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Labour pledges to 'protect council jobs' in Southampton

Labour pledges to 'protect council jobs' in Southampton

Striking council staff in Southampton last year

Striking council staff in Southampton last year

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Politics and business reporter

THEY will restore cut pay to thousands of council staff and protect them from any more lay-offs.

That’s the pledge from the Labour Party as it seeks to regain power in Southampton.

A deal with the unions will be key to their plans and they have swung into action behind Labour for the campaign which will decide who will run the city council for the next two years.

Labour say they will also seek an urgent sitdown with the unions to end on-going industrial action and settle legal claims over controversial pay cuts brought in by ruling Tories that could cost the council up to £12 million.

Conservatives have today accused the unions of attempting to buy the election for Labour and rubbished the party’s job saving plan as financially unworkable.

But the city’s Labour group leader Richard Williams said he would, “as early as possible”, bring in an internal jobs market scheme to avert any more compulsory redundancies.

The Labour scheme is dubbed the “The Sunderland Way” after the northern council that pioneered it.

It would see staff who found their post cut guaranteed one-year of alternative temporary work on existing pay while offered retraining to help them find another permanent position – possibly in another area of the council or even outside.

A long-term permanent post is not guaranteed under the scheme and no new voluntary redundancies would be agreed either.

Labour says it would use money saved from redundancy payments – up to £4m over the next year – to pay for the programme.

Cllr Williams said: “We expect this approach to reassure existing employees that they won’t simply be thrown out on the streets as the council reduces its headcount to cope with Government cuts.”

He added: “We won’t give any guarantees that we can’t fulfil. This approach will be reviewed each year and a decision will be made at that stage whether it should be continued or indeed expanded.”

He said the programme would boost staff morale and productivity after it had plummeted under the current Tory administration’s “disastrous approach” to industrial relations.

Conservatives have cut more than 400 jobs over the past two years to meet budget savings following deep Government funding cuts.

Thousands of staff were also hit by pay cuts last July of between two and 5.5 per cent, and rolling strike action followed which left rubbish piled up on the streets.

However, Cllr Williams said they will have them restored from next April, starting with the lower paid.

Tory council leader Royston Smith, who brought in the pay cuts to save 400 jobs, said Cllr William’s scheme was “a back of fag packet fantasy”.

“Sunderland have set aside £20m to pay wages under the scheme, Southampton is in a completely different place and doesn’t have any money. We face a £30m black hole next year.

“It’s wrong for Labour to be telling people they will not lose their jobs. You cannot guarantee no redundancies.”

Opposition Tories in Sunderland said the scheme had put some staff in “menial made-up jobs” and others felt they were being “effectively managed out” of the council.

Andy Straker, regional officer for Unison, said the approach would be welcomed by the unions and was “vastly different” from the three-month post-redundancy redeployment scheme in Southampton.

“I’ve spoken to regional officers up there and they’re generally quite happy with what [Labour] are doing,” he said.

But Mr Straker said there had been no deal made over the legal claims regarding pay cuts.

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