THOUSANDS of Kirklees Council staff could be in line for backpay.
Yesterday local authorities were told to increase their employees’ wages following a pay dispute which led to a nationwide strike.
Last year thousands of council workers – including teaching assistants, dinner ladies and bin men – went on strike for two days to protest against a 2.45% pay offer for 2008/09.
The nationwide industrial action hit Kirklees particularly hard, with 80 schools closed and all bin collections stopped.
Following July’s strike, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the union Unison agreed to take their dispute to the mediation service Acas.
And yesterday Acas recommended giving council staff a 2.75% pay rise for 2008/09 – 0.3% higher than the LGA had offered.
For a council worker on £17,000 a year, this would mean an extra £51 a year.
Kirklees Unison secretary Paul Holmes welcomed the recommendation yesterday.
He said: "I don’t think it’s a good settlement, given that inflation for the year was 3.5%, but I think in the current economic climate our members will accept it."
Mr Holmes added that councils should now pay up. He said: "We went in to binding arbitration to end the industrial action. All local authorities have already paid the 2.45% pay rise so they will now have to find the extra 0.3% by April. I’m sure Kirklees will have set the money aside."
But LGA chairman Margaret Eaton warned the Acas recommendation would lead to job cuts.
She said: "Councils are extremely surprised and disappointed by this result, which runs counter to all the evidence. The additional pay award defies common sense and will be a devastating blow to council workers who will see jobs shed to balance the books.
"We are not prepared to pass this cost onto council taxpayers, so it will be jobs that have to go. Councils, like everyone else, have tightened their belts to weather the recession and the news that the arbitrators have awarded an additional 0.3% increase is an extremely bitter blow.
"Our final offer of 2.45%, which has already been paid, was affordable to the taxpayer while ensuring that local government remained an attractive place to work."
However, Brian Strutton, national officer of the union GMB, said talk of job losses was "hysterical".
He said: "The LGA is behaving hysterically in saying that an extra 0.3% will lead to job losses.
"The reality is that 0.3% award will not be a surprise or a problem to any council that has been paying attention to the arbitration process – in fact, it’s council workers who may be disappointed."
Last year’s two-day council strike saw thousands of council workers walk out across England, Scotland and Wales.
The industrial action meant more than 80,000 homes in Kirklees missed their bin collection.
Support for the strike was strong among Unison’s 8,250 members working for Kirklees and 750 in sports centres, Kirklees Neighbourhood Housing and the fire service.