Some 40,000 workers in Birmingham are heading into battle with the council over the “single status” pay deal.
Some of the council’s lowest paid workers are having their wages slashed.
In one case a worker was called into a meeting to be told of their pay cut and had to be taken to hospital after collapsing in shock.
Cathy, an admin worker, who, after 31 years service, is set to lose £17,000 a year, told Socialist Worker, “It’s a slap in the face.”
Socialist Worker has discovered cases of another admin worker set to lose £8,000 and another who is to lose £10,000 – half her salary.
Many more workers are set to lose as much as £6,000 when the new contracts are sent out this week.
Over 1,500 furious council workers protested outside Birmingham council house (town hall) on Tuesday lunchtime. The protest was joined by those who stand to gain from the deal as well as those who will lose out. The workers carried placards saying, “shove the pay structure – shove flexibility”. They demanded that the personnel manager resign.
Unison union assistant branch secretary Caroline Johnson addressed the rally.
She said that the new contracts were a “softening up for privatisation”.
To cheers, she added, “If the council can’t find the money then they should get it from the government.
“This is just the start. We have launched a petition. We have called a mass rally for 1 December. And I want every councillor to know we will balloting for strike action.”
Steve Foster from the Unite union said, “All the unions are in this together. We are saying to the council stick the contracts where the sun doesn’t shine.”
Labour councillor Albert Bore told the rally, “When a pay review comes up with this, it’s not about equal pay, it is about the council cutting the wage bill.”
In Birmingham, as elsewhere in the country, large sections of the workforce are suffering pay cuts supposedly in order to fund equal pay for women who have suffered years of sexist discrimination.
Yet at the same time the city council is refusing to give those women the full six years’ back pay they are entitled to.
One worker said, “How can it be right that we still don’t earn equal pay for equal work?
“It’s clear that instead of bringing women’s pay up to the level of men’s, the council want to cut people’s money.
“Nobody should lose money. The fact that women have not got equal pay is the fault of the council not the workforce.”
One IT worker told Socialist Worker, “I saw people crying in the corridors last week after they were called in for meetings.
A refuse worker added, “The council thinks it can get away with playing us off against each other and imposing a raw deal on everybody.
“Clearly they do not take the thousands of union members or residents of the city seriously enough. That is a mistake on their part.”
The single status deal, agreed just after Labour came into government, claimed to put right years of injustice where women were paid less than men. But, as with so many other Labour promises, it has turned sour for those who were supposed to benefit.
The council admits that 12 percent of the workforce will see their wages cut.
But this figure does not take into account those whose working week is being extended – a wage cut by other means.
All the unions in the council are planning to ballot for strikes over the imposition of the pay deal.
Steve Murphy, the Ucatt union’s regional secretary for the Midlands, said, “Birmingham council leaders are acting like feudal barons, who believe they have complete mastery of their workers. Such actions are a disgrace.”
The crisis over single status will not go away.
In the absence of a national strategy from the unions to contest single status, many have hoped for a struggle by a powerful group to serve as an example to others. That could now happen in Birmingham.