The 11th July deadline for workers at Southampton City Council to accept the new contracts denounced by Unions as unfair is rapidly approaching, with many workers still refusing to sign.
At least 35% of workers (according to Council figures) have yet to sign up to the new contracts, which Unions campaigned for members not to sign to protest alleged Council bullying to sign up. Beyond 11th July the pay of all those who have signed up will be changed according to the new budget whilst non-signers have been threatened with the sack, making this coming week crunch time for the dispute and strikes that have been raging since May.
In a sign of worsening relations between the Unions (UNITE and Unison) and the Council, the latest proposed talks through ACAS planned to try and end the disputes were cancelled at the last minute, with the Council’s CEO Alastair Neill blaming the Unions for having “absurd” preconditions for talks whilst the Unions say they don’t understand these claims having allegedly offered to talk without such preconditions.
This follows 3 sets of talks through ACAS in June which all failed to result in any agreements, although the Council have made a fifth and apparently final offer to increase the minimum wage for pay-cuts to begin from £17.5k to £22k. However, the Unions claim that this is misleading as many increases and perks offered in the budget and set for 2012 have been removed for workers below £22k in this new deal, and so have continued to oppose the offer.
There has also been confusion over the last minute changes to the pay-cuts to children’s social workers, with a market supplement equal to their pay cut being proposed for them despite the new Budget banning all such supplements. Whilst some see this as the Council starting to give in to Union pressure, others in the dispute see it as a divide-and-rule tactic to try and weaken the resolve of cross-departmental strikes.
In a sign of continuing and growing resistance by the Unions, walkouts will occur all next week whilst an additional 250 staff from Building Maintenance and Decent Homes section are claimed to be set to walk out on Wednesday 13 July, whilst a march from East Park at 1pm is planned to converge on the next full meeting of the City Council at 2pm on the same day.
The dispute and strikes are also starting to garner national attention, with many seeing this as a test of how many more Councils may try and implement cuts (with Shropshire planning similar fire-and-rehire-on-new-lower-wage-contracts tactics in September).
Will this next week see the epic end of this battle with one side capitulating, or are we set for a Summer of continued strikes and growing rubbish hillocks? The Blowhole will be keeping an eye on proceedings and will keep readers informed…