Deadline looms for new pay offer to avert widespread school strikes

Trade unions say school support staff will go on strike next week unless a 'significantly improved offer' is made on Wednesday.

Deadline looms for new pay offer to avert widespread school strikes STV News

Widespread industrial action by school workers will go ahead next week unless a “significantly improved offer” is received by 5pm on Wednesday.

School support staff – including cleaners, caterers, janitors, lollipop workers and school support assistants – are due to walk out on September 26, 27 and 28 as part of co-ordinated strike action.

Members of three trade unions – GMB, Unison and Unite – have rejected a two-part offer made by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), which would provide at least a £1,929 increase in salary by January 1, 2024.

It would mean workers would receive an increase of £0.65 per hour, or a 5% rise in pay, whichever is more.

But Unison, the largest union representing Scottish council workers, claimed the revised offer represents an increase of only £0.01 per hour for those on the lowest pay.

Trade union representatives spoke to Holyrood’s local government committee on Tuesday as it discussed workforce planning issues.

Johanna Baxter, Unison’s head of local government, said the upcoming strike was the result of years of underfunding in the sector.

She said: “I believe the industrial action ballot results that we have seen, certainly at Unison, are reflective of that level of concern amongst the workforce both in terms of pay and the resourcing of their jobs

“I think it’s untenable really for the overall pay bill to remain frozen.”

She added: “The ballot result that we saw – we (Unison) have a strike mandate covering over 21,000 members across 24 local authority areas and almost 2,000 schools – is absolutely unprecedented and I think demonstrated that feeling of concern and anger amongst the local government workforce.”

Unison has warned that more than three-quarters of Scotland’s schools could shut during the strike action.

Only six out of the 32 councils will be unaffected by the co-ordinated action. The areas where the unions did not win a mandate are Argyll and Bute, East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and West Lothian.

The dispute is over the pay offer for all council workers other than teachers, who are covered by a different pay agreement.

The Scottish Government has previously said that any deal would need to come from money already allocated to councils.

But local government body Cosla wants to hold talks with deputy first minister Shona Robison.

Cosla, which represents Scotland’s 32 councils, said their latest offer would see the lowest paid workers receive a 21% increase in their pay over a two-year period.

It also said the pay offer currently on the table would cost councils just under half a billion pounds, adding that council leaders had gone to the “absolute limits of what local government can afford”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local government pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities as employers and unions.

“The Scottish Government and Cosla have committed to respect this negotiating arrangement as part of the Verity House Agreement.

“Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government has provided a further £155m in 2023-24 to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer made by Cosla.

“We continue our engagement with Cosla on how staff and services are supported this year and next.”

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