A second Saturday of strike action by members of Unison who work for South Gloucestershire Council has taken place – and a third day of industrial action is planned for Friday.
All local libraries were closed yesterday except for Cadbury Heath as library assistants took to the picket line.
Staff at the Vinney Green secure unit for young offenders were also striking, as were care assistants and civil enforcement officers – in total about 190 workers.
The council has introduced new contracts for staff who have to work weekends. Unison says pay rates for Saturday working have been cut by 33 per cent and that all these groups earn significantly below national average earnings and are already facing “massive reductions” in real living standards, having only received a single 1% pay rise in the last four years.
Unison held a rally at Kingswood Community Centre yesterday lunchtime and members were supported by representatives of the health workers’ union Unite. Unison said there had been tremendous support from the public who had signed a petition.
Joanne Kaye, Unison South West Regional Secretary, said that there was a lack of understanding by the council of the “devastating impact on people’s lives” that the changes to enhancements and allowances paid to staff were having, with some staff losing as much as £150 a month.
“These cuts have made life unsustainable,” she said.
She criticised Kingswood’s Conservative MP Chris Skidmore for his “shocking lack of understanding” after a comment he made to the Free Enterprise Group made up of Conservative MPs, saying the impact of Government cuts had not been so bad because they had not left people “lying dead in the streets”.
Mr Skidmore has claimed his comment was taken out of context and the point he was making was that there had been predictions that the Government’s austerity programme would result in people lying dead in the streets, and that had clearly not happened.
Ms Kaye also criticised him for a report he co-wrote on the British being among the most idle in the world. She told the rally: “He has never done a proper job in his life. I’d like to see him working a shift at Vinney Green.”
Unison branch secretary Huw Williams told the rally that the union was due to meet the leaders of the political parties on the council on Wednesday (9th October) at which the strike action would be discussed and he hoped they would consider “trying to resolve this”. In the meantime he said a strike was planned from 10am to 2pm on 11th October.
He said the council had “gambled” on the staff affected by the cuts not taking action but that gamble had backfired, with members “angry and determined”.
Unison has also criticised the council for trying to break the strike. Mr Williams said staff across the authority had been emailed, offering normal salary plus 50% for anyone with a CRB check who could provide cover at Vinney Green during the industrial action. The union says this is more than members taking strike action get paid.