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Coventry council: Single status - poisoned chalice
HUNDREDS OF angry council workers lobbied Coventry council on 8 February. After a three-hour meeting, Tory councillors, by a majority of 25 to 23, voted to give council staff three months' notice of the imposition of so-called Single Status. This will see over 1,600 workers in the city suffer massive pay cuts of thousands of pounds a year - in one case, £10,000.
Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist addressed the rally, along with Socialist Party member Roger Bannister, a candidate for UNISON's general secretary.
Dave Nellist warned of the depth of feeling and sense of grievance over the council's plan to impose the pay cuts. He said: "3,500 workers have been illegally underpaid for years by this council. They deserve their pay rises - and compensation for the years they've been short-changed. But not at the expense of fellow workers, many of them poorly paid.
"Whilst 'Agenda for Change' in the NHS is a long way from being acceptable, there's a fundamental difference. The government has reportedly put in £3 billion to partially fund the changes. Local authorities have received nothing extra. The trade unions and local councils need to lobby for the necessary funds to make Single Status what workers originally hoped it would be - a levelling up of wages and conditions, not massive wage cuts.
"One worker, on £16,000 a year, is due to lose £3,000. He told me: 'If they're going to take £3,000 off me I'd rather invest it on the picket line and strike to force the council to change its mind'. I think there'll be thousands of others who will think the same."
In Coventry the anger against Single Status runs deep. The council's figures seem to show 'only' 1 in 6 of the workforce are 'losers' (or in the council's words 'protected' from downgrading by up to a five-year freeze in their wages, before savage cuts take place). But ballots on a broadly similar deal last October across the three affected trade unions, UNISON, TGWU and GMB, showed a 2 to 1 majority to reject the deal.
Now there have been immediate calls for ballots for official industrial action from UNISON and the TGWU.
On 22 February the council meets again to consider the Tories' first budget since they won control of the council last June. The package, which will be bitterly opposed by Socialist Party councillors and members, includes cuts of over £4 million in local services, threatens to axe over 50 jobs and bring in a 4% council tax rise.
An urgent campaign is needed for:
- A solid vote to reject imposition of Single Status.
- Levelling up of wages and conditions. Equal pay for work of equal value.
- Industrial action, with an initial one-day council-wide stoppage to unite all council workers against the Tories' plans.
- New layers of stewards and reps to be recruited and organised.
- The trade unions to expand their campaign with petitions and local public meetings, to build support for industrial action and to stop management from undermining their campaign.
- No cuts in jobs, wages and services! Lobby the council. Tuesday, 22 February, 5pm.
The single status deal
Single Status is an agreement reached in 1997 between local government employers and national trade unions, following a number of successful tribunal cases on equal pay.
In return for a promise that local authorities would equalise wages and conditions, trade unions gave a tacit undertaking not to promote individual cases at tribunals.
The whole 'deal' has turned out to be a poisoned chalice, as the Labour government has refused to give local authorities any financial support for the introduction of single status, leaving local authorities robbing one group of workers to pay another.
Socialist Party members in UNISON argued against the Single Status deal in the first place, pointing out its major fault - the lack of extra funding. Roger Bannister's programme in the UNISON general secretary election calls for continued opposition to Single Status and Agenda for Change.
In The Socialist 19 February 2005: