Angry trade unions are not the only ones getting fired up by the proposed changes to the Local Government Pensions Scheme. HR directors are shouting that they feel their hands are tied.
How will they deal with a national strike? They are faced with a balancing act - putting across their council's views on pension reform while trying to avoid long-term harm to their relations with the unions.
They will also have to keep services going. As one HR director explains: 'This isn't actually so much a pensions issue. The real issue is the amount of planning, time and organisation required in a council when services are affected through strikes.'
Whose idea was single status?
From one striking issue to another, HR directors are anxious about single status - the thankless task of getting all staff on the same pay and conditions system.
Issues are still outstanding around equal pay and grading, especially in relation to bonus payments for, among others, bin men and street cleaners.
The pressure is on to secure an acceptable and affordable agreement by April 2007. Some fear the implementation of a new pay structure would jeopardise the council's ability to recruit and retain staff, while others are wearily resigned to more run-ins with the unions over equal pay claims.
HR directors cite this as a 'massive' issue. 'It is time-consuming, complex, an on-going risk, and is putting councils under severe financial pressure,' says one. Another chips in: 'There is a need to conduct an equal pay review - but that's balanced against the realities of a labour market that is far from equal.'
Unison's policy is that members must be balloted on any single status proposal. 'If there is a no vote, we're back to square one,' groans one director.
As if retention and recruitment isn't enough of a problem, the push to make efficiency savings is having a serious impact on morale, with senior managers crumbling at the thought of yet more cost-saving initiatives.
Some managers complain that their organisation seems incapable of prioritising, bogging them down in endless schemes which distract them from real work.
Do I stay or do I go?
Talk of restructuring isn't helping either. 'Following David Miliband's briefings on the benefits of unitary authorities, how can we continue to motivate, retain and maintain performance levels within a district?' questions one. Local government reorganisation is washing workforce planning down the drain.
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