Unions defend cost of staff

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UNIONS have defended the £196,000 of council taxpayers’ cash used to fund their staff at Sunderland City Council.

Wearside Tories have mounted an attack on public sector unions over the cost of paid council staff working full-time on trade union business.

Conservatives have uncovered figures which show in 2010/11 seven council staff worked for unions full-time. The cost to Wearside council taxpayers was £196,332.

The figures are up from five full-time union staff and a total cost of £121,217 in 2008/09.

Unions have defended their worth, stating their efforts have reduced cost to the taxpayer and helped save redundancies.

Sunderland Tory leader Robert Oliver, however, is unhappy with the amount spent.

He said: “It is right that trade union members working for a council are represented by their union and across the country many councils pay salaries to staff to work full or part-time for their trade unions, but there is no statutory requirement to do so.

“This should not be at the cost of hard-working council taxpayers and many will share the view that any salaries paid to union officials should be paid for by individual unions through union subscriptions, not by council tax payers.”

Coun Oliver, a member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: “I expect that my annual subscription is used to fund officials who may act on my behalf rather than it being added to the council tax which will also be paid by many people who are not in unions and, therefore, will not benefit.

“There is a case for reasonable time off and payments when on trade union business, but £196,332 is excessive and puts Sunderland in the top tier of local authorities which fund trade union officials.”

His remarks have enraged union officials. Helen Finkill, regional organiser for Unison, said: “These are hard-working people who go way over-and-above and work long hours to do their best for people at the council.”

Ms Finkill said Unison staff at Sunderland City Council had been working hard to help the authority avoid redundancies.

She said the team also helped save taxpayer’s money by dealing with workforce issues and, in individual disputes, avoiding costly employment tribunals.

Alyson Bryan, GMB branch secretary at Sunderland City Council, said: “These are the kind of typical Tory remarks which really show their attitude to trade unions.”

Both Ms Bryan and Ms Finkill also pointed out that it was a fundamental right of trade unionists to be given time to fulfill their duties.

Ms Bryan added: “The council has an excellent record with regards to listening to their employees and working with them to deliver the savings needed, this communication is channelled through the trade union representatives.

“The council has also acknowledged the role the trade unions have played under the Sunderland Way of Working, which has enabled the employer to meet its commitment to no mass redundancies, there are many other councils/local authorities who are envious of the roles both sides have played in achieving the budget savings by working together.

“Would Councillor Oliver prefer to have all the facility time withdrawn and then be happy when mass redundancies were announced because communicating with 10,000 employees cannot be done on an ad hoc basis?”