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IT staff strike 'indefinitely' in Swansea

Workers demand guarantees

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One hundred IT staff at Swansea Council have begun industrial action today over plans to outsource the local authority's IT department to a private firm. All IT support has been suspended "indefinitely" - apart from the Child Protection Register, which will continue to be maintained by a special team.

As a result, 20 other systems - including social services, benefits and payroll - have been hit by the action. The council has pledged to keep its services going with support from "external experts".

Two weeks ago 97 per cent of Unison staff voted in favour of a strike, after Swansea Council and the union failed to agree terms and conditions for any future move. Two companies - ITNET and Cap Gemini - have been shortlisted to take on the council's IT division and help implement its Service@Swansea egovernment initiative.

Said Unison regional organiser Jeff Baker: "We need to convince the authority to be more transparent on the true costs of this project. Staff would have no guarantee of their future status and we have no idea if the new employer would recognise either national or local agreements on their terms and conditions. Of course, IT firms are just not set up to deal with collective bargaining in the first place."

The council has devised a contingency plan to maintain its IT systems in a bid to continue providing services for residents and employees.

Said a council spokesman: "We are determined to minimise any potential disruption to our customers and employees. Ninety nine per cent of our employees will be in work as normal throughout the strike and all our offices will be open as usual. We have contingency plans for this kind of situation and we will be bringing in external experts to ensure we continue to provide vital services for the people of Swansea."

However, union officials have slammed the council's efforts to ensure that services are kept running during the industrial action.

In a statement the union said: "Hurried measures by the Council to make private arrangements to provide emergency cover during the strike met with dismal failure. It is known that at least four companies were approached, including IBM, Fujitsu and Computacenter, all of whom refused to undertake strike-breaking work. We are very grateful for their support and applaud their integrity.

And it warned that any move by ITNET - one of the companies shortlisted to take-over the running of Swansea's IT division - to provide cover "will certainly put any future working relationship between the bidding company and City and County of Swansea ICT staff in grave jeopardy".

"Unison will mount a campaign to highlight the actions of any such contractors," it said. ®

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