Striking road workers stage protest against Borders council HQ

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Striking road workers staged a demonstration outside Scottish Borders Council’s Newtown headquarters this morning, August 29, to protest about what they claim are changes to their terms of employment.

Members of the union Unite gathered outside the local authority’s offices to get their message across to councillors arriving for a full council meeting by waving flags, shouting slogans and playing the 1976 Abba single Money, Money, Money over a public-address system.

Speaking at the demonstration, Willie Thomson, a regional industrial organiser for Unite, said the dispute has the potential to impact on the region’s winter maintenance programme.

He said: “The reason why the men are taking action is basically a refusal by Scottish Borders Council to respect the terms and conditions of their employment. 

“They have had changes imposed on them that will cost them £1000s, and they are not willing to have that done to them.

“The reason they are striking is to send a strong message that the council needs to get back round the table and reach an agreement with the workers. 

“The people of the Scottish Borders need to be aware that the council is risking their winter maintenance service.

“During the winter maintenance service, members do a lot of extra hours to keep up with extra demand. 

“We’re now in a position where members will be withdrawing that programme. 

“That work is done on a voluntary basis, and the goodwill that is required to do that is in short supply.”

Currently, summer standby shifts for road workers are voluntary, but council chiefs are trying to make it mandatory in line with other staff at the council.

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

Summer standby payments per shift for road workers are currently £85.31, 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 at the council, Unite and Unison, have been in discussion with the authority 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 voted for strike action in a ballot held this summer. The turnout was 78%.

Council’s chief executive Tracey Logan disputes the claims being made by the union, however, saying: “The council has not changed terms and conditions for this staff group, nor have we failed to consult the trade unions or the staff affected.

“In fact, we discovered some months ago that a small number of staff in this section had been claiming a higher rate of overtime than they were entitled to under the agreed terms and conditions.

“They were also claiming for time to travel to work when working weekend overtime, which again is not in line with the agreement in place.

“Given that Unite agreed to these terms and conditions, I am surprised and disappointed that they now want some of their members to be given more favourable pay rates than others and for this small group be able to claim additional allowances that their other members cannot.

“It is a principle of fairness and equality for staff across the whole workforce and one which I would expect Unite as representatives of staff to uphold and commit to.”