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Shropshire staff vote to strike

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Shropshire Council employees are set to go on strike before the end of the month over cuts to pay.

Unison members voted overwhelmingly in support of industrial action over the council’s proposals to cut pay by 2.7% and change a number of other terms and conditions in order to avoid 500 extra redundancies.

Rick Tudor, the union’s regional organiser, said the next steps were being discussed but it was likely to involve a one-day strike some time before the 30 September deadline by which employees must sign up to the new contracts or face dismissal.

“The council says there is no alternative but we have presented them with an alternative budget and they did not come back to us,” he said. Although the reduction in basic pay is 2.7%, Mr Tudor said other changes to allowances and extra payments meant some were seeing their pay fall by 25%.

Turn out for the ballot was 45.8%, with 83.6% of voting members backing industrial action short of a strike and 66% supporting full strike action, and Mr Tudor said councillors would be “absolutely delighted” to be elected on such a high turn-out.

Unison is the largest union at the council and represents 27% of the 6,500 staff asked to sign the new contracts, but Shropshire chief executive Kim Ryley said the ballot turnout showed “only about 500 people – a small minority of Unison members – voted for strike action”.

This was far fewer than the 1,500 employees who have already accepted the new terms and conditions, he said.

“It is clear from this that most council staff do not see Unison’s actions as being in their best interest,” Mr Ryley said. “Other trade unions, like the GMB, continue to work with us on positive alternatives to strike action.

““We are very unhappy about the possible disruption of public services that this industrial action poses and will do all we can to reduce the impact on local people. We have urged Unison to keep talking to us about how we can fulfil our promise to protect local jobs and a full range of services to Shropshire residents.  But, the Trade Union has refused to do this.”

The continuing deterioration in relations between the chief executive, leader and Unison has led opposition group leader Nigel Hartin (Lib Dem) to call for urgent talks involving the union, the chief executive and the leaders of all political groups.

In a letter sent to all parties, he wrote: “I have been getting increasingly concerned that the current breakdown in relationships between the Council and its major staff union are potentially very damaging long term to the council and its on-going relationships with staff,” he said. “The Unison ballot result released today highlights the problem in the starkest terms.”

Mr Tudor said he would meet with the council tonight (Wednesday) if they asked, but insisted it was not the union who had abandoned negotiations.

“One of the problems we have encountered is the chief executive and now the council leader claiming we have walked away from negotiations,” he said. “We have never walked away from negotiations.”

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