Unions urge rejection of pay offer for council social workers in Scotland

Local government body COSLA claims offer - worth 5.5% on average - is 'strong', but unions say it amounts to a pay cut and is worth less than deals for other public sector staff in Scotland

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Unions have urged members to reject a pay offer for council social workers and other local government staff in Scotland, with the largest calling on workers to back industrial action.

Local government body COSLA described its proposal – which would be worth 5.5% to the average council worker in 2023-24 – as “strong”, but unions warned that it would amount to a pay cut and was worth less than deals offered to other public sector staff in Scotland.

COSLA said its proposed deal would provide:

  • A 5% rise for staff on all spinal column points on the local government pay scale from 1 April 2023.
  • Further rises of 45p an hour for the lowest paid staff (those on spinal column points 2-18), and 2.5% for those on points 19-43, from 1 January 2024.
  • An additional 1.5% rise, from 1 January 2024, for those on points 44-64, who currently earn roughly £28,000 – £38,000.
  • An extra rise, from 1 January next year, of 1% for those on points 65 and above, a group that includes most social workers.

‘A strong offer’

The average worker would earn 5.51% more over the course of the year than in 2022-23, while their salary at the end of the year would be worth 7.02% more than a year earlier. For a social worker earning £38,585, their end of year salary would be 6.05% higher (around £41,900).

COSLA’s resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann said: “This is a strong offer for our valued workforce which compares very well to other sectors…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.”

However, despite the unions having agreed to a similar deal last year – worth 5% or £1,925, whichever was higher – UNISON, Unite and GMB have urged their members to reject the 2023-24 in consultative ballots.

In addition, UNISON is calling on workers to also show their backing for industrial action to put pressure on COSLA to increase its offer – though any such action would only take place if it were backed in a further ballot.

‘An effective pay cut’

Johanna Baxter, head of local government for UNISON Scotland, said: “It falls short of the rate of inflation, is less than others in the public sector have been offered over the past year, and would in effect be a pay cut.”

Scotland’s NHS staff will receive a 6.5% rise this year, while inflation, according to the UK government’s preferred measure, was 10.4%, in the year to February 2023. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility is predicting inflation will fall over the rest of the year, averaging 6.1% over the 2023 calendar year.

Baxter urged the Scottish Government to intervene in the dispute, as it did last year, when it provided councils with £240m extra to fund an improved pay offer and persuade unions to suspend strike action.

“Local government cannot continue to be the poor relations of the public sector with councils continuously facing unpalatable choices between decent pay and jobs. Last year, the Scottish Government agreed they had a role to play in this, given they are the biggest funder of local government.  We urge COSLA and the Scottish Government to get round the table to discuss this as a matter of urgency.”

Strike ballot looms for staff in England, Wales and NI

The dispute in Scotland comes with unions representing council staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland also recommending rejection of employers’ offer, which is worth £1,925. While GMB and Unite are currently consulting their members on the offer, UNISON has decided to move straight to an industrial action ballot, which is due to start next month.

Should members back this, social workers and other staff could be called out on strike this autumn.


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