The spectre of a winter of discontent hung over Birmingham yesterday as it emerged a bonus scheme for local authority manual workers is to be axed.
Concerns were raised that thousands of roadworkers, rubbish collectors and grave diggers could strike over pay in the next few months.
According to a leading city councillor and former long-serving trade union leader, unskilled manual workers are thought to be considering industrial action over plans to scrap a complex system of bonuses and overtime payments, which allow some Birmingham City Council road-workers to earn more than #1,000 a week.
Under the intricate payment package, unskilled manual workers take home almost three times as much as social workers.
The big cash extras also mean that workers responsible for clearing and maintaining gulleys - and a staff member described as a bollard cleaner - can more than double their basic pay to earn #36,000 per year. That includes stand-by payments of #4,500 in case a gully or bollard needs a late-night clean-up.
In a rare anomaly, a top union official took #91,000, including #15,000 in stand-by payments - more than Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby's #67,000 pay.
Last night Alan Rudge, the cabinet member for equalities and human resources, told The Birmingham Post that the "extraordinary" salary anomalies would be wiped out within six months, pledging to introduce fairer pay scales for the council's 40,000 nonteaching staff from April 1 next year.
However, Coun Peter Kane, the opposition Labour Group's shadow member for equalities, said workers felt "incredulous" that their bonus payments could be reformed.
Coun Kane (Lab Kingstanding), Transport and General Workers Union Industrial Officer from 1979-2001, said he expected union officials would launch a legal challenge against the council.
"I would expect that they would go to the High Court to attempt to overturn the decision," he said. "But if the council were to implement these proposals, I would not rule out the threat of industrial action. I am hoping this kind of Armageddon situation could be avoided. But the workers and unions are incredulous that the management are considering changing the bonus payments."
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said most people would think it incredible that wage deals approved by the council as long as 15 years ago made it possible for workers who paint white lines on the roads to earn up to #53,000 a year.
Coun Rudge was speaking after a council pay survey highlighted the ease with which many manual workers earn more than supposedly better-qualified white collar colleagues through skilful manipulation of the bonus system.
He is rolling out reforms to introduce Single Status - the Government-approved pay system for the public sector which seeks to end the distinction between white and blue collar jobs and ensure that all employees are paid equally for the work they carry out.
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