THOUSANDS of local government workers face a nervous countdown to Christmas, with council chiefs pushing for a December 31 deadline on clinching a new pay deal.

Labour-led Durham County Council backed a new pay and grading structure affecting about 8,900 workers in February, with deputy leader Alan Napier calling it a fair deal.

It was hoped the single status shake-up, which would mean a pay cut for 1,800 workers, a raise for more than 2,500 and no change for about 4,600, would come into force in May.

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It would increase the council’s annual wage bill by £6.7m.

However, while the GMB and Unison unions have signed up, a ballot of Unite members failed to produce a ‘yes’ vote and talks are still ongoing.

In an internal memo seen by The Northern Echo, Don McLure, the council’s corporate director of resources, says it is still working towards implementing the proposals by agreement with all trade unions and if a deal is reached by December 31 it could be backdated to October 1.

However, if no deal is reached, the council may need to look at an alternative process for implementing the changes, he adds.

If this went ahead, it would not be implemented until ‘during 2013’, meaning months more waiting for council workers.

A full council meeting on Wednesday (December 5) will be asked to authorise Mr McLure to hold ‘focused negotiations’ with the unions in an effort to secure a deal by December 31.

If these talks proved unsuccessful, a further report would be put before council early next year, outlining the alternative process.

The deal as it stood in February included 14 pay grades ranging from £12,145 to £41,616, with each grade including at least five levels.

Workers’ fuel allowance would fall from 52p to 48p per mile and staff would receive 26 days of annual holiday, rising to 31 after five years’ service.

The national single status agreement was reached in 1997 and due to be implemented by July 2007. Many councils have already done so.

County Durham underwent a major local government shake-up in April 2009, with the two-tier set-up replaced by a unitary authority.