THE CONSERVATIVE / LIB DEM administration on East Dunbartonshire council decided to reduce the hard fought- for terms and conditions of their workers, all in the name of “balancing the budget”. This resulted in a four-day period of consecutive strike action, in early July, by a united trade union membership comprising Unison, Unite and the GMB.
The council did not initially back down on the imposition of a reduction in members’ terms and conditions, which included cutting back on the amount of annual leave by three days and a detrimental change in the time period when members can claim for unsocial hours payments. The council also intended to scrap enhanced overtime payments and reduce the level of redundancy entitlement. This may pave the way towards possible compulsory redundancies - something which the previous SNP administration had agreed was not on the table. This is raising legitimate concerns among staff that they will be cast onto the unemployment scrapheap.
At a recent mass meeting of the council workforce over 500 members attended and an overwhelming majority of more than 90% of the turnout voted against the council.
The council attempted to use divisive tactics to weaken the resolve of members through the spreading of misinformation within the community. However the council workers stood firm. During the four day period of strikes, at the forefront of members’ minds was the need to stand up to the council’s attempts to make themselves and their families pay the price for what is a political choice by the council - to implement budget cutbacks and attacks on the workforce’s terms and conditions, requiring members to work longer for less pay, and with reduced redundancy entitlement.
The four day period of strike action received the full support of members. One thing was clear - their determination to escalate and widen the scope of industrial action if necessary, with the possibility of the involvement of other local authorities in a campaign of co-ordinated action.
This strike raises fundamental issues of a political nature for administrations - Labour and some SNP ones too – who publicly pay lip service to supporting the strikes and opposing cuts to essential services but who, when in a position of control, are prepared to implement the government’s agenda of council cuts and austerity measures. Labour and SNP councils respond that they are unwilling participants - to mounting anger and frustration.
This action should serve as an example of what a small local authority workforce can achieve if pushed too far. But the issues which led to this action need to be tackled at a wider level in the form of a united campaign, preferably co-ordinated across the public sector in Scotland.
Lessons can be learned from the eventual success of the historic anti-poll tax campaign undertaken in previous years, which received wide community involvement and support. It is clear that the council’s Con/Dem coalition is anti-trade union in its whole approach to this dispute.
However in this case it may have badly underestimated the depth of members’ anger and frustration over cutbacks and attacks on their terms and conditions.
The dispute continues but the workers have already gained a partial victory as the employers have climbed down by indicating that they're prepared to reverse the cuts to staff terms and conditions involving overtime allowances, annual leave and the length of the working day, which will benefit staff financially in real terms. However, the council have still dug their heels in over redundancy entitlement, wanting to reduce it from up to ten added years down to 3.5, and compensation from 66 weeks down to 45 weeks, with a clawback mechanism. The unions had been prepared to recommend acceptance of five added years but the employers refused this compromise.
An overwhelming majority of union members voted to support union recommendations in the consultative ballot, which were to:
- accept the improved terms and conditions;
- reject the reductions in their redundancy packages;
- agree to further potential industrial action;
- to continue to work to rule, indefinitely.
The council must now be in no doubt as to the strength of feeling of workers, reflected in the result of this consultative ballot, and of their determination to fight on until they achieve a decisive victory in this long running dispute.
Solidarity with the East Dunbartonshire council workers!