Union’s £4.5m legal threat against council

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The new ruling Tory/LibDem administration at East Dunbartonshire Council has agreed to enter into negotiations with unions — after 
UNISON threatened to sue it for millions of pounds.

At a special meeting of the council last Tuesday night, the administration agreed to suspend cuts to the voluntary redundancy packages to “allow further engagement and consultation with trade unions.”

This comes after UNISON regional organiser Simon Macfarlane accused the council of a statutory breach of collective bargaining duties. Last month the union informed the council it intended to sue – to the tune of £4,000 for every one of its members – for pushing through the cuts without meaningful consultation.

With around 1,200 UNISON members as employees, the council faced forking out more than £4.5 million in awards.

A spokesperson for UNISON, already balloting members to vote in favour of industrial action, said he welcomed the decision by the administration to come back to the table and hoped the negotiations would be “constructive and meaningful.”

He added union members had expressed concerns the council was merely paying “lip service” to thwart the legal challenge.

The decision at last week’s special meeting has been met with derision by opposition parties.

An amendment by the SNP group to scrap the changes to workers’ redundancy terms rather than suspend them was defeated by 11 votes to 9.

The SNP, who quit as a minority administration when the six Tories and six Lib Dem councillors pushed through the redundancy cuts without consultation in November, hit out at the “extraordinary about-face.”

SNP Group Leader, Councillor Gordan Low, said: “Faced with having to implement a LibDem/Tory policy to which we were completely opposed, the SNP Group were left with no option but to resign .

“LibDem and Tory councillors were given several opportunities to reconsider, all of which they rejected. Now, having only just taken over as the ruling administration, almost their first decision is bizarrely to overturn their very own flagship policy.

“LibDem leader Councillor Vaughan Moody claims he’s suspending the policy to allow time for negotiation with the unions, despite his previous repeated refusals to countenance any negotiation.

“So why only now are they claiming to show concern for council staff and offering to work with the Trade Unions, and why the sudden and extraordinary about-face, after letters notifying the new policy have already been sent out to employees?

“Perhaps because their own previous actions have left the council facing the complete breakdown of industrial relations and the prospect of legal challenge, potentially at enormous cost to the council.”

Labour group leader, Councillor Alan Moir also hit out, saying: “Tuesday night’s Special Council Meeting was a lost opportunity to reverse a vindictive political decision made in November 2017.

“This decision amounts to nothing more than gesture politics with a cynical suggestion that this will re-establish something that resembles half decent industrial relations. I genuinely hope that this is not the motivation by the new administration.”

Joint Leaders, Councillor Vaughan Moody and Councillor Andrew Polson, said they felt it was “appropriate to include the changes to the redundancy payments framework late last year within the wider negotiations with trades unions, planned in relation to changes to workers’ terms and conditions.”

If an agreement between council and the unions is not reached by June 29, then the original redundancy package cuts will be implemented.