Two trade unions suspend school strike action following improved pay offer

Unison said it would consult with members but recommended the deal be rejected.

Ryan McDougall
Friday 22 September 2023 17:34 BST
Unite and GMB said on Friday they have suspended school strikes by staff including cleaners and janitors (Ben Birchall/PA)
Unite and GMB said on Friday they have suspended school strikes by staff including cleaners and janitors (Ben Birchall/PA)

Two trade unions have confirmed they will suspend strike action at schools and ballot members on an improved pay offer from the body that represents Scottish councils.

Unite and GMB said on Friday they have suspended strikes by staff including cleaners and janitors due to take place next week in schools in Scotland after Cosla offered an increased wage rise.

Strikes were due to take place from September 26 until September 28.

Unite members in Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Orkney councils were all set to strike.

Meanwhile, GMB members were due to strike in Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, Orkney, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.

Unite’s primary objective all along has been to negotiate a credible offer that addresses chronic low pay in local government

Graham McNab, Unite

School closures are still likely across the country after Unison on Thursday said it would consult with members, but recommended they reject the offer.

The union has strike mandates in 24 council areas but it is not clear what the full impact will be on schools.

Councils in South Lanarkshire, Fife, Inverclyde, Orkney and the Western Isles said their schools will have to remain shut next week, but Dundee City Council said following Friday’s announcement it was now working to open as many schools as possible.

Local authorities in Falkirk, East and West Lothian and the Highlands also said their schools will be open as usual next week. Aberdeen City Council said its schools would definitely be closed on Tuesday but would be reviewing its staff numbers to see if schools could open on Wednesday and Thursday.

Unison Scotland’s head of local government Johanna Baxter said the deal “short-changed the majority” and threatened job cuts.

“No-one takes the decision to strike lightly. But council workers in Scotland deserve far better,” she said.

The new offer represents a minimum wage increase of £2,006 for those on the Scottish Government’s living wage and a minimum increase of £1,929 for workers who are earning above the living wage.

Unite said its local government committee has recommended “acceptance” of the pay offer.

Unite will hold a ballot of its local government membership which opens on September 26 and closes on October 17.

The living wage of £10.85 will rise to £11.89 under the new offer, equivalent to a 9.6% increase.

The pay offer is estimated to cost roughly £580 million.

Graham McNab, lead negotiator for local government for Unite, said: “Unite’s local government committee has agreed to suspend the scheduled strike action next week.

“We will now hold a ballot involving our members on the new pay offer which comes with a recommendation for acceptance.

We remain disappointed it took first the threat and then the looming reality of strike action in Scotland’s schools before we saw any sign of leadership from Cosla

Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland

“Unite’s primary objective all along has been to negotiate a credible offer that addresses chronic low pay in local government.

“It is an offer that should have been put on the table months ago if it were not for the dithering and blundering by Cosla and Scottish Government ministers.

“We believe the offer makes sufficient progress on low pay and it is one that our wider membership should have its say on.”

Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland senior organiser in public services, said: “It would be wrong to suggest this offer is not a clear improvement on those that came before it, especially for the lowest-paid workers.

“GMB is a trade union led by its members and it is absolutely right they are asked to decide on what is a significantly better offer.

“Cosla has itself highlighted how far it has advanced since April, which only begs the question why it took so many months to make an offer worth discussing with our members?

What I would urge the Scottish Government to do is not be a bystander, be a participant, get around the table with Cosla, with the trade unions and thrash out a fair pay deal here

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar

“We remain disappointed it took first the threat and then the looming reality of strike action in Scotland’s schools before we saw any sign of leadership from Cosla.

“Whatever our members decide, lessons should be learned from these needlessly protracted negotiations to ensure workers, parents and pupils do not endure similar uncertainty in future.”

With strikes still likely, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “What I would urge the Scottish Government to do is not be a bystander, be a participant, get around the table with Cosla, with the trade unions and thrash out a fair pay deal here.”

Cosla’s resources spokesperson councillor Katie Hagmann said: “I am heartened by today’s news that both Unite and the GMB will suspend next week’s strike action whilst they consult with their membership on the pay package that we currently have on the table.

“This is good news and I welcome the decision to suspend next week’s strike action by both the Unite and GMB trade unions.

“We have met every ask of our trade union colleagues throughout these negotiations and this best and final offer which will see every single local government worker receive an in-year pay rise of between six and almost 10 per cent was made on the basis that strikes would be suspended. I am pleased that these two trade unions have recognised this.

“We absolutely value all our local government workforce and throughout these negotiations council leaders have reiterated the value we place on the workforce and the work that they do.

“We are talking about a pay package worth over £430 million, specifically targeted at the lower end of our workforce. A pay package which not only compares well to other sectors but recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and a pay package which would mean the lowest paid would see an in-year uplift of over £2,000, or just under 10%.

“I am pleased with today’s decision from Unite and the GMB because this is the best funding package that Scottish and local Government can provide, and I would hope that their members accept the offer.”

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison welcomed the decisions from Unite and GMB, adding she encouraged negotiations with Unison to continue.

“Scottish Government and Cosla will continue to work together to minimise disruption for all in the event of industrial action,” she said.

“If strikes do go ahead, local authorities will ensure that our schools and learning establishments remain open as far as is practical, taking into consideration staffing levels and individual establishment risk assessments.”

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