Thousands of council staff have been left with questions unanswered about changes to their contracts about to come into force.
Sunderland City Council plans to introduce new arrangements on pay, grading and terms and conditions as it evens out inequalities.
It estimates that half its staff will end up better off, but no collective agreement has been reached with their unions. Unison does not fully accept the proposals, though Unite and the GMB have signed up.
That means all the authority’s 8,000 staff have been sent letters asking if they will agree on a personal basis, with a deadline of Wednesday for sign-ups.
Unison say this has left employees with questions over what it will mean for them, but they cannot get answers because of the timing of the letter coinciding with the festive holiday period.
It says that if they do not voluntarily accept the changes, including extra hours, as well as the use of their own cars, by the end of the month, they will be subject to a collective consultation process until February, with compulsory changes to their contracts to be made in June.
Any workers facing salary cuts will have their pay protected until March 2017.
An estimated 1,500 staff will have their pay increased so they get the living wage.
The plans have been under discussion for the last four years, but the council is believed to be pushing for the pay changes to come into effect next month.
Unison has about 2,500 members working for the council, but it says it cannot ballot members over the plans because of unresolved issues over equal pay claims, concerns about a lack of transparency and the need for additional legal information on job profiles.
Peter De-Vere, assistant branch secretary of Unison’s council group, said he was disgusted by the timing.
He added: “This letter that has been sent out is an important document, and now there is nobody around to speak to.
“For it to happen a few days before Christmas, it’s really wrong. A lot of people are trying to find out information and they can’t.
“They have been sent this letter and will be fearful because it gives the impression that from the new year, if they don’t sign, they will be forced into taking terms and conditions which our members were against.”
Chris Preston, organiser for Sunderland’s GMB branch, said: “There are funding cuts, which we will know the full extent of in January from central Government, and they are looking at what cuts can be made to services in coming years.
“However, for every day that goes by, this issue costs the council. The fact is that staying the same isn’t an option because we will just sue them for unequal pay.”