Unite has begun balloting thousands of members in local government in England and Wales after they rejected the employers’ pay offer.

Exclusive poll

The industrial action ballot coincides with an exclusive poll of the union’s local authority members which reveals the full extent that the cost of living crisis is having on them.

The survey of over 1,400 members found that 

  • Nearly half (48 per cent) have struggled to afford heating, electricity and water bills, 
  • 30 per cent have struggled to afford food and clothing
  • Almost a quarter (23 per cent) are skipping meals to save money, 
  • 17 per cent have struggled to meet rent and mortgage payments, 
  • Six per cent have been forced to use food banks.

Staggered ballot

The industrial action ballot will be in four waves with the ballots in the local authorities where Unite has the greatest number of members beginning today (Tuesday 13 June); with medium sized and smaller authorities balloting over the next three weeks. All the ballots must be concluded by Friday 28 July.

 If there is a vote for industrial action then strikes could begin in the late summer.

Spending cut to the bone

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Local government workers have seen their wages decline in real terms for over a decade. Nearly half can’t pay their energy bills. The cost of living crisis is forcing every one of them to cut spending to the bone in a struggle to make ends meet.

“Unite is now entirely dedicated to defending our members’ jobs, pay and conditions and the union will give its complete support to its local government members.”

Pay offer rejected

The workers have rejected a pay offer of just £1,925 which equates to an increase of between 4 per cent and 9 per cent depending on individual grades. In reality this is a real terms pay cut for all workers. Council workers have seen their wages decline by over a quarter in real terms since 2010 due to pay freezes and below inflation pay increases.

Unite’s survey also found that 71 per cent of respondents did not feel valued by their employer and that over a quarter (26 per cent) are considering leaving their jobs in the next six months. Of those considering leaving two thirds (68 per cent) said this was due to low pay.

Worker statements

Comments from Unite local authority workers:

 “My pay does not cover my bills to live. I am getting deeper and deeper into debt. My employer is expecting more and more for less pay. This cannot continue. My health is suffering due to the financial strain.” Middlesbrough council worker

I feel poor for the first time in my life. My pay is ridiculously low for what I do.” Council worker in East Midlands

 “I wish I could get a pay rise so I don't have to work so much overtime. I literally feel like I work just to survive. Cost of living is so high. I’ve not had a holiday since 2019 and definitely cannot afford it at present.” Council worker London.

Huge disruption

Unite national officer for local authorities Clare Keogh said: “Strike action will inevitably cause huge disruption to local government services, but this dispute is a direct result of the employer ignoring the plight of its workforce.”

Inadequate offer

Unite national officer for local authority craft workers Jason Poulter said: “The employers’ side needs to accept that its pay offer is entirely inadequate and return to the negotiating table with an offer which meets workers’ expectations.”


Notes to editors

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: [email protected]

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.