Pay packet split sends the war drums beating

Times are tough – of that there’s no doubt. Families and companies are counting the pennies and making sometimes unsavoury but necessary savings. So at first sight, it might seem commendable that Scottish Borders Council is doing its bit to save some cash. But their latest venture to balance the books will create ill feeling amongst its frontline workforce.

A decision taken behind closed doors to reduce rates of pay and alter conditions of employment for new workers is a bit of nasty one. Any new worker being taken on by the council from now on will get less their pay packet than current employees. The new man pushing the broom, heaving the shovel, driving the snowplough in hellish weather, or trying to clear a desk heaped with paperwork will be receiving less cash than his workmate doing the same job.

The council is creating a two-tier pay system embracing around 4,000 workers.

Admittedly, as the council is unlikely to be taking on many new staff, the anomalies may initially be few. But the repercussions could cut deep.

Trades unions, angered at being kept in the dark, are threatening legal and possibly strike action. Whether the mood exists for strike or other industrial action is a moot point. But the war drums have started to rumble.

A collective style of bargaining has existed for years between unions and councils through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Councillors from the Borders have played a leading role in COSLA-union talks. Now it seems that same council is seeking to break the mould. They think its right – others don’t.

And surely SBC hasn’t helped itself by taking the decision in private, hiding behind some ill-gotten and outdated legislation from 1973. And why does the council hide behind “ a spokesman” – let’s have a name.

Oh, and the decision was unanimous. What’s happened to the opposition parties?