Expect a few celebrations on Friday and a spending splurge to follow as the bank accounts of Shetland Islands Council workers swell with a whacking £2 million or more in back pay.
The massive injection of “free” money on pay day is one of their long-awaited rewards for signing up to the so-called single status agreement in May which re-jigs their pay and conditions to iron out long-standing discrepancies.
According to the council, many of those benefiting today are among the lower paid in its 3,300-strong workforce, including manual workers, cleaners and care workers. It is understood payments range as high as several thousand pounds in some cases.
Despite knowing since April that their windfall was on its way it seems employees have not been rushing to pre-order luxury goods, although their money has perhaps arrived sooner than many were expecting. While some will have banked enough extra to buy a new car there was no sign of an upturn in orders at some Lerwick garages this week.
The SIC’s man in charge of single status, John Smith, admitted he had not heard of any bold plans to flash the cash. Yet surely a few will be contemplating a giant flat screen TV, fitted kitchen or Caribbean cruise.
One worker who has been waiting impatiently for his back pay and pay rise said it would be paying off his overdraft and bills because debts had mounted from not being paid properly before. “I don’t think my back pay is going to bring me any fancy vehicles or spending sprees, that’s for sure!”
He knew a lot of council workers who were depending on the money to settle debts, although he said one colleague intended splashing out on new carpets.
Shetland Retailers’ Association chairwoman Janet Davidge was aware the pay bonanza was on the horizon and seemed pleased on behalf of local shops. “It will be good,” she said. “They’ll maybe set off down south or stick it under the mattress but if some of it comes our way that would be wonderful.”
In total the SIC is paying out an extra £3.6m today but a slice of that goes in payroll costs and employees’ tax and national insurance, leaving around £2m to workers to cover a period of about 16 months.
Mr Smith said that another £600,000 is expected to be added to next month’s wage bill to settle some more back pay claims and the remaining few claims should be settled around the end of the year. “What we were trying to do was get the bulk of it out as early as we could,” he said. “The guys have done a really good job and I’m very glad that the folk that have been waiting a while for this are now going to see it in their bank accounts.”
SIC office workers face a less welcome prospect over the next few weeks – whether to work an extra three hours a week or lose the pay they get for that time. Part of the single status deal is an end to the privilege which allowed them to work just 34 hours and get paid for 37 whereas manual workers had to work the full amount of hours. Workers have to choose by September which path they intend to follow.
The new work regime and pay scales resulting from the single status deal will come into effect from October for all but the three groups of workers who have yet to secure an agreement.