UNIONS ramped up the pressure on council chiefs in Southampton with a mass show of strength ahead of crunch talks over staff pay cuts.
Hundreds of angry council workers marched through the city in a noisy demonstration demanding Tory council leaders “stuff their pay cuts”.
Union leaders vowed to continue crippling industrial action in the city – now in its fourth week – unless notices threatening workers with the sack are ripped up.
Make-or-break talks through mediation service ACAS are planned for Thursday but the council refuses to risk its planned budget savings by withdrawing its dismissal notices until any alternative deal is reached.
The trade union demonstration was billed as the largest in the south in decades and union leaders hailed it as an “excellent turnout”, estimating between 700 and 1,000 took part in the march through the city centre.
Council workers waving banners and placards attacking Tory council leader Councillor Royston Smith were joined by striking hospital cleaners, and trade unionists from Portsmouth, Newbury and the Isle of Wight.
Some residents muttered their frustration at the demonstrators over the piles of rubbish across the city.
Unite regional organiser Ian Woodland issued an ultimatum to the council saying: “You suspend the sackings today and we will consider suspending our industrial action.”
Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker added: “We hope to make progress but if we don’t the trade unions will be meeting on Friday and calling further industrial action. The new contracts are due to come in on July 11 so we’ve got about three weeks to stop the council cutting radically the pay of our members.”
However it was still unclear last night how either side will compromise to bring an end to the dispute.
Cllr Smith insists he would rather protect 400 workers from further lay-offs by sharing pay cuts among staff.
He said he had cleared the whole day for the talks but said the unions had to negotiate after rejecting four revised proposals from the council.
The council has issued 90-day dismissal notices to staff threatening them with the sack if they do not sign up to new contracts by July 11 cutting pay by between two and 5.5 per cent, depending on earnings.
Street cleaners yesterday joined bin men, parking wardens and Itchen Bridge toll collectors in a walkout of up to 225 council workers. The wardens and toll collectors will return to work today after stoppages that have hit council coffers by more than £100,000.