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Union fury over council plan to cut sick pay and extend working week

Union fury over council plan to cut sick pay and extend working week

🕔11.Dec 2015

Staff at Birmingham city council won’t get sick pay for the first three days of illness under controversial cost-cutting plans put forward by the authority’s Labour leadership.

It’s also proposed to reduce sick pay to a maximum of three months at the full rate, followed by three months half-pay.

All employees have been told they won’t get annual pay increments for three years, and there are also plans to increase the basic working week from 36.5 hours to 37 hours.

The council hopes to save £34 million a year through the changes and is consulting with the unions.

Other proposals include:

  • Remove subsistence expenses for employees away on business
  • Reduce Night Working Payments. Change the period over which time and a third is paid from 8pm – 6am to 10pm – 6am.
  • Staff to pay for Disclosure and Barring (DBS) annual checks. The cost is £13 per year.
  • Payments to staff on “stand by” duty will be cut and flexi-time schemes scrapped.

The changes were set out in broad detail in the 2016-17 budget consultation papers. But the detail that has now emerged has angered union leaders who say the low-paid workers and part-time staff will be hit particularly badly.

It seems certain that the planned changes, due to come into effect in 2017, will prove the first major test for the new city council leader John Clancy, who took over on December 1. The chances of industrial action are high if he and his administration doesn’t back down, or at least make changes during the negotiating period.

The council has fought for years to reduce workforce sickness rates, with little success.

Average absenteeism has rarely fallen below nine days a year, costing the council an estimated £30-£40 million in sick pay and hiring agency staff to cover.

Unison, the main council union, has told its members some of the changes proposed go against national agreements between the unions and local government leaders.

In a letter to members, Unison said:

The city has proposed a set of cuts to our contractual terms and conditions, which it wants to take effect from April 2017.

That means they will negotiate about these proposals over the next year and introduce a new contract from April 2017.

Birmingham has for decades had a local agreement to have a 36.5 hour week. This change would have two effects – full time workers would have to work an extra half hour per week; and part time workers would have their hourly pay reduced, making an estimated 1.4 per cent cut in pay for thousands of part-time staff, who are mainly low paid women workers.

There are also plans to review pay and grading for chief officers.

The unions have been given a breakdown of where the planned 1,218 job losses at the council will fall. Most of the posts to go – 359 – will be in specialist care services, reducing the workforce by 30 per cent.

More than 100 jobs are to go in fleet and waste management, and 48 school crossing patrol ‘lollipop’ wardens are set to lose their jobs.

A union spokesperson said:

UNISON is extremely concerned that yet again the council is cutting the pay, terms and conditions of its staff. This will particularly impact on low paid staff, disabled members and those whose health has been damaged by working conditions in the city council itself.

We will be conducting widespread consultation and engagement with our members and would want to lead a campaign to defend our terms and conditions.

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