Southampton's wave of strikes

Last month John Henvest, our coordinator in Hampshire, wrote about taxpayers being taken for a ride in Southampton. Many council workers were hiring taxis, rather than using their own vehicles because the council reduced the mileage rate paid from a very generous 54p per mile to the HMRC recommended 45p. At a time when the council is trying to reduce its costs, some workers deliberately wasted our money in a futile bid to get generous perks reintroduced.

The problems in Southampton, however, have not just been restricted to taxi rides. Southampton City Council have decided to introduce new pay and conditions for its workers, and want them to accept a pay reduction of between 2% and 5.5%. No-one wants a reduction in pay, but at a time when many in the private sector are losing their jobs through forced redundancies, and are also having to accept pay cuts to keep themselves in work, council workers have to accept the economic realities of life.

Instead, a wave of strikes have taken place. In an attempt to hold the council to ransom, bin men have walked out, leaving over a million bin bags to litter the city's streets. If many of the workers at your council took a month off work at the same time, you probably wouldn't notice the difference. Bin men go on strike and everyone notices, as rubbish is piled high and vermin starts increasing.

On Wednesday last week, more than 600 workers went on strike, and a protest march and rally took place. To compound the council's problems,  unions have also launched a £12 million legal battle. In scenes reminiscent of the 1970s, the lives of ordinary council taxpayers have been left a misery, yet despite the continuing strike action, around 90% of employees have signed new contracts in order to protect their jobs, and the council estimates reducing salary costs will protect 400 jobs.

A similar proposal was put forward by the Labour group on Hull City Council before the elections in May. It felt by asking the unions to accept a 5% pay cut, jobs would be protected. Surely union leaders want as many of their members in employment as possible? Compared to the private sector, a job in the public sector is still relatively safe, better paid, and even after proposed government reforms, will still have generous pension entitlements.

This is something the unions and those striking in Southampton need to think about, and in the meantime get back to work.

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