Call for council chief to quit as redundancy notices issued

Birmingham Council's chief executive is facing calls to resign after announcing a review of conditions for 26,000 staff, which unions claim they must accept or face the sack. Picture: Rex Features

Birmingham Council’s chief executive is facing calls to resign after announcing a review of conditions for 26,000 staff, which unions claim they must accept or face the sack.

The council has issued section 188 redundancy notices to 26,000 staff – more than half of the authority’s total workforce of 50,000 – to open a consultation on the proposed changes.

All the authority’s 1,000 social workers will be affected by the proposals, which include:

• A review of car allowances.

• Changes to the disciplinary procedure and grievance procedure.

• A revised contract of employment.

Unison activists claimed the notices could lead to staff being made redundant if they refuse to accept the proposals and called on the council’s chief executive, Stephen Hughes, to quit.

The notice is a reference to section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which sets out requirements employers must follow when proposing to make 20 or more workers redundant.

Local Government Employers advises employers to fully consult employees and seek their agreement when proposing new terms and conditions. The approach taken by Birmingham – to dismiss staff and re-engage them on new contracts – should only be considered if agreement cannot be reached, the guidance states.

“Instead of going through that process, Birmingham has issued blanket section 188 notices,” said Lucille Thirlby, Unison’s national officer for local government.

“If those members of staff choose not to accept the new terms, they have in effect been dismissed by the council. It’s quite an aggressive act.”

Unison says that, although some councils used dismissal and re-engagement to bring in the single pay status, this is the first time it has been used for changes to terms and conditions.

But a council spokesperson said Unison was wrong to suggest that jobs were at risk.

“This section 188 notice will not lead to anyone being made redundant,” the spokesperson said

The council hopes the changes will contribute towards the £330m it needs to save over the next three to four years – about one-third of its current expenditure.

“The magnitude of this financial pressure is immense,” Hughes said in a statement to trade unions explaining the decision.

“The council needs to radically review its overheads and expenditure and, as part of this, there is a need to broaden the existing review of employee allowances and terms and conditions of employment which began earlier this year.”

However, Unison’s regional secretary in the West Midlands, Roger McKenzie, claimed Hughes had a politically motivated agenda and called for him to resign from his £200,000-a-year post.

“Sadly, he has strayed from his public service duty and is now a political operator. His position is untenable and he must go immediately,” he said.

McKenzie also pointed out that a workforce survey before the section 188 notices were issued showed 83% of staff at the council had little or no confidence in the chief executive.

Hughes acknowledged the survey findings when he reported to the council’s scrutiny members on 10 September and pledged to communicate more effectively with staff, a spokesperson said.

On 1 June 2010, Birmingham employed just over 1,000 social workers and had a 10.5% vacancy rate across its adults’ and children’s services.

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