The move was criticised by personnel officer Gerry Forbes as precipitate. 'What they should have done is to come back to me and discussed ways of resolving the problem. I feel they have run far too quickly to their members and sought a mandate for strike action.'
The dispute arose after the council proposed a 36 and a quarter hour working week for all employees. This was the first and most important step in harmonising conditions between former Lothian RC and Edinburgh DC employees, Mr Forbes said. It involved former district staff working an extra hour and a quarter.
But Unison branch secretary John Stevenson has accused the council of adopting a confrontational approach: 'It is treating the workforce with no respect and pushing through cuts in conditions without any real consultation.'
Mr Forbes said this was a cost-cutting measure which would save £45,000 a year. Local Authority Pension Scheme death benefits had also recently been doubled, he said.
Mr Stevenson said: 'We know the council is facing serious financial difficulties and we have offered to sit down, look at the figures and discuss ways of dealing with them. The council's immediate and cynical response has been to use the issue to threaten staff and their conditions.'
Mr Stevenson told an emergency branch meeting this week, set up to cull opinion on strike guidance, that he was disappointed to have to take matters so far.
Members voted in favour of mounting an official ballot on a series of one-day strikes, along with selective action by groups of workers.