It ended last week with what one union described as "one of the best staff settlements in local government". At one stage Acas mediators were called in but persuaded employer and staff negotiators to thrash out a deal rather than have one imposed.
Employees will be get 2.85 per cent back-dated to November 2003, rising four months later to 3.3 per cent. Moreover new pay scales will take effect from November 2003. Doug Nicholls, Community and Youth Workers Union general secretary, said: "Some of the pay jumps for staff will be very significant. This is the best local government settlement outside that of the firefighters."
The deal brings to a close more than a year of fraught negotiations. An earlier stalemate led to the first-ever national strike by CYWU members.
More recently, the workers' Joint Negotiating Committee accused employers of reneging on a deal by trying to delay implementation of new pay scales for up to 18 months.
The CYWU, the biggest youth workers' union, had threatened further strikes unless employers changed their minds. But following talks last month, both sides met informally to reach a solution.
Andrew Morris, JNC staff side secretary, says the wage structure is now much simpler. "There will be just two spines, for professional workers and support workers, with far fewer points," he said.
"The spine will be based on people's duties rather than their qualifications. Employers are expected to reassess existing jobs by April 2005 according to the rules of the new structure."
Mike Walker, secretary to the employers' side, said: "We're pleased we've reached a settlement. From our point of view, the big advantage is that it allows local authorities much more discretion. We have just received the pay claim for 2004, and raised the issue of affordability. The cost of consolidation needs to be taken into account in future negotiations."