Thousands of council workers in Birmingham are balloting for strike action against the imposition of a single status pay deal.
Some of the council’s lowest paid workers are having their wages slashed. Thousands are losing money – in some cases up to £35,000 per year.
The Unison, Unite, Ucatt and GMB unions began balloting for strike action on 2 January.
Workers are mobilising for a mass rally to protest against pay cuts on Saturday 12 January.
In Birmingham, as elsewhere, large sections of the workforce are suffering pay cuts supposedly in order to fund equal pay for women who have suffered years of discrimination.
Yet at the same time the city council is refusing to give those women the full six years’ back pay they are entitled to.
The council admits that 12 percent of the workforce will see their wages cut. But this does not take into account those whose working week is being extended – a wage cut by other means.
Only 7,000 out of tens of thousands of workers have signed new contracts issued by the council to force through the new deal. This means that despite threats of the sack, up to 70 percent of workers have not signed new contracts.
Chair of the joint trade union committee Steve Foster said, “People have shown how they feel about this pay system by not signing the forms. They are the ones who will suffer the heartache of wage losses.
According to the Unite national organiser for public services Peter Allenson, “Ironically, many women employees in Birmingham will suffer pay cuts through this uniquely wrong-headed approach to the equality issue by Birmingham City Council.
“The current proposals are unfair, so it is little wonder that some 70 percent of council employees have either rejected the new contracts or chosen to ignore them.
In an attempt to try and head off the strike the council is leaking that it thinking of re-evaluating the refuse workers’ bonus scemes.
Caroline Johnson from Birmingham Unison said, “Workers are not going to be conned by this. If the council tries to redefine their roles or push up the pay grades it will be very difficult to make up the losses they have suffered.”
Steve Foster added, “I have been to a few meetings at council depots and they are 100 percent behind the ballot and industrial action.
“I was told at one depot that if they lose a single penny they are out. It is not just about the pay. This new system brings in a wholesale changes to working conditions without consulting with us.”
Meanwhile almost a quarter of council workers in Blackburn in north west England have been told their salaries are to be cut.
The decision was broken to staff by email after council bosses gave the green light to its new pay scale. Some workers are reporting drops of as much as £10,000 per year.
Under the “equal pay settlement”, 5,500 jobs have been evaluated by the council – 24 percent of salaries will go down, 46 per cent are set to increase and the remaining 30 percent will stay the same.
Unison’s branch secretary has recently resigned, but the union has refused to comment on whether this was related to the negotiations.
Following the announcement of the new pay scale – given the green light by the council’s ruling executive board – unions will ballot on whether to accept the changes.
But one council worker, who did not want to be named, said, “It’s officers and administration staff in the regeneration department who have been hit worst.
“People have lost between £3,000 and £10,000. Morale is at rock bottom.”
Strike threat gets results in Swansea
The prospect of strike action has prompted Swansea council to dramatically change its approach in a dispute with the GMB union over the implementation of single status.
Until a vote for industrial action by workers, the council had been refusing to backdate equal pay claims. It now says that it will backdate the pay claims, and negotiations are expected to begin to implement this.
What is the single status deal?
The single status agreement was signed in 1997 by local government employers and national trade unions.
The deal followed a series of successful employment tribunal cases on equal pay.
Typically women were doing jobs of equal value to male manual workers, and had been on the same pay grade as them for many years.
But they were not eligible for bonus payments that the men received, and in some cases they were getting 40 percent less.
Single status deals are supposed to deliver a common pay scale for all jobs and harmonisation of conditions.
But the government has refused to give local authorities extra funds to pay those who gain from the deal.
Every authority was supposed to implement a deal by 1 April 2007.
The local government employers (LGE) claim that fewer than half of English and Welsh councils have carried out reviews into gender pay inequalities, nine months after a deadline to do so.
The LGE says just 47 percent have completed pay reviews.
It adds that to end gender pay inequality councils face costs of £1 billion for back pay, £1.5 billion to cover increased pay and £400 million to provide pay protection for those who lose out from reviews.
Gordon Brown is refusing to provide the money.
Disracefully schools are to be told to find up to a third of the bill out of their reserves to compensate classroom assistants and cleaners who have been systematically underpaid.
Up and down the country single status is being used as an excuse for cuts in jobs and services.
A system claiming to deliver equal pay for women is delivering cuts in the pay of already low paid women.
In the absence of a national strategy from the unions to contest single status, tens of thousands of workers are using the courts to get equal pay.
Thousands more are suing the unions for not representing them.
The fight over single status in Birmingham offers a chance for a national union-led mobilisation to get equal and fair pay for all in local government.
Joint trade union rally at Birmingham council
Saturday 12 January, 12 noon to 1.30pm,
Victoria Square, Birmingham
Download petition » NO TO PAY CUTS – NO TO FLEXIBILITY – NO TO PRIVATISATION – YES TO FAIR AND EQUAL PAY NOW [154kb PDF]