Borders road workers set to strike over changes to terms and conditions

Scottish Borders Council's Newtown headquarters.
Scottish Borders Council's Newtown headquarters.

Council road workers are set to strike over changes to their employment terms and conditions.

Currently, summer standby shifts are voluntary for Scottish Borders Council’s 134 road staff, but bosses are trying to make them mandatory to bring the team into line with the rest of the authority’s workforce.

Earlier this year, the council notified the unions that not enforcing the same terms and conditions across the whole of its payroll could leave the local authority open to gender pay discrimination claims, as the mainly male road team is not required to be on standby over the summer, whereas its mainly female care home staff are.

Summer standby payments for road workers are currently £85, albeit it on a voluntary basis, and the council is offering to up that to £101 as long as it becomes mandatory.

The two main unions representing road workers in the Borders, Unite and Unison, have been in discussion with the council ever since it informed employees that their terms and conditions would change.

However, talks with Unite broke down, and 86.4% of the union’s members who voted in an industrial ballot want strike action. The turnout was 78%. 

The strike is set to coincide with the first meeting of the council following its summer break, on Thursday, August 29, and a demonstration will be held at the authority’s Newtown headquarters.  

Willie Thomson, Unite’s regional industrial officer, said: “Unite will hold a day of industrial action on August 29 to coincide with a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council to ensure elected representatives and officials fully understand the anger of our members. 

“The workers in the roads department have been treated with contempt and the latest efforts by the council to draft in contracted workers to cover workers taking action is disgraceful. 

“Instead of positively engaging with the workers and Unite, the council seems intent on escalating the dispute.

“Unite will explore every legal avenue to challenge this aggressive action.

“Unite also believes that there is a strong legal case that workers are being offered unlawful financial inducements to break the existing collective bargaining agreements. 

“If this is the case, then Scottish Borders Council could end up facing a legal bill for more than £160,000, which is a fraction of the cost required to settle this dispute. 

“Unite would, once again, urge Scottish Borders Council to get back round the negotiating table to settle this dispute, which we believe can be easily achieved if councillors swiftly intervene.”

Reports have been circulating that the council is trying to draft in agency workers to cover for employees involved in industrial action, but the council denies that claim. 

A spokesperson for the council said: “The council is simply seeking to apply the previously agreed terms and conditions of employment which were negotiated and agreed with the recognised trades unions, including Unite, who are a part of that agreement.

“The council values its staff and is committed to ensuring they are treated fairly and equitably, whichever service they work within.

“There had been anomalies in the overtime rate paid to a very small number of staff within the roads section. In addition to receiving travel expenses in line with HM Revenue and Customs rates, a small group of staff were also being paid for the time taken to commute to their workplace. These matters have been addressed, providing consistency and equity across the organisation.

“There had been open dialogue for a number of months, and the council continues to try and engage Unite in meaningful discussion on this issue. In line with their current national campaign, Unite representatives’ approach has been to escalate these issues to industrial action rather than attempting to resolve the matter.

“We will continue to engage with the trades unions and are confident that our contingency plans are utilising all legal means to ensure that our day-to-day service is not significantly impacted on.”