Monday, 24 February 2014

Politics: Unions will fight 'tooth and nail' against sick pay proposals

Unions have vowed to fight ‘tooth and nail’ against Liberal Democrat and Conservative plans to restrict council workers’ sick pay.

The measures will curb sick pay for most council employees for the first three days of any sickness absence, and are part of amended budget proposals which could be passed at tomorrow’s annual budget meeting at Halifax Town Hall.

Leader of Conservative group Stephen Baines (Northowram and Shelf) said council workers in Calderdale take an average of 9.1 sick days per year - almost double the private sector average.

He said: “We think that’s fundamentally wrong and we have to take steps to take control.

“Some employees feel that it is part of their benefits to have time off for sickness.”

The changes will reward staff who take no sick leave overin a year by giving them an extra holiday day the following year.

Council leader Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said an agreement was made by all parties last year about the best way to manage sickness absence.

He said: “All parties agreed that it wasn’t a good idea, so why they’ve changed their minds now I don’t know - I don’t think they’ve thought it through.

“We agree that sick pay needs to be a lot better managed, but sickness levels are lower now than when Councillor Baines was leading the council.

“We’ve been clear with managers over the past year about managing sickness, but if people aren’t fit to come into work, they shouldn’t be in work.

“When this was discussed by all three parties, there was agreement that this wasn’t the way to go and wasn’t about using crude financial sticks and carrots.

“There will be uproar from the unions and we’ll spend the next year in industrial disputes if they push this through - it’s completely unworkable.”

Councillor Colin Stout (Ind, Brighouse), said Calderdale Council already has the lowest levels of sick pay of any West Yorkshire local authority and criticised the way the coalition added the plans to an amended budget.

He said: “If they’ve got proposals, they should have put them out weeks ago - it shows complete contempt for the other councillors and the constituents in their ward “

If voted through, Coun Baines hopes to see the new rules come into effect in October.

Putting these proposals into practice, however, may not be as straightforward as the coalition hope as they will go up against stiff resistance from unions. Ted Ashman, branch secretary for Calderdale local government branch of UNISON which has 1,800 members working for Calderdale Council, criticised the plans as “cruel and counter-productive.”

He said: “There has been no consultation with the public that these parties were elected to represent, and absolutely none with UNISON.

“It is simply wrong to ignore our views and those of our members who we all rely on to deliver essential services every working day of their lives.

“UNISON will fight tooth and nail against these plans.”

This article was published in the Halifax Courier on February 23, 2014.

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