9:30am Friday 17th September 2010 From the Evening Advertiser
STAFF at Swindon council have voted to go on strike from next weekend after a dispute with the council over pay.
Almost 150 Unison members at leisure centres, country parks and in car parking services will not work weekends as of September 25/26.
The dispute is over the council’s decision to withdraw extra pay for staff working unsociable hours – up to 14 per cent in some cases.
The strike could badly affect activities at leisure centres, such as Swindon Wildcats ice hockey matches at the Link Centre, and if it persists into the Christmas shopping period the lack of car parking staff could lead to a significant drop in income for the council.
Unison branch secretary Bob Cretchley said: “This ballot reflects the anger felt by Unison members who were employed to work unsociable hours and received an additional allowance to compensate for this, but who have now had this arrangement torn up by the council.
“In three months of negotiations with Unison over this, Swindon council refused to budge from its decision.
This pay cut has caused considerable hardship for members and they feel that they have no alternative to taking industrial action in the face of Swindon council’s intransigence.
The strike will impact on the council services in these three areas.
If there is not a resolution of the dispute, Unison will be looking to ballot further groups of members.”
Coun Fionuala Foley, cabinet member for leisure and corporate services, called the strike ‘appalling’.
“Firstly I would like to apologise to any residents who are unfairly impacted by this strike,” she said.
“We will try as best as we can to do business as usual. I haven’t yet received a copy of the letter the Adver has received so no contingency plans have been put into place as yet. They have until Friday to notify us.
We have been working with the union for a number of years for a single status on pay regrading, which is something the Labour Government brought in.
Then we went into an extra consultation period earlier this year and have made changes in certain areas.
I feel quite strongly that the allowances offered for weekend working are fair and we have checked with neighbouring authorities and other industries as to what they pay.
I believe as a council we have to deliver fair and affordable taxes for the residents of Swindon and I do not believe it is justifiable to continue to pay over the market value, even more so in the current economic climate that we are working in.
Leisure is already heavily subsidised by the residents of Swindon and all our leisure centres, apart from Broome Manor Golf Course, run at a loss.
When we are trying to find millions of pounds in cuts to the budget I find it appalling to think that people are going out on strike.”
Lesley Leffers, of Swindon Tigersharks swimming club, which trains at the Link Centre, said although she understood the reasons behind the strike, it would still be bad news for the club as they were coming into their busiest time of year.
“We hold our training there every Saturday and Sunday so it would be a disaster as a club and for other clubs using the Link,” she said.
“For us to lose those hours training when we are coming up to our busiest time would be very bad.
But I have been speaking to staff there and cleaners and one or two have said how disappointed they were with the council. I have every sympathy with them – if I lost £300 a month it would be a big deal to me as well.”
Swindon Dolphins swimming club is due to hold its annual club championships at the Link on September 25/26.
But coach Louise Clayton remained optimistic. She said: “We bring our own lifeguards, so whether it would affect us I’m not too sure.”