Striking binmen and street cleaners confronted council leader Jason Kitcat outside Brighton Town Hall this afternoon (Thursday 9 May).
More than a hundred angry GMB union members chanted “Kitcat out!” Several of those facing a pay cut handed him their unopened individual compensation offers.
As the protest took place, GMB organiser Mark Turner said that an official strike ballot would be held.
The wildcat strike though looks likely to end and the binmen and street cleaners seem set to return to work tomorrow (Friday 10 May).
They walked out yesterday (Wednesday 8 May) at the start of a 90-day consultation about new pay and allowances which are intended to be fairer for all council staff.
Councillor Kitcat urged those unhappy with the proposed pay changes to read the offers sent to them and to talk to their managers and union reps.
He said that compensation would be paid to anyone who would lose out under the changes and that it would equate to three years of lost money.
His position is not supported by a number of his fellow Green councillors who oppose cutting the pay or allowances of any low-paid staff.
Councillor Kitcat spoke to them a day after Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive Penny Thompson went to the City Clean depot in Hollingdean to speak to those on unofficial strike.
She said: “The changes we are proposing are about having a fair, consistent and affordable pay and allowances system across the whole council.
“For the majority of staff the proposals have a positive impact and we have ensured compensation will be provided for those who will see a loss.
“It will also take time for staff to work through the proposed changes with their manager to clearly understand what, if any, the impact will be on them.
“I do understand that any change can be difficult and we will work hard to keep services running as smoothly as possible.”
Councillor Kitcat said on his blog: “The long overdue proposals being consulted on deal with historic issues we inherited from Labour and Tories that have to be resolved to complete the move to single status, which is the process to ensure fairness for all staff pay (that) every council has had to do.
“The majority of staff, about 90 per cent, will see little or no change to their total pay, and of those affected more will gain than see detriment.
“Any detriment will be compensated and we expect the total wage bill to rise slightly.
“Why are we having to consult staff on this at all? We need to go back to the founding days of the city council I serve on.
“Brighton and Hove City Council was formed in 1997 from the merger of Brighton Borough, Hove Borough and parts of East Sussex County Council.
“This, along with changes over the years since then, has left a complex arrangement for staff pay and allowances.
“Previous Labour and Conservative administrations made a number of abortive attempts to resolve what unions themselves have called a ‘mish-mash’ of allowances which all agreed need resolving.
“While basic pay was eventually reformed, the final part of single status in the form of allowances was always ducked, leaving the council in a risky and unsatisfactory position.
“When Greens became the largest party on the council in 2011 this was one of those incredibly difficult issues which we had to address.
“Sadly external factors mean the council cannot legally delay any longer. We must negotiate a new set of clear and fair allowances this year.
“Of the council’s £180 million a year pay bill, these allowances make up £4 million. However, the implications of these changes affect all staff.
“I make no apology for seeking to introduce fair pay and allowances for all staff from care workers (and) social workers to gardeners and waste operatives.
“Since Greens formed the administration our lowest paid all have and will retain bigger pay packets through our introduction of the ‘living wage’ where we have led the way in local government.
“Senior management pay is at its lowest level in over a decade.
“As a result we’ve closed the gap between highest and lowest paid in the council meaning it’s far more equal than when Labour ran the council.
“We have spent months exploring every possible option and reviewing how other councils handled similar issues before beginning negotiations with the recognised trade unions.
“Most councils handled changes to pay and allowances at the same time.
“Previous administrations took away that choice from us by dealing with basic pay only, leaving the allowances issue unaddressed.
“Negotiations began in February and continued, on and off, until this month.
“This Tuesday (7 May) the council’s offer as the employer was formally sent to the unions, staff and councillors.
“This marked the beginning of the 90-day staff consultation period with a huge array of group briefings, every employee receiving a detailed pack and one-to-one meetings for everyone with their manager.
“It is very clear that this is not about budget savings and not about ‘austerity’. In fact, based on the offer under consultation, the pay bill is likely to go up slightly. Which other council in the country can claim that?
“With input from officers and unions, we have moved heaven and earth to produce the best possible offer which absolutely minimises detriment while remaining within legal and financial constraints.
“Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week. I recognise even that is a lot to some people but not the headline figures being used by some individuals.
“Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump-sum payment.
“For example, someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.
“We are keen to provide new opportunities for staff. We hope that, if agreed at a future committee, changes like bank holiday working can increase opportunities for waste and recycling staff while improving services to the city by eliminating changing collection days every time there is a bank holiday.
“During the consultation period I know that everyone involved remains open to any suggestions from staff and unions which could further improve the offer.
“It is absolutely the right thing to do for the long-term wellbeing of the council, its employees and everyone it serves.
“Nobody who knows all the issues denies that it has to be done and that other parties have failed to finish the job when they had the chance.
“With the success of this process I believe that once and for all we can have a council with a clear and fair pay and allowances system.”