Page last updated at 00:09 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Community service hit by strike

Community service involves unpaid work such as gardening

A strike by 21 council staff in Glasgow could mean minor offenders receiving jail terms instead of being sentenced in the community.

Supervisors from the social work department will start an indefinite strike at 0900 GMT on Tuesday in an on-going dispute over pay and hours.

The union, Unison, said the action could mean courts cannot offer offenders an alternative to prison.

Glasgow City Council said it had taken steps to minimise disruption.

Community service supervisors in Glasgow look after more than 200 offenders who receive training or carry out unpaid work such as gardening or painting and decorating.

Community service orders are imposed as an alternative to jail, and form the cornerstone of the Scottish Government's attempts to reform sentencing policy and reduce the prison population.

Unison, which represents the supervisors, said a recent regrading of their posts could mean some will lose up to 1,500 a year.

The courts have been advised of the industrial action and we will ensure the courts are kept up-to-date with any developments
Glasgow City Council spokesman
Others would be paid more, but must work an additional day each week.

Glasgow branch spokesman Brian Smith said: "Our members are not interested in causing disruption to the service. They just want a fair rate for the jobs they do.

"Hopefully the strike action will concentrate minds in the council over how badly they are being treated and lead to a quick settlement."

About one quarter of all community service orders in Glasgow are personal placements, where the offender works on their own and not in supervised "gangs".

It is understood that Glasgow City Council could increase the number of personal placements by up to 40.

A council spokesman said the authority believed it had made "an appropriate offer" to supervisors and was "deeply disappointed" by the decision to go-ahead with the strike.

'Minimise disruption'

The spokesman said: "The courts have been advised of the industrial action and we will ensure the courts are kept up-to-date with any developments.

"Community service orders are meant to be concluded within a year and therefore we are certain the strike will not pose any significant issues in the longer term.

"In the shorter term we will be able to minimise any disruption as far as possible by a greater use of personal placements where appropriate.

"There is already a council strategy to move away from squad work for community service and any personal placements will only be made following a careful risk assessment."

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