Aberdeen City Council housing staff threaten strike action
Several Aberdeen City Council staff are being balloted on strike action after an increase in housing arrears and homelessness in the north-east left many workers “at breaking point”.
Service cuts have caused a dispute between the council and staff who say they are under significant pressure to manage an increased workload.
It is understood that around 40 housing and support officers belonging to the Unite union will vote this month on whether to take industrial action – with a possible strike set for June.
New figures have revealed that rent arrears have risen from £2.6 million in 2015-16 to £7.9m in 2020-21 within the Aberdeen City local authority area.
Scottish Government figures also highlight that the city had 1,486 homeless applications in 2019-20, up from 1,285 in 2015-16.
A council spokesman said it was “disappointing that Unite is to ballot its members on strike action in the midst of a consultation on redesigning services to better serve our customers.”
Unite claims the rise in housing arrears is “directly related” to the widespread economic disruption caused to the Aberdeen economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also believes the council has introduced “deep cuts to the service at the moment when housing support services are in greatest need for the public”.
John Boland, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s members in the housing services department in Aberdeen City Council have reached breaking point.
“The workers have taken on a massive increase in their workload, particularly over the last year of the pandemic as city residents have faced increased financial pressures.
“This has resulted in an understandable and entirely predictable increase in housing arrears.
“Aberdeen City Council’s response has been to cut the service to those in the greatest need of help, while piling on even more pressure onto the workers.
“Ultimately the residents of Aberdeen are being given a poorer service so this fight is not just about our members, it’s about the people of Aberdeen who need more support.”
The Press and Journal has reported that the strike ballot will open on May 10 and close on May 24, with a potential strike in the middle of June.
A council spokesman commented: “It is disappointing that Unite is to ballot its members on strike action in the midst of a consultation on redesigning services to better serve our customers, including our most vulnerable residents.
“Every local authority faces challenges as income continues to contract and demand rises, and we deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The majority of our housing staff have engaged positively on the proposals that seek to increase headcount and considerably reduce the average tenancy workload per officer, and make it easier for customers to access vital support in years ahead.
“We are transforming services through investment in our staff and remain committed to working constructively with union colleagues in shaping plans that promise to benefit customers and staff.”
Kevin Stewart, SNP Scottish Parliamentary candidate for Aberdeen Central, added: “I hope that this matter can be resolved without strike action.
“I would urge Aberdeen City Council to listen to their staff and follow the lead of many other councils, who have bolstered their frontline services during the pandemic period, to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”