By Democrat reporter
Martin Williams in the Glasgow Herald has forecast that Scotland is facing a winter of discontent as a new survey found that over half of local government workers are prepared to take industrial action to improve working conditions as morale “collapses”.
The new study, carried out for the union Unite Scotland lays bare the feelings of Scotland’s 250,000 local government workers, who help keep the nation’s public services running.
It says they have been hit through a triple whammy of high stress, low pay and job insecurity during the Covid pandemic.
The survey of 3000 local government workers reveals that nearly three quarters are experiencing workplace stress, and over half rated their workplace morale as “bad or terrible”.
It 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%). And nearly one in four said the additional hours worked were unpaid.
Some 84% said low pay was the key issue for local government and 56% were prepared to take industrial action to secure a better pay increase.
It comes as Unite, whose local rep is Margaret Wood, pictured right, launches a Imagine Life Without Us campaign focusing on the “essential” roles of local government workers.
The study, carried out in October, found that nearly half identified job security as a “major worry” and 43% said they had had their terms and conditions “cut”.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has asked to remove the cap for the rate of council tax which councils can set – which currently sits at three percent.
It said £500m of additional funding would be needed to help fund Scottish councils as authorities warn they faced “devastating” financial black holes.
The demands were part of a new Blueprint for Local Government document launched by COSLA which warned without “proper resourcing” cuts to council services are inevitable, risking the country’s recovery from the virus.
Unions have already issued a ‘safety strike’ warning if teachers and staff feel their environment is unsafe, as the number of Scots pupils testing positive for Covid-19 has soared since they returned to the classroom in August.
Public services are under threat as trade unions say morale has plummeted.
There are concerns about classroom safety as more than two million people in 11 local authority areas – including Glasgow – were placed within Scotland’s toughest Covid restrictions. There is a detailed report on this in yesterday’s issue of The Democrat.
CalMac union RMT has been calling on the state-run ferry operator to enter talks over a current pay dispute as it ballots staff on strike action.
And RMT has warned it will ballot nearly 2500 ScotRail staff on a strike and other forms of industrial action in a row over pay.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is currently contemplating a pay freeze for millions of public sector workers in England.
The 5.5 million affected include key workers lauded for their service during the pandemic, from the armed forces and police, to teachers and civil servants.
It is thought NHS staff would be exempt from the measures, but unions called a freeze for any sector “insulting”.
Three weeks ago a ‘Save our Services’ campaign was launched as fears rose over council tax hikes to fill a £91m hole in the public finances of Glasgow alone over the next two years.
Unions including Unite launched an online Save Our Services petition calling for more money for the city and calls on councillors to refuse to implement any more cuts in the council budget whilst a campaign is built to win more money for the city.
Wendy Dunsmore, Unite regional officer said: “The survey findings highlight that morale has collapsed among local government workers who continue to keep our country moving, clean and compassionate as we enter the winter period.
“It’s clear that pay is the top issue after years of local government underfunding, cuts to terms and conditions, and the workforce regularly working beyond their contracted hours often not getting paid for this work.”
Unite is calling for a 6% pay rise or £1,800 whichever is the greater, as part of the 2021 local government pay claim.
It said the survey findings are in the context of Scottish Government revenue funding to councils having been cut in real terms over the period 2013/14 to 2020/21 by 3.3 per cent. This does not include additional funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic “We hope that the Scottish public will support our local government workers campaign and show their appreciation for the dedicated and professional work which has often gone beyond the call of duty during this pandemic,” Ms Dunsmore added.
A previous COSLA paper, which emerged in July, said: “Given the initial forecasts from local authorities it would require a council tax increase in 2021/22 in excess of 50 percent.”
Councils have broadly three main sources of funding – council tax, service charges and direct funding from the Scottish Government.
Council tax is the smallest with a 3% rise each April, raising around £7m per year in Glasgow.
A COSLA spokesman said: “The efforts of our workforce during this pandemic in terms of the delivery of essential services to communities has been incredible. As employers, we have worked closely with our trade unions colleagues throughout the period including weekly meetings to address any concerns.
“As befits the workforce who make a real difference to the lives of everyone in our communities, local authorities offer some of the best terms and conditions in the country. Our trade union colleagues joined us in our recent campaign to address stress levels called ‘Don’t Stay on Mute’. Which included a video encouraging people to speak out.”
“Councils are independent of the Scottish Government and they are responsible for managing their own budgets and resources, and for the pay of their employees.”
Just to be clear. Councils do not raise all of their own money. They set their budgets within limits set by the Scottish Government and that is why we have had so much austerity at local and national level ikn recent years. Editor