Unions warn council workers strike could see rubbish pile up
Council workers could take part in a strike that would ‘close schools across the country and see litter piling up in the streets’ without an improved wage offer, the prime minister has been warned.
Union leaders Unison, Unite and GMB have written to Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes asking for local government pay talks to be held as an “urgency”.
The unions have said that the 2% that has been offered to municipal employees is “paltry”.
Union leaders have notified local authorities across Scotland, informing them of their intention to vote for industrial action among those working in schools, childcare centers and waste and recycling services.
With members voting “overwhelmingly” for action in consultative polls earlier this year, the unions wrote: “Do not doubt the strength of sentiment that exists among our members and the consequences of the success of these statutory ballots – that would close schools across the country and see litter piling up in the streets.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the Scottish government and the leaders of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) were “now faced with an all-out strike which will be entirely of their making”.
She said: ‘They need to act on local governments’ desperate pay levels for most workers, a 2% wage offer when the wider cost of living is now over 11% is a cut of punitive salary in real terms.
“Our members are committed to fair pay and they have the full support of their union in this fight for better jobs, wages and conditions in local government.”
Wendy Dunsmore, Unite’s industrial manager, said local government had been “the biggest loser” in the Scottish Government’s recent spending review, with councils seeing “funding frozen for the rest of parliament”.
But she added: “You cannot deliver first-class public services through pathetic wage offers and deep cuts in local service funding.
“The Scottish Government and COSLA need to move significantly away from the 2% offer, and let’s not forget there has been a push to do so in other areas of the public sector.”
The GMB union is also voting 10,000 of its members working in waste and cleaning, schools and childcare services on the action.
GMB Scotland lead organizer Keir Greenaway said the current offer amounted to a raise of less than £10 a week for staff earning less than £25,000 a year.
That vote started on Monday and will run until July 29, following the Scottish Government’s spending review, which included a real-term reduction in funding for local authorities.
Greenaway said: ‘Council workers and the vital services they provide are firmly in the crosshairs of Kate Forbes’ cuts agenda, and if left unchallenged the lowest paid will pay the price for the highest cost of living crisis for 40 years.
“This is what years of failure at all levels of government look like – a decade of failed austerity, the impact of cuts on communities and a sweet acceptance of the consequences at the local level.
“It’s a far cry from the applause of political leaders signaling virtue just two years ago.”
A COSLA spokesperson said: ‘We appreciate the essential roles that all local government workers perform on a daily basis – we remain in active discussion with our union partners.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said Holyrood was ‘not involved in local government wage negotiations’, which were a matter for COSLA, adding: ‘Council staff play a crucial role in our communities as we rebuild economy after the pandemic, we would therefore encourage the parties to maintain the dialogue and stay around the table to reach an agreement”.
According to the Scottish Revenue Commission, the overall Scottish budget has shrunk by 5.2% in real terms between 2021-22 and 2022-23, with a further planned reduction of 1% in real terms until 2025-26.
“In these most difficult circumstances, we have maintained the local government revenue budget at current levels with a further £100m added in 2026-27,” the government statement added.
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