'Rubbish will pile high' and schools close as Scottish council workers vote to strike

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

Thousands of council workers are set to strike
Thousands of council workers are set to strike

Council workers in the GMB and Unison at nine local authorities across Scotland will walk out over a 2 per cent 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.

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.

The action was announced after the “biggest ballot in a decade”, with council workers in all local authority areas voting to reject the pay offer, and nine areas meeting the required threshold of 50 per cent turnout for strike action. There were Glasgow, Orkney, Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire, Stirling, and Inverclyde.

It comes as strike involving signallers and other Network Rail staff planned for Wednesday is set to see fewer than a tenth of ScotRail services will be able to run.

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.

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, 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 per cent 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 per cent, 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.”

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