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Over the last few weeks Leeds local government branch activists have been engaged in a lively discussion and debate so we can decide how best we can take our members forward in the fight to defend jobs and services from the impending axe.

A Leeds Unison member

The branch has entered a critical period as Leeds city council has put forward its ‘final’ offer to the unions. The council intends to cut £90 million from its 2011/12 budget as part of a bigger spending cuts package, £150 million over four years.

This will result in between 2,500 and 3,000, or 1 in 6 jobs being axed. The council says that savings could be found elsewhere such as through further privatisation, and its services and other organisations sharing buildings, but employee costs account for almost 50% of the council’s expenditure.

Our employer won’t, even through negotiation, guarantee no compulsory redundancies. Rather, they argue that should we accept their offer the chances of compulsory redundancies are reduced.

Given the severity of the job cuts, the council issued a 188 notice (of redundancy) to the trade unions in November 2010 and that was the start of the 90 day consultancy period which ended on 2 February.

But Unison activists are not just angry about this. The council wants to greatly reduce the time period for redeployment, its Managing Workforce Change Policy.

This will mean that where staff have asked for redeployment due to ill-health or otherwise, or they are ‘surplus to requirement’, it will be quicker and easier to make them redundant.

In this period of austerity, where the employer has already introduced an Early Voluntary Redundancy policy and implemented a vacancy freeze, after service cutbacks it will be impossible to find those on redeployment alternative posts.

For our members this offer is simply unacceptable. I’ve argued long and hard for our Unison branch to take the employer on.

We need to build for coordinated action now.

I have warned that if we don’t build for strike action against all the cuts, it would weaken the branch’s ability to organise and fight future battles.

Recently my motion to unite all the separate disputes by defending all the existing conditions and opposing all the cuts through coordinated collective action was passed.

However, at this stage the branch has decided to go for a consultation ballot amongst the members, recommending that they reject the offer. The four unions Unison, GMB, Unite and Ucatt are balloting their respective memberships.

The ballot will run from 7 to 21 February. In the meantime union branch activists are engaging with the members in workplace meetings and building for a lobby of the council on 23 February when the full council decides how it will implement the cuts.

This will be at the Civic Hall from 12.30pm until 1.30pm

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