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Unite slams proposed £1.8m axe to Newham council staff pay

The public sector union Unite has launched a campaign to safeguard the jobs and services of staff at Newham Borough Council after the local authority proposed £1.8m cuts to the pay of its workers.

The council plans to re-hire its workforce on lower-paid contracts and significantly slash overtime pay in the New Year, despite no cuts being proposed to councillors’ allowances and the council having £161m in general fund reserves in the last financial year.

The union has threatened to hold a ballot on industrial action unless the council backs down on the proposed cuts, which the local authority says have been forced upon it by government policy since 2010.

Unite regional officer Michelle Cook said: “This is not a campaign demanding a pay increase – all we are demanding is that the pay and conditions of public service workers are not cut.

“The authority needs to remember that for years council workers took a pay freeze so the books could be balanced – and Unite would draw councillors’ attention to the large level of reserves, compared with the scale of cuts now being directed at our members. To be told that such drastic cuts are now on the cards is not acceptable.”

The council’s proposed cuts include halving overtime pay from 50% extra to 25% for many workers, reducing night work pay to 20% along with the number of applicable hours, and slashing maternity pay by 12 weeks.

The union is also planning to contact all 60 councillors to urge a rethink on the proposals while also lobbying council meetings and events, launching a petition and holding demonstrations.

“We will give every worker the chance to make a stand for decent pay and conditions – and more generally, the preservation of services that the growing population of the borough requires on a daily basis,” Cook said.

The council’s proposals come in the backdrop of a £24m cut from the borough’s social care budget. Newham council has been forced to reduce its social care funding by 15% in the last six years, with the latest government figures showing the council’s funding as £136m last year, down from £161m in 2009-10.

Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales explained that the council faced another £70m cut to its overall budgets by 2020.

“The government has scythed millions of pounds from councils’ funding, disproportionately targeting the areas of highest need,” Sir Robin added. “Since 2010 we have seen around £110m cut from our central funding to support providing the services our residents depend and rely on, with social care hit as well as our other key services.”

There are over 300,000 residents in the east London borough of Newham, with Unite pointing out that lower paid council workers rely on regular overtime pay to survive in the face of London’s ever rising living costs.

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