Union rejects new pay offer as strike by support staff in Scottish schools looms

Workers are due to walk out for three days later this month.

Lucinda Cameron
Thursday 14 September 2023 16:21 BST
Unison has rejected the offer (Nick Ansell/PA)
Unison has rejected the offer (Nick Ansell/PA)

Unison has rejected the latest “insulting” pay offer from employers ahead of strike action by school support staff.

The union warned mass strikes will go ahead later this month unless there is a “significantly improved offer” from employers.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) on Wednesday made a two-part offer that it said would provide at least a £1,929 increase in annual salary for workers by January 1, 2024.

Cosla said the offer would mean the lowest paid workers would see a 21% increase in their pay over a two-year period.

Unison Scotland’s local government committee met on Thursday morning and voted unanimously to reject Cosla’s revised offer outright, saying it represents an increase on the previous offer of only 0.17%.

Unison Scotland head of local government Johanna Baxter said: “It is deeply disappointing that it has taken Cosla five months since our members rejected the initial offer to present such insignificant changes.

“We have made very clear that Cosla must put forward a significantly improved offer to avert mass school strikes. Members of our local government committee this morning described this offer as insulting.

“It is staggering that Cosla have still not approached, and continue to refuse to approach, the Scottish Government for additional funding to make a meaningful improvement to the pay offer.

“Given the state of local authority budgets, we believe this to be a dereliction of the duty to stand up for local government and fight for the funding needed to both properly reward the local government workforce and keep our public services running.”

Unison claimed that for those on the lowest pay, the revised offer represents an increase of only £0.01 per hour, effective from January 1.

According to the union, those working full-time and earning £25,000 or above are being offered no increase on the previous offer, which has already been rejected.

Unions have warned more than three-quarters of Scotland’s schools could shut when support staff take three days of strike action in the dispute over pay.

Unison said more than 21,000 members will take part in the co-ordinated action over three days from Tuesday September 26 to Thursday September 28.

Members of the Unite and GMB Scotland unions will also take part in the action.

Those going on strike include cleaners, caterers, janitors and school support assistants.

Cosla said the pay offer currently on the table will cost councils just under half a billion pounds.

Its resource spokeswoman Katie Hagmann said: “I am doubly disappointed today, firstly with the rejection itself, but perhaps more importantly with the fact that they did not take the revised offer to their membership for consideration.

“We have continued to conduct these negotiations in good faith and kept communication channels open at all times.

“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.

“That is why we enhanced an already strong offer yesterday, with council leaders going to the absolute limits of what local government can afford. The simple fact of the matter is that we have no more money available for pay without real cuts to jobs and services.

“It must be remembered that we are talking about a pay package worth over £440 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 which would mean the lowest paid would see a 21% increase in their pay over a two-year period.

“Whichever way you cut it, this is a very strong offer in the financial climate we find ourselves. We have a duty to ensure that services are sustainable within the funding for pay we have available.

“I am disappointed with today’s rejection. However, we will continue to engage as positively as we can with the trade onions as strike action is in nobody’s interests.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Local government pay negotiations are a matter for local authorities as employers and unions.

“The Scottish Government and Cosla have committed to respect this negotiating arrangement as part of the Verity House Agreement.

“Despite UK Government cuts, the Scottish Government has provided a further £155 million in 2023-24 to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer made by Cosla.

“We continue our engagement with Cosla on how staff and services are supported this year and next.”

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