RESIDENTS associations have condemned the collapse of a possible deal to end strikes in Southampton with one community leader warning the long running dispute was now “destroying” the city’s reputation.

A mass meeting of union members rejected by four to one a proposal to restore some of the pay cuts forced on thousands of council workers under threat of dismissal four weeks ago.

Council workers have been warned they now risk the sack if they continue striking as legal protection runs out following three months of industrial action that has left rubbish spilling onto the streets.

Union leaders last night warned strike action could resume within weeks without a fresh ballot. It comes as hundreds of unfair dismissal claims are being prepared and a new date for a £12.5m legal claim has been confirmed after the council requested a postponement.

Reg Taylor, chairman of the Itchen Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said: “It’s gone beyond a joke. “What the unions are doing now is destroying Southampton’s good name.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s better to be in a job with less pay than not having one.

“They should either go back to work and do the job properly or face the consequences.”

Peter Wirgman, chairman of the Southampton Federation of Residents’ Associations, said: “For residents, it’s disappointing this hasn’t been resolved.

“People want to know when things will get back to normal.

It seems to me that in this impasse the council have given ground but the unions don’t seem to have given any ground at all.”

Chris Morris, chairman of the Federation of Southampton Tenants’ and Residents’ Associations added: “I just wish it had all been sorted out.”

However Malcolm Pain from the Bitterne Park Residents Association said the industrial action, particularly the bin men strikes, were “pulling the community together” as people were taking rubbish to the tip for each other.

Unions said they want to reopen negotiations with the council but council leader Royston Smith said: “This latest proposal is as far as we’re able to go – the unions have raised the expectations of their members over and above the financial reality.

We simply cannot afford to meet those expectations.

“Our residents have to come first and we will not continue to allow people to be disrupted by this strike action. We will look to get services back to normal by any means we can and are not ruling out any options.”

The council cut the pay of workers earning over £17,500 by between two and 5.5 per cent to protect 400 jobs as it seeks to save £76m over four years.

Can the strikers be sacked?

Catharine Geddes, employment lawyer at Lester Aldridge LLP solicitors

ANY dismissal will be automatically unfair where the employee engages in official industrial action and is dismissed for participating in the industrial action during a ‘protected period’. This period runs for at least 12 weeks.

Beyond the protected period, the employer needs to demonstrate that it has taken reasonable steps to try and resolve the dispute. If it has not and the employee continues to take part in the official industrial action, any dismissal will still be automatically unfair.

Consideration is given to both the union and employer’s behaviour.

Even if the employer satisfies the ‘reasonable steps’ test, the dismissal may still be unfair if, for example, the employer has engaged in 'selective treatment'

of the ‘striking’ staff by dismissing some but not all of them and cannot justify its decision.

An employer is able to reallocate existing staff or recruit replacement staff on a temporary basis during official industrial action, however, agency staff must not be used to cover the ‘striking’ workers’ roles or to cover other positions so that ‘non-striking’ workers are reassigned to the ‘striking’ workers’ jobs. This restriction applies both during and beyond the protected period.

An employer is able to use an employment business to help find suitable staff but any appointment must be made directly between the employer and worker.