School dinner cooks in Kirklees have been told to work more quickly, a trade union has claimed.
The GMB has claimed that Kirklees Council wants to cut the hours that school kitchens are open.
It says staff are being told there will be no reduction in the number of meals they have to make – effectively forcing them to work faster for less pay.
The GMB has said the plan is a “recipe for disaster” and is an attack against mostly female staff who earn the minimum wage.
Kirklees Council has strongly disputed the union’s claims and accused it of stirring up problems.
GMB organiser, Andrew Aldwinkle, said it was thought all school kitchens would be asked to shave at least 10 hours per week off their operation.
He said in recent years staff had been asked to work additional hours on top of their substantive contracts to cover the huge uptake in universal free school meals for infants – pupils aged four to seven.
More than 90% of parents in Kirklees have opted to take advantage of the free lunches, which were introduced by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in 2014.
Now the union says schools are being made to cut back kitchen hours without any reduction in meals.
The Conservative government threatened to axe free school meals at the last election but dropped the plan amid an outcry from parents.
Schools have received extra income to cater for the surge in demand.
Mr Aldwinkle said: “Council workers provide an excellent service to the schools where they work, with many children relying on the meals provided.
“This attack demonstrates a race to the bottom and will not only affect the quality of service but puts unnecessary pressure on workers.
“This is a predominantly female, low paid workforce now being asked to work harder with less time and less resources.
“Kirklees Council officers have given no regard for workers’ personal circumstances and some of the changes will have a direct impact upon pensions and in-work benefits.
“GMB wants Kirklees Council to support these workers rather than to attack them
“We call upon the support of parents and carers to get behind our campaign to ensure that their children are provided with school meals by workers who are looked after by their employer.”
A Kirklees Council spokesperson said: “Kirklees Council is incredibly disappointed that the GMB have issued what is an inaccurate and inflammatory release to the media.
“We strongly dispute that any staff will lose substantive hours or that any of our proposals will impact on the exemplary school meals service we provide to the children of Kirklees; including providing a free school meal that incorporates two courses and a drink to all eligible children.
“We pride ourselves on providing our staff with great terms and conditions of employment, including adopting the national living wage, and value their contribution to ensuring we continue to provide an efficient and high quality service.
“The very reason we are looking at these changes is to ensure we can continue to offer favourable terms and conditions, by winning tenders in a competitive market.
“We strongly believe that the best thing for children is that they have access to high quality, nutritious meals at an affordable price – we can ensure that this is the case by being the go to school meals provider in Kirklees.
“The proposals we have been discussing with the GMB are about bringing our catering service in line with our competitors, so that we can ensure it is sustainable for the future.
“All our proposals are about working with the staff in each school kitchen to provide them with greater flexibility to manage their service in line with their own school’s circumstances.”