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Waste ‘could pile high’ as Scottish council workers vote for strike action

Unison members at nine councils have voted to take strike action in a row over pay (David Cheskin/PA)
Unison members at nine councils have voted to take strike action in a row over pay (David Cheskin/PA)

Trade unions have warned “waste could pile high” in local authorities across Scotland after two unions confirmed their members will walk out over a “shameful” pay offer.

Council workers in the GMB and Unison at 13 local authorities across Scotland will walk out over a 2% pay increase offered to them by Cosla – the body representing local authorities.

Schools, early years workers and cleansing departments will down tools with dates yet to be confirmed.

Members in all councils across Scotland voted to reject the pay offer of 2% and secured turnouts surpassing the statutory 50% threshold for public sector ballots.

Unison, along with Unite and GMB unions – who also represent council workers, have asked for a £3,000 increase and a £12 an hour rate as a minimum for all council workers.

Cosla leaders will meet on Friday and the Unison says they “must” put forward an improved offer on the table to avoid disruption to council services across Scotland.

  • Aberdeen City Council
  • Aberdeenshire Council
  • Clackmannanshire Council
  • Dundee City Council
  • City of Edinburgh Council
  • East Renfrewshire Council
  • Glasgow City Council
  • Inverclyde Council
  • North Lanarkshire Council
  • Orkney Islands Council
  • Renfrewshire Council
  • South Lanarkshire Council
  • Stirling Council

Johanna Baxter, Unison head of local government, said: “Council workers south of the border yesterday were offered a flat rate uplift of £1,925, which for those on the lowest pay equates to a 10.5% increase.

“You have to wonder why council workers north of the border have only been offered a measly 2% increase when the cost of living continues to spiral.

“It is clear now that local government workers have had enough and are prepared to strike in the coming weeks unless we see a sensible offer, from Cosla, on the table on Friday.

GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Unless Ministers and Cosla make a significantly improved pay offer for the consultation of our members then strike action is happening across these vital services.

“The 2% cent that’s already been massively rejected is a shameful proposal, it’s worth less than a tenner a week extra for those earning £25,000 or under, and it will turn a cost-of-living crisis into a catastrophe for many workers and their families.

“Two years ago, these workers were applauded on the doorstep by political leaders, but now they are being told to suffer massive real terms pay cuts ahead of a brutal winter with forecasts of double-digit inflation and energy bills over £3,000.

“Our members are angry and scared, and the prospect of tens of thousands of council workers falling into the growing ranks of the working poor is not something GMB is prepared to leave unchallenged.”

Scottish Labour said it would “stand in solidarity” with the claims of the workforce for a fair and decent pay increase that meets the rising cost of living.

Councillor David Ross, leader of the Labour group at Cosla, and Mark Griffin MSP, local government spokesperson for the party said in a joint statement: “We are disappointed that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) has been unable to make a pay offer that would avoid the need for industrial action, but the responsibility for this lies fairly and squarely with the Scottish Government.

“Many local government workers are already low paid. With inflation running at over 9%, it’s not right that they should be forced to rely on benefits to bring their income up to a decent level as the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary has been quoted as saying. These are the same key workers we clapped for throughout the pandemic – they deserve fair pay not just platitudes.

“Within Cosla, Labour councillors have consistently argued the need for a decent pay rise for our workers and we will continue to press the Scottish Government for the funding necessary to provide this.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives say the strike action is “deeply concerning”.

Party chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “Scotland’s schoolchildren have suffered enough during the pandemic, without their education being further hit.

“Amid a global cost-of-living crisis, it’s understandable that workers are looking for fair and significant pay rises.

“But the root cause of this problem is the SNP Government – because they have systematically underfunded Scotland’s local authorities for years, making it impossible for councils to meet wage demands.

“This year alone, funding to local authorities was cut by £251 million in real terms, according to Cosla.

“Nicola Sturgeon must intervene immediately to prevent these catastrophic strikes going ahead.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers note and respect the results of the local government industrial action ballots. Local government workers play a crucial role in our communities and are integral to our recovery from the pandemic.

“Although the Scottish Government has no formal role in the national, local government pay negotiations, both the Government and Cosla are working to jointly explore all of the options available to find solutions.

“In the meantime, the Scottish Government urges all parties to continue dialogue and seek a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

A Cosla spokesperson said: “Cosla Leaders are clear that they value hugely the local government workforce, which is why discussions with our trade union colleagues continue in order to reach an agreement and avoid strike action.

“As employers, we have a responsibility to ensure that any pay deal offered is both sustainable and affordable and that is why we are unable to go beyond the current offer at this point. As mandated by leaders, we are currently in discussions with Scottish Government and await their response to leaders’ request for additional funding.”