Southampton Council’s hopes of ending the long-running dispute with staff over pay cuts have been dashed after union members voted to reject the authority’s latest offer.
The Conservative-led council’s move to slash pay for those earning more than £17,500 earlier this year was met with anger by unions and prompted three walk outs.
In October, the authority offered to revise the deal and protect those earning up to £22,000 from the cuts. However, those on higher grades, including qualified social workers, would still have seen their salaries slashed by up to 5% under the proposals.
Unison and Unite, as well as the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, balloted a total of 2,400 members employed by the council on whether to accept the revised offer.
A clear majority of Unite members voted to reject the proposals, at 266 votes to 53. The Unison vote was much closer, at 389 votes to reject compared to 340 votes to accept.
The rejection means that the unions’ legal action against the council will continue. Union stewards will also meet in early December to consider what further action to take following the ballot.
Unison’s branch secretary, Mike Tucker, said: “Union members have again rejected the council’s wage cuts. The vote was influenced by the further 143 redundancies announced in October.
“The council is at war with its workforce as they continue to make them pay for a crisis we did not create.”
Unite convenor, Mark Wood, added: “Each union has sent a clear message to [Southampton Council], in that the council has reneged on the contractual arrangement with its employees and we are determined to continue the campaign for fairness.”
Royston Smith, leader of Southampton Council, responded: “Today’s result is hugely disappointing and I am sure that the vast majority of our residents will share this disappointment.
“The improved and final offer made by the council would have protected more than half of the organisation from direct pay cuts while protecting services by keeping our staff employed. The alternative is hundreds more redundancies which in turn will have a major impact on the services that our customers rely on.
“The reality is that we have to find savings of more than £76m and we cannot afford to maintain the status quo.
“We will have to think carefully about what this rejection means. We are a public service and our residents have to come first. We must get all our services back to normal and we will consider all our options for doing so.”
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