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In recent weeks Leeds Unison Local Government branch, jointly with the other respective council unions have been undergoing a consultative ballot amongst the membership over the employers cuts packages and the impact this will have on our membership.

A Leeds UNISON steward

But resulting from this there was no outright clear mandate in favour or against. There were factors that contributed to this; Firstly the wording of the recommendation from the JTUC (Joint Trade Union Committee), which said that the offer was the best that could be achieved through negotiations but we cannot positively recommend this offer to our members. This was a confusing and defeatist message to the members.

After concerns from branch activists, Unison sent a much stronger statement out to recommend a rejection while the ballot was being conducted. Yet the initial recommendation will have contributed to the low turn-out.

In the debates amongst Unison activists it has been noted that at the JTUC when discussing the outcome of the ballot, it had been asked that, if we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, what should we do? And their answer was to freeze!

This shows that union leaders feel incapable of raising the confidence of activists and mobilise a genuine campaign to oppose all the cuts and instead the unions have decided to jointly reject the Council’s proposals but also have opted to continue negotiations with the Council “with the aim of avoiding compulsory redundancies”.

The position of the unions is weak if you contrast it to what Socialist Party members have been saying. We have consistently made the point that where members have voted to reject the offer they have done so with a means to doing something about it. Particularly when it is these members that are the most directly affected, where Mental Health Day Centres, Leeds Crisis Centre and up to 20 libraries are destined for closure among other essential frontline services.

At the Unison AGM the branch passed an ‘emergency motion’ that explained the serious implications for members if the Council gets away with its Managing Workforce Change Policy, the main sticking point for us – “The reduction in the time allowed, ultimately to change the basic statutory minimum, to redeploy displaced staff”, and, “would make it easier for the Council to make staff redundant…”

If the Council seeks to impose this, it would mean a unilateral change to our conditions of service whereby the Council would have to dismiss and re-engage all Council staff on new contracts of employment incorporating the detrimental changes.

This motion resolves to have an indicative ballot amongst members to see determine the preparedness should the Council imposes its offer whilst at the same time build a campaign of awareness and protest jointly with other unions.

The Socialist Party believes that we need to move straight to a ballot, we’ve already had consultation and we’ve been issued with another 90 day consultation period that ends on May 3rd

It’s clear that the unions want to engage with the employer with a ‘softly softly’ approach as not to upset the applecart but in doing so it is agreeing to ‘smaller’cuts as they meander through. This has been the way for years, and therefore it is understandable that there is cynicism amongst many members. Yet, as we have repeatedly warned these cuts are far too many to ignore and at a certain stage mass industrial action is inevitable.

Consultation Ballot Results

Unison             Yes                  No

                        674 (53%         554 (47%)

GMB               41%                 58%

Unite               45%                 55%

UCATT           56%                 44%