SNP accused of 'passing the buck' as strike action in education and waste collection in councils planned

Nicola Sturgeon was urged to intervene to prevent widespread strike action by council workers as local authority budget cuts were blamed for the planned industrial action.

Unions have warned waste will pile in Scotland and schools will shut later this summer unless the Scottish Government and Cosla, the council umbrella body, table a “significantly” improved pay offer for local government staff.

Scottish Conservatives party chairman Craig Hoy has urged the First Minister to get involved in negotiations prevent the “catastrophic strikes” going ahead.

It comes as Unite confirmed its local government membership in 26 councils had rejected a “derisory’” 2 per cent pay offer and voted for industrial action.

Glasgow's bins were overflowing as a result of previous strike action (Photo: John Devlin).

The union will be finalising the strike dates in the coming week.

Action in refuse and waste services is expected to begin in mid-August, while strikes specifically impacting on schools is expected to begin in early September.

Councils hit by the Unite industrial action include Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee, Fife Glasgow, and North and South Lanarkshire.

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Council workers in the GMB and Unison unions at nine local authorities across Scotland will also walk out over a 2 per cent pay increase offered to them by Cosla.

It means that bins in councils including Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow could remain uncollected, while schools in councils including Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, and Renfrewshire could close when strike dates are confirmed.

Specific responses to the industrial action will be locally implemented by each council and will be tailored to local circumstances, according to Cosla.

Unison, along with Unite and GMB unions, 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 Unison said they “must” put forward an improved offer on the table to avoid disruption to council services across Scotland.

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 per cent increase.

“You have to wonder why council workers north of the border have only been offered a measly 2 per cent 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.”

The Scottish Tories criticised the Scottish Government for “passing the buck” to Cosla and the unions to resolve the dispute.

Miles Briggs MSP, shadow secretary for local government, said: “Everything possible must be done to prevent this damaging strike action going ahead.

“The prospect of school closures at the start of the new term is particularly concerning given the huge disruption the pandemic has already caused to our children’s education.

“All parties must get round the negotiating table to thrash out a deal, especially the SNP Government.

“It’s shameful of them to try to pass the buck to Cosla and the unions to resolve this dispute. After all, it’s the SNP’s systematic underfunding of local authorities year after year, including an estimated £251 million real-terms cut in the latest settlement, that has left councils unable to fund wage increases.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats also named council budget cuts made by the SNP as the reason strikes, with party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton saying: "There is an simple explanation for why these strikes are being called – years of SNP/Green cuts to local authority budgets. These cuts have meant tough times for waste and recycling staff and now with the cost-of-living crisis biting, they are at their wits’ end.

“Any single day of a child’s education lost is nothing short of a travesty. Children's interests have been sorely neglected over several years of a devastating pandemic.

“The responsibility for these strikes lies squarely with the SNP/Green government. They need to step up to the plate and sort it out.”

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland on Wednesday, leading SNP minister Jenny Gilruth said pay settlements for council workers, excluding teachers, were a “matter for Cosla”.

Ms Gilruth said: “The Scottish Government will urge and we are urging all parties to continue dialogue to seek a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

The body representing local authorities in Scotland has said it is awaiting the Government’s response for additional funding.

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.”

The Government has said it has “no formal role” in the pay negotiations, but claimed it was working with Cosla to explore options available to find solutions.

A Scottish Government spokesperson 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.”


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