UNIONS are calling for a public referendum on the implementation of a living wage at Dorset County Council.

Last week members of the Dorchester, Weymouth, Portland and District Trades Council lobbied members before a full meeting of the county council at which they put forward a motion to increase the pay of 500 staff earning below the living wage of £7.65 per hour.

However, the matter was referred to the council’s staffing committee, meaning no decision will be made until February.

Now the Trades Council is calling for a referendum to be held, something that has been rejected by the county council’s leader as ‘not an appropriate option’.

Secretary of the Trades Council Tim Nicholls, who described the council’s decision to refer to the staffing committee as ‘delaying tactics’, said: “To fund the living wage we are calling for a public referendum to be held on the county council budget for the next financial year. “This could be held at the same time as the European elections and be enforced retrospectively. “This would make the cost of running the referendum negligible as the major costs are already being incurred by the Euro elections.”

Carl Wainwright, chairman of the Trades Council, added: “The potential additional costs to the council’s budget for implementing a living wage for only the lowest paid staff are clearly stated in council reports. “The council needs an extra £533,256 – 0.2 per cent of its total budget – according to the council’s own workings. We feel that this is well within the ability of councillors to achieve, if they want to.”

Mr Nicholls asked: “Why not trust the voting public to make this moral decision? “It seems, after all, councillors need this authority to act based on the recent outcomes at full council.”

Leader of Dorset County Council Spencer Flower said: “Dorset County Council is signed up to wage negotiations on a national level with the Local Government Association and the trade unions, so a local referendum is not an appropriate option.”

The Trades Council has also raised concern about the number of council staff working on zero hours contract, claiming it applies to a total of 621 out of the council’s 6,000 employees.