17 December 2010
By Frank Urquhart The Scotsman
A CITY council is facing the prospect of all-out industrial action after delivering a shock ultimatum to staff – accept a 5 per cent pay cut or 900 employees will be sacked.
A mass meeting of all union members in Aberdeen City Council is expected to be held early next week to discuss plans for a concerted campaign of industrial action, including possible strikes, to fight proposals for the pay cut which would affect every member of staff earning more than £21,000 a year.
Outraged union leaders yesterday hit out at the ultimatum. Willie Young, the secretary of the opposition Labour group, said: “The political lunatics have finally taken over the asylum.”
There are also mounting fears that the threatened industrial action in Aberdeen will be only the first stage in a winter of discontent facing local authorities across Scotland as they battle to balance their depleted budgets.
The council, under SNP and Liberal Democrat control, is planning to shed the 900 jobs – a tenth of the workforce – as part of a series of budget cuts totalling £120 million over the next five years. The cash-strapped administration is demanding workers take a 5 per cent cut to fund an early retirement and voluntary redundancy scheme, which would avoid the need for compulsory redundancies.
Karen Davidson, the branch secretary of Unison, the biggest public-sector union, accused the administration of putting a “bullet to the head” of every worker in the council.
“This employer is the absolute pits and has shown nothing but contempt for the workforce. Every time you think they cannot stoop any lower, they kick their staff in the teeth again. Our members are totally opposed to this scheme and they are asking how soon they can be balloted for industrial action.
We are planning to organise a joint meeting with the other trade unions for next week, and we will get a firm steer from the membership about how far they are prepared to go. But our members are clearly absolutely disgusted and incensed.”
Ms Davidson, whose union has 2,000 members in the city council, said the trade unions had never been consulted or warned about the proposals.
“There is a notice on the council intranet saying that the entire workforce is to be consulted regarding the possibility of a 5 per cent reduction for staff earning over £21,000. It says that if the workforce agrees to this proposal the council will use the savings generated to fund a voluntary severance and early retirement scheme, with a view to avoiding compulsory redundancies.
If the workforce do not agree to this proposal the council will apply only compulsory redundancy arrangements.”
Tommy Campbell, regional officer for the Unite union, said: “It is a ridiculous suggestion. The councillors who supported this decision are politically bankrupt.”