Wednesday, July 16, 2008

UK Council workers walk out over pay

Thousands of council staff are striking over pay in their biggest campaign of industrial unrest for years, forcing schools to close and hitting services.
Employers say 300,000 Unison and Unite members in England, Wales and N Ireland have joined the 48-hour action but the unions put the figure at 500,000.
Unions say the rising cost of food and petrol effectively makes a 2.45% pay offer a pay cut, and they want 6%.
Council employers say they have reached the "limit of what is affordable".
Meanwhile, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who include driving test examiners and coastguard control room staff, are also striking in a separate row over their below-inflation pay offer.
The union estimates up to 5,000 driving tests across the UK may have been cancelled by the end of Wednesday.
Town hall services
The Local Government Association (LGA), the organisation representing local councils, said it estimated that half of union members directly affected by the pay dispute were on strike.
The LGA said a snapshot survey of councils showed north-east and north-west England were suffering the greatest disruption to services.
Services affected across England, Wales and Northern Ireland include:
One in three schools in Wales closed
A third of all households in Southampton will not have their rubbish collected this week
Flights cancelled at Northern Ireland's council-run City of Derry Airport
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery closed
Main libraries in Leicester and Leeds city centres closed
Torpoint to Plymouth ferry service cancelled
Hundreds of workers have also taken part in protest marches in cities including Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff and Newcastle.
Workers in Scotland are not on strike, but the Scottish secretary of Unison, Matt Smith, said a walkout was planned unless councils agreed to renegotiate their pay offer.
BBC News employment correspondent Martin Shankleman said the strikes were the biggest challenge yet to the government's tough line on public sector pay.

Road sweeper: £14,430
Teaching assistant: £15,530
Care worker: £17,088
Sports coach: £21,411
Librarian: £22,388
Building control officer: £29,840

Average basic salaries in councils in England and Wales vary greatly. Figures from the LGA show a cleaner earns £12,732 a year, a refuse collector £15,685, and a planning officer £27,561.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said more than 250,000 of its members earned less than the basic rate of £6 per hour.
"The pounds in local government workers' pockets are turning to pennies," he said.
"The cost of everyday essentials like milk, bread, petrol, gas and electricity are going through the roof - our members cannot afford to take another cut in their pay."
Unite national officer Peter Allenson said its members were "living on the breadline".
But one council worker in south-east England, who broke the picket line and did not want to be named, said the pay offer was good in the "current economic climate".
"In local government we are guaranteed a pay rise every year and over the last 10 years, it has varied between 2.5% and 3% - people in the private sector don't get anywhere near that."
The RPI inflation measure - often used as a benchmark in pay negotiations - is currently 4.6%.
Service cuts
Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers (LGE), which was created by the LGA in 2006, said: "Our greatest asset is our staff but we have simply reached the limit of what is affordable.
"We remain willing to talk to the unions on a constructive basis about the future employment conditions of our workforce but this week's strikes will not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer."
John Ransford, LGA deputy chief executive, said councils would have to put up council tax or cut services in order to meet the pay demand.