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Council workers to vote on strike to shut Scotland’s schools

Council workers across Scotland are being balloted for a strike over pay that could shut schools and nurseries after the summer break.

About 25,000 staff working in schools, nurseries, waste and recycling centres will be asked to consider industrial action.

The Unison and GMB unions said they were urging members to vote to strike after Finance Minister Kate Forbes refused an offer of “last-ditch talks”.

The ballot will close on 26 July.

The unions said they had called for a summit with Ms Forbes and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in a bid to avoid strike action.

Ms Forbes wrote to Unison on Thursday and said “it would not be appropriate to interfere in these negotiations, given their devolved nature” and “respectfully declined” a meeting proposed by Cosla, the local authority body.

Unison said it intended to shut schools across Scotland when children return after the school summer break in August.

The unions also said strike action could leave waste “piling up in the streets” if workers did not get a pay increase of more than the “miserly” 2% that was currently being offered.

Waste and recycling teams are being balloted on the strike action @GETTYIMAGES
Waste and recycling teams are being balloted on the strike action @GETTYIMAGES

Johanna Baxter, the unions head of local government, said: “With inflation at a 40-year high, this goes nowhere near compensating them for the cost of living crisis or the loss in the value of their pay following real-terms pay cuts over a decade of austerity.

“This comes on the back of the Scottish government announcing cuts to public services that Margaret Thatcher would be proud of in their recent spending review.”

‘Keep society running’

She added: “The fact they will not sit down with Cosla and the trade unions to try and find a solution is a kick in the teeth to all local government workers.

“They have forgotten already who was educating our children, cleaning our communities, caring for our vulnerable and burying our dead throughout the pandemic. Local government workers keep society running.”

Meanwhile, the GMB pointed to a 5% deal agreed between ScotRail – which was nationalised by the government in April – and train drivers’ union Aslef as proof that the 2% offer for council workers was “paltry”.

GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway 2% was “worth less than a tenner a week extra for staff earning under £25,000 a year” and was therefore “neither credible nor acceptable”.

He added: “It is clear the only language our political leaders understand is action. That is why we are recommending our members vote yes for strikes in our local government ballot.

The Scottish government said pay settlements for council workers – apart from teachers – are the responsibility of Cosla and are determined through negotiations at the Scottish Joint Committee (SJC).

A spokesman said: “As it is not a member of the SJC, the Scottish government cannot intervene in pay negotiations, which are for the trade unions to negotiate with Cosla.

“Council staff play a crucial role in our communities as we rebuild the economy following the pandemic.

“We would encourage the parties to maintain dialogue and stay at the table to reach agreement.”

Cosla said it “valued the essential roles that all local government workers carry out on a daily basis” and remained in active discussions with trade unions.

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