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BIRMINGHAM OFFICERS THREATEN LEGAL ATTACK

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Skilled workers fear pay cuts...
Skilled workers fear pay cuts

By Dan Drillsma-Milgrom, finance reporter

Eighty Birmingham City Council staff are preparing to launch a legal challenge against the authority, amid fears its single status job evaluation process will lead to pay cuts among technical and skilled workers.

Birmingham has set up a Single Status Reference Group (SSIG) made up of officers solely tasked with setting up a single status agreement. But it has been forced to surrender reports, as well as minutes

and agendas of its meetings, following requests under the Freedom of Information Act from disgruntled staff who believe the process will penalise some.

One council employee said he and 80 colleagues had hired a local solicitor to launch legal challenges against the council and their union, Unison, on how they intended to compare jobs against each other as part of the evaluation process.

'The documents that we obtained appear to show that the proportion of marks allotted to skilled or technical workers is at least 10% lower for council workers than in Agenda for change in the NHS,' he said.

'There is no reason for that other than that it is politically more acceptable to reduce skilled workers' salaries in local government than it is in the health service.'

The worker, who declined to be named, claimed that the evaluation would penalise staff including surveyors, architects, accountants and social workers and could lead to pay cuts or job losses.

The documents also include an email from a reference group member raising concerns that job evaluation interviews had taken place with no trade union representation present.

Councils and unions are already struggling to come to collective agreements following the verdict of an employment tribunal in Middlesbrough, which ruled that the GMB had agreed settlements below the full legal entitlement in order to avoid wider redundancies (LGC, 27 July).

Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said she was 'confident' the union was handling the issue.

Andy Albon, Birmingham's director of HR, said: 'The nationally agreed job evaluation scheme determines the factors that affect pay grades, but the council takes a view on the pay levels to apply to that scheme and we haven't reached a decision on that yet.'

Analysis - equality is fine for some

As if implementing single-status wasn't going to be hard enough with no-win, no-fee lawyer Stefan Cross attracting flocks of new clients, now pressure is about to come from a new direction.

To implement an agreement, a job evaluation exercise is carried out to equalise any imbalances between people held to be doing jobs of 'equal value'.

Until now, the focus has been on the low-paid workers suing for their full entitlement, but the unions represent all workers and if the voice of skilled workers starts to rise in volume then striking agreements will become all the more difficult.

Some lawyers are starting to mutter about a nuclear option of terminating current contracts and reappointing staff on more amenable terms and conditions - a path fraught with just as much financial risk as the one currently being followed.

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