School closure fears rise across Scotland as strike action backed by trade union members
Schools and nurseries are facing closure across much of Scotland after strike action was backed by members of a second trade union.
The Unite union said its members, including school janitors, cleaners, caterers, classroom assistants and administrative staff, have voted to strike in 10 local authority areas after the summer holidays.
The councils impacted are Glasgow, Fife, Dundee, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Western Isles, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Orkney.
Last night, First Minister Humza Yousaf was urged to urgently intervene in the pay row to avoid a fresh wave of disruption at the start of the new term.
The government was warned it would be “nothing short of a travesty” if younger generations in education were unsettled by school closures again.
The result of the Unite ballot has emerged just days after school staff who are members of the GMB union voted for strikes in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Western Isles, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Orkney, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.
Unison, the third and largest union involved, has warned of “mass school closures across Scotland” in September if its members go the same way in its ballot, which closes on August 25.
The unions say the dispute has escalated after council umbrella body COSLA failed to improve on the 5 per cent pay offer during talks last week.
COSLA insisted that a “strong offer” had been made which “compares well to other sectors”.
But Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The message for both the Scottish Government and COSLA is loud and clear.
"Thousands of our members have voted to take strike action in education and early years services because they won’t accept a real terms pay cut.
"Our members deserve far more than the 5 per cent being served up by the politicians. We will support our members all the way in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in local government.”
The union said the offer had already been rejected by 84 per cent of members in a consultative ballot held by Unite in May.
On Tuesday, the GMB said strikes were backed by its members in 10 council areas as a result of the below-inflation offer.
Johanna Baxter, Unison Scotland’s head of local government, said the offer was lower than the amount promised to the lowest paid local government staff south of the border.
She added that negotiations were “now at an impasse”, and that “council and school staff are fed up”.
Earlier this year, Unison consulted its entire local government membership, some 84,000 workers, on COSLA’s pay offer, and 87 per cent voted to reject.
The strikes would cause further disruption for pupils who have already faced extended school closures in recent years during the Covid-19 pandemic and first national strike action by teachers in Scotland over pay for four decades, which got under way in November last year.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “There is a simple explanation for why these strikes are being called – years of SNP/Green cuts to local authority budgets.
"With the cost-of-living crisis now biting, staff are at their wit’s end.
“Any single day of a child’s education lost is nothing short of a travesty. This should be a serious kick up the behind for the Scottish Government; they need to step up to the plate and sort it out."
Scottish Labour MSP Mark Griffin said: "This is a direct and inevitable result of the SNP slashing councils' budgets.
"These budget cuts have had a huge impact on local councils' ability to pay their staff and continue running the services local people rely on.
"The SNP cannot let this saga repeat itself every year. They need to come round the negotiating table and work with council workers to find a proper solution."
Hundreds of schools were due to close in 11 local authority areas last year due to planned strikes by non-teaching staff, but they were called off by the GMB, Unite and Unison following last ditch talks between unions and council leaders, hosted by then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Unite said Mr Yousaf must now intervene in a similar way, warning that both the government and COSLA were in danger of repeating the “same mistakes” of last summer’s pay dispute.
A COSLA spokesperson said: “The reality of the situation is that as employers, council leaders have made a strong offer to the workforce.
"A strong offer which clearly illustrates the value councils place on their workforce, and it compares well to other sectors.
"It recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and critically, it seeks to protect jobs and services.
“While the offer value in year is 5.5 per cent, the average uplift on salaries going into the next financial year is 7 per cent.
"Those on the Scottish Local Government Living Wage would get 9.12 per cent and those at higher grades, where councils are experiencing severe recruitment challenges, would see 6.05 per cent.”
COSLA added that the offer raises the Scottish Local Government Living Wage by 99p to £11.84 per hour and sets out a commitment to work with trade unions towards £15 per hour in a way that protects jobs and services.
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 £155 million to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer already made by COSLA.
“The Scottish Government urges all the parties involved to work together constructively and reach an agreement which is fair for the workforce and affordable for employers.”
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