Thousands of public sector workers could strike in a pay dispute labelled as “dynamite” by unions.

Brighton and Hove City Council wants to overhaul special allowances paid to threequarters of its 8,000-strong workforce.

Union representatives say £4,000 of a binman’s £17,000 annual salary is made up of these payments.

Local authority bosses claim the current system of extra payments, which affects 6,000 staff, is “no longer fit for purpose”.

But union representatives blasted the reform, claiming it was intended to reduce the pay bill at a time of Government cuts.

They added it could leave low-paid workers, such as binmen, care workers, security guards and school staff, worse off.

If an agreement is not reached within two months, then the local authority could sack all its affected staff and re-employ them on its preferred new terms.

Mark Turner, branch secretary of the GMB union, said: “This is dynamite. Depending on how the agreement goes, this could bring down the political administration.

“We could be looking at industrial action at some point this year.

“We will listen to what they are proposing and then we will let our members decide on any course of action.”

Town Hall bosses said a complex pay system was formed when three separate authorities were merged to create Brighton and Hove City Council in 1997.

This had been further complicated with a number of services, such as refuse and recycling, being brought back in-house from private firms.

It means about £3 million a year is spent on allowances and additional payments.

After months of behind-the-scenes discussions, the council will draw up exact plans and set itself a negotiating deadline of March.

If this is not met, council bosses will take “all necessary steps” to complete the reform by October.

This could include forcing through changes without the consent of workers or unions.

Politicians are expected to hand responsibility for negotiations to officers at the council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday.

Penny Thompson, the council’s chief executive, said in a statement: “We’re communicating with staff and entering into negotiations with the unions about how we work towards a clear and consistent pay structure across the whole organisation.”

Driving force Union representatives claimed the “driving force” behind the move was to reduce the pay bill.

However, a town hall report said it was “not seeking to achieve reductions” on the overall wage bill.

It added: “Any change will need to balance the revised pay bill with the potential cost of any financial recompense for employees who may see a reduction in actual pay.”

The additional sums, such as shift allowance, for working outside normal hours, and overtime, will be reviewed and potentially abolished.

Among those sums to be reviewed are agreements made after the last mass industrial strike action by refuse and recycling staff in 2010.

However, bosses said pay for teaching assistants, which was agreed by an independent mediator in 2005, will not be affected.

Mr Turner labelled senior politicians “gutless” for passing responsibility for a decision on to officers.

He admitted the current pay structure was a “mish-mash”, adding: “Some people will be better off but some people will be worse off.”

Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “This is about creating a fair and modern pay structure for the city.”

When asked about potential industrial action, Coun Kitcat said: “I sincerely hope not. I always hope industrial relations are good and I’m committed to open conversations with staff and unions.”