Glasgow Unions raise spectre of industrial action

Gerry Braiden

18 Jan 2011

Thousands of council workers face reduced holiday entitlement, increased hours and an end to flexible working under new plans to force through further savings at Scotland’s largest authority.

Glasgow City Council said the changes to workers’ terms and conditions would save it £5 million over the next two years but insists it will stick to its position of no compulsory redundancies, with core pay and pensions untouched.

However, unions have raised the spectre of waves of industrial action throughout the spring and summer, also warning that sick pay and out-of-hours payments to emergency workers will be hit.

Around 18,000 workers will be affected by the plans, while 5000 teachers are subject to national agreements and thousands of other staff have been transferred to arm’s-length bodies in the past few years.

Union chiefs said members would take little comfort in the erosion of terms and conditions in exchange for no compulsories, especially against a backdrop of thousands of staff leaving in the next few years and those left behind taking up the slack.

In all, Glasgow is looking to save an extra £17.9m in the next financial year on top of almost £40m in cuts and savings agreed by the ruling Labour administration late last year. It now has a funding gap for 2011/12 of £58.5m.

The authority has blamed the Scottish Government for the additional cuts, claiming previous budgets were based on a funding reduction of 2.8% but it received a cut of 3.6%.

The move comes amid ongoing discussions nationally between the unions and Finance Secretary John Swinney after his Budget statement in November promised no public-sector redundancies in exchange for “more flexible” working.

Glasgow’s plans could be the first serious test of just how flexible workers and unions will be in exchange for some sort of job security.

The council has also raised the prospect of further job losses, on top of the 4000 leaving in the next three years, with £2m of savings expected from sharing services with seven other councils.

The Herald revealed last year that the Clyde Valley Review would require a combined loss of 1200 jobs from the eight councils involved.

Headteachers in some nurseries could be replaced with more generic managers, with charges in early years centres expected to rise by 10%. The council said it had ruled out nursery closures.

Maximum class sizes of 20 for S1 and S2 English and Maths will be scrapped, along with study centres for youngsters hosted by Celtic and Rangers.

The GMB’s Martin Doran said any move against conditions would be political suicide, claiming the union would mobilise against Labour in the local government elections in 2012.

He added: “There’s a lot of discontent on the horizon. We always knew that terms and conditions would be an issue but eroding them at a time when there’s going to be extra burdens on staff will not be tolerated.”

Brian Smith of Unison added: “Glasgow obviously wants people to swallow Tory and SNP cuts by accepting that they have to give up the terms and conditions they have fought for over the years with a vague promise of no compulsories.”

A council spokesman said:

Our staffing bill represents a substantial percentage of our total expenditure and the scale of the challenge we face is such that it is one place where we will need to find savings.

The administration is determined to avoid compulsory redundancies or a reduction in core pay, so we’ll need to look at other options.”

Council leader Gordon Matheson added: “We are having to make extra cuts because the Scottish Government has given us less money than it promised us.

No-one wants to implement these cuts, but we have been forced into this position.”

Herald Scotland

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