Brittle industrial relations at Birmingham City Council hit a new low last night after a union representing 4,500 workers warned its members were ready to walk out in an increasingly bitter pay row.
The GMB union, whose members include teaching assistants, school caretakers, kitchen staff and office cleaners, accused the council's Tory-Lib Dem coalition of refusing to discuss seriously the implications of Single Status - which could see hundreds of workers lose as much as #10,000 a year in bonus payments.
As reported in the Birmingham Post last week, council leaders have set a deadline of April 1 2007 to introduce Single Status, which seeks to implement new salary structures based on equal pay for equal work.
The shake-up would deliver significant wage rises to female employees in poorly paid jobs. But several thousand male workers, who currently qualify for hefty weekly bonuses, face having their pay cut.
GMB convenors representing 4,500 council employees held the second of five mass meetings last night.
More than 150 workers at the first meeting on Monday voted unanimously to ballot for industrial action if negotiations with the council proved unsuccessful.
Dominic Hinks, GMB regional organiser for Birmingham and the West Midlands, said the membership was angry and frustrated. All attempts to hold meaningful talks with the employers had failed, he claimed. "To be frank, the workforce is pretty pee'd off," he added. "Anyone would be fed up if they stood to have their pay cut, particularly when they don't earn a great deal in the first place."
The council is midway through a job evaluation exercise, which seeks to establish fair wages for all employees.
But in a time-saving ploy the process was switched from personal interviews with workers to "desk top exercises" under which similar jobs are compared and evaluated.
Mr Hinks said: "They are not talking to people. It is totally unfair that half of the evaluation has been carried out face to face and the rest is being done on a computer. If they don't get the job evaluation right, then people stand to lose a lot of money.
"We want to get into some meaningful negotiations, we want guarantees about pay protection and the situation regarding bonuses. But the council seems to want to sidetrack the unions and is refusing to talk.
"The members are angry and they have shown the council it has to negotiate and reach agreement with the GMB to avoid serious disruption in the city. There could be real problems in 2007."
Council leaders insist they will implement Single Status next year, with or without union agreement.
A council spokesman said: "The council has, and will continue, to engage with the trade unions throughout the pay and grading review exercise.
"Discussions with the unions are continuing."
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