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Union membership rising over reform programme

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UNION membership is soaring in Jersey and existing members are becoming ‘radicalised’ by pay disputes, worker representatives have warned as the government prepares to release its financial plans tomorrow.

Striking teachers in the Royal Square earlier this year

Several union leaders have reported recent rises in their membership, particularly among civil servants, and have said that during the past year they have been flooded with inquiries and stunned by the response to ballots as members have become more politically active.

And with a leak to the JEP last week revealing that cuts of up to £100 million in public sector spending could be made, one union leader has warned that the government will have a ‘much tougher fight on its hands’ if further disputes arise with staff in the coming months.

Union bosses, meanwhile, have said that the series of pay disputes with employee groups – including teachers, nurses and civil servants – and resulting industrial action during the past year has mobilised workers to previously unseen levels.

Gary Davies, the acting president of JCSA Prospect, said that membership of his union had increased by almost half during the past year and blamed the public sector reform programme initiated by States chief executive Charlie Parker.

‘Our membership has grown significantly during the last year. It’s because of Charlie Parker, the ongoing disputes over the pay deal and the things that have happened. People are concerned, so they are joining the union,’ he said.

‘Our numbers were below 1,000 last year and now we have more than 1,400 people, so there’s been around a 50% increase.’

Marina Mauger, head of the NASUWT teaching union, said that union membership among teachers was generally high but she had noticed a huge increase in activity by members during the past year.

‘We have seen some growth in membership but teachers generally belong to unions anyway,’ she said.

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‘I know that more teaching assistants, who are classed as civil servants, are joining unions now. Some of them are joining the civil service unions, because that’s who represents them, and some are joining the teaching unions.

‘But what I have seen is members are much more mobilised than they were. I have had so many emails and inquiries during the past year. And the level of response to our last ballot on the pay deal absolutely took me by surprise.’

Brendan Carolan, president of the National Education Union in Jersey, said that the membership in his union, which called a series of eight strikes in May, is becoming more militant.

‘What I would say is that a normally very passive membership has been radicalised by the dispute and the interest and involvement members now demonstrate is light years away from the situation that existed before the dispute,’ he said.

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‘Teachers are challenging inappropriate action by senior management and weak, ineffective leadership in a way they would never have done before.’

He added that he believed the States Employment Board would have a ‘much tougher fight on their hands’ if they tried to impose cuts on education next year.

Last week, JCSA Prospect called for civil servants to go on strike on 23 and 27 August – the two days either side of this year’s summer bank holiday weekend, after the unions rejected their latest pay deal.

The offer was a 1% pay rise for 2018 and 2019, 2.1% in one-off cash payments over the two years and a 1.3% above-inflation pay award for 2020.

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
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