Significantly improved offer needed to end strike, union says

School support workers are taking strike action (Jane Barlow/PA)
School support workers are taking strike action (Jane Barlow/PA)

A “significantly” better offer is needed to end strike action by support staff which has closed schools across much of the country, a union chief has said, as she warned of further strikes.

Lilian Macer, Unison’s Scottish secretary, said the latest offer from employers was “too little, too late and too vague”.

School support staff in 24 council areas are walking out for three days from Tuesday after Unison rejected the offer, though GMB Scotland and Unite have suspended strikes while they consider it.

And Ms Macer warned that further strike action “will be on the cards” unless a deal is reached and called on First Minister Humza Yousaf to get involved in negotiations.

Industrial strike
School support staff are walking out for three days (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Yousaf on Monday urged Unison to suspend strike action and put the offer to members.

Ms Macer told the PA news agency: “The offer we’re looking for is significantly above what has been offered. We are seeking the Scottish Government to come round the table with Cosla, with Unison, to negotiate a fair pay settlement for local government workers in Scotland.

“It’s imperative that the First Minister move away from the cameras, move away from the press releases and come into the room and talk to Unison.

“The first we heard from the First Minister was last night, asking us, urging us not to take action.

Strike action
Essential school staff including cleaners, janitors and support workers have been locked in a pay dispute (Jane Barlow/PA)

“If you are serious about discussions with Unison, pick up the phone and as Scottish secretary I’ll be there.”

The dispute is over a revised pay offer from umbrella body the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) for a pay increase for janitors, cleaners, and support workers, who are some of the lowest paid council employees.

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.

The living wage of £10.85 will rise to £11.89 under the new offer, equivalent to a 9.6% increase – but Unison has said the revised pay offer remains a “real terms pay cut” and “below the rate of inflation”.

Ms Macer described the latest offer from Cosla as “too little, too late and too vague”.

Speaking on a picket line outside Carluke High School in South Lanarkshire, she said: “We are now in the process of organising a consultative ballot with our members with a recommendation to reject this offer. We will then take soundings from our members about further industrial action.

Industrial strike
Workers on the picket line at Portobello High School in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

“Our strategy, our pay campaign is not finished, we will continue the action as long as our members instruct us to do so.

“More strike action will be on the cards, nothing is off the table and our members will be balloted with a recommendation to reject this offer.

“No-one wants to see children’s education disrupted, Unison members don’t want to see children’s education disrupted.

“Cosla and the Scottish Government have taken this to the brink and this is where we are as a consequence of no discussion and no negotiation with Unison.”

She said the union is prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations and urged the Scottish Government and Cosla to get in touch.

Unison rejected the offer as “an increase of only 0.5% in-year” for the majority of staff.

Industrial strike
Union leaders have warned of further strike action (Jane Barlow/PA)

Some regions have come up with compromises to allow education to continue despite strikes.

Highland Council said 27 of its schools are expected to remain open while Glasgow City Council said high schools will be open for S4-S6 pupils only on Tuesday, with a reassessment planned that day on whether any more schools and nurseries can open for the following two days.

Cosla said the “pay package 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 an in-year uplift of over £2,000, or just under 10%”.

A spokesperson for Cosla said: “This is a very strong offer that equates to 10% or £2,006 for the lowest paid at the request of the trade unions.

“Throughout these negotiations we have met every request of our trade union colleagues.”

Commenting on the pay offer, Cosla resources spokeswoman Katie Hagmann told BBC Radio Scotland: “The remaining funding envelope has been found through reprofiling and reprioritisation of existing funding.”

She clarified it would come from areas where there were “underspends”, meaning there would be “no detriment” to jobs or services.