Council staff to strike over car changes?

PEOPLE who help elderly and disabled people in their own homes could strike over 'intimidatory' behaviour from the local authority. Up to 600

PEOPLE who help elderly and disabled people in their own homes could strike over 'intimidatory' behaviour from the local authority.Up to 600 North Somerset Council employees, including social workers, are said to be worried by plans to reduce the allowance they receive for using their own cars for their jobs. Under the new proposals they could even be sacked if they fail to agree with the proposals and reinstated with a new contract.In a report which is due to be presented to a full North Somerset Council meeting on Tuesday, the executive member for finance, property and human resources, Councillor Tony Lake, expresses concerns that workers could strike.He said: "Unfortunately it has not been possible to reach an agreement with the trade unions over the proposed changes."Members are therefore asked to consider the risks in relation to changing the current scheme, without trade union agreement, which include possible breach of contract claims, industrial action or employee relations issues."Secretary for the North Somerset branch of Unison, Judith Porter, said: "The proposals to dismiss and reinstate employees is very intimidatory and is causing a huge amount of anxiety to our members."If this option is pursued it leaves the council open to potential tribunal cases, which will be bad for morale and potentially much more costly than properly funding car allowances."The worst point about the proposals is the requirement for employees to continue to provide a car when their contracts are changed." From September 1, the council plans to stop paying out the lump sum its gives to what it terms 'essential car users' which includes people who have to use their vehicles for work.Anne Lemon, of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), added: "If essential car user status is removed then the council could find itself in the expensive and environmentally damaging situation of staff having to call taxis three or four times a day in order to fulfil engagements."It was precisely to avoid these costs that essential car user status was introduced."Under the proposals workers who do not accept the new terms could be re-employed with the new car user allowance in their contract.In 2006/07 more than 1,200 non-school North Somerset Council employees received payments for using their vehicles for work. About 600 of these received an essential car user allowance which includes a rate per mile as well as a lump sum ranging from £726 to £1,056 depending on the size of the car's engine.At the moment drivers receive anything from 32p to just under 56p for the first 8,500 miles they travel for work and just over 12p to just over 14p after that.Under the new proposals a flat rate of 40p per mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p per mile after that, would be paid.If the plans get the go ahead the authority proposes to pay a one-off compensation payment of £1,500 to current essential car users who agree to the changes and also an amount to casual car users.Trade unions and any employees who would be affected by the changes were consulted by the authority between March 21 to July 9.The proposals will be considered at a full meeting of North Somerset Council on Tuesday night.

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