in future, whether you push a broom or a pen, whether you fry chips or use micro chips, all in local government will enjoy equal treatment".

The Daily Telegraph newspaper argues that the deal will be a major boost to the Labour Party because it reduces the risk of conflict between council workers and a possible incoming Labour Government. GBP 4.00 per hour may also mark an important benchmark for a future national minimum wage.

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