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Steve O'Sullivan
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Steve O’Sullivan, 61, is a Unison rep at the Canal and River Trust.

Steve has worked at the charity for 29 years and has been a rep for 20 of those. He recently helped secure an 8.2% pay rise (which included and interim rise of 4% in July 2022) for the 1,700 Canal and River Trust staff.  

Steve told the TUC: “We started our pay negotiations in October last year. We looked at the company’s accounts, current rates of inflation, and how much we had missed out in terms of real pay increases over the last decade. And we prepared our case accordingly. 

“We knew all our members were struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, so we asked for a £2k payment across the board. But management came back with just a 1.5% increase.

"Unsurprisingly, when we put that to the ballot it was rejected, with 94% of our members saying it wasn’t good enough. 

We went backwards and forwards with management in negotiations, but they didn’t want to budge from the 1.5% at all. They kept saying that was the best they could do for us. 

In fact, management dragged the talks out over several months – I think they were hoping that the longer it went on, the more likely it would be that members would cave and just accept the 1.5%. 


But throughout this time, we kept in regular contact with all the staff. We would email them every 4-5 weeks letting them know what we were doing and keeping their spirits up to keep pushing for better. 

We didn’t waiver in our commitment to them and to the pay claim we knew we deserved. 

After months of stalemate we ended up having talks with Acas. 

We held our nerve, we were fair in our approach, and as a result we got an offer of 8.2% for our members along with a £250 lump sum – which 86% of them voted to accept. 

It was a really good result for our staff. Our patience and tenacity paid off!” 

Steve has some words of advice for other union reps trying to negotiate decent pay rises for their members. 

My main advice when in pay negotiations is – hang on in there. Management might try to drag their feet so their workforce buckle and accept a worse deal. Stand your ground. 

"You need the backing of your members to press for more. I’d advise you to keep in touch with them regularly with email communications and online or in person meetings where possible. 

Also, it helps to justify the claim you’re putting in. We didn’t just put in a figure – we prepared three pages of why we were going for this amount, and we’d done our homework looking at the company accounts and the current economic climate. 

And us union reps also started meeting weekly with our HR department at the beginning of Covid. And we’ve kept on doing that. It really helps build relationships and means you can have frank conversations about the work environment without falling out"

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