Council strike threat

IAN CLARKE A strike which could hit services to tens of thousands of Norfolk people remains on course as union officials prepare to send out ballot papers to members.

IAN CLARKE

A strike which could hit services to tens of thousands of Norfolk people remains on course as union officials prepare to send out ballot papers to members.

Unison and Breckland Council have been unable to reach agreement over a pay claim for more than 300 staff.

Tensions escalated as council chiefs issued figures claiming residents would have to fork out an extra £1.73m over the next six years to fund a full pay claim.

Unison branded it as “scaremongering” and has now accused the management of “intransigence.”

The union will be sending ballot papers to members from tomorrow and the ballot will close at noon on June 4.

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Action could start on June 11.

Breckland has offered a 3pc “cost of living" increase over 18 months backdated to last October while Unison has demanded 6pc.

The council says that with many staff getting increments this year they could get a total of 6pc and that would be 9pc if the Unison claim was agreed.

There are also disagreements over the reward scheme which replaces the traditional increments with rises for high performers.

Unison regional organiser Sasha Pearce said the union had tried “very hard to reach a sensible agreement” on the local pay award for Breckland staff and was now being forced to take the “serious step” of balloting for strike action.

“We believe the council could afford to pay a reasonable award of 5pc or 6pc for the 18 months in question. Unfortunately, due to the intransigence of the senior managers and elected members, they have still not made a decent offer to staff, holding their line of offering just 3pc for the whole 18 months to April 2008.”

She said the offer amounted to an effective pay cut.

Breckland chief executive Keith Davis said: “The cost of living issue is incredibly important to our employees. We are satisfied that Unison is conducting the ballot properly and Breckland employees are entitled to vote for industrial action.

“However, we hope that we will be able to reach an agreement without such drastic action being taken. We are continuing to negotiate with Unison on the 3pc pay offer which - as we've said before - is in line with other public sector increases.”

Mr Davis added: “I think it's also worth repeating how fantastic Breckland Council employees are - the dedication they've shown during the recent elections is testament to this - and we hope to arrive at a solution that is satisfactory both to the authority and our employees.”

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