The battle against the single status pay settlement in local government is hotting up across Britain. GMB and Unison union members working for Falkirk council in central Scotland are set to protest this Saturday and strike on Monday of next week.
That is the day the council is imposing new pay and conditions. Falkirk council’s implementation of the single status agreement could cost some workers up to £10,000 a year. The workers were told that if they didn’t sign their new contracts they would be dismissed.
Some 2,300 Unison members and 700 GMB members are set to strike.
Despite claims that single status is about equalising men and women’s pay, the council’s plans introduce completely new forms of pay discrimination through payments that will be available only to male dominated groups.
Over 400 council staff in Falkirk will have their pay cut.
Jackie Roscoe is suffering a £4,000 a year pay cut.
She is a receptionist and is bitter at the council’s decision to reduce her salary.
She said, “Never in my worst nightmares did I think equal pay for women would cut into my own salary.
“It just makes no sense at all. Women are supposed to be getting more money, not less. You’re looking at your colleagues, knowing they’ve had a pay rise and your money is going to be cut.”
Jackie, who works at the Mariner leisure centre, received a new contract from the council, urging her to accept the new conditions or face the sack.
Jackie is on a salary of just £13,000 a year before the pay cut. She accuses the council of “moving the goalposts” and regrading her four times to ensure that her salary would have to be cut.
According to another Falkirk worker, “‘Sign for a pay cut or you’re dismissed’ is a cynical ploy being used by unscrupulous councils to cajole workers into accepting pay cuts when unions won’t agree this collectively.
“The workers involved are effectively being penalised for the pay of others to be ‘equalised up’ when it is the councils, not the workers, that have allowed equal pay shortcomings to develop.”
Matt Smith, Unison’s Scottish secretary, said, “We are totally opposed to the unilateral imposition of single status. We stand fully behind the staff facing this attack. Falkirk is the first council to attempt to bludgeon its way through these negotiations.”
As Socialist Worker went to press the unions were in the courts challenging the legality of Falkirk council’s action.
Peter Hunter, Unison’s legal officer, said, “It is staggering that Falkirk council still believes it can pay women less than men for work of equal value.
“It is also scandalous that a public body has the nerve to impose discrimination on its staff by sacking, or threatening to sack, all workers affected by these changes.”
Alex McLuckie, the GMB Scotland’s senior organiser, said, “Workers in Falkirk are not prepared to see the imposition of the new contract.
“If it goes ahead there will be large cuts in pay for many workers, and inferior terms and conditions for all employees. The new structure will not get rid of gender pay inequalities. It is the worst of all worlds.”
The demonstration is in Falkirk this Saturday 16 December. Assemble Estate Avenue, Callendar Park, at 11 am before marching along the High Street for a rally in front of the municipal buildings.
Thousands of council workers marched through Stafford to protest at single status proposals on Thursday of last week.
Many of the workers stand to lose thousands of pounds and had been told they faced disciplinary action if they spoke to the press. Just before the protest, management withdrew the threat, and people were only too keen to talk about the threat of losing thousands of pounds.
As the march worked its way through Stafford in the pouring rain, it stopped at each council building while stewards called on the staff to come and join the demonstration. People rushed out of the buildings.
The demonstration passed by the council directors’ Christmas lunch venue. There was a chorus of booing and chants of “Pursey Out”. Chief executive Nigel Pursey will have been left in no doubt about the feelings of the workforce.
With whistles and homemade banners there was a carnival atmosphere as the demonstration took over the town square.
A T&G union official got the crowd going with the slogan, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.” He finished his speech to massive cheers when he asked, “Are we going to fight? Well then let’s fight.”
Tony Thompson Edwards, a Unison branch officer, told the protest, “Nobody will have a penny taken off them if your union has its way.”
Vince Butler from Coventry Unison, where workers have been striking against single status, said, “Our chief executive is on £130,000. When she meets our members she says she knows how we feel!”
Sue Insull, an ICT coordinator in Stafford, said, “I’m here because I’m pissed off. They want me to take a £2,000 cut in salary. It’s a cost saving exercise. It was fundamentally flawed from day one.
“We need to sack the lot of them. We need industrial action to force them to see the strength of feeling and force them to negotiate.”
Mandy works in an elderly people’s home. She said, “The council want to get us to sign new contracts that’ll cut our money. Where will the old people go when they shut the homes down?”
Her friend Josie added, “We want equal pay for the jobs we do, not a pay cut. Some people are losing up to £7,000.”
And another worker said, “Single status was never meant to be one set of low paid workers sharing their pay with other low paid workers.”
There was a feeling among many union members, stewards and branch activists in Glasgow last week that the threat of a three day strike action won real gains.
Many on the left described it as an important victory of national importance in the fight against single status. However, a more sober assessment tells another tale.
We have won a commitment that protection for workers goes beyond March 2009.
This is important, as workers facing downgrading will not see a drop in their salaries then.
However workers in downgraded posts will not receive the full annual wage rises.
The council has agreed to work with the unions to ensure downgraded workers move to higher grade posts or their job will be redesigned.
However workers are angry that they will have to work harder or perform new duties for little or no extra pay.
Some phoned the branch office, angry that the strike was called off last week.
There was concern that this decision was taken without a mass meeting.
Many pressing issues remain unresolved.
The council’s “90 day notice” remains in place and workers are being pressurised to sign up to the new conditions.
There is no agreement on the review and appeals process.
The whole evaluation scheme that the branch described as fundamentally flawed remains.
History tells us there are many occasions when employers will make some limited concessions to workers, then regroup and try to claw them back.
We might regret then not pressing home our advantage now.
Barking & Dagenham
Workers at Barking & Dagenham council in east London, who have been fighting against their bosses’ proposed single status agreement, were awaiting the outcome of talks as Socialist Worker went to press.
The GMB union, which represents most of the workers in the council, was expected to announce the result of a consultative ballot on Friday of this week.