South West Wales

Dismissal warning to 7,000 Neath Port Talbot staff

Neath Port Talbot Council office
Image caption The council's annual workforce costs are around £150m

A council is warning it may dismiss its 7,000 workers and re-employ them on new terms without agreement on savings.

Among changes Neath Port Talbot council wants are to cut overtime, food and travelling allowances and freeze pay.

It says the savings would help avoid compulsory redundancies and dismissal is a "last resort".

But Unison, which represents 3,000 council staff, described the move as "a big gamble" and said the authority was "negotiating with a gun to its head."

Details of the council's position are laid out in a letter sent to the unions on Friday, a copy of which has been obtained by BBC Wales.

It said it was facing an "unprecedented" situation and must close a £24m gap in its budget by 2014.

That did not take into account the £6.2bn needed in public sector savings announced by the UK government or the fall-out from last week's budget.

The council says it will reduce its workforce by about 750 full-time posts through natural wastage, voluntary redundancies and service changes.

But it says to avoid further job loses it must make savings on its annual workforce costs which stand at around £150m.

It has proposed changes in rates for overtime and unsociable hours and shift allowance payments.

It wants to stop the use of council vehicles for home to work travel, change car allowance mileage rates and stop some meal expenses.

Graham Jones, the head of human resources, said six months of negotiations with the unions, including Unison, the GMB, UCATT and Unite, had produced little in terms of potential or actual savings.

He said he hoped they could now enter "meaningful discussions" and that the option to dismiss the council workforce and re-employ people on new contracts was "a last resort."

He told the BBC News website: "We are not at war with the unions. We will continue to have discussions as we have been.

"This is not about dismissing people - it's about keeping them in employment. We don't want to make anyone compulsorily redundant.

"It [the financial position] is very very difficult and it's going to get more difficult.

"The package is intended to spread the pain across the board."

He said it was a situation faced by every local authority in Wales but Neath Port Talbot was ahead of most in trying to tackle it.

Unison regional organiser Eddie Gabrielsen said the union would be holding emergency meetings for its members on 6 and 9 July.

He said in return for agreeing to the "pain" of changing employment conditions staff had wanted guarantees on job security but that had not been forthcoming.

"I think the council is trying to put a gun to our heads to negotiate.

"It's a tactic that's been used before but it's a big gamble - they are gambling everyone will take up lesser pay and conditions."

He said the changes proposed would hit the lowest paid council workers hardest.

"It's hurting people like care assistants - cutting their hourly rate and the travel costs they get for going to see clients.

"They have gone way over the top and our members are unlikely to go along with it," he added.

Mr Gabrielsen called on the local authority to tell the public and the UK and Welsh assembly governments that reduced funding would result in cuts to front line services.

"They are just kidding themselves they can manage their way through this situation," he added.

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