On Friday March 19, Notts County Unison announced the results of a ballot for industrial action short of strike against the changes. I interviewed branch organiser Mike Scott to try and understand the background to the action and what's proposed.
The Council has decided to attack long-standing staff terms and conditions, allegedly as a way of saving money. They say this will go into improving services. In fact, both of these statements are untrue: when Unison suggested other ways of saving money that didn't leave staff worse off, we were told they wanted to cut T&C's no matter what and they have announced major cuts to front-line services in any case.
Further, they have refused to increase Council Tax by even a small amount (average 50p per week), which would have raised millions of pounds to protect both conditions and services and have chosen to build up reserves rather than use the money. As a result of the proposed attacks on staff, many will lose three days holiday a year and those who are forced to provide a car as a condition of being employed will effectively be subsidising their employer by up to £1,500 a year. Our view is that if a car is an essential piece of equipment to do your job, this should be provided, in the same way
as a desk or a computer.
2) What sort of action are you planning?
We are planning a campaign of disruptive action, as from Monday. This will mean that members will refuse to use their own cars at work, to cover for people off sick, etc, to work more than their contracted hours or to do anything not mentioned in their job description.
3) What has been the response of members? Are you expecting strong support for the action?
Members have been very supportive and have been looking to take action since the crisis blew up at the end of October the ballot was delayed until the final decision was confirmed in February. The ballot had a 77% vote in favour on a good turnout
4) Can you explain how this relates to the recent County Council budget which saw services and jobs cut?
This is all part of the same scenario as the job and service cuts. Essentially, the government is starving Councils of funds while giving them more and more to do. Money can easily be found for Banks, Afghanistan, Trident and Identity Cards, but essential services lose out. The Tories have made things worse by threatening to sell off anything they can and reducing workers' conditions to the worst they can find anywhere in the country, while refusing to raise Council Tax which benefits the well-off most, eg. Kay Cutts, the Leader of the Council, who lives in a massive house in the top Council Tax band!
We are faced with a real threat to privatise and sell off everything that isn't nailed down. The sale of every Residential Home for older people has already been announced and public provision such as the National Water Sports Centre and Rufford Abbey is under threat. Cutts has said that if the private sector can do something, there's no need for the Council to do it. Unison feels that we are the only people trying to protect public services this is not just about people's holidays. Once services have gone, they're
gone for ever.
5) This is an indefinite action, do you have any thoughts about where this campaign goes next if the council remain intransigent?
We are hoping to force the Council to get into real negotiations with us, as opposed to just telling us what they're going to do. If the campaign isn't as effective as we hope, we will consider escalation.
6) Have you had support from other unions (e.g. GMB)?
All of the other Council trade unions have expressed their full support for our action, but GMB members voted against taking action and no other union balloted in the first place.
7) What can anyone reading this do to support the industrial action?
We would ask everyone living in Notts to write to see their local Councillor especially if they're Tory to express their opposition to all of these cuts.