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Unison Members to Vote on Strike Action at Surrey County Council

Published on: 23 Jun, 2023
Updated on: 24 Jun, 2023

By Chris Caulfield

local democracy reporter

A pay offer giving Surrey County Council’s chief executive almost 10 times more than the authority’s lowest paid workers has prompted a strike action ballot.

Social workers, teaching assistants and bin collectors are among the thousands of county council staff voting on industrial action.

It’s over a pay offer public sector union Unison says falls far short of covering the increase in the cost of living.

UNISON’s Surrey county branch secretary Paul Couchman said: “After years of below-inflation pay increases and with the soaring cost of living, staff are struggling.

“There’s still no end in sight to spiralling bills and staff feel strongly that enough is enough. It’s not too late for the council to think again and improve its pay offer.”

According to the union about nine in 10 members rejected the county council’s offer which it said would increase the overall wage bill by 5 per cent.

If accepted it would have worked out as an additional £1,300 and £1,700, to low-paid staff with the chief executive Joanna Killian’s £234,600 salary topped up by up to £10,000, the union said.

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver, said the council recognised the financial pressures people were living under and labelled the decision to turn down the pay increase “disappointing”.

He said: “ That’s why we have worked really hard to find extra money for staff pay this year, increasing our offer to make sure that for the second year running we are focussing the largest percentage increases on our lowest paid employees to reflect the increased costs staff are facing day by day.

“This years’ offer is between 7.8 per cent  for the lowest grades, and 4.5 per cent  on the highest, with a Surrey minimum wage of £11.05 per hour –15p per hour higher than the Real Living Wage.

“This represents an increase of 16.3 per cent  over the past two years for staff on the very lowest pay grades, and is in addition to a one-off lump sum payment for business mileage and a Real Living Wage adjustment for lower paid staff paid in January this year.

“However, it’s imperative that the offer is within our means.

“The council is not immune to the challenges of the current economic landscape, rising costs and inflation pressures.

“Put simply everything is more expensive for us to buy as a council too, and we must ensure we remain in a position to deliver vital public services and protect the most vulnerable in our communities throughout. It’s within this context that discussions will continue, and we will be reviewing our next steps accordingly.”

Addressing the increase to the CEO’s salary a spokesperson for the council said that its focus was on providing the best possible services to 1.2 million residents of Surrey, and to ensure it does this, needs to have the best people in senior positions.

They said: “The scale of our work means we employ 10,000 staff, and have an annual budget of £1 billion, and in order to attract the best people from both the public and private sector for this, we need to offer competitive salaries.”

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