Surrey County Council union leaders vow to fight any pay cut attempt

Surrey County Council union leaders have moved to reassure members they will “fight vehemently” against any attempts to cut workers’ wages or terms of conditions ahead of significant budget cuts.

Personnel Today reported earlier this week the authority was negotiating with unions on how to “cut back” a huge pay bill to its 29,000 employees, as part of several measures to save £119m over the next four years.

Deputy head of HR Matthew Baker told the magazine radical solutions on pay were needed, although he insisted the detrimental impact on staff would be kept to a minimum. He refused to go into further details ahead of the union talks, which will continue in January.

But Paul Couchman, lead staff-side negotiator and branch secretary of Unison, the main union at Surrey County Council, said: “If Surrey County Council is planning to cut our members’ pay, or terms and conditions of work, then they haven’t told us – yet.”

He added: “We will fight vehemently against any attempt to cut wages, terms and conditions of our members, using whatever means necessary – including industrial action”.

Couchman said two pay meetings had taken place so far, where the union presented a four-year pay claim at the first meeting, and management responded verbally to some of the proposals at the second meeting.

The four year pay claim asked for a 2.5% pay rise next year, 3.5% in 2011, and 4.5% the following year. Workers’ pay was frozen in 2009.

Unison is awaiting a formal written response prior to the next meeting, due to take place on 7 January.

Couchman said: “We do not accept that our members, who carry out the vital services we all rely on in our schools, in social care, on the roads, in libraries and so on, should have to pay for an economic mess caused by politicians and wealthy bankers.”

During the previous interview with Personnel Today, Baker stressed that the council was working hard to make efficiency savings in several areas, such as cutting overtime arrangements and freezing staff pay this year, in anticipation of the budget cuts.

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