Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is £75m in debt
A cash-strapped Northern Ireland council has warned workers that it could terminate their contracts if they do not accept lesser terms and conditions.
Leaked documents seen by the Belfast Telegraph show that Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council is proposing what it calls a "harmonisation of terms and conditions" for workers in its leisure services department in a bid to save money.
The document shows that if the council does not come to an agreement with unions on conditions the local authority reserves the right to terminate workers' contracts and "re-engage on new contracts with new terms and conditions".
This is listed as one of three options the council can take in the event of non-agreement.
In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph a council spokesperson said linking negotiations with workers to a cost cutting exercise is "misleading and can only serve to negatively impact on these negotiations".
However, Independent councillor Padraig McShane said the change in conditions for workers amounts to cuts.
"There is £95,000 of savings in the rates estimate. We have 87 staff (in leisure services), so the calculation is roughly £1,100 per head of losses per annum," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
The councillor said that unions representing the workers are concerned about the ability of the council to fire and rehire under lesser terms and that the lowest paid workers will be impacted by the changes.
The cuts that are coming to Causeway Coast and Glens are going to be astronomicalCouncillor Padraig McShane
"They are going to be worse that the cuts in 2008/09 after the excesses of the economic crisis.
"This has been brought about by a mixture of things, primarily by mismanagement. The council is in an awful mess at the moment. Until such time there is a financial audit of the council these questions will remain in the ether and the rate payer will not know what is coming or going."
Mr McShane said it was only a matter of time before staff in other departments are "attacked" in the same way.
A source from the trade union Unite told the News Letter: "They're putting a gun to our heads by saying if we don't agree they're just going to sack everybody."
A Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council spokesperson said: “Contrary to any recent media reports, the harmonisation of terms and conditions of employment is a consequence of the creation of the new council in 2015, which resulted in the merger of five separate organisations, including planning, and the organisation functioning with multiple terms of employment for its staff.
"There was a recognised need to address this issue and the work which is currently underway is acknowledged and supported by all parties including staff and trade unions."
The spokesperson said the work specific to the leisure department is a result of a decision taken by councillors in 2018 over how its main leisure facilities are operated and not a consequence of annual financial planning.
"These types of negotiations between a large organisation and trade unions have a recognised process to follow, with dismiss and re-engage being one of a number of options available in the event of non-agreement," the spokesperson added.
"Council has given its assurance to the trade unions to fully engage, consult and negotiate in order to reach agreement and does not expect a non-agreement scenario to be the result of these negotiations.
"Furthermore, senior officers have stated that the cooperation and effective working relationship between employer and trade unions within leisure to date would support the expectation that a local agreement will be reached.
"To directly link this piece of work to any other issue facing the organisation at this time is misleading and can only serve to negatively impact on these key negotiations.”
Since the reduction in the number of councils in Northern Ireland from 26 to 11 in 2014, some council staff have continued to be employed on terms and conditions from the old 'legacy councils'.
Last month councillors called in the Audit Office to Causeway Coast and Glens after it was revealed their local authority is £75m in debt, prompting fears a 15% rates hike is needed to stay afloat.
However, the Belfast Telegraph understands that councillors may introduce an 8% hike with the introduction of parking charges or a 10% increase without car parking charges at a full council meeting on Tuesday evening.