A PAY freeze could be forced on to 12,000 council staff as county bosses look to cut costs.
Thousands of bin men, social workers and care home staff are to meet with union leaders to consider what can be done to prevent Northumberland County Council denying them the chance to increase their wages next year.
Council bosses say they have no choice but to look at preventing any staff from moving up in their salary bandings in order to save at least £1.8m.
The council would still honour any national pay agreement but would not agree to any salary scale reviews, as previously agreed in nearly all their staff contracts. And union bosses have warned they could be forced to consider industrial action if the council holds pay levels just as a potential Conservative Government announces nationwide pay freezes.
It raises the prospect of council bosses struggling to cope with county-wide strikes while trying to find £33m in savings.
Staff have written to council directors warning that they would oppose any attempt to hold back on contractual obligations to offer them the chance to receive a pay rise within their salary band. They have called on the council to look for savings elsewhere, including a review of consultancy costs.
Last night union leaders warned the proposed pay changes would make strike action “a very serious option”. And many are claiming the move could eventually see teachers and school support staff dragged into the dispute.
Colin Smith, the GMB’s regional local government officer, said: “Council staff are constantly called upon to make more and more savings for political reasons. We are an easy target.
“So we will be urging our members to fight this attempt to deny staff their contractual rights.”
And Unison’s Northumberland branch secretary Ian Fleming said the move, coupled with the likelihood of a Conservative Government’s national pay freeze, would force strike negotiations on to the work force.
He added: “We are setting out to speak to members across the county and get their views on this.
“We know the council wants to save £1.8m and we know that the local plans coupled with what is happening nationally means we are facing up to no pay increase at all across the county.
“It is frankly wrong of the council to ask staff to change their terms of employment. We know it is going to be difficult for local government next year, but it is looking like it will be even worse in Northumberland. We see the council trying to save £33m a year and asking the workforce to carry some of those cuts. It is not something we are prepared to do and at the moment all options are open to us, including strike action.
“We are led by our members, and will have a better idea about where we go next when we have finished consulting members.”
Nick Cook, director of corporate services at Northumberland County Council, said: “We have been consulting the unions about a possible freeze on pay increments within salary scales. Employees would still receive any national annual pay award agreed.
“The proposal would save in the region of 90 jobs and is one of the many tough budget options the council is currently considering as it looks to make substantial savings, while trying to protect front-line services and jobs.”