Unison calls for council tax to go up in Neath Port Talbot to protect workers from pay cuts
UNION leaders have called for an increase in council tax bills to protect Neath Port Talbot Council workers from being hit by crippling pay cuts.
The authority is finalising proposals to combat a predicted £21 million budget shortfall in its forward financial plan for 2013-18.
Officers are looking at a combination of service cuts, council tax increases, staff wage cuts and increased fees and charges to help close the gap.
But Unison has warned it will not accept further wage cuts — and says a small increase in council tax would lift the threat of a wage cut of up to £2,000 a year for its members.
Branch chairman Mark Fisher said Unison held a meeting with the council to discuss the forward financial plan. A further meeting would be held in January as the proposals had not been finalised.
"But they have not ruled anything out," said Mr Fisher. "Permanent wage cuts are still on the agenda, together with a reduction in terms and conditions, job losses, cuts in services and further outsourcing.
"Our response is still the same. Look at all other options first before looking at our wages.
"We have not ruled out industrial action as a last resort if negotiations breakdown and the council look to implement these proposals."
Mr Fisher said the council had stated it was looking at Unison's own proposals, which included an increase in council tax to maintain services.
"This equates to a small increase of £1 a week for council tax payers of Neath Port Talbot as opposed to our membership who will be asked to lose up to £2,000 a year on a permanent basis," he added.
Unison has also called for any wages should be spread across the board rather that targeting low-paid staff who were already struggling to keep their heads above water.
Branch secretary Melanie Fender said: "Our members have not had a pay rise for three years.
"This equates to a pay decrease of 15 per cent in real terms and now they face a pay cut of up to £2,000.
"Enough is enough! Our members are ready to fight if we have to, but we will always look to negotiate before encouraging industrial action, which is always a last resort."
Ms Fender said there was a clear alternative, which councillors had to consider first.
"Can you imagine British Gas saying that the price of gas had to increase, but rather than pass that cost onto its customers they were going to ask their staff to pay for it?" she asked.
"I don't think the majority of people would expect or accept that, and I can imagine how British Gas staff would react."
Council leader Ali Thomas said: "The package of measures remains under consideration and final decisions have yet to be taken.
"Council tax levels will be determined in due course; but it will be important to ensure that the impact of the UK Government's welfare reform measures are not exacerbated by simply hitting those who can least afford it even harder."