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Claims Highland Council cuts are pushing striking non-teaching staff to the limit

By Scott Maclennan

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Claims Highland Council cuts are pushing striking non-teaching staff to the limit.
Claims Highland Council cuts are pushing striking non-teaching staff to the limit.

A letter claiming to be from the Highland Council cleaning staff has outlined why they are proposing to strike next week amid a bitter stand-off over pay and staff numbers which is set to close schools across the region for three days.

Last night, a letter emerged from Highland Council advising parents that schools will close for three days next week as non-teaching staff are set to take strike action over pay.

But a second letter received by the Courier claimed that the industrial action was over more than just pay as it underlined working conditions for over-stretched staff and even mentioned mental health issues due to the workload.

The central claim is that staff are being spread too thin by having to cover more than one school in a day leaving bins un-emptied and classrooms dirty as those who leave are not replaced due to cuts.

The letter stated: “Is it any wonder that school cleaners and janitorial staff are threatening to go on strike not only for pay reasons but also janitors are having to cover more than one school, resulting in bins not being emptied because there has been no one there to oppose the gates for the refuse collectors.”

“The cleaning budget has been slashed, the schools losing cleaning hours resulting in classes not getting cleaned every day. Cleaners who decide to leave are not being replaced and there is also no sickness cover.

“Many cleaners are having to cover more than one school everyday and are feeling stretched to the limit, this has resulted in many having mental health problems and having to receive counselling.

“The CCFM department meanwhile are spending thousands of pounds on robotic machinery and over the last two years they have created several managerial posts whose hours have not been affected and the cleaners nevers see.”

Highland Council has been formally notified by Unison that its members intend to stage a walkout on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, September 26-28.

The action will also affect early learning and childcare centres associated with schools.

In a letter to parents sent on Wednesday, Nicky Grant, the council's executive chief officer for education and learning, said it anticipated "significantly reduced numbers of support staff, including catering and cleaning staff, in schools and early learning and childcare settings". Therefore, it had decided to close the settings on safety grounds.

School transport and crossing patrols will not operate on the strike days. Children who are entitled to free school meals based on low income will receive a payment for each day of strike action.

Unison Scotland's local government committee voted unanimously to reject the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' latest offer outright when they met to discuss it on Thursday.

They slammed the revised offer as "minuscule" and warned that strike action would go ahead "unless a significantly improved offer" is received by 5pm today – Wednesday, September 20.

Talks are understood to be ongoing and Highland Council said parents would be updated if there is any change to the planned strike action.

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