Strike by some Newham Council staff ‘very likely’ if £1.8 million pay cuts go ahead
PUBLISHED: 12:32 01 December 2016 | UPDATED: 17:16 01 December 2016
Council workers are set to take industrial action if huge cuts to their pay and conditions are implemented, a trade union has warned.
Unite claims Newham Council “intends to dismiss and re-engage its workforce on poorer contracts” in the new year and will introduce £1.8 million of savings to the pay and conditions of its council workers.
Up to 1,300 of its employees, some of whom are “low paid” and live in the borough, are facing cuts to overtime pay, night work rates and maternity pay, as outlined in an internal staff document seen by the Recorder.
The union has argued that no such cuts are being proposed for councillors’ allowances and Sir Robin Wales’ “handsome” annual salary of £81,029. It has also criticised the local authority for not using its fund reserves of £161 million.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We have ended up with local government workers on some of the poorest pay for public service workers and having to rely on state benefits in order to survive.”
“Newham will say that they cannot use reserves to plug the gap. We do not see using reserves as a long term solution.
“What we are saying is that in the very short term, reserves should be used to prevent the need for drastic cuts such as these.”
Mr Kasab added that other councils were starting to “use reserves more and more so it’s not a ridiculous idea and we are not suggesting anything illegal” and the time should be best spent tackling central government for a “better settlement”.
Under the proposals, some employees will see their overtime rates reduced from 50 per cent extra pay to 25pc for shifts worked Monday to Saturday.
Night work rates will be reduced from an extra 33pc extra to 20pc with a two-hour reduction in the number of applicable hours. Maternity pay also faces being reduced from 90pc to 50pc after the first six weeks.
Mr Kasab estimates that of those people who will have their shift allowances reduced, the “average works out around £3,200 a year – and that is a conservative estimate”.
Unite has said it plans to email all councillors and to lobby council meetings and events, Saturday stalls and demonstrations about the proposals. These activities will take place over the next two months.
Although a strike date has not been set, the union said “the prospect of an industrial action ballot [was] very likely”.
A spokeswoman for Newham Council said: “Since 2010/11, the government has slashed the annual funding we receive by more than £97m and we face further reductions of £42.6m by 2020.
“This means we are having to take some tough decisions about how we save money, including looking at the terms and conditions of centrally employed staff.
“We pay the London Living Wage and are proud to have one of the largest directly employed council workforces in London.”
She added that there had been “long and productive negotiations” with several unions including Unison, GMB, NUT and UCATT, which resulted in an agreement with all parties including Unite.
“Members of Unite, our smallest union representing just 13 per cent of the workforce, were the only ones that voted not to accept the proposals [in subsequent consultative ballots],” she said.
In the absence of a collective agreement, staff and unions were said to have received “formal consultation” which the union did not respond to.
The spokeswoman added it was “frankly ridiculous for Unite to blandly suggest that councils such as Newham use up their reserves rather than working with their staff to help balance the books in these tough times”.
She said: “We remain committed to protecting frontline services and jobs. We have already taken many steps to do this by making savings in back office functions, reducing the number of senior managers, renegotiating contracts with suppliers and sharing services with other councils.
The council has said it has not made a formal decision about the proposals to its employees as of yet.