Council chief is accused of bullying over strike threat

THE leader of North Somerset Council has been branded a 'bully' by UNISON bosses after he warned his staff not to strike over a pay dispute. Councillor Nigel

THE leader of North Somerset Council has been branded a 'bully' by UNISON bosses after he warned his staff not to strike over a pay dispute.Councillor Nigel Ashton issued the request via email, warning all employees not to vote in favour of industrial action in a UNISON ballot. He also told staff that those who vote 'no' will receive their pay increase before Christmas.The trade union for public sector workers was balloting its members to see if they would like to take industrial action after they were offered a pay increase of 2.5 per cent, which is 1.3 per cent less than the rate of inflation.His email read: "Please think carefully before you cast your vote. The improved offer of 2.475 per cent will already stretch us to the limit of our affordability and cannot be increased any further. There is simply no more money available. "UNISON members will be asked whether they are prepared to take all-out strike action for two days. That means the loss of two days' pay and, for those employees in the pension scheme, the loss of two days' pensionable service."A strike will not lead to any change in the employer's position. If you vote no in the strike ballot then you will be paid the 2.475 per cent pay increase, backdated to April 1 2007, before Christmas."A number of staff at North Somerset said they found the email 'intimidating' and 'undemocratic'. One council worker, who did not wish to be named, said: "Everyone is absolutely astounded. He can't get away with it, it's disgraceful. A lot of people said they weren't planning on voting for a strike, but because of what Nigel Ashton has done they are going to now."The ballot is due to close on October 26 and if enough people vote yes, thousands of council employees could walk out later this month.UNISON spokesman, Judith Porter, said: "Councillor Nigel Ashton's email has been viewed by staff as bullying and seems to have stirred people up to participate in the ballot. "We do not want to go on strike, and would really urge our employers to engage at national level to gain a better pay offer and maintenance of the national terms and conditions."Our members are delivering, year on year, efficiency gains which help keep the level of council tax rises down, and yet our pay falls behind every year."As the Mercury went to press, Cllr Ashton was unavailable for comment, but deputy leader Elfan Ap Rees said: "The email wasn't intimidating at all. It just told people what the facts were to enable them to make their decisions."We just don't have any spare money in the pot. We are already having to look at all the existing council services to find ways to save money."If employees vote yes and strike they won't get the pay increase before Christmas because there will be no agreement.

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