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UNISON warns that schools could close if local government pay talks fail

UNISON Scotland has written to the Finance Secretary and local government leaders to warn of looming industrial action if they fail to improve their pay offer to local government workers.

The call comes ahead of a meeting on Wednesday 23rd June between the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and council umbrella group COSLA to discuss local government funding.

Earlier this year local government workers voted overwhelmingly in an indicative ballot to reject COSLA’s current pay offer and in favour of taking some form of industrial action in pursuit of an improved offer.

All three trade unions – UNISON, Unite and GMB – are currently preparing industrial action ballots and warn that members working in schools will be central to co-ordinated industrial action which would disrupt schools following the summer break.

Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland head of local government, said: “Our local government workers kept our country going during the pandemic. Without social care workers, our elderly would have gone without care; without additional support needs assistants our most vulnerable young people would have been left without an education; without cleaners our schools would have closed and our key workers left without childcare. Yet these workers have been forgotten about.

“While NHS workers have rightly received widespread recognition of their efforts, a £500 payment and a pay offer that goes beyond the public sector pay policy, their colleagues in local government have so far received nothing at all.

“Industrial action is always a last resort but our members feel they have been left with little choice. In a country where a quarter of children are living in poverty it should concern everyone that 55% of the Scottish local government workforce earns less than £25k per annum – that’s over 100,000 workers earning significantly below the average wage of £32,000 per annum. The best way to lift people out of poverty and regenerate our economy would be to put money into the pockets of the lowest paid.”

Mark Ferguson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s local government committee, said: “We all rely on our local government workers. Whether it’s giving our children the best start in life, protecting our environment, maintaining our public spaces, running our leisure facilities or caring for us in old age.

“Society has kept running during the pandemic because local government workers have heroically been working throughout and the fact they have yet to receive any reward or recognition of their efforts is simply not good enough. While COSLA and the Scottish government argue about where the money to make any improvement to the offer is going to come from, our members are worried about how to put food on the table. The current pay offer is insulting to local government workers and it’s time the Finance Secretary recognised the worth of local government workers and gives them the pay rise they deserve.”