Mass protest as council set to approve job cuts

Councillors are expected to approve the job cuts. Picture: Andrew Stuart
Councillors are expected to approve the job cuts. Picture: Andrew Stuart
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UNION members and community groups were set to stage a mass protest outside the City Chambers today as councillors met to approve a policy of compulsory redundancies.

The council wants to axe 2000 jobs as well as cutting funding for road repairs and winter festivals, increasing parking fees and introducing charges for public toilets as it strives to plug a £126 million black hole in its finances.

Only 1200 employees are understood to have volunteered to leave so far, leading the council to reconsider its previous pledge of no compulsory redundancies.

But unions claim the council’s aim of achieving the job losses by the middle of next year is too quick.

John Stevenson, Unison’s Edinburgh branch president, said: “The council is being asked to make two years of cuts in six months. This could bring unnecessary compulsory redundancies and Unison will urge its members to take action if that is the case.”

He also attacked the “chaos” of council reorganisation. He said: “The deadline for voluntary redundancies has passed, yet nobody knows what the new council structures will look like, so how do bosses know where redundancies need to come from? How did workers know whether to seek redundancy?

“Could they afford to take the chance with the threat of compulsory redundancy on minimum terms? Will the council just structure services around who is left? This chaos has to stop.”

The unions believe compulsory redundancies are avoidable if the council follows its original timetable of seeking the job cuts by 2017.

They say that would allow another year of natural wastage and give employees the chance to see how the restructuring affects them before deciding whether to go for voluntary redundancy.

Greens will argue at today’s meeting there is no need to cut posts so quickly and urge the council to stick to its no compulsory redundancy policy.

A source said Labour councillors may argue for the voluntary scheme to be extended to allow people to apply once the future shape of their department becomes clear under restructuring, but are expected to agree compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out.

Unison, however, urges an alternative. Dave Watson, the union’s head of bargaining and campaigns, said: “We are calling on Scottish councils and the Scottish Government to look very seriously at what other options they have to mitigate the impact of UK government austerity.

“We fully understand the difficult position they are in, but they can look at borrowing at record low interest rates, refinancing, using reserves, reforming taxation, and make better use of pension funds.

“We will continue to campaign with them on fighting UK government austerity. However, we think there is much more they can do to consider no more cuts budgets.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Recommendations for Workforce Change will be discussed by the finance and resources committee today.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com