Pay freeze on cards for Lancashire's lowest-paid council workers

5,820 staff would be directly hit
5,820 staff would be directly hit
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The lowest-paid workers at cash-strapped Lancashire County Council look set to bear the brunt of a new three-part savings plan aimed at slashing £12m off its £319m wages bill.

The council is looking to freeze the hourly wage paid to its lowest-paid 5,820 workers, including cleaners, school dinner ladies, lollipop men and woman and carers. Today it will consider gradually replacing its more generous pay rates with the lower National Living Wage (NLW), the legal minimum it can pay over-25s.

If such a change - which would save £1m by 2021 - is approved it will make Lancashire County Council the first council in England to scrap a commitment to paying what’s called a Foundation Living Wage (FLW).

The council currently pays the FLW of £8.45 an hour. Under the new proposals that pay would be frozen until the National Minimum Wage (NMW), currently £7.50 an hour for over 25s, overtakes it and replaces it.

The more generous Foundation Wage was introduced at Lancashire County Council in 2014 by the previous Labour administration.

Part-time workers, many of whom are women, would be particularly hard hit by the policy change. Nearly a third of the workforce affected are over 50 and many are part-time workers.

The leader of the Labour opposition group at Lancashire County Council Coun Azhar Ali criticised the proposals and said: “I will be asking for this to be discussed at the full council. Are we going to give our low paid staff their wage slip with the number for the local Food Bank? That’s the way we are heading.”

The cabinet will also consider reviewing all staff terms and conditions in a bid to save £5m by 2020. This could include changes to sick pay and the offer of extra unpaid holidays.

A report to cabinet acknowledges if no collective agreement on new terms is reached, workers could be sacked and then offered new – less favourable – contracts.

The cabinet will look to save a further £6m by 2018/19 with a recruitment freeze - it’s suggested two per cent of staff vacancies will not be filled.

The council says it is considering the options because it faces a shortfall of £161m by 2022 amid “unprecedented financial pressure.”

The council has been on a cutting crusade since public austerity cuts hit in 2010. There have been thousand of redundancies and the workforce now stands at 12,319.

Elaine Cotterell, branch secretary for Unison said: “Unison has previously warned that it was expecting the council to start attacks on terms and conditions and now their intentions are clear.

“The county council intends to save over £1m by ceasing to pay the Foundation Living Wage. The timing of this couldn’t be more cruel given this week sees the announcement of the annual increase in the FLW.

“This is a shocking and insulting attack on the lowest paid staff who work for the council.

“By the council’s own admission the proposal will adversely impact on employees who are part time and a disproportionate number are female.

“The council also wants to achieve at least £5m by reviewing staff terms and conditions across the County Council and if agreement can’t be achieved they will dismiss and re-engage staff (that is- impose the new terms and conditions by sacking staff and offering a new contract with the new terms and conditions).

“At a time when hard-working staff have suffered years of pay restraint whilst juggling higher workloads with reduced resources, the council thinks that the right thing to do is punish its workforce.

“Unison does not think this is fair and we believe that members do not think it’s fair either.”

County Councillor Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “We have to look at all possible options as we work to get the council’s finances back on an even keel and, given that it constitutes more than 70 per cent of our budget, that has to include staffing issues.

"The county council faces an unprecedented financial challenge, as we try and close a funding gap of £161m in 2021/22, following a long-term reduction in funding and an increase in demand for our services.

“We are trying to ensure that we continue to offer fair terms and conditions to our staff whilst addressing our financial challenge so that we continue to deliver vital front-line services for the people of Lancashire. We will, of course, consult with the trades unions on any proposed changes.”

Public sector pay has risen by one per cent since 2013/14 with pay freezes for all but the lowest paid from 2011-13. The Post asked the council why it was only the lowest paid workers who were facing a possible new pay freeze. The council declined to comment further.

Lancashire County Council currently voluntarily pays a Foundation Living Wage, (FLW) also known as the Real Living Wage, to its lowest paid staff - £8.45 an hour.

If it was paying the Government’s legal minimum, called the National Living Wage, which was introduced in April 2016 for workers aged 25 plus, it would be a more modest £7.50 an hour.
For those aged 21-25 the Government’s legal minimum wage is lower still - £7.05 an hour.

