Southampton Council is facing more than 300 claims of unfair dismissal from social workers and other staff.
The council could also lose up to £8m at an employment tribunal if unions can prove it failed to undertake a proper consultation before imposing pay cuts for all but the lowest paid staff.
All staff, including social workers, were dismissed and asked to sign new employment contracts on 11 July. For staff earning more than £17,500 a year, this meant accepting cuts of up to 5.5% from their salary.
The move was part of a cost cutting plan by the council designed to save £25m from its overall budget this year.
But several employees refused to sign the contract and Unite and Unison began co-ordinating strike action. Social workers were among those on strike today.
The unions have also taken out front page advertisements in the local press encouraging people who were dismissed to take group action on grounds of unfair dismissal.
Andy Straker, regional organiser for Unison said: “There is a process if they dismiss you. They should call you to a meeting give you an opportunity to speak, then dismiss you and give you a chance to appeal.
“However, they didn’t. They just wrote to people saying that they were dismissed. The council said, ‘You have no right of appeal and if you write anything on your contract, such as you are signing this under duress, then we will take that as you not signing your contract.'”
Straker said applications were coming in thick and fast and that he expected them to reach 600 by next Wednesday.
A separate employment tribunal action for a lack of consultation on the changes has already been launched. Straker said he believed it could end up costing the council £8m if the union is successful. He added the council had told him it would cost £1.5m to fight.
However, Royston Smith, Conservative leader of the council, said unions and council officials had been in discussion for months before the changes to people’s terms and conditions were issued on 11 July.
Talks over the issue are still deadlocked and further strikes by social workers are planned for next Wednesday.
See all the pictures from Southampton’s day of action on the Social Work Blog.
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