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Council Workers to be Balloted on Strike Action

“COSLA and the Scottish Government should be ashamed that they are forcing local government workers into taking industrial action.

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite industrial officer

The trade union, Unite’s local government members have rejected the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) pay offer by 83% and 74% have indicated a willingness to take strike action. Those workers are the people who have been in the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic: cleaners, refuse collectors, social care workers and many more.

Unite, the GMB and Unison, who jointly represent the vast majority of local government workers, have written to the Scottish Government on several occasions condemning the decision not to provide additional funding to COSLA in order to improve the current pay offer.

The recent Accounts Commission report ‘Local Government in Scotland – Overview 2021’ highlighted the forecasted financial pressures of Covid alone totalling £855m, in addition to the £400m loss of income councils have experienced . Unite has also strongly condemned the withdrawing of the offer to jointly explore meeting the cost of professional fees such as the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) as ‘shameful’.

Unite will ballot targeted groups of local government workers including school cleaners, janitors and caterers along with fleet maintenance, waste and refuse workers across each local authority. 

The ballots open from 16 September and all close by 7 October. If a mandate is received for industrial action, then strike action is expected to take place from late October 2021 to late January 2022. 

Unite has repeatedly highlighted that local government workers have gone above and beyond in their response to the Covid pandemic. Last October, Unite launched its ‘Imagine Life Without Us’ campaign which focused on the “essential” roles of local government workers following a mass survey of 3,000 members. 

The survey revealed that nearly three quarters of Unite’s local government members were experiencing workplace stress, and over half rated their workplace morale as “bad or terrible”. The survey also found that workers, from cleaners, carers, caterers and early years workers to refuse workers, grave diggers and road maintenance workers, were regularly working beyond their contracted hours (41%). Nearly one in four said the additional hours worked were unpaid. 

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite industrial officer, said:

 “Unite’s local government membership have demonstrated their overwhelming rejection of the derisory pay offer. It equates to 19p per day extra for those low paid workers on £25,000 a year.  Let’s remember that more than half of all local government workers earn less than this figure with the majority of those being predominantly women. Many of our members have also had to apply for top-ups from the state to keep them above the breadline.

“It’s shameful that the previous commitment to jointly explore meeting the cost of professional fees such as the SSSC for social carers has also been withdrawn. It’s unforgivable that neither COSLA nor the Scottish Government believe that paying this fee is fair, despite a number of local authorities already having committed to meeting the SSSC registration costs. It’s an insult to all low paid health and social care workers who have supported the vulnerable in communities when families were unable to do so over the past 18 months.

“Unite will now ballot thousands of our local government workers in targeted areas such as school cleaners, caterers and janitors alongside fleet maintenance, waste and refuse workers.

“COSLA and the Scottish Government should be ashamed that they are forcing local government workers into taking industrial action.

“Both have a duty to get back round the negotiating table with a fair offer. If they do not then an autumn and winter of industrial unrest awaits. Unite’s local government workers will no longer tolerate being treated as the poor relation in our public services.”

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