The previous Labour administration at Lancashire County Council adopted the FLW in 2014 to provide a higher minimum rate of pay to its lowest paid staff.

The Foundation pay, currently paid by some 3,500 UK employers, is set independently and updated each year with those organisations adopting it agreeing to implement any recommended increases within six months.

On Monday, the Living Wage Foundation announced the Foundation wage should go up by 30p an hour to £8.75.

The rates for the FLW are calculated by the Resolution Foundation, overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on evidence about living standards.

The Government’s national minimum wage is based on a target to reach 60 per cent of median (mid-point) earnings by 2020 - less than £9 an hour on current forecasts.

What the union says...

Elaine Cotterell, branch secretary for Unison said: “Unison has previously warned that it was expecting the council to start attacks on terms and conditions and now their intentions are clear.

“The county council intends to save over £1m by ceasing to pay the Foundation Living Wage. The timing of this couldn’t be more cruel given this week sees the announcement of the annual increase in the FLW.

“This is a shocking and insulting attack on the lowest paid staff who work for the council.

“By the council’s own admission the proposal will adversely impact on employees who are part time and a disproportionate number are female.

“The council also wants to achieve at least £5m by reviewing staff terms and conditions across the County Council and if agreement can’t be achieved they will dismiss and re-engage staff (that is- impose the new terms and conditions by sacking staff and offering a new contract with the new terms and conditions).

“At a time when hard-working staff have suffered years of pay restraint whilst juggling higher workloads with reduced resources, the council thinks that the right thing to do is punish its workforce.

“Unison does not think this is fair and we believe that members do not think it’s fair either.”

What the council says...

County Councillor Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “We have to look at all possible options as we work to get the council’s finances back on an even keel and, given that it constitutes more than 70 per cent of our budget, that has to include staffing issues. The county council faces an unprecedented financial challenge, as we try and close a funding gap of £161m in 2021/22, following a long-term reduction in funding and an increase in demand for our services.

“We are trying to ensure that we continue to offer fair terms and conditions to our staff whilst addressing our financial challenge so that we continue to deliver vital front-line services for the people of Lancashire. We will, of course, consult with the trades unions on any proposed changes.”

Public sector pay has risen by one per cent since 2013/14 with pay freezes for all but the lowest paid from 2011-13. The Post asked the council why it was only the lowest paid workers who were facing a possible new pay freeze. The council declined to comment further.

What is the Living Wage?

Lancashire County Council currently voluntarily pays a Foundation Living Wage, (FLW) also known as the Real Living Wage, to its lowest paid staff - £8.45 an hour.

If it was paying the Government’s legal minimum, called the National Living Wage, which was introduced in April 2016 for workers aged 25 plus, it would be a more modest £7.50 an hour. For those aged 21-25 the Government’s legal minimum wage is lower still - £7.05 an hour.

The previous Labour administration at Lancashire County Council adopted the FLW in 2014 to provide a higher minimum rate of pay to its lowest paid staff.

The Foundation pay, currently paid by some 3,500 UK employers, is set independently and updated each year with those organisations adopting it agreeing to implement any recommended increases within six months.

On Monday, the Living Wage Foundation announced the Foundation wage should go up by 30p an hour to £8.75.

The rates for the FLW are calculated by the Resolution Foundation, overseen by the Living Wage Commission, based on evidence about living standards.

The Government’s national minimum wage is based on a target to reach 60 per cent of median (mid-point) earnings by 2020 - less than £9 an hour on current forecasts.

Who will be affected?

Some 5,820 staff would be directly hit by the axeing of the FLW.

Public service union Unison predicts workers affected will include:
• 1,736 school catering staff;
• 832 cleaners;
• 643 disability and adult day centre workers;
• 376 lollipop crossing patrol workers;
• 983 care assistants in older people’s services;
• 832 drivers who drive Travelcare vehicles for children and adults with special needs.

All staff will be hit by any changes to terms and conditions.It is thought that these could include changes to sick pay arrangements and the introduction of options to take extra unpaid holiday leave.