Almost 26,000 workers at Birmingham City Council have been put under threat of possible redundancy.
The local authority’s entire non-schools staff – covering everyone from dustmen and street sweepers to clerks and cleaners – have been sent formal legal notices warning their contracts of employment were to be changed and cuts in pay and conditions imposed.
The unprecedented action has been taken by the UK’s largest local authority, which expects to face Government spending cuts of £330 million.
Employees began receiving formal letters from city chief executive Stephen Hughes on Thursday.
The Section 188 notices, issued to 25,837 employees under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, make it clear that anyone refusing to accept new contracts will be fired without compensation.
Shortly after issuing the notices, Mr Hughes said he expected about 30 per cent of administrative jobs to be lost by 2014.
But he made no mention of the Section 188 notice when addressing a scrutiny committee.
The move came as a shock to most councillors when details began to emerge.
Commenting on the requirement to save £330 million, Mr Hughes said: “Tinkering round the edges doesn’t work in this context.
“We have to work out a plan and be ruthless in implementing it.”
Last week, the chief executive told staff that no job at the council was safe.
Mr Hughes said the council remained committed to avoid compulsory redundancies if possible. The notice was a legal requirement and did not necessarily mean that thousands of staff would be sacked.
However, the chief executive added: “If individual agreement to any cabinet-approved proposals cannot be reached, then dismissal and re-engagement may be unavoidable.”
He added that staff refusing to accept job changes would have their contracts ripped up and new ones imposed.
If they refused to accept the new terms and conditions, they would be fired with three months’ pay.
Mr Hughes added: “The council has decided to issue the notice at this time and in this way to be as transparent as possible and to try to ensure effective and meaningful consultation.
“It is our intention to try to reduce the impact of any potential changes within the workplace and we hope that sharing the proposals at this stage will help everyone involved.”
Permission for the notice to be issued was given by council leader Mike Whitby and cabinet human resources member Alan Rudge.
Opposition Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore described the decision as “appalling”.
Sir Albert added: “Staff morale is already at an all time low, as was made clear by a survey showing that only 17 per cent of employees have any confidence in the chief executive and senior directors.
“This will cause the spirits of the workforce to take a further nose-dive.”
Sir Albert said he did not believe any meaningful consultation would take place with the unions.
He said: “The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition running Birmingham has obviously decided what it is going to do, and that involves getting rid of thousands of council jobs. It is a very sad day for this city.”