Unions stand firm over contract row
TRADE unions and council bosses have made breakthroughs in a dispute over workers' contracts – but both parties still refuse to back down over the biggest cuts to terms and conditions.
Unions representing thousands of public sector employees are locked in a "stand-off" with Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the majority of the £2 million savings.
Plans would see staff contracts torn up and reissued with cuts to car and mileage allowances, payments for working evenings and weekends and new £360-per-year charges levied for parking a vehicle at work.
Unison, GMB and Unite have all confirmed they do not want to negotiate on terms and conditions and will consider industrial action.
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And city council chief executive John van de Laarschot, pictured below, is also holding firm.
A record of minutes taken at a meeting between union officials and council officers states: "The chief executive has confirmed that the proposals shouldn't be amended and that if the trade unions wish to ballot members, they should do so."
The council has now agreed several smaller changes with unions, including switching from weekly to monthly pay and some alterations to annual leave for Union of Construction and Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), who work on highways and at Kier.
Officers have warned unions to expect 100 extra redundancies, in addition to the 300 planned this year and 800 made last year, if the cuts do not go ahead.
Colin Walton, branch secretary of Unison Stoke-on-Trent, which has about 4,500 members at the council, said: "We're not going to have low paid staff working evenings and weekends with no recognition and using their cars to subsidise the local authority.
"We are talking about the lowest paid members of public service.
"In some cases people will face a loss of £500-per-month on salaries as low as £17,000.
"More redundancies is an awful solution but we'll take the pain now to sustain a standard of living people are entitled to. People are very disillusioned and a lot of people are looking to leave.
"It is a stand-off. We're waiting for the council's decision."
On the possibility of a strike, Mr Walton added: "It's up to our members to make a final decision.
"Our understanding is that they want to resist the threat to their terms and conditions."
Duncan Walker, Labour councillor for Baddeley, Milton and Norton, said the council appeared to be trying to "call the union's bluff".
He added: "My understanding is that my union, GMB, has said the bigger changes are a no go.
"But I think the union has shown good faith by attempting to reach an amicable solution. They've given some ground."
Dawn Hewins, the city council's assistant director for human resources and transformation, said: "We're continuing discussions with our trade union colleagues but are making progress in a number of areas. This includes agreement on the removal of some allowances. We're also continuing discussions linked to corporate terms and conditions – for example, car mileage payments.
"Agreement has been reached with UCATT on rationalising annual leave for craft employees, and we've successfully implemented the transfer of our four-weekly payroll to monthly payroll."