COP26: Council workers strike could ‘close schools and leave waste uncollected’

Council workers in more than half of Scotland’s local authorities are to take strike action as part of a row over pay.

Trade unions representing staff have now notified local government body Cosla that they will take industrial action over the period November 8 to 12.

The strike comes during the period of the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow, with the area one of those that will be hit by the action.

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Refuse and recycling workers will be out on strike, along with school cleaners, janitors and catering staff.

Council workers in more than half of Scotland’s local authorities are to take strike action as part of a row over pay.

Johanna Baxter, head of local government for the Unison union in Scotland, said: “It is the combined failure of both Cosla and the Scottish Government to reward these key workers that has led to the situation where we have now been forced to issue notice of targeted strike action.”

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The Scottish Government is now being urged to intervene in a bid to resolve the dispute – with the unions warning they could escalate their action if councillors fail to increase their pay offer.

Letters have been sent to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, as well as Local Government Secretary Shona Robison and Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, calling on them to act.

Ms Baxter said: “Our members are at breaking point and are worth more than what is on offer – it is deeply regrettable that they should have to withdraw their labour for the employer to recognise their worth.

“Over 55% of local government workers earn below £25,000 per year, and the vast majority have received no reward at all for their efforts during the Covid pandemic. The current offer does not even bring the lowest paid local government workers up to £10 per hour.”

Unite union industrial officer Wendy Dunsmore said members will be taking “targeted strike action due to the abject failure by Cosla and the Scottish Government to pay workers a fair and decent wage”.

She added: “The incredible professionalism and sacrifice by local government workers has not been recognised during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Unite’s members will no longer tolerate being treated as the poor relation in our public services.

“School cleaners, caterers and janitors, alongside fleet maintenance, waste and refuse workers are saying enough is enough.

“Let’s be clear that this situation has arisen because Cosla and the Scottish Government are forcing local government workers into taking industrial action due to their derisory pay offer.

“Both have a duty to get back round the negotiating table with a new offer or industrial unrest is imminent.”

GMB union senior organiser Drew Duffy said: “Scottish politicians have failed to value local government workers throughout this pandemic and so many of these workers are low-paid key workers.

“Today, thousands of these low-paid workers will be telling their employer that they will be going on strike across schools and waste to fight for a decent pay rise.

“Scottish council leaders and Scottish ministers have let these workers down by failing to value the work they do so these workers will now be forced to close schools and leave household waste uncollected to force these leaders to pay them what they deserve.

“It’s been over 18 months since any of these key workers had a pay rise and that is a disgrace given the work they have done over the last 18 months.”

Councils are offering local government workers earning below £25,000 a year an £850 increase in wages, with smaller rises for those earning more.

This would see staff earning between £25,000 and £40,000 get a 2% rise and those on £40,000 to £80,000 getting 1%, while those earning more than that would get an extra £800 a year.

However the unions insist all workers should get a rise of either 6% or £2,000, whichever is greater.

A Cosla spokesman said: “We appreciate everything that local government workers have been doing, and continue to do, to support people and communities during the pandemic and as we begin to recover.

“We continue with ongoing constructive negotiations.”

Strikes are currently scheduled to take place in the Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyle and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dundee City, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow City, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian council areas.