Scotland: councils plan to squeeze their workforce

Submitted by Matthew on 26 January, 2011 - 11:10

Scottish councils are lining up not just to cut jobs and services but also to attack the terms and conditions of their workforces.

Over the next two years Glasgow City Council plans to axe at least 3,500 jobs and cut its spending by £100m, on top of nearly £40m cut in the current financial year. Additional job losses are likely when Glasgow “pools” some of its departments with neighbouring councils.

Further “savings” are to be made by attacks on its workforce’s terms and conditions: cuts in annual leave entitlements, longer working day, more rigorous absence management policy, end to flexible working patterns, and cuts in sick pay and out-of-hours payments.

Although the city’s teachers are covered by a national agreement on pay and terms and conditions, Glasgow is intending to target them as well — effectively putting an end to national pay bargaining.

Edinburgh City Council wants to axe 1,500 jobs over the next two years. East Renfrewshire is cutting 500 jobs over three years. South Lanarkshire wants to scrap 400 jobs. Dundee is aiming at 200 voluntary redundancies. East Ayrshire is axing 270 posts, including 170 compulsory redundancies.

North Lanarkshire is proposing a series of changes for the worse to staff contracts. Renfrewshire is cutting back on overtime pay. Aberdeen City Council wants employees on more than £21,000 a year to accept a 5% pay cut. And East Dunbartonshire has put nearly 200 staff on 90 days notice in order to force through changes to their contracts.

Other local authorities are considering moving some staff onto a four-day working week, and changing the contracts of non-teaching staff in schools from 52 weeks a year to term-time only. Renfrewshire has reduced teaching time by teachers by two and a half hours a week, with the gap filled by untrained council staff who will give talks promoting healthy lifestyles.

Activists in the public sector unions are arguing the need to step up anti-cuts campaigning and organise industrial action to stop the cuts.

So far, though, the union response has not gone beyond verbal denunciations, staging last October’s demonstration in Edinburgh, and mobilising for the TUC demonstration in London in March.

Scottish Unison, which has a policy of approaching other unions to organise a one-day public sector strike in Scotland, has yet to initiate strike ballots. Its policy that councils set no-cuts budgets has remained a dead letter as well.

Union leaders are making excuses to justify their inertia. The mood is not there. The anti-union laws make co-ordinated strike action too difficult. Pensions rather than cuts is the big issue. Avoiding compulsory redundancies is good enough. Unions cannot have a separate strategy in Scotland. Lost strike ballots would be a victory for the government.

It is one thing to make an honest assessment that there is only a limited mood for action and then work out what kind of campaign is needed to change that. It is something different to make impressionistic judgements about the mood and then use them as a rationalisation for doing nothing.

Moreover, the pace of conflict is likely to escalate rapidly as the cuts begin to hit home.

This makes a good turnout — both in terms of numbers and what it represents — all the more important for the Scottish anti-cuts conference in Glasgow on 29 January.

Initiated by the “Defend Glasgow Services” campaign, it aims to launch a Scottish-wide anti-cuts alliance which advocates: opposition to all cuts; support for industrial action against cuts; and councils and the Scottish Parliament to set no-cuts needs budgets.

“No cuts! No privatisation!” – 29 January, assemble 11.30am, George Square, Glasgow

Anti-cuts conference:
1.30-4pm, Unison offices,
18 Albion Street, Glasgow

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