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Posted on 14 January 2011 at 20:45 GMT

Manchester council plans to axe one in five posts

Two thousand council jobs in Manchester are to be scrapped, with compulsory redundancies a serious prospect, as the council tries to cut 110 million worth of services over the next two years.

Hugh Caffrey

Following the central government cuts to local authority funding, Manchester council announced it could no longer honour a 'no compulsory redundancies' pledge made earlier last year. That pledge had previously been used by the council and, shamefully, also by the right-wing leadership of the Unison union branch, to argue in favour of the "M-People" agreement.

This proposal from the employers introduces additional flexibility in contracts, going beyond the existing redeployment policy. The effect is that workers can be redeployed to very different roles, without adequate retraining. Many suspect this is an underhanded means of making job losses on the cheap.

Unison's 5,000 members mostly ignored the ballot over whether to accept M-People, though a majority of the handfuls who took part voted to accept. Unite's 2,500 members voted 2:1 against M-People, as their union had advised. The result was out for a few days and then the council announced its U-turn on compulsory redundancies.

Now the council has announced 2,000 job losses to the media, before the council executive has even rubber-stamped it next week. Already staff are being urged to take early retirement or voluntary redundancy. It seems unlikely that one in five of the workforce will be willing or able to leave.

On the morning the 2,000 figure was announced, a Unison member at Manchester city council told me:

"Given that Manchester is the fourth most deprived local authority in England the scale of the cuts is shocking. The implementation of the cuts will further reinforce the inequalities that exist in the city and will serve to make unbearable the lives of the families whom I support.

"All around me are confused conversations about what the voluntary severance or voluntary early retirement will mean to my colleagues. I hope that that the trade unions respond in a timely and coordinated fashion and support their members. The workforce must unite and show solidarity.

"The situation is made worse by the implementation of M-People, we are now facing massive cuts, redundancies plus the added pressure of M-People which will serve to further slash away at employees' rights and our terms and conditions. Manchester council employees will become one of the most 'flexible' local authority workforces in the north west.

"Most council employees didn't vote for M-People and the result of the ballot doesn't promote confidence. Many people are confused by M-People and in all honesty the proposal is lacking in direction or substance. Simply it is a fancy chrome finish over a worse version of the old redeployment/transfer policy."

Unite members will be meeting in the near future to discuss how to oppose the job losses, including the question of industrial action. Incredibly, Unison in a statement appears to accept the job losses without even protesting against the threat of compulsory redundancies, concluding: "We will continue to work with the council but the people of Manchester face the grim reality of longer dole queues".

If somehow compulsory redundancies are avoided in the next few months, the council will seek to make them in the next tranche of cuts. Outsourcing of hundreds of jobs is also apparently being discussed in the council.

The unions should prepare their members and activists for a struggle against these threats, if necessary up to and including a programme of strike action. Community-based campaigns which develop against reductions in services deserve their full support. We need to fight against all cuts in jobs and services - the fight is now on.

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