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Summer of discontent sees Highland schools unaffected by nationwide strike by council staff over two per cent pay offer as the local authority says the expected mid-August walkout is restricted to waste and recycling services


By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council headquarters on Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.
Highland Council headquarters on Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.

In Brief

  • Unions reject two per cent pay offer and staff agree strike action as staff lose 'patience'
  • Highland Council says walkout contained within waste and recycling services and schools are unaffected
  • But bins will not be collected and recycling centres closed

Schools in the Highland Council area will not take part in strike action after staff at 26 Scottish local authorities voted for strike action – the largest ballot of its kind in more than a decade.

Unison, Unite and the GMB members voted for a walkout but it looks like staff in the north did not vote in sufficient numbers to stage a strike but those in the waste and recycling services did.

In all, just nine branches exceeded the required 50 per cent minimum turnout threshold required by the Trade Union Act meaning that for now the more than 200 schools across the region are unaffected.

But it does mean that bin collections will stop and recycling centres across the north will close along with associated services on strike days unless a pay deal can be worked out before then.

News of the industrial action broke on the eve of yet another strike this time by Network Rail that led to the cancellation of all services in the Highlands even though no Scotrail staff were involved.

Earlier, Scotrail’s own pay and conditions dispute saw train drivers walk out causing massive disruption including all services cancelled on strike days as well as a severely restricted timetable disproportionately affecting the Highlands.

Highland Council’s Position

A spokeswoman for Highland Council confirmed that the Council has received confirmation from GMB and Unite unions that the ballot of their members in waste and recycling services on the current pay offer of two per cent has been rejected.

“This ballot gives a mandate for the two unions to call out their members in these specific service areas which is likely to have an impact on services to the public although the actual impact will not be known until further information is received from the unions.

“The earliest action could take place is mid-August and the council will keep members of the public informed of temporary disruption to service delivery. There will be no impact on schools.”

What the Unions are Saying – Members have lost their patience

Much depends on a meeting with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) according to Johanna Baxter, Unison head of local government, said: “Cosla leaders meet on Friday and must put an improved offer on the table if we are to avoid large-scale disruption to council services across Scotland.

“Council workers south of the border yesterday were offered a flat rate uplift of £1925, which for those on the lowest pay equates to a 10.5 per cent increase.

You have to wonder why council workers north of the border have only been offered a measly two per cent increase when the cost of living continues to spiral. Unison has been calling for a flat rate payment to help those on lower incomes.

“Most council workers earn less than £25,000 per year. It is clear now that local government workers have had enough and are prepared to strike in the coming weeks unless we see a sensible offer, from COSLA, on the table on Friday.

Unite says it has repeatedly warned both the Scottish Government and Cosla that the current two per cent offer is unacceptable amid the deepening cost of living crisis with inflation soaring to 11.8 per cent.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The message for both the Scottish Government and Cosla is crystal clear: thousands upon thousands of members won’t tolerate real terms pay cuts anymore, and they have had enough.

“Our members are being forced to take this action due to a derisory pay offer, and we will support them in this fight for better jobs, pay and conditions in local government.”

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 a tenner a week extra for those earning £25,000 or under, and it 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 over £3000.

"Our members are angry and scared, and the prospect of tens of thousands of council workers falling into the growing ranks of the working poor is not something GMB is prepared to leave unchallenged.”

Scottish Government Response – Seek a Resolution

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Pay settlements for council workers – excluding teachers – are a matter for Cosla and are determined through negotiations at the Scottish Joint Committee (SJC).

"As it is not a member of the SJC, the Scottish Government cannot directly intervene in pay negotiations, which are for the trade unions to negotiate with Cosla.

"The Scottish government urges all parties to continue dialogue and seek a resolution which avoids industrial action.”

Which Councils are Affected

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll and Bute, City of Edinburgh, Clackmannanshire, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Dumfries and Galloway, Dundee City, East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Falkirk, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, Highland, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian.


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