UNIONS are locked in a dispute with Labour-run Coventry City Council over proposals to rip up agreements which seek to support thousands of staff vulnerable to cuts.
It has emerged the council’s Labour leaders want to stop paying some council staff for acting as full-time union representatives.
Town hall unions in Coventry are united in opposition to the proposals, which they say go further than Tory government attacks and measures at Tory-run Warwickshire County Council.
In Feburary’s budget meeting, Coventry’s Labour leaders oppposed Tory opposition proposals to apply cuts to the trade unions.
Labour councillors said nothing about the proposals to voters when they were re-elected just two months ago.
Both unions and Labour councillors have long argued paid full-time union reps are crucial in bargaining arrangements between council management and staff, many of them low paid – from care workers, street cleaners and refuse workers, to youth workers and education staff.
Unions believe Labour leaders are now seeking to weaken them in order to pass on Tory government cuts to councils by ripping up staff terms and conditions, and implementing more job losses.
Richard Harty, of Unison, speaking on behalf of the unions in the dispute, said “We are dismayed that a Labour-controlled council would seek to go further than a Conservative government and more quickly.”
A steward who recently supported members said: “I couldn’t work without the support of our full time reps with their expertise and knowledge”.
Labour leaders have said the council’s funding from government since 2010 will be halved by 2017/8 – amounting to around £100million removed from the city.
Thousands of jobs have already been lost, and the council is under pressure to strip spending back to the minimum services which the council is legally obliged to provide.
Unions have argued the council should use millions of pounds of reserves initially to stave off the worst cuts – which are yet to come – while joining other councils and unions in a campaign of resistance against disproportionate government funding cuts to local authorities.
Nearly all community services in Coventry potentially now face the cuts axe under proposals mooted by the Labour council – from children’s centres and youth clubs, to libraries and community centres.
Unions also accuse the council of rushing a so-called “consultation” process on the proposed cut to the unions ‘facilities time’ budget, in order to remove experienced and trained union reps by next month.
Options available to the union could include legal challenge and balloting for strike action, or action short of a strike.
A joint statement from the unions states: “We are assuming that this is being done to clear the way of any opposition to attack
council workers terms and conditions.
“Today it is the trade union reps. Tomorrow it’s the council workers.
“We need more people to join a trades union to show support for our cause and defend workers’ rights.”
The council argues the current collective agreements with the unions were made ten years ago in the interests of both the council and its workers, but revisions are needed in the current financial climate of largescale job cuts.
It is unclear how many reps the wide-ranging proposals would remove in total, but full-time accredited reps and non-school based covenors could be cut by a third to seven.
The poposals also include reducing the time spent by reps on union duties, and handing down some responsibilities to lower level union reps.
The unions claim the council is planning to act outside its own procedures by effectively consulting on potential redundancies.
Unions involved in the dispute include UNISON, UNITE, teachers’ unions NASUWT and NUT, the Community and Youth Workers’ Union (CYWU) and ATL, the education union.