EDUCATION: Union leader warns of same mistakes in school dispute (UPDATED)

By Lucy Ashton

Councils and the Scottish government have not learned lessons from last year’s local government strikes, a union leader has warned.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, said school support workers had “no choice” but to take action later this month to get a fair pay deal.

The three major council unions rejected the latest offer and set a deadline of Wednesday for an improved proposal.

Council employer body Cosla has insisted the current offer is strong.

Meanwhile, ministers said they had already provided additional funding.

Local authority leaders are to meet on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the pay dispute which threatens to close schools in all but six of Scotland’s 32 council areas.

Ms Foyer was speaking on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show days after three unions agreed to strike over pay and conditions for janitors and school support workers.

The actions are due to take place on 26, 27, and 28 September.

Ms Foyer told the programme she understood parents’ frustration.

But she said the blame did not lie with the workers and compared the current situation to the NHS disputes and teacher strikes, which ministers settled earlier this year after making revised pay offers.

Ms Foyer said: “We have Cosla and the Scottish government making the same mistakes in the same situation with the same dispute as we had last year.

“At the end of the day if you want to avoid workers feeling forced down the road of taking strike action in a cost of living crisis then you need to put a reasonable offer on the table.

“The unions have been waiting for five months for a reasonable offer to be forthcoming. It hasn’t been and inflation is still really high and workers need a decent pay offer.”

Two school dinner staff serve lunches to children
Catering, cleaning, janitorial, admin and classroom assistance staff will be on strike.

Cosla said the two-part plan would give workers at least a £1,929 increase in annual salary by 1 January 2024.

Responding to Ms Foyer’s comments, a Scottish government spokesperson said local government pay negotiations were a matter for local authorities and unions.

They said: “Despite UK government cuts, the Scottish government has provided a further £155m in 2023-24 to support a meaningful pay rise for local government workers, which has been taken into account in the pay offer made by Cosla

“We continue our engagement with Cosla on how staff and services are supported this year and next.”

Three unions are involved in the dispute: Unison, the GMB and Unite.

All three had to ballot each council area separately. This has led to a complex picture of who has the right to strike across the country. Only six out of Scotland’s 32 councils will be unaffected. These are the areas where the unions did not win a mandate.

They are Argyll and Bute, which includes Helensburgh’s Hermitage Academy and Oban High School, , East Ayrshire, East Lothian, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and West Lothian.

The unions expect the actions to lead to widespread school closures and disruption.

NHS strikes were averted in March when members of three unions voted to accept a new pay offer from the Scottish government.

The two-part deal meant many staff will see their pay increase by 13-14% over two years.

Teaching unions reached a similar deal the same month.

Meanwhile, the SNP government must intervene in Council pay negotiations to deliver a fair deal for workers and prevent strike chaos, Scottish Labour has said today.

Cosla’s latest offer has been turned down by Trade Unions, putting Scotland on the track for more school closures as support staff prepare to go on strike.
Unison pointed out that the new deal was a pitiful 0.17 per cent increase on the previous one – offering the lowest paid workers an extra 1p per hour and those earning over £25,000 no increase.
Scottish Labour is calling for the Scottish Government to step in to prevent strikes and help deliver a fair deal, warning that SNP cuts have left Cosla negotiating “with one hand tied behind its back”.
The party warned the SNP against repeating past mistakes by delaying action and letting strikes wreak havoc.
Commenting, Scottish Labour Local Government spokesperson Mark Griffin, right,  said: “Strike chaos is looming and schools are facing yet more closures – but the SNP government is sitting on its hands.
“It will feel like groundhog day for parents, who have already seen the SNP abdicate responsibility and lets strikes hit.
“Years of brutal cuts to Council budgets have left Cosla negotiating with one hand tied behind its back.
“Workers deserve a fair pay deal during a cost of living crisis and school pupils shouldn’t have to deal with any more SNP-made disruption.
“They must step in and help resolve this dispute instead of waiting until the eleventh hour as they have in the past.”

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