Birmingham council chief attacks 'scurrilous' union bosses
Birmingham City Council human resources director Andy Albon has accused union leaders of spreading "scurrilous and inaccurate" information in an attempt to boost support for a two-day strike.
Hours before thousands of workers were due to walk out, Mr Albon released an exchange of letters in which he claimed the main public sector union Unison had deliberately misrepresented the outcome of recent pay negotiations in order to increase the appetite for industrial action.
Unison is one five unions involved in a lengthy dispute over a pay and grading review, which will result in about 20,000 council staff receiving a pay rise and about 5,000 suffering a pay cut.The two day strike, today and tomorrow, is expected to severely disrupt services including bin collections and street cleaning.
But fears that most schools would be forced to close are being played down.
The council expects only 19 out of 441 schools to close today and that the number will increase to 56 tomorrow, when the second day of industrial action coincides with a 24-hour strike by the National Union of Teachers.
Mr Albon criticised Unison for reneging on an agreement to put an improved pay offer to its membership in a ballot. He said Data Protection Act restrictions prevented the council from providing details of how the new arrangements would affect individual employees.
In a letter to Birmingham Unison official Franco Buonaguru, Mr Albon said: "Your claim that the city council has ignored or frustrated requests for information and sought to impede the ability of Unison to bargain collectively is as scurrilous as it is inaccurate.
"The council has provided extensive information to enable you to carry out an equality assessment and only denied requests where it would be in breach of its Data Protection Act obligations to do so.
"The council entered into discussions with you in good faith and in the belief that Unison was genuinely seeking a positive outcome. Recent actions by Unison, nationally, regional and locally, challenge this view. I would ask for your clarification as to whether Unison’s involvement in the intensive negotiations was a sham."
Council chief executive Stephen Hughes issued a plea for staff to work as normal: "Following the previous industrial action the unions agreed to suspend any future strikes until a new improved offer, drawn up in consultation between the council and unions, had been individually put to all their members.
"Unfortunately this has not taken place, meaning thousands of employees have been denied the chance to consider proposals which for many will lead to improved pay, leave entitlement and conditions of employment.
Unison hit back, claiming that the new grading structure would discriminate against low-paid women.
Mr Boundary, who said the system was designed to minimise future wage increases, added: "Unison has repeatedly sought the information necessary to reach an informed view about the proposals being made by Birmingham City Council. Repeatedly these requests have been either ignored or frustrated."
The GMB union denied a council claim that it was ready to ignore Unison and agree a deal.
Birmingham organiser Ann Leveret said: "There is a slight difference of opinion as to the level of talks we are willing to be involved in, however this does not create disharmony. The joint trade unions have a commitment to fight together against an unreasonable package submitted by an unreasonable employer."