School and bin collection strikes due to hit Highlands and Islands

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Council staff working in education and refuse centres in Argyll and Bute, Highland and Western Isles councils have voted to strike this summer in a pay dispute with the Scottish Government.

Workers in waste and recycling could leave rubbish ‘piling up in the streets’ if workers do not get a better offer than the ‘derisory’ two per cent on the table, unions warned. School walk-outs could happen after pupils return from the summer break in August.

Talks were held on Friday and Monday between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and the unions, who are demanding COSLA come back with an improved offer. COSLA says it is waiting for the Scottish Government to respond to requests for extra funding for councils.

Local government emerged as the biggest loser from the latest Holyrood spending review, with its funding frozen for the rest of the parliament.

Trade unions said more than half of Scotland’s 250,000 council workers are earning less than £25,000 a year for a 37-hour week. Unions warned all new council leaders if they do not act to improve pay, they will see strikes this summer.

About 25,000 council workers from the Unite, Unison and the GMB trade unions, in all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, were balloted over a two per cent pay offer, as the cost of living crisis sees inflation rose to 11.8 per cent.

Unite balloted its members in schools and cleansing. In 26 councils, including Argyll and Bute, Highland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, they rejected the ‘derisory’ two per cent pay offer and voted for industrial action.

Action in refuse and waste services is expected to begin in mid-August and school strikes in early September.

Wendy Dunsmore, Unite industrial officer, said: ‘Our members are at the end of their patience. A two per cent pay offer when the broader cost of living is at 11.8 per cent is a punishing real terms pay cut.

‘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.’

While Unite members voted for action, Scotland’s largest local government union UNISON didn’t reach the 50 per cent turnout threshold required by the 2016 Trade Union Act in Argyll and Bute, Highland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. However, Unison said the vast majority of those who did vote were in favour of action.

Elsewhere, thousands of council workers in nine local authorities voted to take industrial action which will disrupt schools, early years centres, nurseries and waste and recycling centres.

Johanna Baxter, UNISON head of local government, said: ‘Council workers south of the border were offered a flat rate uplift of £1,925, which for those on the lowest pay equates to a 10.5 per cent increase.’

Balloted GMB members unanimously supported strikes, but only those in waste services at Highland Council and school services in Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar passed the statutory 50 per cent threshold for turnout. Strikes in North Ayrshire, which covers the Isle of Arran, will be restricted to waste services.

GMB Scotland senior organiser Keir Greenaway said: ‘The two per cent that’s already been massively rejected is a shameful proposal. It’s worth less than £10 a week extra for those earning £25,000 or under and will turn a cost-of-living crisis into a catastrophe for many workers and their families.

‘Two years ago, these workers were applauded on the doorstep by political leaders, but now they are being told to suffer massive real terms pay cuts ahead of a brutal winter with forecasts of double-digit inflation and energy bills of more than £3,000.’

Last month COSLA said it was ‘deeply disappointed the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance have refused the request of all council leaders to engage in discussions regarding the current settlement for local government and its significant impact on our ongoing pay negotiations.

‘The ‘Resource Spending Review’, published on May 31, shows local government’s core funding for the next three years will remain static at time when inflation and energy costs are soaring.

‘As things stand, the only option available to councils is yet fewer jobs and cuts to services that are essential to communities everywhere.’