Council housing workers have gone on strike outside Aberdeen’s HQ today in a workload dispute.
Today is the first of eight days of industrial action planned for outside Marischal College, and comes after talks with council management failed.
Aberdeen City Council plans to merge the housing officers and support officers job roles into one, despite concerns that excessive workloads have left staff at “breaking point”.
John Boland, Unite regional officer, said: “Nobody wants to be doing this, but we all felt there was no other option. We will be striking until the end of July unless the council’s position changes.”
‘A conflict of interest’
A group of Unite members gathered outside Marischal College wearing trade union high-visibility vests to hand out leaflets explaining their actions. The group walked around the council headquarters waving eye-catching Unite flags.
Staff believe that combining the roles will be “detrimental” to customers as the need for support has “risen three fold” during the pandemic.
Mr Boland added: “We’ve been in discussion with Aberdeen City Council for over a year regarding the plans to merge the housing and support officer roles together.
“The members have clearly stated that they do no think this will work and don’t think it will provide a good service to the customers that they’ve got, or for themselves. They’re two totally distinct role and there’s a conflict of interest.
“Because of the additional workload this would create, there will be less time to support the customers. There’s been no flexibility with Aberdeen City Council on this and, unfortunately, that’s why we’re here today.”
Flexibility is needed
The Unite members believe that any changes to the level of service they provide will have a negative impact on the tenants and homeless in Aberdeen.
Mr Boland added: “If you’re putting two roles together, that’s not going to reduce the workload. The only way that can happen is by reducing the service.
“We want a degree of flexibility from the council. We’ve said all along that we’re willing to meet them at anytime, we’re willing to discuss anything that could resolve this dispute.”
He claimed that at a meeting last week, the council had been unwilling to offer any flexibility on the merging of the roles and that they have not had a direct response since.
He added: “That is their plan and that’s what will go ahead, so until that changes, unfortunately we are in this deadlock.
The workers plan to take strike action outside Marischal College on Fridays and Mondays until July 26. Each will begin at 8.30am and last 24 hours.
Council says strike is ‘very disappointing’
An Aberdeen City Council spokesman said the plans to strike were “very disappointing”, especially since only 19 members had voted for this action.
He said the authority wanted staff to work “constructively” with them on the plans to improve services for people across Aberdeen.
The spokesman added: “We recognise through customer feedback and independent audits that our current model for delivering housing services needs to improve.
“We also appreciate that any change can bring uncertainty and during industrial action there can be much misinformation circulating.
“Our proposals do not make financial cuts, increase workloads or mean that the integration of roles requires one officer to do the work of two. Our proposal invests by increasing staffing numbers, removes routines tasks from officers and reduces the average tenancy workload per officer.
“Ultimately we will be positioned to better meet the needs of our customers, including some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, by making it easier for our customers to seek housing support.
“We hope that Unite the Union colleagues will reconsider their position and re-engage in dialogue. Aberdeen City Council is committed to serving our customers and will in any event continue to deliver the full range of housing services.”