More than two weeks have passed since union officials representing 20,000 Birmingham City Council employees agreed to put a revised management offer in the long-running pay and grading dispute to their members.
It is significant that the promise has not been honoured, apart from requests for a show of hands at politically-charged workplace meetings. The unions dare not hold a postal ballot because they suspect that the rank-and-file membership has had enough of industrial action and would probably vote to accept the latest offer on the table. The majority of workers - low-paid women in particular - will actually qualify for a pay rise under the new grading system, an inconvenient truth that is bound to make it difficult to stir up mass discontent among the workforce.
So the union bosses rely on votes taken at what they refer to as mass meetings, but which were attended by less than 10 per cent of the total membership, in an attempt to get backing for more strikes next month. If anyone thinks that the rantings of a few hot-heads and political activists is in any way indicative of solid support for protracted industrial action, they are kidding only themselves.
If they stopped to think about it and could bear to leave their prejudices to one side, the union negotiators might be inclined to accept that they have been extremely successful in securing a better deal for their members than was the case two or three months ago. The number of employees losing money at the end of a three-year protection period has been cut to 3.5 per cent of the total workforce, while the figure for gainers under the new system has been increased to 48 per cent.
It is a reasonable offer under the circumstances and far more favourable to employees than a number of single status pay and grading reviews approved by other Midland councils. Indeed, one of the characteristics that has marked out Birmingham's approach to this has been the willingness of human resources cabinet member Alan Rudge to hold exhaustive negotiations in an attempt to reach a settlement agreeable to both sides.
But the time for talking must surely be at an end. The new contracts will be in place next Monday, if Coun Rudge holds his nerve, and the ball will be firmly back with the unions. A postal ballot is inevitable, but it should be sooner rather than later.