The threat of protracted industrial action at Birmingham City Council appears to have been lifted after union officials said they were prepared to put a package of proposals to settle a bitter pay dispute to 20,000 workers.
Two weeks of intensive discussions between union leaders, council officials and cabinet human resources member Alan Rudge ended at 1pm today with both sides signing a provisional agreement setting out how the single status pay and grading review should be implemented.
Concessions approved by Coun Rudge will see the number of employees losing out under the changes reduced to about 1,400 out of 40,000 affected by the new system when a three-year pay protection period ends in March 2011.
The figure for losers stood at more than 3,000 when the unions began their campaign against the pay and grading review several months ago.
Staff set to have their salary cut by more than 10 per cent will be dealt with on a case by case basis in an attempt to find ways to cushion the blow.
It is understood that union officials regard the deal as a substantially improved offer but will put the package to the workforce with no recommendations either to accept or reject. However, Coun Rudge remains confident the package will be approved.
The deal would see the introduction of a more equitable pay banding structure, making it easier for employees to progress in their career, and the payment of one month’s salary in advance to staff transferring from weekly to monthly pay.
The salary advance will only have to be re-paid upon leaving the council’s employment - although workers with more than 10 years service can keep the extra month’s money.
The likelihood of a settlement will be seen as a major victory for Coun Rudge and the council’s ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
Council leaders had feared local authority services would be subjected to severe disruption in a series of escalating strikes in the run-up to the city elections on May 1.
But a 24-hour stoppage at the beginning of February was supported by less than half the council union membership, with many services operating as normal.
Unions agreed to suspend industrial action a fortnight ago on the eve of a second one day walkout.
Under the pay and grading review, designed to iron out wage inequalities between men and women and blue and white collar jobs, about 20,000 council employees will receive a wage rise. However, more than 500 workers stand to lose between £5,000 and £30,000 a year.
The proposed deal will be put to the workforce at a series of mass meetings at Villa Park tomorrow and at the Cocks Moor Woods leisure centre on Friday.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said he believed he could reduce the proportion of the workforce losing out under the pay and grading review to 3.5 per cent by the end of the protection period.
He added: "I have tried to be as caring and as practical as possible. No one will suffer unduly. I have consistently been honest with the unions and never misled them. I have always been open and frank about this.
"This is a very good package, not just for union members but for all council employees. It will enable us to progress further and to deliver better quality services."
He admitted the unions had managed to negotiate a better deal than was originally on the table, but insisted the changes were "things we were going to do in six months anyway".
Coun Rudge added: "This is a good day for local government and for the unions because they have been able to see the bigger picture as well as remaining principled. We will continue talks on the finer details but the unions are happy about the general principles.
"Everyone is a winner. the council has the flexibility to modernise and improve service delivery, while the unions have secured a great deal of the things they were very rightly concerned about."