Staff praised as union ballot backs council pay freeze

IT may have been Hobson’s choice, but a senior councillor yesterday praised staff and their trade unions for supporting a three-year pay freeze in exchange for a commitment of no compuslory redundancies at Scottish Borders Council, writes Andrew Keddie.

Alec Nicol, SBC’s depute leader with special responsibility for personnel, was commenting on the results of a ballot organised by Unite, the union whose 800 members on the council payroll are among the lowest paid.

On a turnout of 30 per cent, 67 per cent voted to accept the deal which will also elevate 626 low-paid, mainly female staff, currently earning as little as £6.41 per hour, onto the so-called Scottish Borders Living Wage of £7.15.

The GMB union has also endorsed the deal, while the result of a ballot of Unison members is due to be announced tomorrow.

“I am tickled pink with the Unite and GMB ballot results which tell me our staff are with us as we try to steer our way through the most difficult financial circumstances,” said Councillor Nicol. “The mandate we have been given says a lot about the loyalty and commitment of our employees, and we are repaying them by giving assurances there will be no compulsory job losses over the period of the deal.”

On the table was an arrangement distinct from the public sector freeze on inflationary or cost of living pay rises already negotiated by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, with the support of the Scottish Government, for 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Under the local deal, SBC’s 5,000 non-teaching staff will see their contractual right to incremental increases, normally awarded as they move up pay-scales, suspended. This moratorium applies to all workers earning more than £21,000 a year. Those on less will be entitled to incremental progression in 2011/12, but, like their higher paid colleagues, will then face a freeze in the following two years.

After announcing the ballot result on Friday, Eck Barclay, Unite’s senior shop steward, said the assurance over no compulsory redundancies was a major factor in the vote, along with the lifting of the lowest paid to the new minimum level.

“It is a lot to ask people who are already relatively poorly paid to accept a total freeze when fuel and other essential items are rocketing in price, but I do believe it is a sacrifice worth making if jobs can be protected. We have put our faith in the council to keep its side of the bargain.”

Mr Nicol said councillors were “100 per cent committed to no compulsory redundancies”.

He added: “Staff and unions deserve a great deal of credit for working with us to secure a good economic future.”