UNISON announces more strikes as other unions accept local government pay offer in Scotland

Biggest union says it will carry out rolling programme of walkouts in schools and warns COSLA against imposing offer accepted by GMB and Unite

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UNISON has announced a fresh round of strikes after its members overwhelmingly rejected an improved pay offer for local government staff in Scotland.

The “rolling programme” of walkouts will take place in schools and early years providers linked to schools across the country with dates to be announced shortly, the union said this week.

Nine in ten members who voted rejected the offer from employers’ body COSLA, on a 57% turnout, after UNISON members had taken strike action in schools over it last month.

However, members of the two other unions, Unite and GMB, have accepted the offer from COSLA, after their leaders suspended their role in last month’s school strikes.

Pay offer for council staff in Scotland

  • A £2,006 (9.59%) rise for the lowest paid (earning the equivalent of £20,933 on a full-time salary) and a minimum of £1,929 for all other staff.
  • A social worker earning £33,531 (spinal point 55) would receive an extra £2,199 (6.56%).
  • A practitioner earning £38,586 (spinal point 65) would receive an extra £2,334 (6.05%).

COSLA warned not to impose offer

There is now a majority in favour of the deal on negotiating body the Scottish Joint Council, which has equal membership from employers and unions and where votes are carried on a majority basis.

COSLA’s position is that the offer is “as far as local government can go without impacting on essential services and jobs locally”.

However, UNISON, the biggest of the three unions, warned the employers’ body against imposing the deal in the face of its members opposition.

“We are hopeful that COSLA and the Scottish Government will see sense once they realise the resolve of our members to achieve a fair settlement for local government staff,” said a spokesperson.

‘Resolve to fight for fair pay’

The chair of UNISON Scotland’s local government committee, Mark Ferguson, said the offer would “add further stress to a dedicated workforce who are already suffering from the cost-of-living crisis” and that members’ overwhelming rejection “shows their resolve to fight for the fair pay they deserve”.

He said the offer amounted to a “real-terms pay cut”. The annual rate of inflation – according to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure – was 8.7% in April 2023, falling to 6.7% in September.

This is still above the percentage rise being offered to the vast majority of social workers in Scottish councils, though COSLA has pointed out that the average rise across the workforce – 6.95% – was above the current rate of CPI inflation.

‘Not a perfect offer, but a good one’

For GMB Scotland, senior organiser in public services Keir Greenaway said: “It is not a perfect offer but is a good one and it was right our members, who were ready to strike in support of fair pay, were given the chance to vote on it.

“We have been assured no council services or jobs will be cut to fund this offer and will continue to ensure those assurances are kept.”

Unite issued a similar message on the importance of jobs and services being protected.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “A minimum increase of over £2,000 for the lowest paid will be a welcome boost to the pay packets of our members during this ongoing cost of living crisis.

“Unite’s members should be congratulated for the strong stance they have taken to deliver better jobs, pay and conditions across all Scottish councils.”

‘We have listened’ – COSLA

For COSLA, resources spokesperson Kate Hagmann said it was very disappointed by the UNISON ballot result “given the strength of the offer on the table”.

“We have listened to our trade unions, met all their asks and worked with Scottish Government to put an incredibly strong half a billion pound pay package on the table – which our other trade union partners have voted to accept,” she added.

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