CITY CLEANERS MOVE A STEP CLOSER TO STRIKE.
COVENTRY's street cleaners have moved a step closer to strike action over changes to working conditions.
Earlier this week, a new council team of 100 workers called Coventry Streetpride was launched. The team merges street cleaning and grounds maintenance work - including litter picking and grass cutting.
Workers in April voted to stage a ballot on industrial action in opposition to the plans for Streetpride.
But despite ongoing talks, the unions have not withdrawn the threat of strike action and have now formally notified the council of their intention to ballot on a strike.
Streetpride is the first major workforce change under chief executive Martin Reeves' radical new councilwide cost-cutting programme called ABC - A Better Council.
Unison officer Sarah Ferguson said the union was taking legal advice over changes to workers' conditions, and the ballot was awaiting approval
from regional officers.
Staff have complained about changes to working hours for some, with early morning and late shifts, which they claim interfere with family life.
They are also concerned about their safety when working after dark in some areas of the city.
Ms Ferguson said: "If we'd had the level of consultation with the council that we're now having six months ago, we could have ironed out these problems by now. The last thing we want is people going on strike in the current economic climate, but sometimes your hand is forced."
She claimed staff should also have been offered voluntary redundancy. Labour councillor Lindsley Harvard, cabinet member for city services, said bosses including Mr Reeves had held meetings with staff and unions.
A management action plan to resolve problems was now in place, including agreeing to occupational health advice for staff taking new duties who had medical concerns.
He added: "The council is committed to remaining a good employer. The strength of feeling of some cleaning staff is running high, as people have been moved to new duties, new locations and shift patterns."
He said the majority of workers had been granted their choice of shifts after a consultation. The council hopes to save pounds 500,000 a year from the street cleaning and grounds maintenance pounds 4.6m budget, by hiring less equipment, and cutting the wage bill and agency workers.
Mr Reeves has said the new shift patterns will put more teams on the streets for more of the day, and joint working in neighbourhoods would be more effective.
He says there were enough volunteers for early retirement, and redeployment opportunities, to prevent redundancies.
SWEEPING CHANGES: Coventry Streetpride workers have notified the council of their intention to hold a strike ballot