Two Tory-run councils are preparing to sack workers who don’t sign up for new contracts involving drastic pay cuts for many of their lowest paid staff.
A “special meeting” of the cabinet of Lancashire county council met on Monday of last week to discuss pushing through the results of its “equal pay review”.
The full details of the meeting are not known, as the council used a legal exemption to ensure that press and public were excluded.
But the minutes of the meeting, such as they are, make it clear that council chiefs are starting a statutory “consultation” with unions in order to push through new contracts for all its 30,000 workers.
The cabinet also recommended that the full council should “serve notice on the Secretary of State of the proposed dismissal of employees”.
Sources in the council say the new contracts will involve major attacks on conditions such as sick pay and essential car users’ allowance. They also report that senior management are talking about copying the “Derbyshire model”.
Derbyshire county council has just demanded its entire workforce sign new contracts by 31 December or face the sack.
In both councils, the changes are part of the national “single status” agreement that requires every council to address the low pay of women council workers.
Yet the attacks, as in many other councils across Britain, will hit many low paid women hardest.
In Derbyshire, council bosses have claimed that 73 percent of its workers will see their pay increased or stay the same.
But figures show that around 3,800 workers will still face cuts of between £600 and £3,000 a year.
And many low paid admin workers, who are mostly women, will see their pay cut by around 20 percent.
Even where workers’ basic pay isn’t cut, attacks on overtime and unsocial hours payments will mean the vast majority of workers will see their pay cut overall – especially the lowest paid workers who rely on these payments to make ends meet.
Workers in Derbyshire have packed out union meetings calling for action to defend pay and conditions.
Activists at a recent Unison union branch committee called for industrial action and for legal challenges to an unfair appeal process.
A member of the Unison branch committee told Socialist Worker, “It really hurts that the council is making these cuts in the name of raising low pay. To say people are angry is an understatement.
“The council wrote to everyone at home – getting the news out just in time to ruin Christmas.”
Derbyshire and Lancashire councils are both former Labour strongholds that the Tories won last May.
But the Unison member says that the attacks can’t just be blamed on the new Tory administration.
“The ground work in Derbyshire was prepared by the former New Labour council,” he said. “It had already attacked school meals staff and home carers.”
But the scale of the attacks is a worrying sign of the cuts to come in the public sector.
Michael Lavalette, a socialist councillor in Preston, warned, “This is a fundamental attack on trade unionists and workers. It paves the way for attacks on our services.
“If this is what Tory councils are getting up to now, it should be a warning of what we can expect if David Cameron becomes prime minister.
“The left and the unions need to fight now to defend jobs and services but also to prepare for the battles that we know are coming.”