So, what's the story behind the focus in the Birmingham Post and Evening Mail over council workers' bonus payments?
Cllr Alan Rudge - the Tory currently holding the baton for 'equalities and human resources' - has been talking to the press. He's conducting a very unsubtle PR operation to soften up the ground and get the public angry about unreasonable bonuses paid to council staff. Nothing like a headline in the local press to poison the mind against the unions and the council staff.
Important points to remember are that this is actually about some of the lowest paid staff employed by the council. Certainly, there will be anomalous agreements that need to be dealt with properly - every large organisation ends up with a multiplicity of different contractual terms that are set up over time and some of them are bound to be unfairly easy on the employees. What you also need to remember is that behind this nasty little press war is a plan to scrap all bonus schemes. A professional approach would be to deal with the anomalies, but Rudge prefers to wield the sledgehammer to crack this particular nut.
These bonuses make up a considerable chunk of pay for some of the employees at the bottom end of the council payroll. For every union official on £91,000, there are dozens of workers doing the essential work that keeps our city functioning and not taking home anything that sum - you may scoff at the gully cleaner getting stand-by payments, but I bet you would be a damn sight unhappier if there was nobody about to deal with a flooded storm drain late at night. Note that the articles say that workers 'can' double their pay - not that they have. In order to maximise their earnings and achieve those figures, many of them would have to work hours that would put them outside the limits of the European Working Time Directive.
I see that Rudge has promised fairer pay scales from 1 April 2007 - does that mean a proper period of consultation over a new contract or will it be imposed?
Another question springs to mind - when the Birmingham Mail was shown this secret report, did anyone consider the Data Protection Issues involved? At least one individual employee ' a top union official ' must have been specifically pointed out to the journalists, along with the bollard cleaner mentioned in the reports. Somebody has broken the rules here and I think we can all guess at which desk that responsibility stops.
This isn't about resolving anomalies or even sorting out the valid discrimination issues - this is about taking money away from some of those essential workers that allow our city to function. They're angry and they have every right to be.