By Lucy Ashton
BBC Scotland is reporting this lunchtime that hundreds of schools in Scotland will be closed as support staff begin a three-day strike in 24 of the country’s 32 councils, including West Dunbartonshire.
Schools in Argyll and Bute, including Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh and Oban High School are not affected by the strike and neither are the primary schools there.
Thousands of pupils have been told to stay at home as members of the union Unison walk out in their row over pay.
A renewed offer from Cosla and last-minute talks over the weekend failed to halt action from the union with the largest representation.
Unite and GMB have suspended strike plans while members are consulted.
The impact of the strike will vary significantly across the 24 areas where Unison is striking – with all primary and secondary schools in Edinburgh closed while in Glasgow 29 secondaries will remain open to S4, 5 and 6 students.
In Aberdeenshire, 39 schools are closed and 21 are partially closed. The council said 66 early learning centres and nurseries were also shut.
The dispute is over a pay offer for non-teaching staff including janitors, canteen workers, classroom assistants, cleaners, admin staff and nursery staff.
A deadline was set for Wednesday last week for local authority body Cosla to make an improved pay offer – this was extended while it sought money from the deputy first minister.
The Scottish government then freed up £80m in ring-fenced funding to enable a new deal, which included a rise of about £2,000 a year for the lowest paid.
Mark Ferguson, who is Unison’s chair of local government, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme the dispute was about years of under-funding and job cuts as well as pay.
He said: “It’s unclear exactly what the in-year value (of the new offer) is. We’ve had two pieces of correspondence – one from the Scottish government and one from Cosla – and they conflict with each other.
“Neither can explain exactly where this money is coming from and we don’t want it to come from more cuts to jobs and services.”
GMB Scotland said the offer was “not perfect but a clear improvement” and moved to suspend strikes, along with Unite.
Members of those unions were now faced with the prospect of having to cross Unison picket lines.
Just hours before the strikes were due to start, First Minister Humza Yousaf urged Unison to suspend its strike action and to put the improved pay offer to members to vote on.
Mr Yousaf, left, said: “We have been engaged with Cosla right throughout this process” and insisted flexibility had been given to provide extra funds.
The Scottish government was urged to “work flat-out to avert strikes” by the Scottish Tories.
The new offer represents a minimum wage increase of £2,006 for those on the Scottish government’s living wage and a minimum increase of £1,929 for workers who are earning above the living wage.
The living wage of £10.85 will rise to £11.89 under the new offer, equivalent to a 9.6% increase.
Asked if the Scottish government could have done more to prevent school strikes, Mr Yousaf said: “These are negotiations obviously for Cosla but we have been engaged with Cosla right throughout this process, providing additional funding, additional flexibility so more funding can be made available.
“But it is for Cosla to lead these negotiations.
“It is a very good offer, that is why a couple of unions of course have suspended strike action and will now consult members.
“There’s government involvement, government funding – it is a very good offer and I would urge Unison, who I understand continue to have concerns, to follow the other trade unions, suspend strike action and do a consultation with their members.”
The first minister added: “I have got tremendous respect for Unison.
“I believe they are doing what they believe is in the best interests of their members but I would very politely suggest that with the further detail we have provided over the weekend, I am hoping there is enough to give them reassurances, that particularly for the lowest paid, but for everybody across any of the pay bands this is a very good offer indeed.”
‘Very strong offer’
Unison’s Scottish secretary Lilian Macer criticised Mr Yousaf for “staying silent” until the last moment, claiming the dispute “could have been sorted months ago.”
She said: “If the Scottish government was serious about avoiding disruption for pupils, parents and staff, ministers should have been in touch, and spoken to us. But they’ve been conspicuously absent.
“Cosla is as much to blame. It made an initial offer in the spring, then disappeared for months, only coming up with a revised amount late last week. It was too little and far too late.
“No-one wants these strikes to go ahead, but the offer is nowhere near good enough.”
Cosla called the proposals “a very strong offer”.
Resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann, an SNP councillor in Dumfries, pictured right, said: “I am heartened both Unite and the GMB will suspend strike action whilst they consult with their membership on the pay package.
“We have met every ask of our trade union colleagues and this best and final offer which will see every single local government worker receive an in-year pay rise of between 6% and almost 10% on the basis that strikes would be suspended.
“We are talking about a pay package which not only compares well to other sectors but recognises the cost-of-living pressures on our workforce and which would mean the lowest-paid would see an in-year uplift of over £2,000 or just under 10%.
“This is the best funding package that Scottish and local government can provide and I hope their members accept the offer.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s failure to listen to Scottish Labour representatives on COSLA has directly led to workers being forced to take industrial action, Scottish Labour has said today.
Since February, Scottish Labour reps have been calling for COSLA to get around the table with Scottish Government and unions to deliver fair pay for local government workers.
Despite this, SNP led COSLA has failed to agree terms with Unison – the largest local government union – leading to industrial action that is hitting workers in the pocket and inconveniencing thousands of families. This action was entirely avoidable.
With new eleventh hour offers being made by the SNP, Scottish Labour has said that the SNP’s ‘who blinks first’ approach to industrial relations is pushing workers into industrial action and is responsible for the strikes.
Scottish Labour local government spokesperson Mark Griffin, left, said: “Once more workers have been forced to strike and families have been left high and dry by this SNP’s failure to listen to workers.
“The SNP needs to learn that their ‘who blinks first’ approach to industrial relations is bad for workers and bad for the communities that they serve.
“Make no mistake – the responsibility for these strikes lies squarely with the SNP and its incompetent leadership.”
COSLA Scottish Labour leader David Ross added: “Despite Scottish Labour councillors arguing on COSLA for months for the SNP to deliver fair pay for workers, once more Scotland has been left high and dry by SNP inaction.
“This dispute could have been resolved months ago but the SNP’s head in the sand attitude has brought us to where we are today with workers out on strike and schools closed.
“Years of savage SNP cuts to councils and slow pay rises will not be solved by yet another eleventh hour offer from the SNP government. The negotiation process must be reformed so Scotland’s local authorities are not left lurching from crisis to crisis.
“Scotland needs a government that will stop the under-funding of vital local services and will work with councils and unions to deliver fair pay – as schools remain closed today it is clearer than ever that the SNP is not the government Scotland needs.”