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Unions hit out against private consultants at £850,000 per year as Council urge Unions to reconsider strike

In a letter to its members three unions, which are set to strike on Monday, have hit out at the chief executive of the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for “insulting their intelligence” with “headlines, promises and little facts”.

The letter, signed by Kevin Kelly of Nipsa, Brenda Stevenson of Unite and Alan Perry of GMB, slammed the Council for “paying five individual private consultants £850,000 per year over the last four years at a total cost of over 3.4 million”, while asking how Council can “possibly say that they can’t afford £800,000 for 1,400 staff”.

“As predicted the CEO has once again came out with headlines and promises and little facts. He dares to ask you to accept management’s word in good faith with little to no evidence as to why you should,” the letter to members read.

The letter also claimed that no formal documented offer has been given to the trade unions regarding the payment of £1,400 of non-recurrent monies; that there has not been an acceptance of any national pay award; and “even if it was accepted, the CEO wants you to believe the award is a pay rise of £1,925 for all staff within council”.

It adds: “We appreciate that for someone on a remuneration package of over £150,000 a year inflation at 11% and rising is not such a big deal.

“However, for you, in order just to stand still this year’s pay offer needs to be in excess of 11%.The national pay award of £1,925 for the majority of staff will be in the region of 6 to 7 percent. Therefore this is a pay cut. However, the CEO wants you to stop your action based on this; he is insulting your intelligence and using Tory Spin to gain your support.

“What your trade unions are asking this council for is a payment that is well within their gift to bridge the gap between the national awards in order to reduce the pay cuts or at best stand still.

“We are also asking Harmonisation issues to be addressed that are outstanding for over seven years.”

Harmonisation includes

– Reviews of each of the Councils departments to determine numbers and grades of staff,
– The merging of job descriptions and addressing pay anomalies
– The setting of joint terms and conditions.
– To date this has not been done. Hundreds of staff are suffering financial detriment awaiting payments this council merely promises to pay.

The letter continued: “I know you will understand why when the management of this council had the audacity to offer a pay and grading review as some sort of carrot for you to stop your action, we immediately told them it was not acceptable. To clarify to the managers who may read this harmonisation is a pay and grading review. You have been waiting for over seven long years and they attempt this. We ask you to treat this suggestion with the contempt it deserves.

“We are asking for incremental progression that will cost the council a total £800,000 for 1,400 staff this year a 2% increase to the overall pay bill. The CEO states council cannot afford this. I believe the ratepayers, the staff and the general public need to put this into even more context

“The management of this Council have been paying five individual private consultants £850,000 per year over the last four years. A total cost of over 3.4 million this is only the tip of the iceberg of the waste of public money this council has overseen during its four-year tenure.

“Given that information how can, they possibly say that they can’t afford £800,000 for 1,400 staff.  I ask you who has carried out the work and continues to carry out the meaningful work of the council? It certainly was not these individuals whose sole purpose was to privatise the South Lakes Leisure Centre.”

In response, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council has urged Trade Unions and staff to reconsider their position before entering into strike action on Monday.

The Council said pay scales for all councils are negotiated and set nationally through the National Joint Council (NJC) for Local Government.

This year’s pay offer means an increase of £1,925 for every employee in the council. As well as an extra day’s annual leave.

This is an average increase of over 7% for staff and for some on the lowest grades it is over 10% and this will be paid by the council. This year and going forward the council will need to find £3.2 million to meet this increased pay bill.

Negotiations from the Joint Trade Union Side (JTUs), representing NIPSA, GMB and Unite the Union, hinge on an additional payment. JTUs are asking for staff to also move up 2 points on the pay scale.

This would mean an average increase of £437 this year for staff between Scales 1 to 6, the lowest grades in the council.

If the council were to agree to pay the extra grades, it would need to find an additional £2.2million over the next two years, as this would become a recurrent cost that must be met each year going forward. Council would need to find a way of ensuring this money is there in the future, which could mean an increase in rates, increased charges for facilities and services, or by cutting back on programmes and activities.

For that reason, and because the current cost of living crisis is creating immediate issues for staff, the council offered a one-off in year payment of £1,400 to staff in two £700 instalments. Taking the example above, the lowest paid staff would have received an additional in-year sum of £1,400 (pro rata) rather than £437.

Staff on the lowest grades would have received 17% more this year than last year.

Commenting on the breakdown in negotiations, a spokesperson for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said: “Council has made a substantial offer to the Trade Unions that would see a payment of £1400 spread across two £700 payments for all employees, to provide immediate financial relief to staff dealing with cost of living pressures right now, at a cost to council of £2.3m.

“This offer combined with the national pay award of £1925 would have meant an additional £3,325 of payments to each employee (pro rata) during 2022/23, with a further commitment to a pay and grading review. In real terms staff on lower scale incomes would receive up to a 17.6%, significantly more than the offer sought”.

The council position is that the offer proposed meets and exceeds the objective being asked by the Trade Unions, to help staff with the current cost of living crisis.  The demand of the JTUs on salary scale incremental rises, will only provide a relatively
small monthly increase to most people to deal with what is an immediate pressure.

Commenting further, the spokesperson,  said: “Council is also aware that Union members were not consulted on the offer prior
to the Trade Unions rejection, and those who did vote for strike action, did so before this offer was made.

“The current national pay offer of £1,925 for each employee represents a pressure of approximately £3.2million on council budgets for this year and will be need to be found each year going forward.  Any additional incremental pay increase asked for by Trade Unions will increase this figure substantially.  Council must be mindful of the need to manage the rates burden being placed on households and businesses in what are already difficult times.”

Monday will see the most severe impact to services and facilities across the borough with all three Trade Unions (NIPSA, GMB, and Unite the Union) taking formal strike action, however the council remains fully committed to finding the right solution through on-going discussions, one that protects services and employment.

The council will seek to minimise the impact caused, and will endeavour to keep the public informed of service disruptions throughout the period of industrial action via its website: www.armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk/servicedisruption, on Facebook and Twitter.

Read more: Council outline ‘severe disruption’ as four week strike begins on Monday

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