Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 17:39 UK

Council workers walk out over pay

Picket line in Manchester
Librarians and social workers are among those on strike in Manchester

Thousands of council staff are striking over pay in their biggest campaign of industrial unrest for years, forcing schools to close and hitting services.

Employers say 100,000 Unison and Unite members in England, Wales and N Ireland have joined the 48-hour action - but the unions put the figure at 500,000.

Unions say the rising cost of food and petrol effectively makes a 2.45% pay offer a pay cut, and they want 6%.

Council employers say they have reached the "limit of what is affordable".

Meanwhile, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who include driving test examiners and coastguard control room staff, are also striking in a separate row over their below-inflation pay offer.

The union estimates up to 5,000 driving tests across the UK may have been cancelled by the end of Wednesday.

Town hall services

The Local Government Association (LGA), the organisation representing local councils, said it estimated that about 8% of the workforce directly affected by the pay dispute was on strike - or just over 100,000 people.

The pounds in local government workers' pockets are turning to pennies
Dave Prentis
Unison

It said a snapshot survey of councils showed north-east and north-west England were suffering the greatest disruption to services.

Unison estimated that a total of about 11,000 schools had been shut, but the LGA said just 452 were completely closed and 159 partially closed.

Services affected across England, Wales and Northern Ireland include:

  • One in three schools in Wales closed
  • A third of all households in Southampton will not have their rubbish collected this week
  • Flights cancelled at Northern Ireland's council-run City of Derry Airport
  • Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery closed
  • Main libraries in Leicester and Leeds city centres closed
  • Torpoint to Plymouth ferry service cancelled

Hundreds of workers have also taken part in protest marches in cities including Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff and Newcastle.

Workers in Scotland are not on strike, but the Scottish secretary of Unison, Matt Smith, said a walkout was planned unless councils agreed to renegotiate their pay offer.

BBC News employment correspondent Martin Shankleman said the strikes were the biggest challenge yet to the government's tough line on public sector pay.

'Breadline'

Average basic salaries in councils in England and Wales vary greatly. Figures from the LGA show a cleaner earns 12,732 a year, a refuse collector 15,685, and a planning officer 27,561.

AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARIES
Road sweeper: 14,430
Teaching assistant: 15,530
Care worker: 17,088
Sports coach: 21,411
Librarian: 22,388
Building control officer: 29,840
*LGA figures for England and Wales

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said more than 250,000 of its members earned less than the basic rate of 6 per hour.

"The pounds in local government workers' pockets are turning to pennies," he said.

"The cost of everyday essentials like milk, bread, petrol, gas and electricity are going through the roof - our members cannot afford to take another cut in their pay."

Unite national officer Peter Allenson said its members were "living on the breadline".

But one council worker in south-east England, who broke the picket line and did not want to be named, said the pay offer was good in the "current economic climate".

"In local government we are guaranteed a pay rise every year and over the last 10 years, it has varied between 2.5% and 3% - people in the private sector don't get anywhere near that."

The RPI inflation measure - often used as a benchmark in pay negotiations - is currently 4.6%.

Service cuts

Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers (LGE), which was created by the LGA in 2006, said: "Our greatest asset is our staff but we have simply reached the limit of what is affordable.

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Council workers on strike

"We remain willing to talk to the unions on a constructive basis about the future employment conditions of our workforce but this week's strikes will not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer."

John Ransford, LGA deputy chief executive, said councils would have to put up council tax or cut services in order to meet the pay demand.

In the PCS union dispute, more than 1,500 members working for the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) across the UK are taking take part in a one-day strike over pay.

And about 2,500 Valuation Office Agency staff in England and Wales are working to rule on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Friday, about 10,000 Home Office staff, including immigration officers, are expected to go on strike, while about 5,500 Land Registry workers in England and Wales only are due to walk out on Friday afternoon.

Coastguard control room staff around the UK are set to strike for 48 hours from Friday.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Council strike
16 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
Councils draw up bin strike plans
11 Jul 08 |  Northern Ireland
Council workers asked to strike
01 Jul 08 |  Scotland

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