Pressure is mounting on management and unions at Swansea Council to settle a strike against outsourcing before it escalates.
More than 100 IT staff at the council have been on indefinite strike against the prospect of their jobs being transferred to either ITNet or Capgemini, which are the preferred bidders for a £100m IT outsourcing contract.
Council refuse workers have taken unofficial action in support of the IT staff and, in an escalation of the dispute, IT workers’ union Unison plans to ballot all 5,000 of its members at Swansea about taking wider action.
Council leader Chris Holley said further industrial action would be counter-productive. "This dispute will be resolved by talks, not by further industrial action. Such action would have an adverse impact on the very public services that the union says it is seeking to protect. Talks are on-going," he said.
The strikers want the option of being seconded, rather than transferred to the firm that wins the contract.
Staff at Liverpool and Bradford councils agreed similar secondment arrangements when their IT services were outsourced.
The council said staffing arrangements for the contract had not been finalised and a decision would be made in November, one month before it awards the contract.
The dispute is becoming increasingly bitter. The council has suggested there may have been attempts to sabotage its critical systems during the strike.
The strikers claimed the council approached ITNet and Capgemini for help in running systems during the stoppage and that ITNet contractors were providing cover. Capgemini said none of its staff or contractors had been working at Swansea Council.
ITNet refused to comment on Unison’s claim, although a company spokeswoman said the firm did not believe the dispute would have any adverse effect on its local government outsourcing business.
How did Swansea stumble into unprecedented strike?
The strike by IT workers at Swansea Council is unprecedented in the history of UK outsourcing.
Robert Morgan, director at outsourcing consultancy Morgan Chambers, said, "To have an all-out strike over something that has not even been finalised shows that there is inept management at play here.
"The council’s management really have to answer some questions about their consultation process.
"The law requires that the organisation has to take account of the staff’s feelings. This does not mean the organisation cannot go ahead with what it wants to do, but what should happen is that it seeks out those with the strongest feelings against its plans, and tries to change their stance through an open debate. There are many ways to take the heat out of the situation."
Chris Guest, president of council IT managers’ association Socitm, said, "There are examples where other arrangements are in place other than wholescale transfer, and I understand these arrangements are successful."