Public sector deal scraps job demarcation

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Leaders of 1.5 million public service employees will reach a historic agreement today, signalling the end of the notorious "jobsworth" attitude to work among some local authority employees. No longer should council workers reply: "It's more than my job's worth", to a legitimate request to carry out work not stipulated in the time-honoured job sheet.

As part of one of the biggest productivity deals in the history of British industry relations, craftsmen turning up to maintain paths at a school may, for instance, be asked to repair a roof damaged overnight.

Council officials staffing "one-stop shops" will be expected to deal with all requests for help, whichever department is involved: environmental health, housing, or refuse collection.

From 1 April, all demarcation lines will be removed and the only test will be the ability to do the job. From that date, union leaders have given management carte blanche to introduce an unheard-of degree of flexibility in the way that council work is performed.

In return, the agreement, due to be signed today at the Transport and General Workers' Union's headquarters, in central London, will mean that all distinctions between white- and blue-collar employees will end and everyone will be on a single pay "spine".

The deal will also set in train job evaluation exercises at local authorities, aimed at removing discrimination against women. The studies, undertaken over the next few years, will ensure that work of equal value carries the same reward. Unions will drop thousands of industrial tribunal cases as a result.

Among other management concessions is the introduction of a 37-hour week for blue-collar workers by 1999, and 36 hours in London.

Tied to the radical productivity pact is an annual pay offer of about 2.8 per cent, with additional increases for the lowest paid, effectively giving local authority employees a minimum wage of more than pounds 4. This means council staff will have achieved the TUC bargaining target. It will give them a rate comfortably in excess of any statutory lower minimum which would be introduced by a Labour government.

The accord is an attempt by the three main unions involved, Unison, The Transport & General and the GMB, to enter into a social partnership with the national bodies representing county, district and metropolitan authorities.

Union officials point out that the agreement should give a Labour government two orthree years of industrial peace.