Council workers in Staffordshire left their offices in tears last week. They had received letters from their employers telling them they could face pay cuts of up to £10,000 a year.
The Staffordshire County Council workers are at the sharp end of a job evaluation exercise taking place in councils across the country as part of the single status deal.
Staffordshire workers will have their pay fully protected for one year, 90 percent protected in the second year and 80 percent protected in the third year. After this there will be no further protection.
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 for those who gain from the deal.
Every authority is supposed to implement a deal by 1 April 2007 – so far only about a third of councils have reached agreements.
In Scotland there is turmoil. Only three councils have reached an agreement. North Lanarkshire has imposed its own pay and grading scheme on staff, Falkirk has issued notices of dismissal and re-engagment of staff.
Glasgow faces an industrial action ballot over the deal. Some 400 members of the Glasgow Unison union picketed a council meeting in protest on Tuesday of last week.
In Leeds the council issued a “188-notice” last week – giving notice to the union that they intended to terminate contracts. The council has threatened to dismiss and re-engage all 28,000 council employees.
The notice came as a shock to local Unison members, who were negotiating a single status deal expected to win pay protection for workers across the council.
After details of the threat hit the local press, the council gave the union a “reaffirmation of their desire to avoid pay cuts”, according to Brian Mulvey, the branch secretary of Unison in Leeds City Council.
Brian added, “If they expect to avoid pay cuts, why issue this notice? Are they preparing the ground to impose a deal on us?
“If the council did wish to dismiss its staff in time to impose a deal it would mean sending out 28,000 redundancy notices this Christmas – that would be a PR disaster for them.”
The crisis over single status will not go away. Local government unions need to start organising campaigns to defend the pay of all staff – ensuring the levelling up of those who have been discriminated against in the past.