Swansea Council Workers Meet to Oppose Cuts
8th February 2011Hundreds of local authority members of GMB, UCATT, UNISON and UNITE attended meetings in Swansea today. The Council has put forward a raft of 30+ measures aimed at reducing costs at the expense of our members' living standards and the large attendances demonstrate the anger that exists.
Highlights from this long list include:
- Reducing annual leave entitlement to the statutory minimum of 28 days, including all bank holidays and any other closure days; for many members this would mean the loss of 14 days' leave a year.
- Reducing sick leave entitlement and paying no sick pay at all for the first 3 days of any sickness.
- Doing away with all unsocial hours, shift and weekend working allowances, as well as bonus schemes.
The meeting highlighted important events coming up, including a lobby of the full council meeting to set the budget on 28th February, the demonstration in Cardiff against the Tory/Liberal Democrat conferences and the TUC London demonstration on March 26th.
The message from the top table was that the unions will not discuss conditions covered by Part 2 of the national agreement (green book). This is to be welcomed but a lot of the lowest paid members stand to lose a large percentage of their income if the unions concede on the allowances covered by Part 3 of the agreement and on these terms there will be negotiation. These workers need the assurance that all cuts in their terms and conditions will be opposed.
The Memorandum Of Understanding, a document agreed between the joint trade unions and the 22 local authorities in Wales, was held up as in some way providing protection for local authority workers. The fact that Swansea can sign up to it while still insisting that they will proceed with these cuts shows what that document is worth. It certainly hasn't protected workers in (Labour) Neath & Port Talbot where workers have now suffered a 2% pay cut and Rhondda Cynon Taff (also Labour), where the entire workforce has until February 18th to sign up reduced terms and conditions or face the sack.
What the meeting did not do was seriously prepare the members of the 4 unions present for coordinated industrial action, which is probably the only thing that will force the employers to retreat on the majority these issues. There was a suggestion that "somewhere down the line it might be necessary to draw a line in the sand and ask members whether they want to refuse to cross it", which is the most round-about way of warning that strike action may be necessary I've ever heard!
Even if the unions gave the council every measure they are asking for it would not be enough of a saving to balance the books and they would still come back for our members' jobs, if not this year then next. We also have to prepare for the likelihood of them trying to impose these changes when they don't get what they want from negotiation. A vote for strike action against these cuts can not be taken for granted, as the vote to accept a 2% pay cut in Neath & Port Talbot shows but to fail to resist these attacks would be taken as a sign of weakness and would invite further cuts in the near future. If local authority workers take a public fighting stance they can draw on support from the entire community that will build a campaign to defeat these attacks and protect all jobs and services.
Ronnie Job, Swansea UNISON (in a personal capacity)