Monday, 10 August 2009

Fair Pay?

In my mail today, along with a bank statement which was more gory than Quentin Tarantino's innermost thoughts, arrived a ballot paper from Unison. We in the public sector must decide whether to accept a pay offer of 1.25% for the lowest paid grades and 1.00% for all other grades.

Even with the latest CPI inflation at a low 1.8% this represents a pay cut for the whole public sector. If we reject the offer this may eventually result in strike action. I have been involved with strike action before and feel it has been unsuccessful. As soon as the news breaks that we are to strike the politicians aided by some sections of the media reach into the box marked 'lazy stereotypes' and pull forth a cardboard cut out of a fictionalised public sector employee. Favourites being the paper pushing beauracrat; only too happy to stand in the way of your planning application, council tax payment or request for residential care for your mother-in-law. This creature exists only in the public sector as it is a virus which cannot exist outside it's environment for long. Dying on exposure to the dog-eat-dog hard faced 'real world' occupied by the rest of society. The other perennial stereotype is the 'non-job'. Often associated with that other demon of the public sector political correcness or 'elf and safety'. Playground Supervisors, Cycling Officers et al all on 'taxpayer funded' saleries starting at £25k a year and all doing jobs which are totally pointless.

As a public sector employee I will say that there are some job roles which are overpaid (usually with coordinator in the title) whose purpose can be questionable. Where these exist they are in part down to the vagaries of the grading system. Job roles across an authourity are compared using a set of criteria and banded into grades. The criteria for a band will include things like whether there are visits to the public, supervision of other employees, etc. Taken across a whole authourity this can overvalue some jobs, but it can often undervalue others. For example a Childrens Social Worker has the same starting salary as an Adult Services Social Worker, yet one job is seen within the profession as much tougher than the other. Consequently Childrens Service departments often find themselves understaffed. This grading system means that unlike the private sector pay cannot be deemed simply by a market driven supply and demand value. If it were Childrens Social Workers would be one of the highest paid workers in the Authourity, rather than being equal to Adults Social Workers, Town Planners and, Painters and Decorators.

Not many people find great wealth serving in the public sector. This is not because, as many would have it, they would not cope in the 'real world', but because they beleive in what they do and are trying their best to make a difference. For all the talk of 'paper pushers' and 'non-jobs' the public sector is full of dedicated staff who are underpaid and often battling to do essential jobs to the best of their ability to a backdrop of declining resources. It is not uncommon to hear stories of staff routinely going without breaks and working 5 hours overtime in one day just to get the job done and putting up with spectacular amounts of abuse from joe public. Of course our detractors will say this is all comon to the private sector too, but no-one is accusing them of having a free ride. For all the dedication I see everyday I think my colleagues deserve more than 1%.

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