Tough Times Ahead for Council Workers; Half a Century's Worth of Pay and Conditions Agreements Are Set to Be Ripped Up as Birmingham City Council's Political Leadership Attempts to Impose "Modern" Employment Conditions on Its Workforce, Reports Public Affairs Correspondent Paul Dale

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Byline: Paul Dale

If the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition running Birmingham holds its nerve, costly allowances and perks handed to local authority workers since the 1950s will be swept away in an unprecedented modernisation programme.

Talks are continuing with the trade unions more than four months after the coalition announced its intention to remove the contracts of 26,000 employees, ending routine overtime payments for working weekends, irregular hours and unpopular shifts - saving about pounds 10 million a year.

In addition, disturbance payments allowing staff to claim additional travel costs arising if they are required to change their work location will go.

Hundreds of free parking spaces for employees, presently costing pounds 870,000 a year to provide, are also under threat along with essential car user allowances as the council attempts to scale back the pounds 4 million a year it spends on mileage payments. And, in the most significant change of all, new contracts imposed on the workforce will do away with individual job descriptions.

Employees will instead be placed into one of six job groups - manager, professional, administrative, operative, technical and caring.

The council says this will give it the flexibility to "make the best use of the skills, knowledge and experience" of staff by moving employees from one part of the organisation to another without making relocation payments.

Furious union leaders insist it is just a way of forcing people to work unsocial hours on jobs they may not be suited to or want.

For cabinet human resources member Alan Rudge, the new contract is about "reducing costs and modernising working practices".

He promised that the new contracts would be in place by "early 2011", although that date has now slipped. Anyone refusing to accept the changes will be sacked and offered immediate re-engagement on the new contract, according to Coun Rudge.

He intends to bring a report outlining his plans to the February 14 cabinet meeting. Union leaders are already dubbing this the Valentine's Day Massacre.

The coalition's political leadership knows it has to tread carefully to avoid forcing the unions into industrial action. …