Hackney LBC is threatening to sack 2,000 members of staff who have refused to sign contracts containing tough new pay and conditions.
In an attempt to ease its debt, Hackney has asked all its staff, excluding chief officers, to sign contracts cutting flexi-time and annual leave, and scrapping the low pay supplement, bonus payments and all shift working benefits.
The 2,000 staff face the sack for refusing to sign the contracts under Unison advice, but such action would leave the council open to a catalogue of tribunal cases for unfair dismissal, the union has warned.
'This is a high risk route for the council,' said Unison branch secretary John Page. 'Hackney could simply dismiss staff from their contracts and offer them new employment on lower paid jobs. But this is classed as dismissal in employment law and opens up the possibility of the trade union presenting a number of unfair dismissal claims.'
The council is yet to go ahead with its threat to issue 90-day notices to staff who refuse to sign, despite a deadline of 14 May.
Liberal Democrat opposition leader Andrew Bridgewater called for a special council meeting to discuss the possibility of taking the matter to ACAS for binding arbitration. But the meeting set for 24 May was put back until the end of June. A branch meeting for Unison members to discuss this option was refused by managing director Max Caller.
'It is high time councillors took control of a situation which could ultimately result in Hackney paying out large sums in employment tribunals,' said Mr Bridgewater. 'By the end of June, the council could have been serviced with hundreds of legal notices.'
Unison says only 25% of its Hackney members have signed the contracts out of 'sheer fear' - a figure the council disputes.
'To date around 40% of Unison members, and all T&G and GMB members, have already signed up to the new terms and conditions,' said Mr Caller.
'We are consulting with regional trade union officials. We are due to meet with a senior Unison official and the employer's secretary, who form part of the London Provincial Council, at the end of this week. It is the joint secretary's role to arbitrate and mediate on industrial relations matters across 32
London boroughs. It is therefore premature at this stage to approach ACAS.'