Staff strike threat at county council

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COUNCIL staff are threatening to strike over changes to car allowances.

Northumberland County Council is axing an annual lump sum of between £850 and £1,200 which is paid to hundreds of employees who use their own cars for work.

It also plans to cut the mileage rate employees can claim while performing their duties.

The proposals, thought to be affecting between 400 and 500 workers, were announced in January last year under plans to save £700,000.

Now 70 per cent of Unison and GMB members have voted in favour of strike, while 80 per cent backed action short of a strike. The form of the action is yet to be consulted on.

A council spokesperson said: “Like many councils across the country, Northumberland County Council reviewed its essential car user allowance scheme and decided after consultation with trades unions and staff that the scheme should be withdrawn with effect from September 30, 2012.

“For those employees who had this as a contractual benefit, the council gave three years’ protection so those employees will continue to receive the payment until autumn 2015.

“Trade unions have now balloted their members who were affected by the withdrawal of the scheme for strike action, although the council is not aware at the present time of what actual action is proposed.

“The council will of course make the necessary contingency plans to ensure services continue to be delivered.”

GMB Regional Organiser Mark Wilson said: “Our members have voted for industrial action, including strike action, so unless we can get round the table and resolve this, that is the likely outcome.

“We believe this is a cost-effective and sensible scheme to compensate people for using their own car for work purposes in such a large geographical area.

“Withdrawing the allowances is a major issue for our members.”

Talks are also being held this week to avert a strike at Netherton Park children’s home in Stannington.

The county council is proposing a re-organisation, but Unison says it will slash wages and increase ‘top-heavy management’.

The council is said to have told trade unions that any industrial action would affect the wellbeing of the children and it would have to consider using its emergency powers to protect the youngsters.

A council spokeswoman said: “We are not aware of any intention of staff taking formal industrial action.

“Discussions are ongoing with staff and trade union officials as part of a county council process. In the event of disruption to any council service, contingency plans would be applied.”

A spokesman for the staff said: “You can only prey on our good nature for so long.

“We, the workforce, have children at home to feed and clothe as well as mortgages or ever-rising rents, yet as well as a four-year pay freeze, we are being asked to take a pay cut to balance the council’s books.

“We are prepared to strike if talks don’t resolve these issues.”