Derbyshire school dinner ladies are in tears and on the verge of having to turn to foodbanks for help, a union has claimed.
Last week, trade union GMB said that it was taking the fight to Derbyshire County Council over plans which could see 952 school catering staff have their working hours cut by eight per cent.
This would see catering supervisors – or dinner ladies as they often called – currently working 37 hours a week earning around £97 less each month; and those working 30 hours would earn almost £80 less.
Now, fellow union UNISON has also joined the cause, stating that it is “another kick in the teeth” for catering staff, and that it is taking the authority to court.
This follows another decision from the county council at the start of the year to switch the type of living wage it pays to its workers.
As a result, its lowest paid workers are likely to see a 5p rise in what they earn per hour instead of potentially 30p – a rise of 0.6 per cent instead of 3.6 per cent.
The employees on the lowest salaries at the county council include school catering staff, crossing patrols and care home assistants.
UNISON regional organiser, Andy Freeman, said: “I can’t understand what the county council has got against its lowest paid staff, who are mainly women, as they seem to be targeting them across the county.
“Some of our members have already lost over £500 per year and now our members in Derbyshire’s schools face losing up to a further £1,200 per year as catering management want to cut their hours as a result of rising food and labour costs.
“At meetings we have held across the county some of our members have said that they can’t take losing over £100 per month from their pay and some say they will have to turn to foodbanks for help.
“We are already in the process of taking the council to an employment tribunal over their unilateral decision to end the payment of the living wage to all staff.
“We contacted ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) but it would appear that the county council were unwilling to negotiate through ACAS so we are having to take our case through the courts.
“Currently the claim involves over 600 UNISON members but that is being added to every single day.
“This further threat to the pay of school staff is just another kick in the teeth.
“I was at a school one day last week where I spent the whole day listening to our members tell us about how they feel undervalued and ignored by the council.
“Some were in tears. They are wanting to fight this and take it all the way if the council don’t reconsider.”
A spokesperson for the authority could not be provided at the time of this article’s publication.
However, responding to the news last week that GMB had started a campaign against catering staff hours cuts, a council spokeswoman said: “We are consulting with our primary school meals staff over possible small reductions in the number of hours they are employed for.
“Like many of our services we need to find budget savings and unfortunately this may mean staff working slightly less hours in the future than they do now.
“We would expect staff to lose in the region of half an hour to one and a half hours a week.
“We do not believe that these small cuts in hours will affect the quality of the meals our staff produce.
“Schools can choose who they use to do their school meals and our catering service needs to make sure that it covers its costs so that it can compete with the private sector.
“No decisions have yet been taken but we will shortly be writing to each member of the 950 staff affected to let them know what the effect on them could be.”
In April 2014, the then Labour-controlled authority signed up to the Living Wage Foundation’s standards. The council, which is now under control of the Conservatives, has agreed a switch to Local Government Association’s national employers’ guidelines.
The Living Wage Foundation is an independent campaigning organisation that aims to persuade employers to pay a living wage. The Local Government Association is an organisation that comprises local authorities in England and Wales.
It had asked employers to raise base salaries from £8.45 to £8.75, an increase of 3.6 per cent.
However, because Derbyshire County Council is moving from one set of guidelines to another, the lowest-paid workers would only receive a 0.6 per cent pay rise – from £8.45 to £8.50.
They would, however, see their pay raised by another 2.8 per cent next year, along with everyone else subject to the Local Government Association living wage.
School staff are not directly employed by the county council, although they are governed by it. As a result, schools can sign up to their own living wage agreement.
Out of the maintained schools and academies in Derbyshire, 285 opted into the Living Wage Foundation’s agreement of £8.45 an hour last year.
Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service