Birmingham City Council services are likely to be severely disrupted today after unions rejected a £3 million last-minute settlement of a pay dispute and agreed to go ahead with a 24-hour strike.
Five days of talks aimed at preventing the start of a protracted campaign of industrial action failed, with union leaders refusing to accept a pay and grading review under which more than 4,800 workers will suffer wage cuts.
The rejected package proposed giving the 10,000 staff who have not yet signed their new contracts of employment until the end of September to do so, allowing negotiations between the two sides to continue.
The council also offered to address union concerns by guaranteeing future salary increases under the new system, making changes to the structure for assimilating employees into the new grades, introducing a new appeals process and backdating pay rises to April 2007.
The total cost of the changes would be about £3 million on top of the £29 million a year the pay shake-up will cost to implement, according to cabinet equalities and human resources spokesman Alan Rudge.
He said the offer remained on the table despite the union rejection.
The extent of support among 20,000 union members for today's action remained unclear last night;
* fewer than 70 of Birmingham's 450 schools are expected to close, according to the council
* the Council House and civic buildings will remain open;
* markets, crematoria and cemeteries will open as usual along with most neighbourhood offices
* all libraries will close along with the Museum and Art Gallery
* there are unlikely to be any dustbin collections.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said he believed most workers did not want to strike, but were under pressure from union leaders in London who wanted a walk-out for political reasons.
He pointed to the fact that fewer than a quarter of the council union membership took part in strike ballots, while binmen and street cleaners last week overwhelmingly accepted an £8,000 pay rise to compensate them for the loss of bonus payments.
Union concerns about the validity of the binmen and street cleaners ballot, which was organised by the council, were dismissed as "nonsense" by Coun Rudge.
He said the pay and grading review, which had been forced on the council by the Government, would result in far more winners than losers. More than 35,000 employees will qualify for a pay rise or retain their existing salary.
Coun Rudge added: "It is totally unreasonable for the unions to suggest we can have a pay and grading review without winners and losers. They never mention the people who are going to gain money out of this.
"We are not helped by the fact that some people positively want to strike and they are doing everything they can to make people strike.
"If the unions are actually interested in what is fair and reasonable, we have put forward proposals to meet their concerns."