Angry workers of South Ribble Council showed a united front last week as they protested against changes made to their redundancy rights.
The public gallery at Leyland’s Civic Centre was full on Wednesday, with many members of staff having to stand during the full council meeting because there was not enough seating for the unexpected overload.
Councillors were asked to vote on a change to the council’s redundancy policy, which would mean that the policy which has been in place since 2007 – to pay an employee a multiplier of the statutory minimum by 2.2 weeks pay – would be amended to reduce this to 1.6 weeks.
A row erupted between political parties with the Labour group accusing the Conservative-lead council of having ‘an absolute disregard and disrespect’ for its workers.
Concerns were raised that the changes meant redundancies were in the pipeline, although this was strongly denied by the Tories.
Labour councillor Mick Titherington blasted the Conservatives for being ‘worse than Thatcher’ and said: “When you’re not cutting their salaries, when you’re not asking them to do more for less, you’re sacking them.”
He admitted that a last-minute amendment from the Conservatives, which saw the initial proposal of one week increased to 1.6 weeks, did ‘soften the blow’, but added: “It’s plain for everyone to see, there is an absolute disregard and disrespect for the public sector workers.”
Staff in the public gallery applauded after his speech, but the Conservative’s cabinet member for finance, Coun Stephen Robinson, said it was ‘utterly untrue’ that the council had cut pay and hours, and described Coun Titherington’s outburst as a ‘nonsensical rant’.
Labour leader Matthew Tomlinson said: “I congratulate UNISON for getting involved and coming to some sort of compromise, but we’re still not entirely happy.
“We still deplore the reason we’re here, and our argument is that there has been an unseemly rush to butcher redundancy payments.
“You’re not looking after our staff.”
Council leader Margaret Smith explained that only 20 members of staff had left the council in the last three years because of redundancy.
She added: “UNISON wanted to know why we are doing this, and if it means there are a number of redundancies in the near future.
“I explained that we felt now was an opportune time to review the redundancy policy, because we were doing our annual review of the pay policy.
“We are mindful of the financial constraints we are facing, and we need to plan ahead and not just focus on the here and now.
“Redundancies are not around the corner though. I can assure UNISON that we do not have a hidden agenda.”
Coun Robinson added: “Our success over the last six years has been built on our staff, and our willingness to take difficult decisions when necessary.
“We are bringing our redundancy policy in line with all other councils in Lancashire, bar three, but having listened to UNISON, we have offered an amendment.”
Coun Paul Foster, deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, argued: “One redundancy is one too many. I’m fed up of hearing about what other councils are doing – we are responsible for South Ribble, and just because others are doing this doesn’t mean we have to.
“This council prides itself on being head and shoulders above the rest.”
He added: “A redundancy is someone losing their job, their livelihood. People are very uneasy about this.”
Alison Hardman, a member of staff who has worked at the council for 21 years, said to the leader: “You’ve said there has been very few redundancies and I hope this continues.
“But if there are so few cases, I don’t understand what will be achieved by penalising the minority of colleagues this will affect.”
The change was passed on a vote of 30 to 21, and will take effect from February 23.
It will be in place for a period of 12 months, and will go down to one week from February next year.