Local News

Facing A Winter Of Discontent

Orkney looks set to face disruption to many of its council run services this autumn and winter. Council workers, members of trade unions have rejected the 2% pay offer from their employers.

The industrial action will take different forms but it will be disruptive across 26 Scottish council areas.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: 

“The message for both the Scottish Government and COSLA is crystal clear: thousands upon thousands of members won’t tolerate real terms pay cuts anymore, and they have had enough. Our members are being forced to take this action due to a derisory pay offer, and we will support them in this fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in local government.”

The union has asked for 5% which would have to be backed up by extra funding going to local authorities from the Scottish Government. COSLA, the body which represents councils in Scotland has also asked the Scottish Government for additional funding to cover a 5% pay rise.

Although there are a few top earners in Orkney Islands Council, most workers are not. More than half of Scotland’s 250,000 council workers are earning less than £25,000 a year for a 37-hour week. And now with inflation soaring – 11.8% – and extortionate energy bills coming in the next few months Wendy Dunsmore, Unite industrial officer, has described the union members of being  “at the end of their patience”

She continued:

“They are being forced to take this action due to being completely undervalued despite working throughout the pandemic. Let’s be clear here: a 2% pay offer when the broader cost of living is at 11.8% is a punishing real terms pay cut. In the coming weeks we will now plan for targeted strike action in 26 councils across Scotland and the blame for this lies squarely with COSLA and the First Minister.”

COSLA leaders met on Friday, 5th of August. Ahead of the meeting UNISON head of local government in Scotland Johanna Baxter said that an improved offer must be put on the table “if we are to avoid large-scale disruption to council services across Scotland.”

She continued:

“Council workers south of the border were offered a flat rate uplift of £1,925 [Monday], which for those on the lowest pay equates to a 10.5% increase. You have to wonder why council workers north of the border have only been offered a measly 2% increase when the cost of living continues to spiral.

“UNISON has been calling for a flat rate payment to help those on lower incomes. Most council workers earn less than £25k per year.

“This is the largest strike ballot by local government workers in over a decade and the first-time workers across Scotland have voted to take strike action in these numbers. It really shouldn’t take this for them to receive the recognition, respect and reward that they deserve.”

The three trade unions which represent public service workers, Unite, UNISON and GMB, sent a joint letter to COSLA on 27th of July stating ” between the three trade unions we have legal mandates to disrupt the operation of over 1,200 schools across 16 local authorities in Scotland and the waste/recycling services across 25 local authorities in Scotland. Viewed across all occupational groups and trade unions there would be few if any councils that would avoid some level of disruption.”

COSLA’s Councillor Hagmann, wrote to the joint trade unions on 29th July to confirm that 2% is the only offer on the table.

NHS workers in Scotland are also being balloted on their recent pay deal which the unions have advised them to reject which at 5% would be well below the current rate of inflation. The highest paid staff will receive a rise worth £5,523 per year the lower paid will get £1,080. UNISON described this as ‘unfair’ and along with other health unions, have asked for an above inflation pay award. 

Faced with many public sector pay claims the Scottish Government, with its fixed budget, has written to the UK Government for more money.

In a letter to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadhim Zahawi MP , the Deputy First Minister of Scotland said:

“The associated reduction in spending power across public-sector budgets is deeply worrying for our public services and our capacity to respond to the cost of living crisis, which will undoubtedly bring renewed challenges through the coming autumn and winter period. 

“Given our fixed budgets, our restricted borrowing powers and the inability to change tax policy in year, the lack of additional funding for public sector pay deals via the Barnett Formula means the Scottish Government could only replicate these pay deals for public workers in Scotland with deep cuts to public services.

“I would urge you to consider appropriate funding for public sector pay, and would welcome early discussions with you on this matter.”

A few weeks ago, 15th of July, all three Finance Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wrote to the UK Chancellor about the limits of their budgets, their concerns for their citizens with the cost of living crisis and stressing the importance of treating public workers ‘fairly’, stating:

“We need a fair and appropriate response on public sector pay and urge you to give firmer assurances on sensible pay uplifts for our public sector workers. “

The letter continued,

“In addition to the public pay bill and the rising public energy costs, there are other significant emerging pressures for our services, including education and enabling NHS recovery and reform. Our Budgets should be uplifted in line with these pressures. The NHS turns 75 next year and this presents a much needed opportunity to boost funding for the service which so many of us rely on.”

See also:

Leave a Reply