SBC workers reject contract changes

scottish borders council's newtown hq
scottish borders council's newtown hq

A vote by Unison members at Scottish Borders Council has rejected proposed contract changes – with a majority voting in favour of industrial action.

The ballot result comes at the same time as the local authority is advertising nationally for two depute chief executives – positions that come with salaries of around £105,000.

The local authority wants to alter staff terms and conditions as it continues to cope with increasing financial pressure on services and negotiations are still continuing, the council making a revised offer to the unions at the beginning of the week.

Unison regional organiser Janet Stewart said: “All the unions were back in with the council on Monday and we have another offer on the table which we are sending out to our members without any recommendation.”

Balloting its members earlier this month, Unison urged them to reject SBC’s changes, arguing that the proposals were inequitable and could have a disproportionate effect on lower-paid female workers.

The latest Unison ballot will close on December 12.

Ms Stewart added: “The council have acknowledged the issues of inequality we raised and have offered two years’ protection to anyone affected. Our primary concern is that none of this is palatable, but the council don’t actively want to take money off their workers.”

The result of the first ballot showed that 80 per cent turned down SBC’s proposals, and 60 per cent were in favour of industrial action.

Changes included: removal of the top incremental pay point for grades 8-12 and chief officers; pay of staff at the top incremental pay point will be protected; night work enhanced pay will be reduced from 33.33 per cent to 15 per cent, and weekend enhancements will be removed; staff who lose six per cent or more of their gross salary will get 12 months’ protection.

Responding to the ballot result, an SBC spokesperson said: “For the last eight months we have actively consulted with all the recognised trade unions on the proposed changes to terms and conditions. We are currently in a 45-day statutory consultation period to discuss the proposals.

“Discussions with the trade unions and other staff forums have been ongoing, and as a result of this positive dialogue we are reviewing aspects of the proposed changes to terms and conditions. A final revised offer was presented to the unions on November 25.

“There will be a further newsletter issued to SBC staff on the revised proposed terms and conditions this week.

“The council is determined to work with staff and trade unions in trying to protect jobs and ensure it continues to provide critical services.”

Explaining why the council was advertising the depute chief executive posts, an SBC spokesperson said: “A corporate restructure is progressing. This will result in a slimmer, more focused and fit-for-purpose senior leadership team, with the number of directors reducing by 50 per cent and other chief officers by almost 40 per cent.

“Against a backdrop of reducing public-sector funding and an increased focus on partnership working, our aim is to deliver better, more responsive and integrated local services to the people of the Scottish Borders. To enable that to happen we need to reshape ourselves to meet these challenges and at the same time focus our resources on the delivery of frontline services.

“As the depute chief executives and service directors are appointed, there will be further work undertaken to review the other tiers of management within the structure.”