I was intrigued by a radio interview I heard last week. The subject was the long-running battle by the Trade Unions to win gender-equal pay rights for 12,000 municipality workers such as care home, catering and school cleaning staff in Glasgow. Frustrated with Glasgow City Council’s negotiating stance the unions representing these workers had called a two-day strike. The interviewees were the senior representatives on each side. My interest was stimulated because despite the strike going ahead they spent much of the 10 minutes on-air being nice to and agreeing with each other. And with Scotwork being a Glasgow based organisation (albeit with offices in 38 other countries), here was a negotiating dispute which was close to home.
The cost of the equal pay claim, which the Courts have upheld, for Glasgow City Council is reckoned to be several hundred million pounds, perhaps as much as a billion pounds. For a cash-strapped Council this is an unimaginably high figure, and with no obvious way to find it, stories began to circulate locally that the Council would have to sell off some of their crown jewels, like a painting by Salvador Dali and the Scottish Event Campus. Nevertheless the Council, control of which passed from Labour to Scottish Nationalist 18 months ago, fully support the Union demands and accept the rulings of the Courts. Which is why there was so much agreement in the radio interview.
So why the strike? It revolves around implementation. There was an agreement between the parties at the beginning of the discussions that they would aim to be completed by the end of 2018. Now, with 2 months to go, the parties representing the employees are claiming that no progress has been made, that the Council’s negotiating skills have been pathetic and that they have got ‘absolutely nowhere’. In negotiating terminology the strike was an attempt to change the power balance and demonstrate to the Council that there is a high cost to procrastination. The Council’s riposte is that there are still 2 months to run on the agreed timetable. Everyone knows that deals get done in a rush at the end.
Which reminded me of the Brexit negotiations. UK Government critics banging on about how Theresa May and her team have wasted the last 2 years; Government supporters pointing out that the clock hasn’t stopped ticking, and that everyone knows that deals like these get done in a rush at the end.
Noises and indications yesterday from Dominic Raab, the Minister responsible for exiting the EU, were that we are now close to home and that we should see a deal in the next three weeks. This gave sterling a boost and the country an injection of optimism. Of course, he has now to deliver; his comments were subsequently played down by Downing Street. We need to hear a similar statement from Glasgow City Council officials – or the 12,000 disaffected workers will be on the warpath again.