Education staff could strike in September, say GMB, UNITE and UNISON unions

Child with teaching assistant

Staff working in education and early years could take targeted industrial action as early as September, unions have warned.

By Lucy Ashton

Unite members in 10 Scottish councils have voted to strike over pay when schools resume after the summer break.

It will involve thousands of workers including janitors, cleaners, caterers, classroom assistants and admin staff.

Council body Cosla said the “strong offer” raised the local government living wage by 99p to £11.84 per hour.

The 10 councils affected are: Argyll and Bute, which takes pupils from Helensburgh in Hermitage Academy and Lomond, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde and Orkney.

The development follows talks with Cosla last week. No improved pay offer was put on the table.

The current 5% offer for 2023 was rejected by 84% in a consultative ballot held by Unite in May. The current rate of broader inflation (RPI) stands at 10.7%.

Unite has also called for First Minister Humza Yousaf to intervene directly in the pay dispute following what it describes as a “collapse” in negotiations.

The trade union has repeatedly criticised Cosla for failing to approach the Scottish government to financially support a fairer pay offer for council workers, saying that both bodies are in danger of repeating the “same mistakes” of last summer’s pay dispute.

Last week, support staff in GMB Scotland also voted for strike action.

This will affect councils in Aberdeen, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow City, Orkney, Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire.

Unison has yet to announce the results of its strike ballot to members.

Graham McNab, regional officer for Unite in Scotland, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that it was awaiting the outcome of Unison’s strike ballet before confirming dates.

“Along with our sister unions, It could potentially be thousands of union members taking action on this,” he said.

The action affects school catering, cleaning, janitorial, admin and classroom assistants.

He claimed that some members were forced to turn to foodbanks and universal credit.

The union is pushing for a £2,000 uplift for its lowest paid members – the same offer that was made last year.

“I don’t think they are taking us seriously enough,” he said. “We’re treated like second class citizens.

“We had a meeting last week with Cosla and I said to them it’s just like groundhog day, it’s going back to when they made the original offer to us.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has improved.”

Mr McNab urged the Scottish government and Cosla to get back to negotiations and make an improved offer.

The union representative added: “There’s an offer been made down south to our colleagues in England and Wales by a Conservative government that puts this Scottish government to shame and that’s just not right.”

‘Meaningful pay rise’

A Cosla spokesman said the offer compared favourably to other sectors, responded to the cost of living crisis and would help to protect jobs and services.

“While the offer value in-year is 5.5%, the average uplift on salaries going into the next financial year is 7%,” he said.

“Those on the Scottish local government living wage would get 9.12% and those at higher grades, where councils are experiencing severe recruitment challenges, would see 6.05%.

“It is an offer which recognises both the vital role of the people who deliver our essential services across councils every day and the value that we, as employers, place on them.”

The spokesman added that the offer would also raise the Scottish local government living wage by 99p to £11.84 per hour and included a commitment to working towards a £15 per hour pay deal.

The Scottish government said it had provided a further £155 million to support a “meaningful pay rise for local government workers”.

Education secretary Jenny Gilruth, left,  told BBC Scotland News that the Scottish government would continue to work with Cosla to reach a “suitable and an affordable deal for the dispute”.

When asked if school support staff were valued, she said: “Absolutely. In every school I’ve ever worked in, school janitors, classroom assistants, people who work in our office are all hugely valued and schools can’t operate without them – they are absolutely pivotal to our school communities.

“It’s really important that we secure a pay deal that is recognised by the trade unions and by Cosla as one that is fair and affordable.”

A whole cross section of workers may take the decision to strike. Top of page picture isd of Hermitage Academy pupils in Helensburgh.

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