The wages scandal rocking Birmingham City Council took a new twist last night as it emerged a second highly-paid worker at the street lighting depot, earning nearly #60,000, is also a union official.
John Poole joins his Amicus colleague Ian Smith at the top of salary sheet for the depot's 51 workers. In common with Mr Smith, Mr Poole is also officially employed as a street light and traffic light repairer. In reality, all of Mr Poole's time has been spent on union business since Mr Smith went on sick leave a year ago.
The Post can also reveal that workers at the council's Spring Lane street lighting depot in Erdington walked out on an unofficial strike briefly on Tuesday, in protest at what they said was abuse from members of the public who had read about the bonus payments. They returned to work after about three hours.
And in a further disclosure bound to embarrass council leaders, it was confirmed that the local authority has no written contracts setting out the rights or duties of trade union officials. No system exists to specify what the union reps should be doing, monitoring arrangements or how much they should be paid.
Mr Poole's basic salary is #30,728. He also received guaranteed overtime payments of #12,879 and a #15,587 stand-by payment in 2005/06.
A third union rep at the Spring Lane depot in Erdington, Martin Clift, an electrician, spends half of his time on union business and was paid a total of #40,603 last year. Mr Clift is a Transport & General Workers' Union official.
The three convenors are among 15 workers out of 140 employed at the street lighting and highways direct labour organisations to be paid in excess of #50,000 a year. The Direct Labour Organisation's total wage bill is #2 million.
In most cases, basic salaries are more than doubled by overtime and bonus payments.
One senior city councillor, who refused to be named, said: "This is extraordinary, It's an absolute mess.
"We are giving these people free offices, stationery and phones and we don't even have a contract with them."
Seven of the 92 workers at the highways DLO were paid more than #50,000, with the highest earner receiving #60,524. Their job descriptions are "roadworker".
Alan Rudge, the city council cabinet member for equalities and human resources, who has vowed to end the bonus system by April 1 next year, remains determined to keep to the timetable.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey), who has held the cabinet position since June 2004, said he was shocked when he found out what had been happening at the DLOs. He promised "tough action" to introduce a new fair and equal pay system.
Asked to comment on the two Amicus union officials’ salaries, Coun Rudge said: "It is amazing. It's the same level as a major second tier council officer with huge responsibilities. It is more than the leader of the council earns."
He said most of the bonus agreements dated from ten to 15 years ago, when Labour ran the council.
Coun Rudge added: "I don't know how they agreed to these. None of the unions has ever said to me that this is correct. They are as embarrassed as anyone else. My aim is to remove these anomalies but you can't just suddenly say to someone who has been earning ‘X’ amount for years, that's it. You have to work out a protection strategy and discuss it. You have to go through the proper channels."
A former Labour councillor who tried to reform the DLO wages system ten years ago said last night that his attempts were rebuffed by party leaders in Birmingham. "The veils of protection that came down from on high were incredible," he added.