County council making "contingency plans" as strike threat draws closer

10:12am Thursday 1st May 2014

Exclusive By Tom Edwards

CONTINGENCY measures are being drawn up at Worcestershire County Council in case shock strike action takes place this summer.

Your Worcester News can reveal how bosses at County Hall have held emergency talks over how to handle a potentially crippling walk-out.

It came as union members overwhelmingly rejected a one per cent pay rise, calling the offer "insulting".

Unite and Unison, the two biggest local government unions, are now holding a fresh ballot in June to ask council workers if they want to hold a co-ordinated strike across the country.

The county council says it wants to protect essential services "as far as possible" if the strike becomes reality.

On Wednesday 90 per cent of union members, including those employed by the county council, rejected the pay deal.

A spokesman for the county council said: "Worcestershire County Council is aware that Unison have announced details of their industrial action ballot.

"We are currently monitoring the situation and making contingency plans to minimise disruption and protect essential services as far as possible in the event that Unison members vote in favour of industrial action."

It comes at a time when the council is battling with unprecedented budget cuts, and needs to slash £100 million from spending over the next four years.

Around 1,500 jobs are expected to be cut by then, with as many services as possible commissioned to outside providers.

That would leave just 2,000 in-house staff employed by the county council, a record low.

The next full council meeting on Thursday, May 15 will see all 56 politicians hold a debate over the authority's new planned operating model.

The unions, which want to see services stay in-house, say their immediate focus is getting better pay deals, claiming some workers are in "poverty". Staff at the county council were handed a one per cent rise in 2013, and before last year had to endure four years of freezes.

Fiona Farmer, from Unite, said: "Our members have decisively rejected the insulting pay offer of one per cent and sends a very strong message to local government employers that they need to increase their offer.

"Poverty pay is becoming endemic across local councils and we are seeking a £1 an hour increase across the board for local government workers.”

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