Forty Years of Progress for JNC

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the Community and Youth Workers’ Union celebrates the birthday of youth work’s most important and enduring professional body.

Profession born.

JNC has become the best friend of quality youth and community practice over the last forty years. Born in 1961, the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth and Community Workers brought national terms and conditions and professional quality assurance for training to a new profession. Prior to then as surveys of the union showed consistently throughout the forties and fifties, youth workers doing exactly the same job would be on wildly different terms and conditions making the development of consistent professional practice difficult. In addition there was no real strategy and control over the burgeoning training courses, and to link terms and conditions to qualifications attained was the first crucial step in establishing a profession of youth workers. Importantly, the JNC united the voluntary sector and local authority employers and said as it still does, that any employer in receipt of grant aid for youth work should pay the JNC rates for the job.

Painful birth.

JNC didn’t appear just overnight. It had a long pre history and was the product of thirteen years of consistent campaigning by CYWU’s predecessor organisation the National Association of Youth Leaders (NAYLO) and Organisers. After a survey in 1947 NAYLO produced a report called Starvation Wages describing the position of youth workers and community centre wardens. At that stage the union (called an Association at that time) had only 255 members. Cuts in the youth service reduced that number to 94 two year’s later. Determined to recover, the union sought unsuccessfully to link up with the Soulbury pay and conditions committee, and then began in earnest to lobby the government and employers for a national pay bargaining committee. This was the central and consistent campaign of the union until victory in 61. Almost every year national surveys of terms and conditions would be drawn up proving the inadequacy and inconsistencies of pay and conditions throughout the UK. NAYLO pushed to join up with the teachers’ bargaining committee in 1955, rejected there they tried to link with the local government Whitley Councils.

Rejected everywhere the union’s president in 1957 Harry Chamberlain said to the Conference: “there is a real danger of the qualified youth leader disappearing altogether. The Youth Service is not yet considered a necessity. The Youth Service is not yet regarded as a vital part of the educational system.” General neglect of the service led the union and the voluntary sector from which it had emerged in 1938 to lead a strenuous national campaign to create a professional youth service with proper funding. This lobbying led directly to the formation of the Albemarle Committee, Pearl Jephcott one of the great pioneers of youth work theory and practice, was NAYLO’s representative on this committee. NAYLO was joined in the fray by the National Association of Local Education Authority Youth Leaders (NALEAYL) and the Society of Neighbourhood Workers whose President F. Milligan said in 1960 that youth and community workers “had no recognised training scheme, no nationally recognised status, and no nationally agreed scale of salaries and conditions of service.”

Pressure from the field and a recognition that youth work was a new distinct profession convinced the Albemarle Committee that a national collective bargaining structure was necessary with an organic link to qualifications. JNC approved courses led to their students getting better terms and conditions and specialist grading structures and this system still rests on a positive partnership agreement with the government.

Growing up.

JNC consolidated the profession in the years of investment. It brought consistency and national standards and a sense of worth. It introduced reasonable and common grading and conditions agreements which aided hard pressed voluntary organisations and local authority employers alike. It did things that look staggering today. In 1974/5 it agreed pay rises in excess of 25%. But the improvements that JNC always agreed were originally for full time workers only. Part timers continued to be exploited on different and universally poor terms and conditions. In the late seventies CYWU began the campaign to include part time workers fully under the JNC report. En route to the eventual victory in 1995, the JNC agreed a major restructuring of the grading system in 1987 which led to thousands of successful regradings. In 1988 the JNC removed the automatic criterion that a teacher qualified person was entitled to JNC. This paved the way for establishing a free standing autonomous bargaining agreement for an autonomous and strong profession. This was fully realised in 1995 when part time workers were included in the provisions of the JNC, though sadly many employers remain in breach of this agreement still. In general though, this assisted in the professionalisation of the part time workforce and thereby the service as a whole.

Mature at last.

JNC has just celebrated its birthday with a wonderful present from Sandwell Borough Council which has seen the importance of moving staff from Single Status terms and conditions to JNC as part and parcel of reinvesting in its Youth Service and raising standards and reward for its valued staff. Discussions are underway with several other employers who moved off JNC several years ago and have suffered the consequence all too obvious in some HMI reports. JNC’s future is bright. But today’s generation of youth workers should take nothing for granted, their pay and conditions, holiday periods and rights were the product of hard collective work by their predecessors.

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