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Union urges staff say ‘no’ to town hall pay cuts

Blackpool Town Hall

Blackpool Town Hall

Union chiefs today urged town hall workers in Blackpool to reject calls for them to bail out the council and off-set major spending cuts for the fourth year running.

Staff are being asked to sacrifice pay increases and take more unpaid leave – effectively a pay cut – in order to help the cash-strapped authority save money.

But union bosses say workers have been stretched too far already and their previous co-operation has failed to save jobs.

Blackpool Council is facing cuts of £36m by 2016, with 700 jobs set to be axed in the next two years.

Since 2010, 656 council staff have already been made redundant.

Staffing levels have fallen since then from 3,411 full-time equivalent posts, to 2,591.

Sean Gibson, regional organiser for Unison, said: “At this point in time we would not be supporting an increments pay freeze for our members.”

“They have co-operated in the past with this and it has not ended up saving jobs.

“There were things agreed last year that were meant to stave off the threat of redundancies, but this year and next year, there are more proposals for redundancies.

“Yet they still want staff to take a hit on their terms and conditions.”

Town hall staff are paid according to a remuneration scale for their position, and are eligible for incremental increases each year until they reach the top of their pay band.

The council is asking staff to accept a freeze for the next two years which it says would save £1.3m and about 100 jobs.

Extending unpaid leave from four days to five days a year for the next two years would save £1m which is the equivalent of around 60 jobs.

But Unison is refusing to support the increments freeze and has written to all its members at Blackpool Council asking for their views on the proposal to extend unpaid leave.

Mr Gibson said: “We think taking unpaid leave should be voluntary. It may work for some people, but it will have an impact on people’s pensions.

“To ask people to take more cuts at a time of continued austerity is hitting people’s living wage on a daily basis.”

Staff have until the end of this week to respond.

Mr Gibson said it was too early to say what action the union may take to fight the proposals.

He added: “After January 10 we will have some indication from our members about what they think and that will inform our strategy.”

Staff first agreed to money-saving measures in 2011 to help save jobs.

They agreed to four days unpaid leave and an increments freeze in 2011/12.

Incremental pay increases were re-introduced the following year, but the four days unpaid leave continued in 2012/13 and 2013/14.

The council is now proposing to freeze increments for two years, and asking staff to take five days unpaid leave.

It has written to staff setting out its reasons for seeking the measures .

The letter, from deputy chief executive Carmel McKeogh (pictured), says the council hopes a way forward can be agreed and adds “however you will 
appreciate the council also needs to take into account the wider impact of the cost savings not being met.”

It adds consultation with the trade unions will continue throughout January, and asks staff to put forward any alternative cost saving proposals.

Ms McKeogh says in the letter “be assured no decision has yet been made” and there will be further consultation “before deciding on the best course of action for the workforce and the wider organisation.”

The Gazette approached council leader Coun Simon Blackburn, but he did not wish to comment on the union’s views.

In October the council revealed an enhanced redundancy scheme of a £5,000 payment in addition to staff’s normal entitlement – in a bid to encourage more employees to volunteer to leave.

A total of 240 council workers have applied for voluntary redundancy through the enhanced scheme, which had a deadline for applications of December 13.

They will all now be assessed for eligibility before it is decided how many will be accepted, with this process expected to be completed by the end of this month.

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