HARROGATE: Strike action called off after results of low turnout vote come in

·2-min read
Harrogate Borough Council
Harrogate Borough Council

Strike action by Harrogate Borough Council staff has been called off after too few union members voted in a national ballot.

The ballot held by Unison closed on Friday after its members last year rejected a 1.75% pay rise offer from the Local Government Association.

Council workers including refuse collectors, planners and leisure centre staff could have gone on strike to demand a better pay offer, but because less than half of union members nationally turned out to vote the action cannot legally go ahead.

David Houlgate, secretary of Harrogate’s Unison branch, said despite the 14.5% turnout, members who voted were still “deeply unhappy” about the pay they receive.

He said: “Whilst an overwhelming majority of those who voted were prepared to show their anger at the employers’ derisory 1.75% pay offer by taking strike action, they are prevented from doing so because of the number of votes cast in the ballot.

“We want to make clear that council staff are deeply unhappy over pay which isn’t even close to offsetting the cost of living crisis we are experiencing under the current government.”

The 1.75% pay rise offer – which was also made to school staff and included a 2.75% rise for those on the very lowest pay point – was rejected by 74% of Unison members in Harrogate last September.

Both Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council have not been involved in the negotiations as they were conducted at a national level.

The Local Government Association has led the discussions and previously said the pay offer was “final” and represented “the limit of affordability for most councils” which have been hit hard during the pandemic.

But Mr Houlgate has argued the offer has failed to take into account numerous pay freezes and inflation which he said has seen pay for staff cut by around 25% in real terms since 2010.

He also said councils are already facing a staffing crisis with “a huge number of vacancies” and employees quitting at an “alarming rate”.

Mr Houlgate said: “With inflation predicted to hit 6% this year, this amounts to another real terms pay cut for council workers across the country and will increase the pressure on frontline services.

“With the uncertainty of the imminent local government reorganisation in North Yorkshire added into the mix, there is a real risk that Harrogate Borough Council and other local authorities will lose staff to employers prepared and willing​ to g​rant above-inflation wage rises.

“These include local supermarkets, hospitality outlets and ​other private sector firms ​who have either made or are ​considering pay increases allowing workers to keep on top of ​rocketing household bills.”

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