Council employers are willing to discuss a "wide range of conditions" with union leaders in a second round of negotiations but maintain that 2.45% is their final pay offer. Benefits such as annual and maternity leave and flexible hours are likely to be on the agenda when Unison and Unite return to the table with employers on 13 August, following the two-day strike on 16 and 17 July across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The negotiations come despite union leaders having threatened a "sustained and escalating" programme of strikes to force employers to increase their offer, which is just under half the current retail price index inflation level of 4.6% .
A Local Government Employers spokesperson said negotiations would be "focused on a wide range of conditions, but the line in the sand from our side is that in terms of pay, the offer of 2.45% is final". He added that negotiations were likely to be confined to this year's pay deal, despite employers' wish to conclude pay deals for 2009-10 and 2010-11 by the end of this year. The unions will review their strategy in September.
Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, refused to rule out further industrial action if talks broke down, but said this may stop short of strikes, a position echoed by Peter Allenson, Unite's national secretary for the public sector. This suggests a work-to-rule strategy may be pursued if talks broke down. Wakefield added: "Conditions such as annual leave, maternity leave, and family-friendly hours are the worst in the public sector. I can't say I'm optimistic because I don't know what [the employers] are going to say, but we want to ensure that local government is no longer the poor relation of the public sector." Allenson said: "We're going into these talks with optimism. We're still fighting for an improved offer as well as improved conditions."
(With thanks to Alan Wheatley)